Home » Consider The Cosmonaut’s Corvette: Cold Start

Consider The Cosmonaut’s Corvette: Cold Start

Cs Djet Yuri
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In America, in the early days of the space program, the expected astronaut car was a Corvette. Six out of the seven original Mercury astronauts drove Corvettes! The lone holdout was John Glenn, who drove, of all things, an NSU Prinz. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, we know of at least one good sports car analogue to the Corvette: the Matra Djet. The first man in space, seen above and colorized up there, drove one of these, and they’re really incredible little cars. Yuri Gagarin, the cosmonaut we’re talking about, was given his Djet by the government of France in 1965. So let’s talk a bit about Matra Djets.

First, they are named after a jet, it’s just that in France no one can pronounce a “J” unless you give them a “D” to get the process started with, so it’s Djet, which honestly just makes it look even cooler. The car was designed by René Bonnet and built by that firm from 1962 to 1964, using the 1100cc/65 horsepower (some say 72?) engine from a Renault 8. When Bonnet got in financial trouble, Matra, who had already been building much of the car for Bonnet, took over, made some slight modifications and built the car in various versions from 1965 to 1967, including one with a 1255cc engine from the Renault 8 Gordini that made a screaming 105 hp. Those may sound like small numbers today, but these cars were quick for the era!

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

They were also mid-engined, set up like an actual racing car, as Matra liked to show in their brochures:

Cs Djet 3

I always like when carmakers do that superimposition of a racing car into their street cars, it’s just fun. The Djet is one of those cars that is full of fantastic little details and has a peculiar sleekness with just a touch of awkwardness that somehow just makes the whole package that much more appealing. Maybe it’s the Frenchness. In the case of the Djet, I think it’s the high ride height and skinny tires that really add to the odd and appealing character.

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Cs Djet 1

Oh, also, these had a removable roof panel, but if you actually removed it and drove around, the airflow going into the roof was enough that it could pop out the rear window glass! So, how did Matra solve this problem? Did they re-engineer the aerodynamics of the car? Did they add some sort of ventilation system to reduce the air pressure? Nope!

They just included some little standoffs so when you had the roof off, you couldn’t close the hatch all the way, giving the air a convenient out. That’s it! Good enough, right? I love it. I actually got to drive a Djet once, and I show the hatch standoffs in this video, if you’re curious:

Ah the charm of the Djet! I’m smitten! Smitten, I tell you!

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EXL500
EXL500
16 days ago

Isn’t this considered the first production mid-engine car of the modern era?

Pedro
Pedro
16 days ago

Magic. I never knew about this car, I guess the model after is where my Matra knowledge begins. “….with just a touch of awkwardness that somehow just makes the whole package that much more appealing. ” To me this is the magic of great design.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
16 days ago

I always thought the Melkus RS 1000 was the Soviet Corvette…

Guillaume Maurice
Guillaume Maurice
16 days ago

In the end it’s a mid-Djet…due to being mid engined.

I know the way out.

ProfPlum
ProfPlum
17 days ago

John Glenn had the NSU Prinz and also owned a 1964 Corvair Convertible.

Chronometric
Chronometric
17 days ago
Reply to  ProfPlum

Glenn’s ’64 Corvair has been lovingly restored and it is a beautiful shade of pale green.

Dale Mitchell
Dale Mitchell
16 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

think you meant pale grenn

MGA
MGA
16 days ago
Reply to  Dale Mitchell

The second N is Glenn is silent.

– Glenn

Pedro
Pedro
16 days ago
Reply to  ProfPlum

The corvair influenced NSU design, among others including BMW.

Fjord
Fjord
17 days ago

I’ve only seen one of these IRL. The shots with Gagarin make them seem larger than they were since he was only 5’2″ tall. Super cool.

Black Peter
Black Peter
17 days ago
Reply to  Fjord

You would only be 5’2″ is you had cajones the same size as his weighing you down. I don’t think I’d trust a Moskvitch for a trip though a car wash, this guy trusted Cold War Soviet tech to take him to space and back…

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
17 days ago
Reply to  Black Peter

Not sure trust entered into a lot of decisions made in Soviet Russia (or contemporary Russia, for that matter).

