1966 Matra/Bonnet Djet V S: On the Ground Floor with the French in America
By Al Axelrod
I was working away at my Beverly Hills foreign car/special interest shop in 1967 (where they had previously built the Reventlow Scarabs) when a neat little car came in the door and the owner said, “Hey, let’s go racing.” He went on to explain that he obtained the car from a Matra executive and that the company might come to the USA with their vehicles and, if so, I would be “their guy.”
You could say I was crazy to believe him. But, I was young at the time and remember thinking: “If I am a good race driver/mechanic/engineer/shop owner, they will call me up and put me on the factory team.”
The Djet was a very aerodynamic car that had the distinction of being one of the first mid-engine sports cars. Actually, DeTomaso claimed the same for his Vallelunga, but then he was always exaggerating so no one can be quite sure. And of course there was the Porsche 550 Spyder from years earlier. So let’s just say the Djet was the first production French mid-engine sports car.
The Djet was the product of a French engineering genius Rene Bonnet, who until the beginning of the 60s had been joined up with Charles Deutsch at the Panhard company. “D.B.” cars stands for Deutsch Bonnet. They had won the Index of Performance in the 24 hour race in 1954 and had won many other European events in their class.
At that time Matra was a firm specializing in machine tools, plastics and glass fiber composites. They would make the body and deliver it to Bonnet. Unfortunately Bonnet could not make his business profitable and went under after Deutsch went his own way.