After first debuting as the Rambler in 1958, then stretching out and becoming the Rebel in 1967, the Matador released in 1971 as a hopeful solution to AMC’s ongoing struggles in the midsized market. Though for a midsized car, it was remarkably big and ended up being the largest car in AMC’s lineup when the Ambassador was discontinued in 1974. Because they never established themselves in the intermittent market, “the big three” pumped out cars like the Chevy Chevelle or Ford Torino that bullied AMC out of the market, which meant AMC made just enough money off the Gremlin and Hornet to turn a profit.
The Matador wasn’t a commercial success, but it was far from a commercial failure like the Pacer to come. And while sales were shoddy, the Matador still carried some value before it became a classic car. Enough to earn it various TV and movie spots, and respect on racetracks.
The AMC Matador is one of the many options in the vast sea of 70s midsized-cars, but to find out how much one is worth today, we’ll be going through the history and changes the Matador made to keep up with the big three.
The AMC Matador And Its Wide Assortment Of Engines.
The first-generation Matador boasted a massive variety of powertrain combinations, spanning between a measly 100 horsepower and a decent 235 (though at a GVW of 4,050lbs, the Matador needed every horse it could get). Four I6s (a 3.1L, a 4.1L, a 4.2L, and a 4.6L) and two V8s (a 5.9L and a 6.6L) were available, though the 4.1L and 4.6L I6 engines were sold in Mexico only. So, if you lived in the states, you really only had four engine options.
There was also a wide selection of transmissions thrown into the Matador, though you didn’t have a lot of options in any given year. The 1971 Matador saw the most transmission options, a 3-speed manual, a 4-speed manual, and a 3-speed Shift-Command automatic. But 1972 rolled in and the dated Shift-Command auto got swapped with Chrysler’s new and advanced 3-speed Torque-Command automatic, and the 4-speed got nixed altogether. From there, the 3-speed manual ran until 1976, and the 3-speed auto ran until the Matador’s continuation in 1978 (tough luck if you wanted a manual Matador in its last 2 years of production).
So yes, there were some engines, particularly the two V8s, that made the matador somewhat appealing. But the original look was nothing to gawk over, and sales of the midsized Matador rapidly dipped as the oil crisis set in. So AMC had a rethink and conjured up a brand new coupe.
AMCs Radical Redesign Of The 1974 Matador
As previously stated, the Matador didn’t sell brilliantly as a midsized sedan or wagon, and AMC knew this. So, despite the company’s constant cash problem, AMC sunk over $40 million dollars (a small chunk of change to the big three, but a massive investment to AMC) into completely retooling the Matador, and turning it into the Matador Coupe.
The new design didn’t share a speck of sheet metal with the original sedan or wagon, and at the time, that was for the better. Car & Driver named the Matador Coupe the “best-styled car of 1974” (praise that hasn’t exactly aged well. Nowadays, it’s considered one of the more controversial car styles to come out of the 70s, right behind the Pacer).
With reviewers raving over how lovely the Matador looked, the general public ate it up (keep in mind, the Matador Coupe was nothing new mechanically, every penny of that $40 million went towards styling), and it sold better in its first year than the regular Matador sedan or wagon did in any of their years. In that sense, the redesign worked like a charm, though many assume the curvy changes were made for one key reason: NASCAR.
The Matador’s Racing Pedigree And Street Cred
Throughout its production years, the Matador was AMCs go-to racing car. Was it a very good race car? Initially, not really. AMC wasn’t known for racing, so many NASCAR veterans scoffed at them for even trying. But the 1st-generation AMC sedan, nicknamed “the flying brick” as it handled like one, actually took home a win at the Winston Cup in 1973. On top of that, it pioneered the usage of disc-brakes on the track.
When the coupe hit the track, AMCs race reputation only improved. With a more aerodynamic design, it handled better than the boxy brick before it and took home 4 other NASCAR wins in the span of 2 years (1974-1975).
On top of that, both Matador coupes and sedans were sprinkled throughout the airwaves, making appearances in hit TV shows and movies. AMC Matadors were popular cop cars, both on the screen and in the streets. In fact, the 6.6L thrown into it outran most of the other police vehicles of the era. They were the cop car of choice for the LAPD for their superior handling and used by the Hazzard County police department in the first season of The Dukes of Hazzard. The coupe was also fitted with wings and set to the skies in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, which features many other AMCs, from the Matador cop cars to an AMC. Hornet driven by Bond himself.
The Best Year To Buy A Matador, And What’ll It Cost?
If you’re into the coupe’s outlandish looks, then power to you. But even after the cinema spots and track record, a clean Matador can still be had at a reasonable price. It’s an inexpensive cult classic, ranging from 15k to 30k nowadays. It’s not unheard of to find clean examples for cheaper, but they may not have been fully restored. If you’re an absolute mad-lad, however, you may want to take a look at this insane, Lambo inspired Matador for just a measly 99k.
As for the car itself, whether you’re jonesing for the sedan or the coupe, the beefier the better. The 6.6L V8 packs the most horsepower and can get you up to 60 in nearly 7 seconds. Whether we’re talking about the sedan or the coupe, it’s an impressive car for its era, with distinct looks and high-end performance most modern cars struggle to attain today.
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