50 years ago the Matador Motors Marauder hit the South African streets and race tracks. Designed by Peter Meffan, it was no Lotus wannabe, but rather a bullish ‘maak n plan’ solution to the need for an affordable performance option intent on promoting motorsport in South Africa.
At 17 Meffan built his first car: a pre-war Austin 7 purchased as a rolling chassis. The engine was a genuine four-cylinder with no oil pump but little scoops that dipped into the sump and picked up oil for lubrication – the so-called ‘spit and hope’ system. This car was completed but never raced or registered as ‘greater’ ideas took hold of the imagination. It was 1960 and Meffan lusted after the Maserati 200S raced by the Appel brothers of Johannesburg. He planned the next project – the goal being the most beautiful car in the world. Starting point was a Lancia Aprilia donor car. This offered up the independent suspension rear end, while the front was his own double A-arm design. Power came from a Ford four-cylinder unit and thanks to the abundance of holes drilled in the twin-tube chassis for the purposes of weight saving, it soon earned the nickname ‘Piccolo’ – a flute-like musical instrument.
From '64 he focused attention on building a family and career, but found time to assist Ken Tyrrell on his Formula 1 visits to SA and squeezed in a GSM Dart race drive in the 1965 Marlborough 500; sharing the car with owner Sandy Bruinette we won the sports cars class and finished second overall in distance.
The urge to compete again was strong in 1970 but the money was tight. As a result, Meffan looked into the oval track formulae at Buddy Fuller’s Wembley Stadium. He believed he could build a competitive oval tracker at a reasonable cost, and set about it. The result was a 1000cc Ford-driven vehicle good for the Formula 2 category – the engine chosen simply as it was what he had and could afford. Tyres came courtesy of Tyrrell’s F1 Matra 13-inch fronts. The chassis was a space frame made from both round and square tube, the engine sat alongside the driver and to suit the anti-clockwise circuit, the car was offset by cutting and welding the diff and unequal half shafts. Like so many race cars of the period, the front suspension was from a Triumph Herald, which was so soft it was ideal for close contact racing and could be ‘bent straight’ very easily.
The car proved competitive and won numerous races, with lap times on a par with the Formula 1 oval class. This success had Meffan thinking that South Africa could use a cost-effective and user-friendly sports car in both road and race guise. Sure, the Protea and the Dart had opened the door to an entry-level local sport racer, but no real kit cars were available locally. Enter the car design that would soon become known as the Marauder, built and sold via Matador Motors (Pty) Ltd.
While many might think the Lotus 7 played a role in its design, it was more his oval racer and cars such as the Morgan and Allard that had an influence on the layout and the concept. A prototype Marauder, basically the oval machine design with engine sitting upfront in a more traditional format, was built in 1971 and exhibited at the Power 71 Show. A flat aluminium body covered a gas-welded space frame chassis designed around readily available Ford Cortina components.
Following this Meffan went on to hand-build seven Mk1 Marauders from his Randburg Autobahn garage, north of Johannesburg. Front suspension was by double A-arms and coil-over shocks. Rear was by four trailing arms and full-width Panhard rod, also with coil-overs. Early cars were all rose-jointed, with these difficult-to-find items sourced from Placo (Piper Light Aircraft Company) at Germiston Airport. The chassis was designed to absorb a front-end impact and thanks to the lightness, the front disc/rear drum brakes proved sufficient.
The first production car (chassis No. 2) was sold to an Englishman, Ian Stephenson, who accepted he was somewhat of a guinea pig and was extremely patient and understanding. Production was slow and the need for more manufacturing sophistication meant a move to new premises in Fleet Street, Randburg. Here a chassis jig was developed and the chassis and wishbones were MIG welded. The move to a fibreglass body was also made, moulded off the aluminium item and made by Calvin Leader from Rosettenville, a designer for Mercury boats. This body went through various changes and progressed from Mk2 to Mk3 but the chassis and suspension design remained the same – although various engine options were offered to suit client needs.
In 1972 Matador Motors manufacturing moved to Wynberg and the idea of a ‘factory’ racer surfaced. Work started on this in ’73; it was basically a standard car without front fenders that had a Mazda rotary engine. Arnold Charlton, brother of Dave, did a deal whereby he’d race the car in the Clubmans series and Matador would prepare and maintain it. Arnold and the Marauder proved handy and performed extremely well, even achieving a 100mph average lap at the old Kyalami. A second racer was prepared for Peter Nolting, this time by slotting in a 2-litre BMW lump with turbo strapped on. This car performed brilliantly under the adopted name of the Adco Special, taking part in and winning Clubmans races and titles at the old Zwartkops circuit.
In 1973 Matador entered a Marauder for Dave Hart and Ritchie Jute in the Kyalami 9 Hour but were excluded before the start as regulations stated that no gap must exist between the front fenders and the body, and hinged doors were needed – presumably to keep thinly disguised single seaters out of the mix.
Because of the 9 Hour rejection, the decision was made to create a new body for the car – this became the Mk4, which borrowed inspiration from the MG’s TF model. Work also started on the new 9 Hour machine. Great care was taken to see that the regulations were observed. Again the chassis remained the same as the production item but the roll cage was built to FIA requirements, as was the fuel tank and filler (which saw a rubber bladder filled with reticulated foam fire retardant, supplied by Dave Charlton). Oh yes, and a wide front spoiler and doors were added.
Dave Hart and Roger Harradine qualified the car some five seconds quicker than the regular lap time (presumably with the front spoiler aiding the downforce). Come race time and the car ran well for two hours before fuel pump failure resulted in it being pushed into pit lane and therefore being disqualified.
When the oil crisis hit in 1973 it turned the sporting vehicle market on its head. As a result, the doors of Matador Motors (Pty) Ltd closed in 1974, with 135 cars in both kit and complete form having been sold with engines ranging from Kent Ford variations to Volvo, Mazda, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Opel and Nissan.