The Gaul of it: '72 Le Mans-winning Matra MS670 up for sale

When this Matra won Le Mans in 1972, it was France’s first home victory since 1950. Simon de Burton recounts its historical drive

Matra MS670 at the Le Mans Dunlop Bridge

At Le Mans in 1972 Chassis 001 finished 11 laps in front of the second-placed MS670

Browse pages

Few interesting competition cars had been consigned for sale in early 2021 but the shortage is more than made up for by the fact that one of the most remarkably original Le Mans winners of the past 50 years is set to cross the block at Artcurial Paris in February.

The Matra MS670 in which Graham Hill and Henri Pescarolo clinched the 24 Hour race in 1972 was originally to be the star of the official sale at the annual Rétromobile show  on February 5, but following the postponement of the event until June (Covid-19, of course) Artcurial has scheduled a stand-alone auction called La Parisienne 2021 for the same date.

Lots for the sale are flowing in, but it seems unlikely that any will surpass the Matra in terms of value or historical importance, not least because it has belonged to the Lagardère Group, former owner of the long-closed Matra Automobile, since the day it was built.

Lagardère, largely a media conglomerate, cites the reason for the sale of this car as “an unfavourable court ruling” regarding a social law case involving Matra Automobile, which went bankrupt in the early 2000s.

Aviation engineer, polymath and astute businessman Jean-Luc Lagardère became CEO of Matra in 1963 and soon vowed that the manufacturer would win both the F1 World Championship and Le Mans, with the former prediction coming true in 1969 with Jackie Stewart at the wheel.

At the time, Le Mans was dominated by Porsche, Ferrari and Ford, with the BRM-engined Matras making their first challenge in the 1966 event, at which the No42 car crashed after nine hours, with No41 retiring with a broken gearbox four hours later.

Graham Hill drives the Matra MS670

Graham Hill played his part in France’s Le Mans success

By 1972 the design had been refined and developed into the MS670 Group 5 prototype with streamlined bodywork and the sublime Matra V12 engine, a softly tuned 3-litre that produced a reliable 450hp.

Three MS670s and one MS660 were entered for that year’s Le Mans, with MS670 chassis 001 – the one on sale here – being driven to victory by Pescarolo and Hill, with François Cevert and Howden Ganley taking second place in one of the other MS670s.

The die had been more or less cast by the halfway mark, at which point the two Matras were tactically exchanging first and second places between pitstops, while the outdated 660 maintained a heroic third place in the hands of Britain’s David Hobbs and Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jabouille before being forced out in the dying stages with a broken gearbox.

Engine trouble, meanwhile, had seen off the third 670 (Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Chris Amon) only a couple of hours after French president Georges Pompidou had dropped the flag to start the race, but then who ever grumbled about only 1-2 finishing at Le Mans?

Matra MS670, the 1972 Le Mans-winning car,on sale with Artcurial, Paris, February 5.
Estimate: £3.6-6.7m.