By on August 26, 2011

I never thought I’d ever find an Oleg Cassini Edition AMC Matador in the junkyard. Oh, sure, I’ve seen Givenchy Continentals, Mark Cross New Yorkers, a couple of Etienne Aigner VW Golfs, even a Levis Gremlin… but even with all I’ve written about the Oleg Cassini Matador I’d given up hope of actually seeing one on its way to The Crusher. That changed yesterday.
I wondered what emblem might have lived on the fender. Could it be…?
Yes! The Cassini crest is still visible on the seat backs. Such luxury!
Nice factory AM radio still in the dash. Probably totally worthless, but still a cool find.
I’m tempted to pull the clock, for my collection of 50+ car clocks, but there’s no way a 37-year-old American car clock will still work.
I think the mid-70s Matador coupes are pretty good-looking cars, and I’ll probably own one someday. Not this one, of course, but I might need to stash a few hard-to-find bits from it.

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24 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1974 Oleg Cassini Edition AMC Matador...”

  • avatar

    I find the juxtaposition of a “designer” trim package against roll-up windows and AM-radio (which I think was made for AMC by Ford Aeronutronic Corp.) to be very interesting and indicative of the times, “a bit of luxury and style, but not too much” perhaps.

    I also like the sensible way that AMC appears to have dealt with the 5-mph bumper topic and, not like GM filling the gaps with dissolving gap-hiders, but leaving the gap and putting a trim bellows over the bummper struts. Later cars, of course, like my 1980 Fiesta, didn’t bother with gap-hiders, or strut covers, but in those first few years of safety bumpers, the Big-3 really seemed to struggle to find a straiht-forward and attractive solution.

  • avatar

    AMC spent a lot of precious cash to update their intermediate car line for 1974. The previous Matador was invisible to the public except when painted as a police car. These early 1970s Matadors were the equivalent of a 1959 Checker. AMC wanted to change that image, and kind of did – but not as well as they could have.

    AMC zigged when the market zagged. Instead of producing the increasingly popular baroque personal luxury coupe, AMC produced a 1974 version of the 1966 Rambler Marlin. It was a complete miss of an obvious styling trend. Buyers couldn’t get enough of the faux luxuries found in Monte Carlos, Elites, Thunderbirds, Gran Prixs, Cordobas and Monacos. Had the new Matador followed suit, AMC would have been able to pay back their investment.

    The Oleg Cassini Matador was the feeble AMC attempt to mimic this popular market. Unfortunately, there was no market to see this faux luxury on an updated Marlin with fishbowl eye pods. The Matador roof was not meant for a padded vinyl opera treatment. When it was attempted, it looked as damn awful as the double headlights on a 1958 Studebaker. The Oleg Cassini Matador exposed to the buying public how out of step AMC was with their 1974 Matador redesign.

    Cassini had to make a royal carriage out of a car better shaped for NASCAR. It looked completely ridiculous and embarrassing.

    The 1975 Pacer took the focus off the 1974 Matador’s failures. The Pacer was a complete disaster. However, AMC could simply not survive the one-two punch of the 1974 Matador Coupe and the 1975 Pacer on it’s future. Had AMC simply focused on keeping it’s bread and butter Hornet at it’s best, it would have been able to weather these styling disasters. AMC management grew tired of driving boring sedans. Had they decided to build better boring sedans they could still be in business.

    • 0 avatar

      @Vanilla: Had they decided to build better boring sedans they could still be in business.

      Maybe. Probably not, though. The onslaught of regulations such as CAFE and NHTSA were conspiring to kill off the cottage industry that was AMC. Even without the fiascos that were the Matador and Pacer, they didn’t have the money to retool to meet upcoming fuel mileage and safety standards. The Hornet, as honest as it was, even by the mid 70’s was getting outclassed and was in need of a major update or complete replacement. It wasn’t in the cards.

      They had been limping along for a long time before the mid 70’s. They guessed wrong on the brougham era cars, and on GM’s Wankel experiment (which was to power the Pacer). They did guess correctly on Jeep, and had a lot of government contracts at that time. IMO That’s what really kept them going, Jeep and gov’t contracts.

      When Renault bought into AMC in the late 70’s, they were interested in Jeep, not the car side of the operations. Renault had it’s own line of cars they could (and did) bring over to supplement and supplant the now ancient AMCs. Too bad they were total crap, and that’s back when we thought less stinky crap was great.

      More better, boring sedans weren’t going to change the tide of new regulations and newer, meaner competitors.

      All that aside, I would love to have this era of Matador. I would prefer a 1974 Matador X, with the weird segmented tape stripe that ran along the body crease and the AMC 401.

      This Cassini model looks like a pretty inexpensive one. At least it had the de riguer vinyl roof…

    • 0 avatar

      Imagine if AMC reskinned the Matador into a Monte Carlo fighter with the Cassini interior. Imagine no Pacer. Instead AMC poured their money into keeping the Hornet top of the line. Instead AMC poured their money into a new 6 cylinder or a new 4 cylinder.

      By the time of the Matador Coupe and Pacer fiascos, the Hornet had peaked nicely. A new Hornet would have been a better investment than either the Coupe of Pacer. It could have been their K Car or their Fox platform.

      I heard all the current excuses given for the Pacer and I don’t buy them. I heard of all the current excuses for the Matador Coupe, and don’t believe them either.

