The cars we loved.

1974-1978 AMC Matador Coupe: Beauty In the Eyes of the Beholder

1974 AMC Matador X

1974 AMC Matador Oleg Cassini Edition

It seemed that everyone wanted a mid-sized personal luxury coupe in the mid ’70s. Muscle cars had given way to big slow and comfortable coupes that in some cases were linked to muscle cars by name only. American Motors Corporation (AMC) was the smallest of major American auto makers and was often cited for independent and innovative thinking, despite what the rest of the market was doing.

The Matador had been a somewhat successful mid-sized sedan for AMC for years, so when the time came to roll out a coupe, the Matador name would be used although the two cars shared little in common visually. The coupe introduced in 1974 was designed by Richard Teague and Mark Donahue, the race car driver who was instrumental in molding the Javelin into a respectable race car.

1977 AMC Matador Barcelona

1977 AMC Matador Barcelona

The styling was a departure from what had been the norm over at Ford and GM. The use of baroque stylistic cues like opera windows, upright grilles and landau bars was eschewed in favor of smooth flowing lines. It was those lines that generated a great deal of controversy. At once beautiful and awkward, the Matador X as it was initially called was a love/hate proposition at first sight. The big round headlights immediately won it the nickname ‘bugeye’.

Ironically, Car and Driver called it the best styled car of 1974.  In that year there had been no new coupes introduced in its class, so maybe it was a given. The majority of the public seemed to agree, as the Matador X sold better than its frumpy sedan relative. The fast back design managed to look swoopy without looking fast and was surprisingly not a hatchback, considering the huge downward taper of it’s rear end. The unique design may have been why the matador was featured in the 1974 James Bond film Man with the Golden Gun. In the film a Matador X is seen flying….

Matador X Interior

Matador X Interior

Flying aside, the Matador X was never intended to be a performance car, although it looked the part sometimes. When equipped with the rare 6.6l 220 hp V8, it could manage a respectable 0 to 60 time of  7 seconds. Not bad for and American car in the ’70s. Most cars equipped with the larger engines were consigned to police duty. For everyone else, a typical Matador came with one of 3 other engines – all except one a V8 of some sort. At almost 4,000 lb. no one was getting anywhere fast especially when saddled with the lone V6. The suspension was semi modern with an independent double wishbone front and leaf springs in the back. The rear wheels always propelled the Matador X while front disc brakes and drums in back stopped it, all 3800 lbs. of it.

In addition to the base and sporty X model, AMC would tinker with various higher end models. As if to compensate for shortcomings in the X, AMC began offering various editions of the car that focused on luxury, similar to what Ford had been doing with the Mark IV.  In the 74 and 75 model years, AMC offered a designer edition called the Oleg Cassini Edition. It was still out of step in step with coupe trends of the time, but refined the luxury attributes of the car. A vinyl covered hood, turbine styled cooper wheels and plenty of copper accents inside and out made the Cassini edition stand out. A Cassini was only available in black, copper or white. Like any other Matador, it came with the standard 3 speed automatic transmission.

The ultimate luxury Matador came in 1977 with the Barcelona. By now AMC had watch the popularity of the Cutlass, Monte Carlo and Thunderbird go through the roof. Their response was to add the styling touches that helped make these cars so popular for the first time in the Matador. Landau roofs and opera windows were now part of the Matador design language as AMC sought to compete with the Cordoba and others like it. Motor Trend magazine gave it their seal of approval, calling the Barcelona II equal to the competition. While the Matador was securing its place firmly in the bottom rung of the luxury coupe sweepstakes, Mark Donahue and Bobby Allison were pushing the extremes of Matador performance in NASCAR. The Matador was actually a successful, but short-lived car on the NASCAR circuit in the mid-seventies. It was actually the first car on the ovals to use disc brakes.

The success on the track did not translate well to performance in the showroom or on the street as Matador sales began lagging. The weight of the car, its polarizing looks and AMC inability to keep up with the public’s growing acceptance of smaller cars would erode its already small share of the personal coupe market. Its been said that AMC was planning a four dour based on the design of the coupe, but never got around to doing it for financial reasons. In 1978 the Matador coupe was replaced by the Concord.

Customized Matador

Customized Matador

Today Matador coupes are a rare site (or any Matador for that matter). Despite being sold in Mexico, Australia and the UK, very few survive today. Currently the desirability of the Matador seems to be growing, as with all forgotten things from the 70’s. On occasion you might find one at a car meet with its proud owner standing guard and answering the question what is that. Even more rare are customized versions with the large bumpers removed revealing a surprisingly modern looking car underneath. Time will tell if the Matador ever gets the respect of old Monte Carlos or even AMC’s own Grimlin, but chances are that a car so unique won’t go un noticed by the future car lovers for too long.

1975 AMC Matador X

1975 AMC Matador X


6 comments on “1974-1978 AMC Matador Coupe: Beauty In the Eyes of the Beholder

  1. happyMe
    November 24, 2011

    How many years did the Matador X package run for? 1974, 75, and…?

    • autopolis
      November 25, 2011

      I think the X models were available for the entire model run of the Matador coupe from 74 through 78. It was always the middle “sporty” model.

  2. Wirewheels
    January 5, 2017

    I think the Matador qualifies as a “two-face”. The angle and color one views it in, drastically changes how well the design works, much more so than most other cars.

    I like the head- and taillight treatment, and the design as whole can look stunning in darker colors, from various quarter-angle views. However, it looks awkwardly stretched from the profile.