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
16 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

This was the Verify Stage

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
17 days ago

Man, I’m smitten too. Never knew that existed. Thanks DJason!

Delta 88
Delta 88
17 days ago

it’s just that in France no one can pronounce a “J” unless you give them a “D”

*snicker*

AlterId
AlterId
17 days ago

In my fantasy reconstruction of postwar Europe (which admittedly isn’t that extensive and really only exists for the purposes of this comment) in which Stalin doesn’t get everything he wants at Yalta and Czechoslovakia, the only stable democracy east of Switzerland in the interwar period, becomes neutral like Austria but without the conveniently ignored Nazi past, Matra’s automotive arm becomes a performance partner and tuner not of Renault but of the manufacturer of some of Central Europe’s (and not just Central Europe’s, Vacláv) most advanced cars. Behold, the rear-engined performance and luxury icons of the Matra-Tatras!

Jimmy7
Jimmy7
17 days ago

Bic makes a disposable lighter called a Djeep, and now I know why.

Yngve
Yngve
17 days ago

C5 & C6 Corvettes were notorious for wind buffeting with the top off as well – so much so that a few aftermarket companies developed…rear hatch stand offs.

Church
Church
17 days ago

We have Corvettes at home.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
17 days ago

I think those rear hatch props are a brilliant but janky solution considering that flow-through ventilation may be a no-brainer to us now but it wouldn’t even exist for another few years.

It calls to mind the GM pickup bumper side steps, a simple and elegant quick fix when the true solution – build the whole truck a foot lower in the first place – is something Marketing would raise holy hell about.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
17 days ago

Oh man, I’d take that quirky Djet over a corvette any day! What a cool little car!

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
17 days ago

105hp in that thing sounds like a fun time to me, yeah.

Bendanzig
Bendanzig
17 days ago

it’s just that in France no one can pronounce a “J” unless you give them a “D” to get the process started with
Oddly enough I had a conversation with my 9 year old about how the letter “J” is pronounced in Swedish because of the “hej” at the entrance to IKEA. I then told her that it is pronounced like an “h” in some languages, like a “y” in others, and then there’s the french one, but I couldn’t think of another language that uses the “j” to make the same sound as in English. Anyway, “J”s are weird, (sorry Jason).

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
16 days ago
Reply to  Bendanzig

Hej Jason – Have you driven your little Jeep to La Jolla?

Last edited 16 days ago by Urban Runabout
Bendanzig
Bendanzig
16 days ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Jean-Claude Jeuvet drove his Djet to meet Jeff Johnson with his Javelin, but just missed seeing Johann Jungmann riding his rare 1.5 hp Juhö Motorcycle and Juan Jurado with his Jimenez Novia.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
17 days ago
  1. John Glenn was a Bad Ass and can drive whatever he wants.
  2. The wheels on the Djet make me wonder if there’s a couple of bicycles in France missing their wheels.
  3. Yuri’s got himself a nice ride and a big hat.
  4. That’s a fantastic dash!
IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
17 days ago

If you gave me 10 guesses for where a car called the Djet came from, none of them would be France. I’d guess every former Yugoslavian republic and then Uzbekistan as a Hail Mary.

Musicman27
Musicman27
17 days ago

A Soviet corvette? Now that’s something I gotta ride.

Last edited 17 days ago by Musicman27
Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
17 days ago

Cool story here – I bought a ’63 Corvair Monza 900 convertible in 2003. I joined our local Corvair club and started diving into my Corvair, only to find out it was mostly rust and bondo. The club helped me part it out and helped me find a better Corvair – a 1965 Monza convertible. The club president had bought it and another Corvair as a pair and sold the one he didn’t want. I enjoyed that Corvair, but the story is the one he kept for himself. It was a 1964 Monza 900 convertible (Corvair enthusiasts love the ’64 because it was the last of the first generation Corvair and the transverse leaf spring added that year corrected its suspension issues). This particular one had documentation of its original owner – John Glenn.

