Read our first drive of the new Dacia Duster? Watched the video? Then you may have had the same thought as I did when I drove it in Morocco earlier this week: because this little off-roader is strangely reminiscient of another one, launched 33 years ago.
Like the Duster (although admittedly at one remove), this tough little utility vehicle was built by the French, based on a supermini, used recycled mechanicals, made do with front-wheel drive (although you can get the Dacia will four-wheel drive, of course), and had a modest four-cylinder engine. It also measured 4.3 metres from bumper to bumper, and weighed just over 1100kg. Coincidence? I doubt it.
So what lessons can Renault and Dacia learn from the fate of the Matra Rancho? There’s little doubt that, had it not been for the Rancho, we’d never have had the Duster.
The Matra was one of the very first affordable off-roaders; every small car since fitted with running boards or rugged-looking wheelarch extensions owes it an acknowledgement.
You can argue that the Rancho deserved more success than it found. During its seven years in production, control of Matra itself passed from Chrysler to PSA. Matra-Simca only ever planned to 20,000, but ended up producing nearly 60,000.
Dacia should make more than 60,000 Dusters in the car’s first year.
Still, here’s an idea for Dacia: why not do a range-topping, two-door convertible version with spolights on the header rail, as a homage to the original budget SUV?