The 1962 Matra Djet was a French sports car designed by René Bonnet and modified by Matra. The Bonnet Djet was the world's first rear mid-engined production road car. Produced under various names from 1962 till 1967: René Bonnet Djet, Matra Bonnet Djet, Matra Sports Djet and finally Matra Sports Jet, the car was owned by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin amongst others.
The car started out as the René Bonnet Djet (later known as Djet I) in June 1962. The car was named Djet, because Bonnet thought the French could not pronounce the word jet correctly. It was powered by a 65 PS (48 kW) 1,108 cc Renault 8 mid-engine mated to a Renault Estafette gearbox, giving a top speed of 165 km/h (103 mph) or, in the Djet III with an uprated Gordini engine, 190 km/h (118 mph). The fiberglass body was made by Matra, and was glued to a steel chassis. Matra also provided the factory where the Djets were built, in Romorantin. There was also the competition Aérodjet of 1963 (pictured in the gallery), with a special long tail and bigger fenders to accommodate wider wheels.
The Djet had a very modern design with disc brakes and independent suspension with wishbones and coil springs all around. The car accommodated two people, there was no back seat as the engine took that place. The car measured 3.80 m (length) by 1.40 m (width) by 1.15 m (height) and weighed only 600 kg (1,323 lb). The 1962 Bonnet Djet was the world's first mid-engined production road car, beating the de Tomaso Vallelunga which was introduced in 1963. The first production Djets actually only left the factory in July 1963. The Lamborghini Miura was not introduced until 1966 four years after the Djet. There were 198 Bonnet Djet produced during the two years before Matra took over Bonnet (all but 19 were of the lowest-powered Djet I specification), and the car became the Matra Djet in 1964 with a further 1,491 cars produced before production ended in 1968. There were less than 60 de Tomaso Vallelunga produced before it was replaced by the Mangusta in 1967.
The Djet was priced at 20,000 francs at launch, the same at the time as the much larger and more luxurious Facel-Vega Facellia. Bonnet believed that the competition record of the Djet and his company would be enough to convince the public to purchase the Djet, but such was not the case.
When Bonnet got into financial troubles, Matra (who supplied both the bodyshells and the factory location) took over René Bonnet Automobiles and its debts in October 1964 and production of the original Djet ceased in December 1964. It was considered a great opportunity by Matra's CEO, Jean-Luc Lagardère, to expand Matra's business to the automobile market. Matra hired former Simca designer Philippe Guédon and modified the original Bonnet Djet, the car became slightly bigger, it now measured 4.22 m (length) by 1.50 m (width) by 1.20 m (height) and weighed 660 kg (1,455 lb). The production resumed in April 1965 with two new versions, called the Matra Bonnet Djet V and Djet V S (Gordini specs engine).
During his 1965 tour to France, Yuri Gagarin was presented with a Matra Bonnet Djet V S coupé by the French government, the car was later photographed wearing Soviet license plates.
After the Salon de l'Auto Paris auto show in 1965, the Roman numerals and the Bonnet name were dropped. The car was now called the Matra Sports Djet 5. In 1966, a version with a bigger Gordini engine became available and the Djet name was dropped in favour of its original meaning: Jet. The model range now consisted of the Jet 5 (1,108 cc Renault 8 Major engine), Jet 5 S (1,108 cc Renault 8 Gordini engine) and Jet 6 (1,255 cc Renault Gordini engine).
There were four types of René Bonnet Djet:René Bonnet Djet I
1108 cc Renault 8 Major engine (65 PS), 165 km/h (103 mph).
René Bonnet Djet II
1108 cc Renault 8 Gordini engine (80 PS), 190 km/h (118 mph).
René Bonnet Djet III / Djet IV
996 cc engine with double overhead camshaft (80 or 100 PS). These models were developed for competition use.
Only 198 René Bonnet Djets were built between 1962 and 1964, 179 of which were of the lesser Djet I model.
Three types of Matra Bonnet/Matra Sports Djet/Jet were produced from 1965 'til 1967.Matra Bonnet Djet V / Matra Sports Djet 5 / Jet 5
1,108 cc Renault 8 Major engine, 70 bhp (52 kW), 170 km/h (106 mph)
Matra Bonnet Djet V S / Matra Sports Djet 5 S / Jet 5 S
1,108 cc Renault 8 Gordini engine, 90 bhp (67 kW), 190 km/h (118 mph)
Matra Sports Jet 6
1,255 cc Renault 8 Gordini engine, 105 bhp (78 kW), 210 km/h (130 mph).
Apart from these model designations, a luxury version with wooden dashboard and bigger bumper was available.
Production of the Jet ended in 1967 with a total of 1,495 Matra (D)Jets and it was replaced with the Matra M530. The last Jets (all Jet 6) were sold in 1968.