Design Analysis: 1974 AMC Matador Coupe and X – Please Go All the Way

It was July, 1972 when the Raspberries released their hit song about a girl asking her guy to, well… you know.

That same month, AMC’s design team likely was wrapping up work on their new mid-sized coupe that was set to launch as a 1974 model, and despite the approval of AMC VP of Design, Dick Teague and Exterior Design Director Bob Nixon, one can’t help but wonder if some on the team felt that maybe they had not gone all the way. Not pushed themselves to see how complete love could be.

I will attempt to heed the lyric’s call and lay out some alternative designs, after making a few observations about the car that perhaps had not been fully explored in previous articles.

First off, some praise of AMC’s designers for knowing how to create beauty, a few years earlier having sculpted the vivacious AMX/3 mid-engine sports car.

Unfortunately, like a pin-up, it wasn’t a real relationship. Not the kind that led to tooling, production, healthy sales throughout its lifecycle, and profits that helped the company not just survive but thrive.

Alas, still starry-eyed from their mid-engine fling they found themselves knee-deep in the design of a 2-door car that would attempt to crash the biggest party of all: the mid-sized personal coupe market.

Traditional design cues were expected, such as a vinyl top, lounge interior, and external tinsel, and painted stripes. Distinction – real or only suggested by Marketing – was also required, lest one get lost in the crowd.

There was also the near concurrent development of the Pacer, which while not a design influence was definitely influencing corporate affairs, being the official “out-there” program unbounded by market segment rules and norms, and consuming precious capital and engineering resources. All to answer a question that apparently not enough consumers had asked.

By far the most passionate voice beckoning Studio seemed to come from that mid-engine beauty that never advanced past a few development vehicles. The designers simply could not get AMX/3 out of their heads, and many of its appearance elements found their way into the new coupe.

For example, the team did a commendable job dialing in the AMX/3’s mid-engine, cab-forward proportions, cleverly using the corporate mid-sized platform’s shortest axle-to-dash and fashioning an extra-long front overhang. They also kept AMX/3’s fastback profile and body chamfer with kick-up over the rear wheels. And they chose a rear overhang that was noticeably shorter than the existing Matador/Ambassador.

But by then the designers were apparently dating others too, passing on the mid-engine car’s alluring face in favor of the 1964 American’s tunneled headlights, and a Sesame Street smile. With it came a celebration of family time, six cylinders, fuel economy, “enough power” and cute little gremlins. The Seventies had become the decade of sedation.

Other ailments afflicting the car included a body chamfer continuing into the rear instead of being terminated like AMX/3 (and Camaro and Pinto). Perhaps this had been done to provide acceptable rear headroom and luggage space without adding rear overhang, but the resulting double chamfer on the decklid visually dragged down the rear whereas the AMX/3 maintained a sprightly bobtail posture.

And like a pogo stick ridden by a kid wearing husky Plain Pockets, the coupe’s swollen surfaces had too much lateral overhang when placed atop tires and wheels too small and skinny, and there was too much suspension travel. Brown paint and a brown vinyl top only served to give the car a puffy Earth Shoe vibe, and the four oversized taillights pined to be dipped in a dream and given back to The Candy Man.

In the end, one has to wonder if AMC’s Studio rank and file were truly happy with what they had created. Did they now know how complete love could be, or was there still a hole in the place where their heart should have been? Whichever the case, the entire program team would soon come to realize that this particular relationship had been, from a sales and profit perspective, little more than a long one-year stand.

And so it is time for us to cue up some alternative designs. We can start by creating a storyline that serves as catalyst for Studio’s would-have-been change of heart. For inspiration, let’s open up our parents’ stereo console and put a different Raspberries 45 on the turntable.


Anything inspirational coming to mind?

Hmm… perhaps a car with a more serious AMX/3 appearance and purpose could have materialized after several of AMC’s designers exited the theater after having seen the latest 007 film, Diamonds Are Forever, and one of them blurted out: “Our Matador coupe’s appearance stinks! Why don’t we go in a different direction and do a Bond car? Something that works for a slightly older and more mature Sean Connery who nonetheless remains impeccably tailored as he gets into his car on Savile Row… and lately at American 24-hour gas stations.”

Another designer might have sarcastically added: “The way our current design is going, it’ll end up in a Bond flick alright, having sprouted wings and crawling out of a dirty hovel, with no sign of Sean anywhere!”

