The Matra 530 Is An Atypical Automobile, Even Amongst Its Idiosyncratic French Peers
Photography by Ian Wood
I first spotted this Matra at last year’s ArtCenter Car Classic—an apt place to find a car with a unique design. It’s oddly-proportioned form stood out from even that crowd of cars, the flattened-straw mouth, the abrupt collection of shut-lines around its nose, the long curve connecting the front end, to the emphasized sculpting carrying the swept C-pillar deep into the body, ending in a boxed-off rear end. A quick peek inside revealed an oval steering wheel and an unusual gear shift pattern. Yeah, this may be a prime example of the “French car” stereotype.
The 530 was the second car Matra manufactured, and the first they owned the entire design on (the preceding car, the Djet, was part of the acquisition of René Bonnet’s company that in large part became Matra). The 530 was drawn by Jacques Nocher, who was borrowed from Simca at the time. He went on to lead the advanced styling at Renault under both Gaston Juchet and Patrick Le Quément, and became a fundamental player in the modern era of French car design. The intent of the Matra 530 was to appeal to young families looking for a sports car, which goes some way toward explaining the layout. The design included four seats and a removable targa-style roof panel, plus a rather spacious storage space behind the mid-mounted engine lid.
The 530 was born into the lightweight mid-engine car segment in 1967, a still nascent market that was arguably only introduced a few years earlier by the Alpine A110 in 1961. Being geared at least somewhat toward practicality as well, the 530 was further differentiated and separated from the common motorway filler of the era.
The example pictured here is a 1970 model year M530LX, the second version of the car, with a fixed roof option and Ford Taunus V4 producing 78hp and 97 lb-ft of torque. Not the wildest power unit, no, but at just over 2000lb the 530 is still quick enough to making backroad detours worthwhile.
Based on a steel chassis with the myriad body panels produced in polyester resin, it also shared components taken from various parts bins, adding to its already eclectic personality. The name of the car was taken from a not-so-eclectic air-to-air missile, the Matra R.530, which is still in service today. Yes, this company also makes weaponry, aeronautics, and bicycles, too.
Matra’s automotive production created the Djet, 530, Bagheera, Murena, Rancho, Espace, and Avantime. Each of its productions refreshingly ignored any overall design language to connect them to the marque (take note, Tesla), and Matra could have not ended their relatively brief but impactful contribution to the uniqueness of French cars any better than with the Renault Avantime, a two-door MPV coupe.
Bruno, the latest French caretaker of this 530LX, bought it in 2016 in its home country and he got to sample the handling characteristics with conditions in the sun, rain, and snow, all during the first three hours of ownership. He then shipped it over to join him in Los Angeles the following year, where he’s enjoying it thoroughly; even at 6’1” he has no problem fitting into the compact Matra, paying credence to the car’s initial purpose as a usable sports car. The 530 is a blast to chuck around on the country roads near Bruno’s home, and he has not had the pleasure nor terror of taking it on the highway yet.
Bruno is no stranger to cars from the left-field contingent, and the 530 is far from the first oddity to take up residence in his garage. His collection includes a Deutsch and Bonnet HBR5, a CG 1000 spider, an NSU Ro80, and his daily driver, a bright yellow Citroën Acadiane. The most normal piece of his collection is probably the Citroën DS Pallas, which should be telling you something. Suffice to say, this little red sports car from France is among plenty of other ex-pat metal.