Did John Glenn ever drive it around? No idea. Did John Glenn actually want a Corvair? Not sure – I think carmakers did their best to make sure astronauts had their cars in the 1960s, so this one may have been gifted to Glenn by GM. Either way, he didn’t just have an NSU Prinz… he also had the car it copied.

Sklooner
Sklooner
17 days ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Or was it John Glen ?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
17 days ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

If it was that light green number, Glenn owned it for about 2 years and used it as his runaround for errands and commuting while still working in Houston, so he didn’t have it too long, but did put some miles on it

Last edited 17 days ago by Ranwhenparked
Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
17 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I seem to remember it being a light tan, but that could have been a green, so it’s possible that’s the car.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
17 days ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Edit – just looked the owner up on Facebook. He’s got it completely restored now. Yes, it’s green. That’s the one.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
17 days ago

By 1966, it was determined that the French were cosmopolitan enough to know what a jet was; the car was called the Matra Jet for the last few years.

Toecutter
Toecutter
17 days ago

What the Djet really needed was the Corvette’s engine, without growing in size or adding more drag.

THEN you’d have a proper Cosmonauts Corvette for the era.

The Djet had a Cd value of 0.29, and a relatively tiny frontal area. Corvette didn’t catch up to that Cd value until the C5, which still has a much larger frontal area than the Djet, and the C5 was more than a half ton heavier than the Djet.

Consider that a C5 with its pushrod V8 can eek out 30 mpg at 70 mph. As a platform, the Djet will be about 2/3 as energy hungry overall, so with the C5’s engine shoehorned into a Djet, 40-45 mpg should be possible, nevermind being much more hoonable than a C5.

R Rr
R Rr
17 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I’ll be honest, I was expecting you to be well-aware of what light vehicles can do in terms of driving dynamics, even with tiny engines. While I’ve never driven a Matra (D)Jet, I’ve driven plenty of old, very light European cars with small displacement engines, and based on my other experiences, the Matra with the 105HP Gordini engines would probably give you hypercar feels, and likely spank any Corvette of that era on any road that has any kind of bends in it.

If you can find yourself a drive in an Abarth 695SS from the 60’s you’ll be absolutely amazed what 38HP from a tiny 690cc 2-cylinder could feel like.

Last edited 17 days ago by R Rr
Toecutter
Toecutter
17 days ago
Reply to  R Rr

I’m aware of what small horsepower can feel like in a light vehicle. I own a Triumph GT6.

I also built a 91 lb trike/microcar/”bicycle” thing with 13 electric horsepower in it. It took a V6 Charger in a stoplight drag race last year, at least to about 30-35 mph. It is being upgraded to AWD and 30+ horsepower, because I want to troll Hellcats.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
17 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I don’t think the Soviets would be cool with importing an American V8 for that purpose, but, what about the 5.5L ZMZ-13 V8 out of the M13 Chaika? Likely on the heavy side, and only 220hp, but, would be better PR. If you want to go nuts, the 6.0L V8 in the ZiL 111 had aluminum heads for a bit of weight savings and would likely make the same power with better carburation and a less restrictive exhaust

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
17 days ago

“Ah the charm of the Djet! I’m smitten! Smitten, I tell you!”

So would you say “Je t’aime Djet”?

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
17 days ago

Yuri Gagarin’s Djet was a gift from Charles de Gaulle.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
17 days ago

Say, Autopians, have you seen it yet
Oh, but it’s so spaced out,
René and his Djet
Oh, but it’s weird and it’s wonderful
Oh, René he’s really keen
It’s got a pop off roof and stand-off boot
You know I heard it from Torchinsky,
oh, yeah
René and his Djet

Last edited 17 days ago by Canopysaurus
StillNotATony
StillNotATony
17 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Shouldn’t this be Yuri and his Djet?

Larry B
Larry B
17 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

In my head I pronounced it Rennie and the Djet.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
17 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I mean, where do you get a mohair suit anyway?

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
17 days ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

1950.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
17 days ago

A beautiful car long stored deep in the folds of my reptile brain. The want is strong, but so are the asking prices of $27,000 to $40,000.

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