Tue, 21st Feb 2006 0:00

The Centaur

  Lot 42
Lot 42 - 1971 Matra MS120B Racing Single Seater

1971 Matra MS120B Racing Single Seater

Estimated at £270,000 - £320,000

Lot details
Registration No: N/A
Chassis No: 005
Mot Expiry: N/A

Like a shooting star (or indeed one of its parent company's missiles), Matra Sports' progress through the ranks of international motorsport was dazzling but short-lived. Yet the cars that emerged from Villacoublay would be remembered for far more than just their revival of French Racing Blue. Responsible for a number of groundbreaking innovations (including the use of bulkhead reinforced fuel tanks as structural components), Matra engineer Bernard Boyer was soon heralded as a master of monocoque chassis design.
Assisted by Gerard Ducarouge, the series of single-seaters and sports cars he penned proved so successful that Matra were able to contemplate a Formula 1 programme less than three years after their first racing car had turned a wheel in anger. Boosted by a patriotic 6 million franc loan from the French Government, the aerospace company's 'Moteur Etudes Avancees' began working on a bespoke F1 engine in 1967.
Largely credited to Georges Martin, the resultant V12 powerplant displaced 2992cc courtesy of its 79.7mm x 50mm bore and stroke dimensions. Utilising a sixty degree Vee angle, this imposing 'quad-cam' 48-valve unit was reputed to develop 435bhp @ 11,000rpm. While, this put it on a roughly equal footing with the benchmark Cosworth-Ford DFV, the English V8 was both lighter and more fuel efficient. Thus, when the two engines were installed in comparable Matra chassis for the 1968 F1 season, the pureblood Equipe Matra Sports MS11 V12 lost out to Ken Tyrell's Matra International MS10 V8.
Foregoing a full Works F1 entry the following year in order to concentrate on their Group 6 sports car programme, Matra nevertheless continued to back the Ken Tyrell / Matra International team. Building on the three Grand Prix he had won with the MS10 V8, Jackie Stewart used his new MS80 V8 to dominate the 1969 season (taking a cool six victories in the process). Like the immortal Lotus 49, the MS80 used the Cosworth-Ford DFV as a stressed member. Instantly recognisable thanks to its bulbous, 'coke bottle' bodywork, the blue-hued single-seater became as much an iconic image that season as the Scotsman's tartan banded helmet.
As chalk is to cheese so the MS80 was to the MS120. Prompted by Tyrell's defection to March, the latter model became Matra's weapon of choice for a full Works assault on the 1970 F1 Championship. Characterised by its flattened upper body panels (a successful attempt to integrate the main 'fuselage' / sidepods into the aero package), it was arguably one of the best looking cars of its generation. Sadly for Boyer, sod's law (or its French equivalent) meant that Colin Chapman and Maurice Phillipe at Lotus had been struck by a similar intuition.
Carrying an updated version of the 4OHC V12 mated to a five-speed Hewland transaxle, the MS120 showed flashes of brilliance (Jean Pierre Beltoise coming achingly close to pulling off a sensational French GP victory) but was ultimately hampered by a lack of horsepower and an unpredictable fuel system. Nonetheless hopes remained high for 1971 as Boyer delivered the updated MS120B version.
Sporting a re-profiled monocoque with markedly chamfered tub sides, the MS120B built on the visual drama of its predecessor. Making all the right spine-tingling / goosebump-raising noises, the V12 was still playing catch up in the grunt stakes but Matra's star drivers Jean Pierre Beltoise and Chris Amon had the consolation of piloting one of the very best / lightest handling cars on the grid. Something that Beltoise acknowledged by revealing that the MS120B was the first race car he felt able to control with just his left hand since a horrific crash at Reims in 1964 had robbed the associated limb of its full movement / strength.
One of the first MS120Bs built, this particular example was assigned to team leader Beltoise from the Spanish GP onwards. Often identifiable by its white nose band, it achieved the following results during the 1971 season:

18th April 1971 Spanish GP, Montjuich Park 6th
8th May 1971 International Trophy, Silverstone Retired
23rd May 1971 Monaco GP, Monte Carlo Retired
20th June 1971 Dutch GP, Zandvoort 9th
4th July 1971 French GP, Paul Ricard 7th
17th July 1971 British GP, Silverstone 7th
19th September 1971 Canadian GP, Mosport Park Retired (Accident)
3rd October 1971 US GP, Watkins Glen 8th

Reported to have been acquired directly from Matra Sports' Ricard-Castellet circuit facility by its first private keeper, MS120B-05 was swiftly entombed in a museum on the Cote d'Azur. Languishing there for many years in 'as raced' condition, the single-seater resurfaced at a Brooks Monaco auction on 5th May 1997. Purchased on impulse by a well known historic racer, it passed into the current ownership shortly thereafter and has since been "lovingly restored".
The tale of its refurbishment is relayed by the vendor below:
"At the auction the car was sold ready for restoration with two engines - one engine was in the car more or less as a mock-up with the other one on a stand with some spare bits, which the buyer thought he would turn into a coffee stand - but never did. In the event both were completely useless. Kerry Adams of Adams Engineering did the initial restoration of the tub which had been slightly "messed about with" and returned it to race ready condition in terms of structural integrity. BPA Engineering supplied a complete set of new innards for the Hewland box which was refurbished and rebuilt by them.
The present owner then sent the car to Gerard Berthelon in France for a complete restoration as he was an ex Matra mechanic but has now, subsequently, retired. He completed the restoration of the chassis and running gear, sourcing many of the components and rebuilding a new engine. Photographs of the car during restoration are available. After testing the engine was considered unsatisfactory for full race use and a new rebuild commissioned from Neil Peters of Pride Engineering. That engine has done, as has the car, zero hours. It is a brand new ex-factory Matra engine, which is believed, to have come out in the tool bags of one of the mechanics when the factory was closing down and it has all brand new castings and components. Neil will testify to its credentials and there are photographs of the building of this engine.
The car is now immaculate and comes with all its compliance testing certificates - although the crack testing will need to be renewed next year for most events - and full FIA papers. It has been entered for the Monaco Historic Grand Prix this year and I am awaiting confirmation of its acceptance".
Resplendent in French Racing Blue over white, this stunning Matra has further benefited from the attentions of Martin Stretton Racing. A rare opportunity to acquire a piece of 'non-institutionalised' French GP history, this Jean Pierre Beltoise MS120B is offered for sale with "full UK-issued FIA papers", digital photographic restoration record (CD), "documents testifying to the build of the car", period race result listings and sundry paperwork.

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