Being gifted as an adolescent with my very first copy of the Encyclopedia Of American Cars 1930 – 1980 from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, written by Richard M. Langworth, was a truly pivotal moment for me. This was the point at which my focus shifted from simply being able to identify the year, make and model of a car on the street into a nonstop quest to learn all I could about every American car ever produced. I was barely a teenager when my parents returned from a trip they had taken to Kansas City, Missouri (if I recall correctly) and had unexpectedly presented me with this gigantic tome that was hardbound in orange and wrapped in the above dustjacket with its colorful illustrations of various cars from all eras depicted across the front. This was one of the first instances when I had internalized that self-motivated research could actually be fun, in contrast to my experience of many of my homework assignments.
This book was an absolute treasure to me, outranking even some of my favorite electronics at the time. I would spend literally hours at a time poring over both the written text and accompanying photographs to the point that when I had purchased a newer edition about fifteen years later, it had turned out that I had memorized exact passages from the previous edition and could recognize some of what had been changed. Looking over at my more recent copy sitting next to me as I write this, I must again marvel at what a valuable and fun book it is. When I had gotten my first copy, I had flipped around it in no particular order just to see what kind of information and pictures were included of some of my very favorite cars, but later settled into an alphabetic approach to studying it. I didn’t want to miss a thing, and with over 900 pages in my most recent edition, I knew at the time that I wasn’t exactly going to burn right through it.
Naturally, the chapter on American Motors was toward the front, and it immediately became one of my favorite sections of the book. AMC products comprised a small percentage of what was on the streets in my General Motors manufacturing hometown of Flint, Michigan, but there were still plenty of them around into the ’80s. Our plumber and family friend, Mr. Williams, had both a Pacer and a Gremlin, one of which when parked in our driveway would signal that we had some water-related issue. My friend Bobby’s folks had a Matador sedan right up to the dawn of the ’90s. My friend Lori owned not one, but two Eagles in a row, a hatchback and a four-door, and the Rogers family in our neighborhood had a beautiful Eagle wagon that conveyed a certain kind of New England-like, rustic sophistication. One of my older brother’s friends had owned a rattlecan-gray, second-generation Javelin that I thought was great looking car and way cooler than a Camaro.
1975 AMC Matador brochure page, as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.
However, most of my earlier impressions of cars from the smallest of the Detroit Four (then called the “Big Four”, or maybe to some the “Big Three Plus One”) was that they were loser cars for people who needed transportation and wanted to buy American, but couldn’t afford anything better. Taking a deep dive into the engagingly written history of American Motors’ beginnings in 1954 through its ’87 purchase by Chrysler Corporation gave me a newfound respect and appreciation for this little, independent automaker and everything it was able to accomplish with its limited financial resources. Suddenly, reading about the Gremlin and its development, being the first domestic subcompact on the market, and its available Levi’s interior, sporty “X” option package, and V8 option (all three of which could be combined in one car) made it seem genuinely cool in my eyes, versus just a weird car that AMC had deliberately made “ugly” just to get it noticed.
1974 AMC Matador X press photo, one of my favorites.
When I got to the section about the ’74 Matador coupe, an obsession was born. Those pages in my original copy of the EoAC were noticeably smudged and slightly dog-eared from all the times I flipped back and forth between the text, my favorite pictures, and production figures of the Matador coupe. For an excellent and comprehensive read here at CC about how the Matador coupe’s story played out, I recommend this essay that originally ran in 2014. I simply couldn’t understand how so many people could find this car unattractive – a coupe I found so beautiful and rife with eye-pleasing details.
Especially appealing to me were its sleek, fastback profile, flag-shaped rear quarter windows, and those afterburner taillamps. The free-standing bumpers still do not bother me. Granted, like the ’86 Grand Prix I wrote about last month, the overall look of these Matadors often comes down to color, trim, wheels, and how one was accessorized. I’ve seen some examples that were absolute knockouts, and others that were not so hot. In my mind, though, anything was fixable. One day, I was going to have my Matador.
I found a ’75 coupe for sale in my neighborhood before I even had a drivers’ license. This was in the fall of ’89. The owners lived across the street from Washington Elementary, not too far from my house. I was used to scouring the classified ads in the Flint Journal for cars years before I could drive or had saved any money, but when I came across what I was convinced was my dream car, with its promise of “low miles, runs good” for a $400 asking price (not even $1,000 in 2022), I begged my mom to take me there after dinner one night shortly thereafter. As a side note, I wouldn’t necessarily say my dad was neglectful of my interest in cars. He was a professor, a brilliant mind, and very engaged in work that he loved. He spent a lot of time creating lesson plans and grading papers for his sociology and anthropology courses he taught at the university. I had asked my mom because I figured that her shrewd powers of bargaining and getting what she wanted might come in handy. She was definitely the correct parent to take on this mission.
After making a phone call to the sellers in which we discussed a few things and I got their coordinates, Mom and I were soon in our Renault Encore hatchback (the Matador’s new, French-American relative) on the way to check out the car I was sure was my destiny. I’ve made reference before to how I’m not the best poker player, and given my excitement of having found an elusive Matador coupe for sale, I’m sure I asked maybe three questions on the phone and didn’t screen this potential purchase well at all before Mom and I were out the door. Whatever. Sometimes, just having a dream at all has value, and no one was taking this one away from me without at least an in-person investigation.
