AMC Matador

AMC Matador

The AMC Matador is an intermediate car that was built and sold by American Motors Corporation (AMC) from 1971 to 1978. These models were also assembled in Mexico by Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) and in Australia by Australian Motor Industries (AMI) with modifications for their markets including continuing the use of the Rambler marque.


The Matador replaced the AMC Rebel, which had been marketed since 1967. Like the Rebel, the Matador was based on the full-size AMC Ambassador.

First Generation

AMC advertising assured that the Matador was not just a name change and facelift, but in reality, it was the 1970 Rebel restyled with a longer front clip and a new interior. From the firewall back, the Matador shared its body with the Ambassador, which had a longer wheelbase and front end sheetmetal, a formal grille and luxurious trim, as well as more standard equipment that included air conditioning. While "Matador" may have been a move away from connotations of the Confederacy inspired by the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, it did not help solve the obscurity problem, as AMC adopted a "What's a Matador" advertising campaign.

The Matador came with straight-6 or a number of V8 engines and it was available with 2-door hardtop, 4-door sedan and station wagon body styles. The wagon design was essentially unchanged from the Rebel. A rear facing third row bench seat was available. All wagons included a roof rack and a two-way tailgate that opened down or to the side when the rear window was down.

Second Generation

A major design change was introduced with the 1974 models for both the sedan and wagon, while the two-door became a separate and radically styled coupe. These could be considered the "second generation" Matadors. New passenger car requirements called for five-mile an hour (8 km) impact protection that was accomplished with massive bumpers. The four-door and wagons received a new front fascia with a hood and grille featuring a prominent central protrusion that followed the front bumper design. Matadors with this front fascia are sometimes nicknamed "coffin noses" - perhaps a reference to the styling of the classic Cord 810/812.

During this time the automobile market was moving to smaller cars. The large-sized Matador was no longer attractive to customers demanding more economical cars as fuel and money became increasingly worrisome problems after the 1973 oil crisis and the continuing double digit inflation. Lacking the financial resources for a full redesign (partly because of the expensive tooling costs of the coupe), AMC dropped the large Ambassador after 1974, while the Matador was discontinued after 1978, around the same time as Ford moved their full-size nameplates to a smaller platform. The downsized 1977 Chevrolet Impala also spelled doom for large intermediates from AMC and Chrysler. AMC would be left with Jeep, Hornet derivatives, and Renault cars. American Motors did not have another large car until the Eagle Premier that was developed with Renault's partnership and introduced right after AMC was purchased by Chrysler.


Though the Ambassador was also offered as a police car, the Matador would prove to be very popular. The largest user of Matador patrol cars was the Los Angeles Police Department, primarily from 1972 to 1974, with some staying in service until the mid 1980's. It was also used by other agencies, including the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department and many other law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada, as well as by military police units.

While V8 power was down for many domestic sedans, AMC used a V8 engine that outpowered most other police vehicles. Zero to times were within 7 seconds, comparable to a 2006 Hemi Charger police car. Top speed was about , which took only 43 seconds, much faster than the previous Plymouth Satellite. However, 1974 would be the last year for the LAPD's purchase of the Matador. The longer-nosed restyle added weight which affected handling and performance, and was less reliable. The model would soon fade in police fleets as downsized Ford's, Chevrolet's and Dodge Diplomat-based cars became adopted in the late 1970s. Matador police cars would appear in many television shows and movies during the 1970s.

Matador Machine

The Matador still participated in the muscle car trend. The Machine trim package was carried forward from the Rebel to the Matador as an option on 1971 model two-door hardtops. Far lesser known than its 1970 predecessor, less than 50 Matador Machines were produced. The package featured a set of dual exhaust pipes, a heavy-duty handling package, and a choice of either a or V8 engine. Notably absent was the bold red-white-blue striping of the Rebel Machine. Only one Matador Machine is known to still exist.

Matador coupe

The 1974 model year introduced an aerodynamically styled fastback coupe with pronounced "tunneled" headlight surrounds. The Matador coupe was the only all-new model in the popular mid-size car segment. The coupe was designed by AMC's Vice President of Styling, Richard A. Teague, with input from Mark Donohue, the famous race car driver. Many were amazed that AMC came up with the fast, stylish Matador, considering the automaker's size and limited resources.

The coupe's wind-shaped look was enhanced by a very long hood and a short rear deck. The four-door and station wagon models did not share the complete redesign of the coupe. The Matador coupe stands out as one of the more distinctive and controversial designs of the 1970s after the AMC Pacer. The Matador coupe was named "Best Styled Car of 1974" by the editors of Car and Driver magazine.