In trying to imagine the more AMX/3-like car that this rogue band of designers might have come up with, a good starting point is this 1974 Matador X with 15-inch wheels, courtesy Toggle between it and the modified image below it to see the changes.

As the second image suggests, dialing in more AMX/3 would have meant lowering the front fender and hood lines and front apron. The radiator and its support structure may have needed to be lowered too. In the rear, the overhang would have needed to be shortened around 6-inches, similar to Pacer. And all extraneous exterior tinsel would need to go. And if the sobbing junior wheel designer bemoaned what to do now that his raised white letters had been taken away, his godfather boss could have barked: “You can ACT like a MAN!”

An alternative design would have been to apply the original rear overhang to this modified car, thereby reducing the wheelbase from 114 to 108 inches. Repackaging the rear seat further rearward relative to the rear axle would not have been a problem, AMC having already done this for Gremlin and planning to do so for Pacer. The change would have resulted in nicely balanced proportions similar to classic European RWD GTs.

But the striking mid-engine shape would be gone, and for that reason as well as a less accommodating rear seat package, this alternative likely would have occupied the runner-up position.

For front appearance, the designer’s first impulse might have been to hide the headlights behind doors that, along with rectangular turn signals and grill, would be forward-leaning like the underside of AMX/3’s front fascia, with the headlight doors retracting downward into the apron to expose the fixed lights. A center depression in the hood would move the design even closer to AMX/3. The third image shows the headlight doors retracted down into the apron. (Photo courtesy

The hood depression in exaggerated form actually appeared on a period AMT model car.

An alternative front design would marry the 1970 Alfa Romeo Montreal’s partially hidden headlamps to the originally envisioned coupe’s headlamps and bezels, to create a polished and somewhat menacing MI6 look.

Of course, for 007’s car, these would double as missile launchers. Again, toggle between the images, the last showing the headlights fully exposed, with the doors above them retracted rearward. Thankfully, the unsightly Aurora Imposters-like understructure around the exposed lights would have been hard to see at night.

Horizontal taillights comprised of triple “innies” on each side of the license plate, instead of the original four round “outies” would have unified the rear. Extra wide rear wheels and tires would have helped to reduce lateral overhang, and the decklid would be replaced by a liftback for expandable cargo space, again like the Europeans and also the ’73 Hornet Hatchback.

AMC’s final opportunity would have been to realize that its rethought coupe was destined for something greater than the mainstream mid-size personal coupe market. With more technical sophistication and better quality, the car could have legitimately entered the luxury coupe market, blowing past Grand Prix, Riviera and Toronado in pricing, and closing in on Eldorado and Mark IV.

That technical sophistication would have probably needed to include a fuel-injected 401 CID V8 for both power and drivability, an independent rear suspension (and maybe an improved front suspension), rack-and-pinion steering and isolated front and rear suspensions like Pacer, four-wheel disc brakes, wide 15-inch alloys, some of the advanced safety features that Pacer championed, and a level of quality and craftsmanship that surpassed anything that AMC had ever offered.

The 1975 Cadillac Seville proved that a less-is-more formula could work for an American car, with profitability achieved not through high sales but high margins and a lasting design. No doubt AMC needed to learn how to command higher pricing for everything that it sold, and what better place to start than with a comfortable, practical, easy-to-own exotic marketed separately from AMC, perhaps by simply using AMX for brand and nameplate.

AMX’s marketers would also need to withstand Hollywood pressure, by never allowing their car to become deep-sea rated. “Sink our car and you sink our product placement deal. The same goes for anything that flies. Using AMX design gestures rather than whole cars, Mr. Teague and his team would be more than happy to dream up cool mini-subs and jets that give you what you want while strengthening our brand.”

But such a brand would need to change with the times, the grand touring coupe of the Seventies giving way to a 4 or 5-door luxury sport sedan in the Eighties, a sporty AWD luxury crossover for the new Millenium, and who knows what for 2030 and beyond.

By steering clear of the traditional American personal coupe market… and quickly popping the Pacer thought-bubble at the first sign of its appearance, imagine what the combined investment spent on the original Matador coupe and Pacer could have instead bought. Not only a stand-out American-sized luxury GT, but progress on a modern small car, perhaps as part of a joint venture with a Japanese company eager to establish a U.S. presence.

Honda perhaps? Time for another Raspberries song…


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1975 AMC Matador Coupe – The Matador & Me

Curbside Classic: 1975 Matador Coupe X- Great X-pectations

Curbside Classic: 1974 AMC Oleg Cassini Matador Brougham – That’s A Matador?