I remember what it felt like in the cool, autumn dusk as our Encore’s headlamps illuminated the Matador’s four, round, red reflectors as we approached the car from the rear. My heart was pounding so hard and fast, not unlike at the end of running a relay race in the school gymnasium. Nearing this Matador felt like a face-to-face meeting with one of my biggest heroes or crushes, or some combination of the two. I revered this car in a way that stopped just short of idolatry. I was temporarily lost in this fantasy that this car could be mine… and then I suddenly found myself paying attention to the sound of my mom’s shrill, expressive voice next to me. It was no longer just a Joe-and-Matador moment. “So, this is the car you want. Interesting.”
We got out of the Encore and the owner came out of his nicely kept house and met us by the Matador, which was finished in factory Fawn Beige with a white vinyl top. After some pleasantries, I got into the driver’s seat. I looked at those rounded, rectangular pods that held the gauges and marveled at how 1970s it all looked, including the type font. It had bench seats front and rear with a kind of diagonally-checked, black and white upholstery in cloth and vinyl that looked really chic. We weren’t in plebeian Malibu-town. The interior was in absolutely beautiful shape. I had never before seen pictures of the rear seat in these cars, and the dome light being situated in a little cove in the center of the rear bench seemed like an special touch that made the the interior seem almost as exotic as the exterior styling. This would also be years before I had learned that the rear quarter windows rolled down, knowledge that surely would have blown my mind that night.
1975 AMC Matador brochure page, as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.
This coupe had the optional 304 cubic inch V8, which was the next step up from the standard 258-c.i. six. The owner fired up the car with no problems or hesitation, but not long after, the faintest wisps of white smoke started to emit from the tailpipe. Aha… the probable reason for the sale. Our ’71 Plymouth Duster had needed a ring job right before we sold it to an eager, young fellow, and I remembered how it, too, had the telltale white smoke that indicated that a troublesome amount of oil was leaking into the combustion chambers. The exterior didn’t have a lot of rust for a fourteen-year-old AMC car in a Midwestern industrial town that used a lot of road salt during winter. Had this nice family been too embarrassed to drive and be seen in this Matador around Flint, thus keeping it off the road for much of the year, inadvertently preserving it?
I started formulating my plans for this car right then and there. I was going to save all my money from my paper route. By the time I could drive it, I would have saved up enough for that engine work, and also to have that vinyl top removed before a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. We could just keep my Matador parked in the driveway under a tarp until then. I asked, “Is the price negotiable?” “The four hundred dollars is firm.” “Will you be around later this week, and did you have any other offers?” “Well, the Matador isn’t exactly a hot-selling car.” (That last sentence is, verbatim, what the gentleman said.) It was clearly not the red Matador X of my dreams, but it was real, and having seen, touched, and sat in it was somehow enough.
On the ride back home the evening of that school night, it started to solidify in my mind that this particular ’75 Matador coupe wasn’t for me. I couldn’t imagine my parents allowing some old car to sit under a tarp in our driveway indefinitely, even if my interest in cars was probably the most average-teenage-boy-like thing about me at that time and thus something they seemed to encourage. Nevertheless, my encounter with this Matador remained an electrifying experience, and one that couldn’t completely kill the idea of owning a nice example one day. The unrecouped $40 million price tag for the development of these unique coupes that sold a total of under 100,000 units from between 1974 and ’78 may have been disastrous to the financial situation at American Motors. Their styling also isn’t for everyone, but I’ll say it all day long not to let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t like, and I like the Matador coupe.
Joseph, another great story and thank you. I come from a long line of gearheads and the one thing my father always told me is you never make fun of anyone’s ride. It has served me well as it makes you re-evaluate a car you never gave much thought too. These Matadors were interesting cars and you never mistook them for anything else. Of course our household had a 74 Gremlin X in purple with the white racing stripes sitting in our driveway. In 1982 my first car was a 1976 Pontiac Ventura sedan in evergreen green with tan interior custom ordered with bucket seats and four speed on the floor with no console. The car belonged to our neighbor who bought it new and who was a very buttoned down banker. It was love at first sight so I truly understand. Keep the stories coming.
Thank you so much. I like your father’s advice, and while it sounds like an obvious statement at first, it really isn’t – it’s simply great advice. A purple Gremlin X with white stripes is something I could visualize immediately – very appealing combo. It just occurred to me that one of the first Matchbox cars I gave my nephew when he was little was one like that!
Another great write up Joseph. I admire how you can weave a tale to make the most mundane (or downright questionable) model worthy of a second look.
Goes to show how there’s nothing quite like our first love, and how hard is it to be objective when we are under its spell. Having your mom along was a wise move.
I think I understand the feeling you describe with that book, as it’s similar to how I felt about my collection of hockey cards at the time. Then when the new edition of the NHL season recap and predictions would be released, I’d read it over and over, hoping against hope that this was the year my Maple Leafs turned things around. There’s a part of me that’s still that little boy, with the pangs of grief this time of year when they go down once again.
As for the Matador Coupe, if they were going for unique to stand out from the big 3 they sure did that. Your take on it has made me appreciate some of the touches I overlooked before. Did you ever find another to purchase and live your dream?
Thank you so much, and you totally hit on this experience with “first love”. I have yet to purchase my own example, but the one in Jason Shafer’s link below comes mighty, might close to the one I would want,
Great as always, Joe. Reading your superb essays always puts me in a great mood for the day!