Sales of the coupe were brisk with 62,629 Matador Coupes delivered for its introductory year, up sharply from the 7,067 Matador hardtops sold in 1973. This is a respectable record that went against the drop in the overall market during 1974 and the decline in popularity of intermediate-sized coupes after the 1973 oil crisis. Nearly 100,000 Matador Coupes in total were produced from 1974 through 1978.

Design plans for a sedan and wagon based on the coupe's styling themes did not reach production.

Oleg Cassini

A special Oleg Cassini edition of the Matador coupe was available for the 1974 and 1975 model years. American Motors had the famous American fashion designer develop a more elegant luxury oriented model for the new Coupe. Cassini was renowned in Hollywood and high-society for making elegant ready-to-wear dresses, including those worn by Jacqueline Kennedy.

The Cassini Coupe was unlike all the other personal luxury cars. The new Matador did not have the typical vintage styling cues of formal upright grille and squared-off roof with opera windows. The Cassini version was only available on the Brougham two-door models that included standard features such as individually adjustable reclining seats. Cassini Coupes could be had in only black, copper, or white, and all came with a vinyl covered roof. It also featured copper-colored trim in the grille, headlamp bezels, in turbine-type full wheel covers, and within the rear license plate recess.

The interior was a Cassini hallmark featuring a comfortable and plush environment. A special black fabric with copper metal buttons on the seats and door panels was set off by extra thick copper carpeting. Additional copper accents were on the steering wheel, door pulls, and on the instrument panel. Embroidered Cassini medallions were featured on the headrests. The glove compartment door, trunklid, front fender, and hood featured Cassini's signature.

A real life example of an Oleg Cassini Coupe can be seen in the James Bond 007 movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”, produced in 1974. The car, a copper-colored example, with the black upholstery interior, features prominantly in the movie. It is best remebered as the 'flying' car.


In 1976, a "Barcelona" option offered an alternative to the Chrysler Cordoba and Chevrolet Monte Carlo. For 1977 and 1978, the Barcelona coupe featured a padded Landau roof and opera windows, styling cues that were required at that time by buyers in the highly popular two-door "personal luxury" market segment. At first it was available in only one distinctive two-tone paint pattern consisting of Golden Ginger Metallic with Sand Tan with In 1978, the Barcelona came in a second color scheme: an Autumn Red Metallic on Claret Metallic combination.

The Barcelona included numerous comfort and appearance upgrades in addition to the extensive standard equipment that came on all Matadors. The special items were: individual reclining seats in veleteen crush fabric with woven accent stripes; custom door trim panels; unique headliner; headlight bezels painted accent color; black trunk carpet; rear sway bar; GR78x15 radial whitewall tires; color-keyed slot styled wheels; body color front and rear bumpers; two-tone paint; landau padded vinyl roof; opera quarter windows with accents; dual remote control mirrors painted body color; Barcelona medallion on glove box door and fenders; carpeting; and bumper nerfing strips. The standard roll down rear quarter windows were converted into fixed "opera windows" with fiberglass covers over the stock openings that were finished with padded vinyl inside and out.

For its final production in 1978, the Barcelona model was also available on the Matador 4-door sedan.

NASCAR racing

Penske prepared factory-backed Matador hardtops and coupes that were used in NASCAR stock car racing by Indy winner Mark Donohue and Bobby Allison, and won a number of races. The new coupe replaced the previous "flying brick" two-door hardtop design; Penske was quoted as saying that they did what they could with the old hardtop, and it did better on tracks with more curves and fewer straight ways. Donohue did not survive to drive the new aerodynamically designed fastback coupe, that many believe was aimed at NASCAR racing. The 5 wins for the Matador are:

Bobby Allison also won the non-points race Daytona 125 February 13, 1975 and finished second in the Daytona 500 3 days later.

In pop culture


While well-restored examples of Matador sedans can still be purchased under $3,000, ads have been published asking over $10,000 for restored coupes. Hemmings Classic Car magazine listed the 1974-78 Matador as one of their 19 pieces of rolling proof that the old-car hobby need not be expensive and described the Coupe as "possibly one of the most distinctive shapes to come out of the 1970s, and arguably a style pinnacle for the personal luxury movement...", the James Bond movie role, as well as its NASCAR history.


  • Foster, Patrick (2004). AMC Cars: 1954-1987, An Illustrated History. Motorbooks International. ISBN 1-58388-112-3.
  • Foster, Patrick (1993). The Last Independent. Motorbooks International. ISBN 0-87341-240-0.
  • Montgomery, Andrew (2002). The Great Book of American Automobiles. Motorbooks International. ISBN 1-84065-478-3.
  • Marquez, Edrie J. (1988). Amazing AMC Muscle: Complete Development and Racing History of the Cars from American Motors. Motorbooks International. ISBN 0-87938-300-3.

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