    I think it would have helped to have the roof taper inward more, aft of the b-pillar. Less heft in the rear would balance the extreme length of the hood.

  3. autopolis
    January 5, 2017

    I agree. It’s a design that can be sleek and suave at some angles and at others ungainly. The basic shape is attractive. It would have been interesting to see how the design might have evolved.

  4. Osborn Tramain
    May 19, 2017

    There’s a number of things that aren’t really correct about your article and your interpretation possibly due to a lack of understanding of the USA car market in the 1970’s. Contrary to your articles claim, AMC did have a Matador Coupe prior to 1974, it was a two door hardtop and was based off the 1970 AMC Rebel Coupe. The 74 Coupe was simply a restyled of that car like the rest of the Matador line but the Coupes styling unlike the Sedan and wagon wasn’t following visual the approach taken by the Sedan and wagon. This is no different than the Plymouth Satellite coupe of 73 not sharing much commonality visually with the Plymouth satellite sedan and wagon of 73. Both Chrysler and AMC were trying to give their coupes more flair. The comment in relation to the styling being a departure of the norm “the norm over at Ford and GM. The use of baroque stylistic cues like opera windows, upright grilles and landau bars” is really mis-guided. That wasn’t the norm in the early 70’s. That styling theme was in it’s infancy. GM moved in that direction with the Chevy Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix for 1973, but the rest of the industry had not caught up with that them. Those two cars were not even in the Matador’s price class. The Baroque theme developed thru the 70’s and right on into the 80’s. At the time 1973 , the styling of the Matador coupe followed very much the industry standard 74 Plymouth Satellite Sebring, Ford Torino coupe, Pontiac LeMans Coupe, Chevy Malibu Coupe, none of those cars who would be direct competitors to the Matador used Baroque styling. You also claimed that the car wasn’t designed as a muscle car. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You already mentioned Race Drivers Mark Donahue’s involvement in the design of the car which is evidence of it’s racing performance heritage. It won 5 Nascar races being the only AMC branded car in a field of 40 other cars. You could buy this car in the X package with a 401 V8, it was a muscle car. It was going head to head again the Ford Torino and Chevy Malibu which had their own performance muscle car models available for 74. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday was the thinking. You mention “ironically” that the car was awarded best styled car of 1974 by car in driver. You’re using your 2011 vision to explain events 40 years ago. Could it be simply that Car and Driver like the car like the other 100,000 people that bought these cars thought it was the best styled car of 1974 rather than explaining that away as maybe it’s the only new coupe on the market? Another area where you’re completely wrong is this concept of “tinkering” for the short comings of the car. The car was successfully launched in 1973 in various forms there were no viewed shortcomings in the day. People at AMC were proud and happy about the success of the car. the idea that the, designer theme car, Oleg Cassini was “Tinkering” is ridiculous. That car was planned and launched with all the other models. You fail to realize that AMC was an “innovator” and they introduced the public to the Designer concept, not Ford, not Lincoln, not GM. AMC was the first manufacture to link up with designers Gucci, Pierre Cardin, Oleg Cassini and Levi Jeans, nobody had ever done that before. This wasn’t “tinkering”, you speak like the car was viewed negatively at the time, it wasn’t, it sold well, over 60,000 in the first model year, far more than AMC previously coupe and done. AMC launched all of the cars in the early 70’s except the Ambassador with a full array of options and packages so buyers could pick and choose and make the car they wanted. This was the day when people “ordered” cars to their preferences (including a vinyl roof and opera window in 1974 if you wanted one), not like now where you buy off the floor. You went to a dealer, ordered a car and got it in about 6 or 7 weeks in the color and options you wanted. You’re so off the mark on comments about sales declines. AMC was the small car economy experts they had more small car models than any other brand. Hornet, Gremlin and Pacer. Nobody was clairvoyant enough to foresee the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 (right when Chrysler launched it’s largest full size line and AMC launched their restyled full size line) and understand the effects it would have on the industry. All USA manufactures saw sales decline of larger cars and increased demand of smaller cars. fortunately for AMC, they had the cars they in that small car market. AMC had extremely positive sales results for most of the 1970 model years. I realize writers like to be witty and sarcastic sometimes to the expense of accuracy and respecting history. The comment about the car being in the bottom rung of the Personal Luxury Car market is just ridiculous because the Matador Coupe wasn’t in the personal luxury car market. They were not a direct competitor of the Buick Regal, the Chrysler Cordorba, Olds Cultlass Supreme or Chevy Monte Carlo. Those were personal luxury cars. The Matador was in competition with the Buick Century Coupe, the Ford Torino Coupe, the Chevy Malibu Coupe, the Mercury Montego Coupe. Your article here comes across as a regurgitation of other articles with lots of miss information and a complete lack of understanding of the USA car market in the 1970’s.

    • autopolis
      May 21, 2017

      Dude it’s just a blog. Maybe you had one of these and are passionate about this car, but its not a Wikipedia page. I was 8 when this car came out, so my entry is about my impressions in retrospect and what history remembers of it. History is written by the winners and as distorted as that fact might be, the Matador simply got the short end of the stick. You can split hairs about little details (or my writing which is fair game) but the fact is no one under 50 knows what a Matador is. A Monte Carlo or Thunderbird maybe but not a Matador. Even with good sales, it amounted to a fraction of it’s competitors that ranged from any number of intermediates (in performance and luxury). That being said, with your impressive knowledge of the subject, I hope you can find other outputs for your trolling by updating Wikipedia pages or even starting your own blog.

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This entry was posted on February 16, 2011 by in 70's Cars, AMC and tagged , , , , .
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