I too, am a big fan of the Matador Coupe. My interest in this unique car began when I noticed that all the way down my street in Brooklyn NY (It was a very long street!), there was a brand new Oleg Cassini coupe. It was one of those white ones with the copper color trim (grille, vinyl roof,head light surrounds, wheel covers). I believe it was a 1974 model, and being 10 years old at the time, I had no idea what an “Oleg Cassini” was. I had no idea it was a person! I had never even seen a car that looked as cool as this, and being that orange was my favorite color, the car just looked amazing (ok, copper is a shade of orange in my mind). I had to have one and also decided that when I could drive, that’s the car I had to drive.
I remember that night dragging my dad for a walk down the block to show him that car. Now my dad was really into cars (a total GM fan though), and I recall him acting excited to see it. Maybe it was because I was so excited to show him it.
Well, I never ended up with an Oleg Cassini, but several years later, I did learn that Oleg was a person, and a famous designer. I continued to be a fan of these cars, but never cared for the ones with the landau roof and opera window treatment.
Thank you so much.
I can really appreciate that your dad went along with your enthusiasm for the Cassini Matador and, whether he genuinely liked it or not, didn’t do anything to discourage your taste for it. That’s what a good parent does.
I thought the interior of the Cassini Matador was one of the most tasteful of any car in its class of that entire decade. The exterior colors (white or black) were also inspired, but the one for me would have been the black exterior unless I lived in a southern climate.
Mr. Cassini would have been 60 years old when the first Matadors with his special signature hit the streets in the fall of ’73. I remember looking for some vintage Cassini threads on eBay as inspired by reading about his edition of the Matador.
Your AMC experience is vastly more positive than mine was at a young, impressionable age. The only AMC models I ever saw were the occasional fleet cars my father would bring home from work. My sighting of AMC products was so minimal, I thought they weren’t too far removed from Checker. Boy was I wrong.
However, the parents of a classmate had a 1979 Concord. That was a nice car, and I rode in it several times. It was quite the contrast to the basic Concords my father retrieved from the motor pool.
Also, since rumor has it you now have a parking spot in your garage, I’ll just throw this out there. Hopefully the link for a second one appears on your end. Enjoy.
Jason, it’s funny that you mention the ’79 Concord because one of the Matador-esque features I liked a out the 1978 and ’79 cars was the trapezoidal license plate area out back. I lile the early Concords, too.
That Matador is a honey, and it checks so many boxes for me. I clicked on the listing, and it appears that a dealer in Michigan has purchased it and jacked up the price by $3,500. Thank goodness, because at the original $6,500, I might have been planning a trip up to Maryland.
This has always been a love-it-or-hate-it design, and I must confess to being on the opposite side of the fence on this one.
My early best friend’s mother had finally replaced her 1960 Lark with a 72 Javelin AMX that was the most perfectly equipped version I have seen to this day. Other than the plasticky interior (no worse than contemporary Mopar E bodies, but they were pretty bad) I loved it. I was becoming an AMC fan in 1972-73 and I remember getting the brochures at the annual car show in Fort Wayne.
One of my favorites had been the 72-73 Matador and Ambassador 2 doors. I loved the shape, conservative but with a bit of flair, sort of like the Plymouth Scamp and Dart Swinger that came from an earlier styling era. Then I saw the new 74. What did they do to my Matador!?!?!?
Not one single line on these cars looked “right” to me as a 14 year old and I still have not warmed up to them all these years later. (And who the hell was Oleg Cassini? asked my youthful self.) It didn’t help that most of them had that vinyl top that couldn’t figure out where it wanted to end on the C pillars. But I love that you love it, and goodness knows, I love some cars that few others find attractive. I think Shafer has just resolved all of your life issues – That looks like a fantastic car for the price.
Wow – several great points. I do remember thinking that the Matador and Ambassador two-doors (I still laugh out loud at your essay about the Matador Barcelona sedan) had some serious Mopar flavor, and it used to confuse me. The two-doors seemed to combine some of the look of the Plymouth Scamp and Dodge Dart Swinger, with an upswept rear-quarter window of some of the larger Mopars, like the Dodge Polara.
The vinyl top on the Matador was something where the basic, fastback shape of the car didn’t lend itself particularly well to where it was supposed to end on the C-pillar. Looking at brochure photos against the one I looked at in 1989, I think the one on my example might have been aftermarket, because it doesn’t flow as smoothly as the ones in the pictures in my essay or on the car in Jason Shafer’s classified link.
You were wise beyond your years to walk away from that particular Matador.
My family owned one, a ’74. Are you ready for this? It was the Oleg Cassini edition, in white. We loved that car and we still talk about it sometimes — even though it was a championship ruster.
I wrote about it here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/cars-of-a-lifetime/coal-1974-amc-matador-oleg-cassini-copper-and-rust/
Jim, I remember reading and really enjoying your essay about the one your family had. I had forgotten about this piece when I was drafting mine three weeks ago.
Excessive white smoke usually means an internal coolant leak such as from a bad head gasket.
Blue smoke is usually a sign of oil consumption.
Some white smoke that is seen during warmup but which disappears as the car gets warm, especially on cooler days is considered normal.
Now I wonder what might have been the issue with the Matador’s engine as originally discussed with the owner that night. I probably simply forgot out of lamenting “the one that got away”. Crazy to think that was over thirty years ago, and how I remember what it felt like to sit in that car like it had only been ten years…
Slight color restoration of your Matador photo.
Awesome – thanks, Bill.
