Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Rancho By Any Other Name.

Recently I was digging through some old photos I had stored in a folder on my computer, and came across a rather interesting vehicle I had almost forgotten about. I remember exactly where I saw it and stopped to take pictures, even thought it was around 6 years ago. It really caught my attention at the time, and since then I don't think that I have seen another one.
The name 'Talbot Matra' was plastered across the front and 'Rancho' across the back, so it was easy enough to look it up online. What I found out is that a little over 55,000 units were produced between 1977 and 1983. It was created as a partnership between the two automakers Simca (originally a Fiat brand created specifically to build cars in France) and Matra (a diverse French industrial company that included an automotive division).
But wait, why does this vehicle (more on it later) have the name Talbot-Matra on the hood? Talbot was another French brand that started back in 1903, and existed up until 1992 (albeit after an 18-year hiatus in the 1960s and 1970s).

How many names does one vehicle need???

In the end it is easy enough to understand: Matra Automotive (which would become affiliated with Renault from the mid 1980s until the mid 2000s, before folding) worked with Simca (which at the end of the 1970s was no longer part of Fiat and was instead a Chrysler brand) to build this new 3-door sport utility vehicle (before the SUV craze even existed). It used a Simca platform, Chrysler-Simca motor, and a unique rear compartment designed by Matra...
Okay, so not so easy. And it gets even messier! Right around the time the Rancho hit the streets, Chrysler Europe collapsed, and the Simca name was sold to PSA, the parent company of Peugeot and Citroen. The Matra-Simca Rancho would exist for three years before PSA decided to axe the Simca brand name, and resurrect the Talbot name. The cobbled-together utility vehicle was then sold until the end of its short life as the Talbot-Matra Rancho.

I even have the mathematical formula, if that helps...

(((FiatSimca-Fiat)+Chrysler)/Chrysler)+((Matra*PSA)*PSA^(-1)) {where Simca-->Talbot} = Talbot Matra

Voila! Clear as mud, right?
Identity crisis aside, the Rancho has a bit of a cult following. It is not as collectible as the Renault Rodeo, Citroen Mehari, VW Thing or Mini Moke topless beach buggies, but still has enough of a unique, rugged look and quirky appeal to earn its place on an automotive fan's wall of fame. It lacked a 4x4 system (it was front-wheel drive like the Simca 1100 it was based on), so it wasn't a true off-road vehicle, but it still had decent ground clearance and some Jeep-like touches (roof rack, external spare tire, spotlights) that appealed to those that like to get their vehicle dirty on the weekend.

Sorry for the headache, but I hope that you all find the Rancho and its name evolution history as interesting as me!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Perpendicular Parallel Parking.

There's a good chance that you won't find this in your drivers education handbook. You will find perpendicular parking (when you pull your car into a spot that is at a right angle to the flow of traffic), and you will find parallel parking (when you pull your car into a spot that is in the same direction as the flow of traffic)... but perpendicular parallel parking (aka PPP)?!?
Only drivers of the Renault Twizy or Smart TwoFour should even attempt this. I saw this Twizy 2-seater jammed in between two vehicles a few months back, and was reminded of the advantage of such a tiny car in the city. In this case, the spot was so narrow that I don't even think a Smart would have fit... and if it had, it would have been impossible to open the doors. The advantage of the Twizy is that the optional doors are of the 'scissor' type, and therefore don't require any space to the side to open.

In the past I have already written about the Twizy, and while I consider that it has some pretty serious shortcomings when compared to regular small cars, there are also many benefits, including this obvious parking one.

So next time you're parking in a city in Europe, don't forget to leave a little space for those PPP people! They'll certainly appreciate it!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Will You Take Visa For Your Visa?

What's that I see? A goofy old car sitting off by itself at a funny angle in the main square in town with a sign in the window? That wouldn't be an old car for sale, lonely and cold, calling my name? Why yes it is!
It was last Thursday night after work that I happened across this latest find, as I pulled into the parking lot at the grocery store. My bread, eggs and cheese would have to wait. The Citroen Visa is becoming a rare sight on French roads, and even from a distance it was clear that this wasn't some junkyard beater. It was far from perfect, and some of the paint had no shine left, but it was a very sound old car.
As I approached, I saw that I was not alone. Another guy was walking around the car, checking it out. We chatted a few minutes, and agreed that it was in very good shape, with no traces of rust on the body or chassis. The Visa replaced the Ami small car in Citroen's lineup in 1978, and was produced until the AX replaced it in 1988. In those 11 years over 1,250,000 examples were produced.
This little green Visa needs a good polishing and a repainted hood. The bumpers and moldings down the side have faded from black to almost white, and could use some TLC. The interior was nearly spotless, though the seat covers hid the state of the seats. The odometer showed just over 100,000 kms, so it probably spent a good part of its life parked in a garage, away from the elements.

When I arrived at work the following day, a coworker I ran across told me that he had seen a car that would certainly interest me. Before he could tell me what it was, I pulled out my phone and showed him these pictures of the Visa! It was of course the car he had seen, and he said that he could easily picture me driving such a strange classic.

Against my better judgment I took down the number, and will have to call this week, just to find out a bit more. I shouldn't tempt myself when I know how weak I am against such charming old cars... maybe I will cancel my Visa first...