(first posted 9/11/2013) By the early seventies, AMC’s Matador and Ambassador were the equivalent of the Studebaker Lark ten years earlier: you just knew they were not long for this earth. They were the driving dead, and driven by the same cast of characters who had still been buying Studes in the sixties: old folks who were either loyal to a fault, or still held to some belief that Ramblers (or Studes) were truly superior in some way, like AMC’s devotion to those extruded aluminum window surrounds. Yes, when car companies are dying, it’s all about the little practical details. That’s because practical folks are the only ones who actually care about those details while everyone else is buying the hot new thing.
The aluminum window surrounds were a great idea actually, like so many AMC innovations (folding seats, etc.). They never rusted, and it meant that even the cheapest American 220 had a bright window trim, unlike the dismal painted window surrounds of everyone else’s strippers.
But by the seventies, folks didn’t give a rat’s ass about practical details like that. That is, those that hadn’t already drifted off to Toyotas. Most Americans pined for a new Colonnade coupe with opera windows, not a dowdy and malformed Matador sedan.
In 1973, I saw plenty of new Matador sedans just like this in Iowa City, but it was the police who were driving them. I forget what they were driving before, but suddenly this whole fleet of various pastel colored unmarked Matadors arrived replacing the black and whites. Pretty sneaky, or not actually, since nobody else was buying them except for one or two old retired farmers. We called them the rainbow patrol.
I assume AMC was cutting pretty aggressive deals with the police departments then, out of desperation to keep the the lines moving. Because suddenly Matador cop cars were everywhere. And a year or two earlier, who had ever seen a Rambler cop car? Never.
This generation Matador arrived as the 1967 Rebel, and was AMC’s last shot at a competitive mid-size line. A rather nice and clean design for the times, it just got swamped by the Big Three despite its many virtues. Love that 1967 vintage art direction in the brochure shots.
Even the sedan was a decent-looking car, comparing well against the competition. But in 1970, if memory serves me right, the Rebel morphed into the Matador, with a hip-ectomy. It just didn’t come off right, like a botched buttocks-augmentation surgery.
Of course, I wish I had found the famous 1974 Matador, with its truly mind-boggling second plastic surgery malpractice. It sprouted one of the most bizarre lip or nose extensions, and assured that everyone now knew the game was truly up for AMC’s sedans. I mean, did they do that on purpose to make sure Renault really did keep buying AMC stock on the cheap? Dick Teague; what where you thinking? I know you were pretty preoccupied with your last-gasp Matador coupe, but maybe you should have delegated the Matador face lift to someone other than the janitor.
Of course, I’m still holding out for the coupe, but it’s been a while since I saw one. But I’ve said that about so many cars I never expected to find again, so I know it’s just a matter of time. Truly one of the most remarkable cars of the era.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that I ‘m not really saying much about this actual Matador sedan. And it’s not just because it’s late and I’m tired. Believe me if, if this were the ’74 coupe, I’d be buzzing.
Instead I’m falling asleep. Beats the alternative.