You are welcome
I remember these, and in particular the one that Pete Mallory (Martin Milner) drove in Adam-12. Pete is really proud of his new car, which is involved in a fender bender in one of the episodes.
I’ve recently discovered Adam-12, which is a show that somehow never registered on my radar until now. The MeTV cable channel is rerunning episodes that (I think) are still pre-’74, but I can’t wait to see Malloy’s Matador in action, even if only in the opening credits or outro.
Wow, I was born into my love for Matadors but you came by yours all on your own. Good for you that you were able to walk away, I usually am more starry eyed and willingly walk right into disaster.
And you’re totally right about the options making all the difference. The X package with the white stripes and rallye wheels are essential to making one of these Matadors look good. My Dad looked at a blue Matador X at one point but wound up buying a Buick Regal.
I remember someone commenting earlier and elsewhere about the wheels on this car, stating something like, “Only AMC would let a car out of the factory with both dog-dish hubcaps and a vinyl roof.” I think that if the wheels were different, or if the vinyl top wasn’t there, the looks of this Matador would have come together in a better way.
Between the Matador Coupe and the Pacer, I’d take a Pacer wagon.
For some reason, I could never warm up to the Matador coupe. Way too weird compared to the Pacer.
“Too weird compared to the Pacer.” Now that’s saying something!
I didn’t care for the Matador coupe or the Pacer when they were new, but appreciate seeing them today. Might be able to find room for one in my lottery garage, but it would definitely depend on the color and options.
I am a fan of the Pacer wagon, but I would want the first-year ’77 with the original front clip.
John Denver drove one in that “Oh God” movie.
Agree completely that colors and/or options can make these Matadors look quite sharp…or borderline dowdy. I actually like driving a car that is a bit different, and this really fit the bill, but in the 70s and pretty much up to today I prefer a smaller car.
Incredible amount of money (I guess) was spent on these cars for such low sales numbers, I guess that explains why all but the ” designer series ” Matadors had such lackluster (compared to GM intermediates) interiors.
BTW, I never knew those rear side windows could be lowered…cool.
BuzzDog: as a big Martin Milner fan, his Adam-12 name was Pete Malloy, no R in his last name.
I would be curious to know (and actually don’t want to know the heartbreaking statistic) of how much each individual Matador coupe produced ended up costing American Motors based on their initial investment.
Joseph, I’ve had similar experiences growing up, except my book was the Tad Burness “American Car Spotter’s Guide”.
And my “Matador Moment” was a ’59 Dodge for sale, which was chronicled here:
Someone locally is driving around in a Matador Barcelona coupe. I managed to capture it on Google Streetviews:
Times two on the Tad Burness book: I’ll still refer to it today when I’m not sure on a model year. On the other hand, I think I have two copies of Joe’s book, one from when I was a kid, and one that my dad found at a rummage sale several years back for a dollar or two. It looked like it had never been opened!
I’ve been gathering up those old Crestline books, too. They show every model from every year.
Stephen, thank you for putting that Burness book on my radar! It looks like there are very reasonably priced examples for sale online. I may have to get one…
OMG I totally forgot about those books by Tad Burness. One year under the Christmas Tree, one of my gifts was the 1966-1980 one. I loved that book!
I had Burness’ “Auto Album” when I was growing up, and it was probably among my favorite books. I gave my copy to my nephews, who unfortunately didn’t treat it well and it no longer exists.
I know AMC was trying to find a niche where it could stand out, but I wish they hadn’t spent their money on these…but timing was probably wrong, by the time these were in the works the 1st gas shortage had happened but it was probably too late in the cycle. Not that a “fun” coupe isn’t nice, but AMC shouldn’t have been the one to attempt it, they could have concentrated on making the Hornet a luxury compact. Likewise the Pacer, which I’m sure was a stretch at the time, but it really didn’t provide long “legs” for anything in the future….Also, living in the sunbelt, I wouldn’t like the large window area, a conventional compact would work better (though I know these are as wide as an intermediate). The problem with getting the engine under the hood, unavailability of the Wankel from GM, but again they probably spent the money already. Of course, I have benefit of 20/20 hindsight they didn’t have in the 70’s. My family owned 2 Rambler Classic wagons in a row in the 60’s, but I think these lost them audience, they didn’t provide consistent buyers . Also maybe they should have been working on a 4 cylinder (a bit tough to say, since AMC 6 is so well regarded) but they had to buy their 4 cylinders from other companies (though I guess they bought other things like transmission also, but engine is more of a key component, if other company can’t provide in volume you need, you have a big problem.
A friend in high school had one of these. Suddenly, it went from a car that I had almost no awareness of to seeing one in the metal several times a week.
I thought it was a pretty cool car, but I also like the Mopar fuselage B body coupes after which this seems to have been styled. The bumper integration is interesting, a simple solution that I think works well.
The only detail that doesn’t work well for me is the front. In modern times I’ve likened its face to that of Harry Potter.
I’m with you, the Matador X was the car to have. A slick top with styled wheels works well on this car. I definitely do not like the various small window landau top options – cars equipped that way had stationary rear windows.
Speaking of windows, AMC never offered power windows on these cars. A sin of omission competing with PLC’s that were suddenly rife with electric lifts.
Make mine red as well…
Harry Potter… LOL!! I can see that it does have a bit of the round eyeglasses thing up front. When I look at the Matador’s front end, I see large, expressive eyes.
