Matra Laser by Michelotti

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The 1960s and early 70s were a good time to root for the French.

Since buying out Automobiles René Bonnet in 1962, Matra had embarked on a period of intense motorsport success, focusing on two of the world's toughest challenges: the Formula 1 Constructor's Championship and an outright win at the 24h of Le Mans.

In 1969, they won the Constructors Championship with Jackie Stewart behind the wheel; also the year he claimed the first of his three Driver's Championships.

They'd been competing at Le Mans, too, since the mid-1960s—and in 1972 would have the first of their three outright wins in a row. It is in this era of on-track excellence that we visit the Matra Laser Concept, by Michelotti, a low-slung, high sill'd sports car with gullwing doors and a wedge shape.

Every time I look at it I think to myself it's amazing what a little bit of bodywork can do. 

Based on the Matra 530 above—named after a cruise missile, I should add—the standard car was a groundbreaking mid-engine, targa top layout with love-it-or-hate-it avant garde styling.

Based on the Matra 530 above—named after a cruise missile, I should add—the standard car was a groundbreaking mid-engine, targa top layout with love-it-or-hate-it avant garde styling.

OK, so Matra was a bit successful on the track. For their fans, company CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère proposed a sports car for chums—voiture des copains—that would be small, affordable, and futuristic.

I think they succeeded; underneath the M530's polyester bodywork were a number of interesting features that meant it compared favourably in period to cars like the Lotus Elan +2 and MG MGB GT.

  • "High compression" 1699cc Ford Taunus V4 engine
  • 4-speed gearbox from Ford Taunus 15M TS
  • Top speed of 153 km/h (95 mph)
  • 73 horsepower, 98 kb-ft of torque
  • 0-1oo km/h (0-62 mph) in 15.6 seconds
  • Fully independent suspension
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As for its body, while period reports say it wasn't built or finished to the best standard, it was created at an affordable price point.

Besides, the era was more for psychedelics than worrying about ill-fitting trim. 9609 530s were made in all…with one of them becoming a swan in 1971.

An article on Classic Driver quotes Italian car designer Giovanni Michelotti as saying, "…a camel is made into a horse by the designer," and you get the feeling he thought the standard 530 had its humps in all the wrong places.

With all the same mechanicals of the 530—just made to look a damn sight nicer—the Laser featured gullwing doors, high sills for structural rigidity and engine cooling, and a number of tidy design details to draw the viewer in.

For me, everything from the simple tail—complete with great "Laser" logo and full-width lights to its side profile, with mechanical jewellery highlighted like components of a fighter jet are perfect details, making the car both of its time and strangely contemporary even today.

Good job, Michelotti.

Shown for the first time at the 1971 Geneva Motor show, and again in 1972—in yellow—at the Montreal Auto Salon, the car was lost for a number of years before turning up at a concours event in Japan in 2008!

It's still intact—let's hope the one and only Matra Laser is kept around for a long time.

Sources / Recommended reading