Cohort Capsule: 1976 Rambler Matador X Coupe – One Of 80 Built In Australia

Photos from the Cohort by Peter Wilding. 

That’s not a typo on the title. This is a Rambler, in all the sense of the word, as the brand was still alive in Australia when this Matador X Coupe was assembled. Notice I said ‘alive’, which is quite different from thriving. Admittedly, Rambler was in its last Australian days when this Matador X Coupe came into being, but for all effects and purposes, still alive.

So, a Rambler Matador it is.

There, that’s a closer look at that Rambler badge. And this is no owner playing pranks with homemade badge-engineering. Instead, the whole thing is part of American Motors’ somewhat brief Australian adventure. A bit of history that’s made short appearances at CC before (links below).

Still, for those not fond of old links, here’s a brief recap. Australian Motor Industries, or AMI, assembled the Matador X and all Australian Ramblers at Port Melbourne. AMI had been around since 1926 or so, assembling a number of British BMC-brand models, and eventually adding Mercedes-Benz and Toyota production to its roster.

AMI assembly of AMC products began in 1960, when Kenosha started sending Ramblers as knock down kits. Understandably, these AMI-assembled Ramblers differed from those of Kenosha to some degree. Mainly, a percentage of Australian components found their way into the cars to meet tariff exemptions, from carpeting to headlamps, to heaters and seats. Among others.

Australian Ramblers were targeted to the higher market segment, as the brochure image above shows. As such, Australian Ramblers were often fully equipped; with automatic transmission, A/C, power steering and AM radio. Plus options.

The cars were advertised as “the American luxury limousine made for Australians”. A claim that carried weight in the Australia of the 1960s.

That landscape had changed by the time a Matador X Coupe appeared at the Melbourne International Motor Show of 1974. Public reaction to the model was muted, to say the least. As an Australian media outlet of the period said “As an indication that US cars are now very passé, most showgoers drifted by with hardly a glance for the car, preferring to paw over the bread-and-butter Toyota range.”

Still, for whatever reason, AMI dealers announced that 80 Matador Coupes would be locally assembled. A process that didn’t start until 1976. The cars arrived at dealers in ’77 and struggled to find buyers.

Our current find was captured by Peter Wilding, a vehicle he had known about for years but had never managed to capture in the wild. The car had sat as a wreck in a neighbor’s backyard until it sold for the modest sum of $100. The current owner then embarked on a twenty-year restoration process, with a number of parts understandably being hard to source.

The car carries AMC’s 360 CID V-8, and while its exterior cosmetics look finished, there’s still pending work with dashboard lighting and interior switches.

Being an Australian market car, the Matador X carried appropriate amber lights plus other minor trim tweaks. And if you’re an AMC purist and wonder about the non-factory color, AMI-assembled Ramblers didn’t follow official AMC colors. Instead, they applied hues being used on Toyotas and Triumphs assembled alongside Ramblers. Talking about which, AMI was eventually bought out by Toyota and is now Toyota Australia.

Needless to say, the Matador Coupe was not what the local market needed. As Peter Wilding mentioned about this find:

It was big, and styled to look even bigger, at a time when Australians were moving into smaller cars, even before the fuel crisis.  Australians had never been great coupe buyers. And it was strangely styled…

Still, considering its small production, it’s all the more remarkable this one is still around. I’m no fan of the original Matador Coupe, but I’m a fan of underdogs and unloved orphans. And this Rambler Matador clearly meets both requirements with ease.


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1970-72 Rambler Hornet – No, That’s Not A Typo!

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

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

Curbside Classic: 1974 Matador Coupe X – Great X-pectations

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