I squint sometimes and wonder what it might have looked like without those large headlamp buckets, and if four smaller round (or later rectangular) headlamps had been faired into the grille below the leading edge of the hood. It’s an alternate-reality question, but ultimately, I like the way the Matador coupe’s styling ended up and the final stylistic decisions that were made and stuck with.
Designed for NASCAR, and to compete with GM’s Colonnade fastback coupes. Malibu/Laguna, LeMans, Cutlass S and Century. But the formal roof A-Special bodies were the true sales hits.
Very evocative story. I could so see myself in the same situation. I almost bought a ’57 Chevy once before I had my license. But my plan was to do clandestinely, and park it a block or so away, and of course drive it without a license. Good thing the deal fell apart at the very last moment.
As to the Matador coupe, I was rather blown away when it came out. In a good way, that is. I was quite impressed at AMC’s willingness to push the boundaries that far. I really liked the front end; very bold with those big headlight nacelles. And that goes for the rear end too. And most of what was in between.
I did wonder if it was going to succeed, as it was pretty obvious that the market was moving in a different direction by then. If it had come out in 1971, it might well have had a better shot at reasonable success. Or maybe even a hit?
Teague’s handling of the 5 mile bumpers really works for me, as he just didn’t even try to incorporate them into the body. That allowed one to see how the original body shape was meant to be, and not sullied with weird “shelves” that extended from the body. it’s similar to how Loewy did the front bumpers on the 1951 Studebaker, allowing them to float in front of the body.
Teague did the same thing with the Pacer, and it really works for me. Of course the Matador coupe looks even better with the bumpers removed.
Paul, I have also wondered about what might have been if the Matador fastback had been introduced in, say, ’71. There was a new Ford Torino fastback for ’72, and there were other fastbacks on the market, even if in decreasing numbers from the late ’60s. I wonder if a new ’71 Matador fastback could have coexisted with the heavily reworked Javelin that same year, even though those two cars were in completely different segments.
I’m one of those that detest the look of the bumpers, but these pictures without the bumpers make the car look 1000% better!
” I couldn’t imagine my parents allowing some old car to sit under a tarp in our driveway indefinitely, even if my interest in cars was probably the most average-teenage-boy-like thing about me at that time and thus something they seemed to encourage. ”
Decades ago, I learned, it never hurts to ask. What was the worst your parents could do? Say “no”?
Thank you, Steve. Yes, learning to just ask for things never hurts. I honestly can’t remember if there were other fish I was trying to fry at that time, where asking for space for the Matador might have been pushing things. After high school graduation my family would be heading south, and I would have wanted a completely rust-free, “southern car”. I do wonder sometimes what it might have been like had I gotten this Matador instead of the ’76 Malibu Classic I did end up owning for a while.
I was almost killed by one of these (in bronze, of course at the age of 11 or 12, when the driver came around a wooded curve and saw me crossing the road with my bicycle. He freaked out and stood on the brakes and spun that thing around in a circle, covering well over 180 degrees.
Oh, no. I’m glad this didn’t end in tragedy. Does the sight of that front end with its large headlights give you any sort of knee-jerk reaction as a result of that incident?
With those awkward, federal mandated 5 mph crash bumpers removed, a most attractive car emerges.
AMC V8 engines were as good as the competition had (perhaps even better than the lackluster Chevy 305?) , AMC used the superlative Mopar Torqueflite automatic transmission, GM power steering set up and Ford/Holley/Motocraft carburetors. AMC’s #HVAC was the equal of the competition also.
I had serious “Automotive Lust” over a jet black 360/401 V8 Matador coupe, no contrasting color accents or vinyl top, with the Oleg Cassini interior option.
I just love that interior. And it’s a great point that AMC was able to source various, well-proven and effective components from other automakers when putting these together. In a sense, it could have turned out that these cars would have the best of all worlds – if only it had played out that way.
Even in the 1970s, how often is a lead designer and his team allowed to come up with such a truly flamboyant final product? Of course in 1974, ‘brougham’ was the correct way to go in a mid-sized PLC. But thanks to these catastrophic inconsistencies in AMC product planning, we were blessed with one of the cooler oddities of domestic styling. Along with the Javelin and Pacer. Like you, I thought the Matador X in red with road wheels, was one of the best looking sporty domestic cars at the time. At least until the Monza came along. lol AMC made a great choice in the version they promoted the heaviest. It must have devastated Mr. Teague, when the Barcelona edition was created, and launched.
As a kid, I also received various Consumer Guide publications in the late 70s/early 80s. I used to enjoy their used car guides. And appreciated as well, that AMC and Chrysler were always first. They never said good things about sporty cars like the Matador, Barracuda, or Challenger. They made poor used cars, as they were typically driven into the ground. AMC Ambassador sightings were extremely rare north of the border, and I always thought they looked far better than the Matador sedans.
Here in Canada, the Matador coupes were also a rare treat. Imagine my surprise, when around 1985, our next door neighbour suddenly owned a burgundy example. The owner liked his PLCs, but by ’85, the Matador coupe was a true oddity. I was surprised he wasn’t embarrassed to be driving it. But I think everyone appreciated the rarity, and coolness of it. He drove that poor car, hard.
The pics of the Matador with the Encore, are stunning juxtapositions! I would be delighted if one day you are able to own one.
Daniel, I have noticed the juxtaposition of the Matador against the Encore before, most recently when I was first putting this draft together three weeks ago. They were two cars that might have been sold by the same dealership ten years apart (our Encore was an ’85), but couldn’t have been more different, across any measurable thing: efficiency, space utilization, power, drive wheels, etc. In fact, the only thing they had in common besides AMC parentage (of sorts, with the Encore) was that they were both a shade of beige!
