Matra Company's sports division under the name of Matra Sports, Equipe Matra Elf and Equipe Matra Sports (after a takeover by Simca in 1969 as Matra-Simca Division Automobile) was formed in 1965 and based at Champagne-sur-Seine (1965–1967), Romorantin-Lanthenay (1967–1969) and Vélizy-Villacoublay (1969–1979). In 1979 the sports division was taken over by Peugeot and renamed as Automobiles Talbot.
In the mid-1960s, Matra enjoyed considerable success in Formula 3 and F2 racing, particularly with the MS5 monocoque-based car, winning the French and European championships. In 1967, Jacky Ickx surprised the F1 establishment by posting the third-fastest qualifying time of 8:14" at the German Nürburgring in his 1600cc Matra MS7 F2, which was allowed to enter alongside the 3000cc F1 cars. In the race, he failed to finish due to a broken suspension.
Matra entered Formula One in 1968 when Jackie Stewart was a serious contender, winning several Grands Prix in the Tyrrell-run Matra MS10 which competed alongside the works team.
The F1 team was established at Vélizy-Villacoublay in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, France. The car's most innovative feature was the use of aviation-inspired structural fuel tanks. These allowed the chassis to be around 15 kg (33 lb) lighter, while still being stronger than its competitors. The FIA considered the technology to be unsafe and decided to ban it for 1970.
Matra CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère made a strategic decision for the 1969 championship: the Matra works team would not compete in Formula One. Matra would instead focus its efforts on Ken Tyrrell's team (renamed Matra International) and build a new DFV powered car with structural fuel tanks, even though it would only be eligible for a single season. The decision was even more radical given that Matra was seeking a partnership with Simca, which would preclude using Ford-branded engines for the following year. Stewart won the 1969 title easily with the new Cosworth-powered Matra MS80, which was designed by Gérard Ducarouge and Bernard Boyer, and corrected most of the weaknesses of the MS10. It was a spectacular achievement from a constructor that had only entered Formula One the previous year. France became only the third country (after the United Kingdom and Italy) to have produced a winning constructor, and Matra became the only constructor to have won the Constructors' Championship without running its own works team.
Like Cosworth, Lotus and McLaren, Matra experimented with four wheel drive during the 1969 season. Johnny Servoz-Gavin became the one and only driver to score a point with a 4WD car, finishing sixth with the Matra MS84 at the Canadian Grand Prix. The MS84, along with Brabham's BT26A, was one of the last spaceframe cars to compete in Formula One.
For 1970 following the agreement with Simca, Matra asked Tyrrell to use their V12 engine rather than the Cosworth. Stewart got to test the Matra V12, but since a large part of the Tyrrell budget was provided by Ford, and another significant sponsor was French state-owned petroleum company Elf, which had an agreement with Renault that precluded supporting a Simca partner, the partnership between Matra and Tyrrell ended.
Matra V12 engines powered the Shadow DN7 car in two races of 1975 and then the Ligier Formula 1 team from 1976–1978, and again from 1981-1982 (branded as Talbot).
The firm was also successful in endurance racing with cars powered by the V12 engine. The sportscar team was based at first at Vélizy-Villacoublay and then moved to Le Castellet, near Marseille, France.
The Matra MS670 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972, 1973, and 1974. It also delivered the World Championship for Makes to Matra in both 1973 and 1974.