Very well said Joseph. While AMC looked secure in 1974, desperate measures necessitated their purchase by Renault, and the startling transformation of the AMC product line. I was a big fan of both the Matador and Encore. They both had lots of character. Supporting the underdog was/is very appealing.
It’s funny how sometimes the slightest details can make one appreciate a car more. The first time I realized the back windows rolled down on the coupes was when I saw one at a car show, most likely the “Das Awkscht Fescht” show in Macungie, PA, back in the early 2000s. I’m sure I’d seen pics of them with the windows opened, such as that black one in the sales brochure pictured above, but it just never really registered with me. And even in that pic, at a quick glance it just looks like a reflection.
That little detail, to me, showed that AMC was still trying to put some effort in these cars, whereas Ford/GM/Mopar were starting to cheap out. I know the Ford Torino still had roll-down quarter windows through 1973, at least. Maybe ’74? If you got the base model without the little opera window, the quarter windows retracted into the C-pillar, but with the opera window, there was no place for them to go. I’ve seen later Torinos though, without the opera window, and while it still has that hardtop look, those back windows were made stationary.
I’ve seen factory photos of 1975 Fury and Coronet coupes, where it looked like the back windows rolled down. And I think a sales brochure showed a coupe with four power window switches. But in real life, every midsized ’75-78 Mopar coupe that I’ve seen had stationary windows.
I think if you got the Barcelona with its padded roof and opera windows, those rear windows might have been stationary, though. With the base coupe, did they have roll-down windows all the way to the end, or did AMC ultimately have to cost-cut, and make them stationary as well?
I’m sure it would be brutal on a hot day, but I think a Matador coupe in black, with no vinyl roof at all, would be a really sharp car. Especially with bigger tires and some kind of sport rims.
I had to look up “Das Awkscht Fescht” – August Festival! How cool.
It’s a great point you bring up that many midsize cars of the mid-’70s had hardtop *styling*, but the rear quarter windows didn’t actually roll down or back into the C-pillar. Looking at the Matador coupe in profile, its rear quarter windows aren’t that far removed from what GM had going with the non-PLC Colonnade coupes, like the base Chevelle, Cutlass, etc. That’s what made my discovery that the Matador’s rear quarter windows rolled down all the more fascinating! They look like they would be fixed, but they’re not. Yet another reason I love these.
The front end of the Matador coupe always reminded me of the 1957 Ford. That was a good thing….both cars are among my favorites of that era.
To take this in a slightly different direction, Richard Langworth is indeed a wonderful writer and historian, and it was nice to see this small tribute to one of his books. I wonder how many other young enthusiasts fell under his spell. I know I learned much of what I know about the postwar car industry from his 1970s books on Kaiser-Frazer, Chrysler, Hudson, and Studebaker, and also from his longtime editorship of the Cormorant, the quarterly magazine of the Packard Club, and articles in Special Interest Autos and Collectible Automobile. He was one of those writers that made me eager to see his byline, no matter the subject.
As for the Matador, I’ve been in the “pro” camp ever since it came out. If it had been an Oldsmobile they’d have sold a million. But Independents always had to walk a fine line between being a cycle behind in styling, and getting too far out front. It turned out to be an impossible balancing act for all of them, sadly.
It’s been an amazing and unexpected thing today to read that I haven’t been in some small cult of Matador who likes these.
I used to go look at cars with a friend and fellow car nut to help dampen his enthusiasm and notice details he missed. He still managed to buy a lot of cars.
Looks like the styling was influenced by the second gen Camaro, particularly the A pillars/windshield/hood area. It really needs 2″ more tread or drag slicks all around. I remember it as looking particularly under-tired at a time most cars were. Now it’s ungainly, like most of everything from the 70s.
This is a car that is so close to drop dead gorgeous. What ruins it for me is the rear quarter windows, if they matched up with the backlight it would be much nicer. AMC built some good, interesting cars – what a shame they didn’t stand a chance.
Put me down as another member of the “Yes to the Matador coupe” club. I like it, that’s all.
Another well written article about a car I didn’t like when new .
Looking at all the pictures here made me realize the color really does make a difference .
Here’s hoping you find one and enjoy it .
Excellent write up, I too suffer from AMC addiction, although more under control than in my
youth. It took a force of will that was painful to experience to forgo my own Matador
temptation about 3 years ago. It was a sedan, but with my ideal build spec black exterior
black and white houndstooth interior (!!!), 258 with a column shift manual, no vinyl roof and AC. Low miles and in perfect shape, it was priced low enough to haunt me to this day.
The only thing that stopped me was the desire to remain married.
My love for this unusual car has been expressed many times in the other Matador coupe posts.
But one more won’t hurt.
I love that big ridiculous googly car!
One day I will have one.
As a child, the image of the Matador seduced me on a Reader’s Digest ad. The car was low lit, highly contrasted, accentuating the cars lines. I loved the car.
Years later in California, finally saw it in the flesh and thought it looked really goofy. Oh well. It’s different, that’s for sure, and made the automotive landscape more interesting.
Designer Bob Nixon at AMC was still proud of this design when interviewed in the 2010’s (while completely disowning the Pacer). The round headlights were meant to evoque the 1964 Rambler.
I agree with the description of ‘ungainly’. What could have been done to make it look better? Starting at the back:
1) The shape of the trunk was as if it was trying to imitate a hatchback and failing. Start over.
2) The rear passenger window would have looked less odd if the bottom had stayed straight. That upward arc didn’t work. And when a vinyl top was added, the wedge of vinyl added underneath merely emphasized it even more. The Olds Starfire rear passenger glass looked a whole lot better. See the other pic. That vinyl looks added on and amateurish.
3) The door, top and front fenders are fine.
4) The deep headlight did it no favors, made it look like the headlight was trying to hide from the world like a turtle ducking into its shell. I would have turned down the design just for this alone.
5) A Hornet grille would have looked much better. Perhaps AMC could have shared the same grille and headlights across all their vehicles, which would have been a pleasing corporate theme for both easy identification and cost cutting. See bottom pic. I left the tops of the headlight buckets peek over the Hornet grille and lights I added to document that yes, that’s a Matador.
EDIT: The delete comment 15 minute option on the right isn’t working. I made sure to delete the first post.
In 1964 my family went to Europe to visit my aunt who was with the Canadian forces in Germany. in the W. H. Smith in Paris I bought a copy of The Observers Book of Automobiles. It is a small hardcover book from England and has specifications of a large number of brands. For me it was like the Encyclopedia was for you. I think they were published annually, and over the years I collected half a dozen of them. The early copies were all black and white, although later ones had colour photos. Although it did include North American and European makes, it’s strength was all the tiny British manufacturers (Bristol, Fairthorpe etc.). Also included were cars from USSR, East Germany and other Communist bloc countries. It was quite a treasure trove of information for me as a 14 year old in Canada.
I was a design student at Art Center College of Design when these came out, and I’ve always remembered and agreed with a design comment one of my instructor’s, Harry Bradley, made: the Matador coupe would have worked at @ 7/8 the size it was.
Harry’s eye for design was impeccable and his comment was spot on. Like numerous other of the design’s Dick Teague gets credit for, the Matador was creative, but in this case not quite there. 🙁 Definitely not a Ford!!!
Interesting observations of a young “gearhead” BTW!! 🙂 DFO
Wow! Now I’m thinking that a 7/8-scale Matador coupe would also have been a worthy successor to the Javelin.
I missed this when it first ran. Good story and commendable 15 year old wisdom to realize that keeping a car hanging around waiting to be able to drive it wasn’t a very workable plan, at least not for a car that would probably need work. It’s funny how practicality doesn’t figure into plans much when you are a teenager. In those days, dreams thrived in our heads regardless of whether or not they were likely to work out. It’s the great power and the great weakness of the young mind.
I had a friend in high school (late 80’s) who drove a Matador coupe, not at all voluntarily. Her father had a few daughters and his philosophy was to “surround them in metal”, i.e. provide them with the largest cars on the assumption that they would be safer in an accident. Apparently that was the best old boat available at the time she needed a car. She was living your dream and didn’t even appreciate it!
“Well, the Matador isn’t exactly a hot-selling car.” That was true from pretty much the moment it came out! It really took some doing to have a mid-size coupe fail in the 1970’s market. Not that I personally dislike the car, it was kind of cool.
I believe Off. Malloy in Adam12 drove one on the show in 1974. IIRC it got stolen in one episode. It seems everyone wanted one (At least in TV land).
Thanks, Jon. I also remember the presumed safety of bigger cars making some of them the choice of first car for some of my friends who were gifted with one from their parents.
A classmate was given a ’73 Laguna that I coveted. For Suzanne, it was just a big, old car, but aside from wonky paint (it was close to 20 years old), I wanted that car so bad.
I remember reading this earlier in the year but was having a bad day so I didn’t respond. Let’s fix that.
I was always fascinated by these cars when they first came out. Not that I ever saw one in Australia, of course. Not then. Such a change from the odd-looking ‘formal’ American coupes I saw in magazines. I even put my money down and bought the kit (of course he did, you say).
But the more I looked at the car, the more I felt the design was somewhat… unresolved. The windshield seemed a bit too vertical for the rest of the swoopy styling. The rear side window shape seemed awkward, swooping up to halfway up the rear windshield glass. Either the bottom of the glass, or have an angled cutoff, surely? The wheels suffered from the common problem of being mounted too far inboard. And the headlights… not quite right somehow. Sunken too far in, perhaps?
A few years back I picked up another couple of kits to modify, to try out my ideas. Haven’t done it yet, but that pic of ‘your’ car from behind gave me a new idea – those four big round lights say ‘Skyline’! Let’s try for a Matador GTR! Oh well, if nothing else it’ll give my Japanese friends a good laugh!
And against all odds, there’s one in my neighbourhood! I’ve seen it a couple of times, and heard it a few others. Haven’t managed to grab a pic yet,
Here’s my 1975 effort.
That model looks quite good, actually, for 1975 and whatever young age you were then. You went with the bumperless look, which really works on these as Paul pointed out above. You also resolved the problem with the too narrow track. I’d love to see what you could do with it today!
Thanks Jon. I was 18 when I built this. On several of my models I pulled the bumper in closer to the body, but this one just begged to be bumperless. Here’s another shot of it.
The Matador is one of those cars I try to mentally redesign if I’m having trouble getting to sleep. (Other regulars in my sleep clinic include the Austin A90 Atlantic and the Jaguar XJS, though I think I’ve finally nailed the Jaguar). I’ll see if I can build a Matador in 2023. I’m thinking lower with 19″ rims (lots of great choices available in scale), raked windshield (that’ll be the hardest part), lose the headlight tunnels, flatten the hood, quad rectangular lights. Around the side I’d reshape the quarter window, probably to line up with the bottom of the rear windshield. Out back I’d lose the quad round lights and licence-plate surround (which my eye reads as five separate blobs) in favour of a car-wide slightly recessed panel with thin chrome edging to match the front grill opening, enclosing rectangular lights and the plate without any fussy individual chrome detailing. As with the front, the idea is to accent the width, and distract the eye from the roundness which my eye interprets as bulkiness.
The beauty of doing models is there’s no higher management or accounting types to say You Can’t Do That! 🙂
Peter, that model is great, and you did a nice job with it. You mentioned the too-upright rake of the windscreen. To me, that is the only major stylistic niggle for me with the actual car. (I can hear you and others saying, “Of all the details on the Matador coupe, you pick THAT? hahaha)
Today, I can see a car like a ’75 Chevy Malibu on an action show from the ’70s and appreciate it for its one-time ubiquity. And it’s a nice looking car! But, give me the Matador all day over the Malibu.
Thanks. It’s a shame they didn’t take a bit more time over the details before they put the Matador into production. With a bit more care in the studio and attention to build quality it could have been AMC’s Colonnade and catapulted them back into the big time rather than being a mere footnote in US automotive history. Guess that’s what AMC was hoping for. Oh hang on, there was that matter of a fuel crisis…..
Never had a chance to ride in a coupe. One of my teachers in 11/12th grade had one about the color of yours. Top was “all vinyl, brown. Inside was a hounds tooth. like fabric. (brown/tan/ orange.
I would love to have a ‘Cassini. Thanks for the great post!
I remember going to the 1974 Chicago Auto Show and seeing this new Matador. It was an attractive car. Yet, by 1974, every market trend was moving to everything this car was not. Instead of a badly needed formal coupe with a standing grille, hood ornament, opera window and padded halo roof, AMC screwed the pooch with a car that totally ignored that booming market. AMC could have just refreshened a 1967 Rebel with those Brougham touches, and could have sold 100,000 + a year, and kept the cash wasted on this car. AMC could have used that money on a new Hornet, which was, in 1974, already due for a replacement – and which never happened.
Between this fiasco and the Pacer, AMC was over. It was cringe-inducing seeing AMC put brougham Barcelona and Cassini swag on this design. You can’t put an opera window with a padded vinyl roof on a fastback. You can’t put a hood ornament on a front end lacking a standing grille. This AMC Matador coupe was a complete disaster at a time when AMC had no room for mistakes.
Good looking car – completely missed an easy booming market that AMC badly needed a piece of.
The only one of these I ever recall seeing in person was in Niagara Falls Canada in 1994 with some sort of tie-die hippie paintjob.
Yeah, what you said! This didn’t properly whack me back when you first posted/I first read it, but it rang loud & deep for me tonight. You’ve reminded me what it felt like the day the Lancer came…the day I first saw D’Valiant…the day I first saw my Spirit R/T; the day I first saw my 164.
When AMI built these from CKD kits for the Australian market, they replaced the inner taillight lens with a universal truck/bus amber light with a chrome plinth and an adapter/bezel; these served as combination turn/back-up lights. Certainly not the worst such conversion ever done. The factory lenses cast in amber rather than red plastic would’ve been nicer, but that would’ve presented cost-increasing problems of its own.
Wow! Daniel, thank you for this. As usual, you’ve provided valuable information I wouldn’t have even thought to research. As was customary for AMC, I think they did an admirable job here on a budget with the taillight solution. Or, I should say AMI.
There’s one of these in my town! It’s gone past me while I’ve been working in the garden several times (nice engine note!) but I’ve never managed to catch it stationary yet.
Is that the regular US bumper mounted closer to the body?
H’mm. Donno. Here’s the same car, uncropped:
And speaking of the Australian cars…what dillweed thought printwood gauge faces would be a good idea? Illegible much? Sheesh!
Hey Joe – great story(as always) but from what I have gathered not all Matty coupes had roll down rear windows. I believe they were optional. I have seen both stationary and rollers. Imagine the cringe when last year I seen a ’74 coupe, white with a brown vinyl top and 6 banger here in our local Albuquerque U-pull it. I know where there’s a clean X coupe sitting about an hour from me, but have no room, as my son picked up a ’63 Imperial two months ago.
As fore Das Awkscht – great weekend. two shows, one on Sat. and one open to all on Sun. Grew up going to that show and many good memories.
Great shout out to Richard Langworth. I too grew up with his books and the Tad Burness spotters guides. My mom encouraged me to read and got my first spotters guide at 10 years old (the 1940 to 1965 one)
Keep em comin’ Joe. Love to read your articles.
Thank you so much. Honestly, I think I need to buy an AMC book and just read and reread it. I found a few online that interest me. Appreciate the good words.
Didn’t realize AMC MATADOR COUPES had so many fans. I probably have the first 1978, had special ordered it as a1977, but was later told 77 production had ended so order changed to a1978. An all black beauty. Year 1/2 later while talking to local small town dealer asked out of curiosity if there exists any leftover AMC coupes, as with all the downsizing they were a hard sell. Sure enough there was one at a dealer 40 miles away. Went to see it ,in the back of the lot. Loaded, factory aluminum wheels. Was a dual Chevy AMC dealer anxious to unload. Still have it.Two 1978’s Only a few thousand built.