      AMC management did not like sitting in dull Matadors and Hornets, while their counterparts were in Sevilles, Mark IVs and Imperials. They wanted to bring back Hudsons and Nashes, not Ramblers. Once Romney left in 1962, the guys in Kenosha couldn’t wait to spend Rambler cash trying to catch up with their buddies at GM, Ford and Chrysler. By 1966, they shot their wad and it was downhill from there.

      Americans root for the little guy. AMC was the little guy from Kenosha, the Green Bay Packers against the high price teams. We have been too forgiving of their mistakes. After watching the successes of the Japanese auto makers, there really are few excuses why AMC could not have survived until today.

      • 0 avatar

        Dude: You said so yourself. “Once Romney left in 1962, the guys in Kenosha couldn’t wait to spend Rambler cash trying to catch up with their buddies at GM, Ford and Chrysler. By 1966, they shot their wad and it was downhill from there.”

        We (collectively) were not rooting for the AMC litte guy. Far from it. The market spoke volumes, even before the Japanese and German makes ramped up their game(s), long before NHTSA, CAFE and EPA were a reality. The last time they made money was when Romney was still running the joint.

        There’s no excuses, just the fact that they could not keep up. Add in governmental regulations, offshore (read cheap) competition and the fact that the other domestics could easily outspend AMC in marketing (even though much of their contemporary lineup(s) were pretty ancient, depending upon which point in time we reference) doesn’t leave much room for innovation.

        I think we for the most part agree on what killed AMC. It’s just that I contend that improved Hornets wouldn’t have made that much of a dent against all of the other items mentioned previously. These cars would have to be a quantum leap above everything else. Without it’s own bank (unlike many foreign operations) and the culture to make a massive improvement like that, it was just a matter of time.

        May as well have some fun with it all. Matador X, where are you?

  • avatar

    My dad bought one of these used in 1976. My whole family loved this car beyond all reason, even when rust had marred it, eating its way entirely through the panel just behind the driver’s side door, by 1978. So we wet-sanded the rust spots, and Dad replaced the missing sheet metal and had the car painted. We kept it until about 1981, and would have kept it longer if Dad had not needed to buy a van for his budding woodworking business.

    The one unfortunate reality about the Oleg Cassini Matador was the little brass buttons in the seats. On a hot summer day, sitting down on those seats with exposed legs left red little Oleg Cassini marks on your thighs.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to nitpick, but the buttons were copper, not brass. If you ever see an example that’s not been maintained (like in a junkyard), the buttons have almost always turned green from oxidation of the copper.

  • avatar

    Ahhh…the last American coupe with roll-down rear windows! Harvest the glass and regulators and hardware, as you may be able to kit-bash a new Camaro or Challenger!

  • avatar

    I quite like these. The styling is pretty decent and would have been really good if only it had been introduced pre bumper regulations.

    That AM radio looks identical to the one my 1978 Camaro had.

    • 0 avatar

      Not bad looking at all, reminds me a little of the 2nd gen Camaro and what a great name, can you imagine a modern car being named Matador? Possibly the best name ever.

      • 0 avatar

        Introducing The Matador with the Cassini trim option: “It’s no mirage, slide-in, hand-stitched cougar-skin upolstery will grip you like no other (no hydro turbo astro glide needed.) Even if you are just a sunday rambler, you too can escape and feel a combination of joy akin to a renegade on his bronco, a knight on his charger, a cherokee on his mustang, and a continental ambassador fresh from a falcon’s flight on a firebird-winged zephyr, or fury, across the galaxy, on the concorde, with a thunderbird-like roar, and, with eagle’s eye, accompanied by a country squire, intrepidly piloting his town coupe to a regal meeting of dynastic elites, announced by le baron’s coronets, to deliver the crown victoria of El Dorado to a monarch, or a parisienne* gran marquis, at the solstice fiesta, on the imperial fair lane, at suburban Versailles. For more than a century, built rugged enough for an explorer on an excursion in a the Dakotas or Colorado canyon, a mountaineer on an avalanche expedition in the Yukon, Durango or Tahoe, or a ranger in Sonoma or Aspen, this car has true luxury, with ride as smooth as sable, yet able to transport your silhouette 88, 98, or 442 miles, and as fleet of foot as an impala on land, a corvette on the sea, or an F-85 Cutlass, or Arrow**, in the air, headed for the horizon, up in the stratus, or cirrus, riding a breeze, or skirting the capricious winds of a tempest, cyclone, or typhoon at Mach-1. Rise like a phoenix after the omega nova, and don’t worry about being mistaken for a maurader on a rampage in that cross-traffic, because even when confronted by a charging Taurus somewhere on the streets of Firenza, Cortina, Granada, Torino, Capri, Seville, Cordoba, the Riviera, Monte Carlo, Monaco, or Plymouth, you will, without having to focus on making a valliant effort, be able to dodge out of the way, with the agility of a super-bee like GTO Hornet pursuing a grand prix at LeMans, Sebring or Daytona, and not forsaking the acceleration of a Dan Gurney special Trans-Am Bonneville Salt Flats speedster or a top-fuel Eliminator.

        * and **, I didn’t forget you mikey.

  • avatar

    Check out ebay:

    You can get the emblems !

  • avatar

    I saw a very nice original condition Oleg Cassini Matador a few months ago, on the street as a daily driver in Fredricksburg, VA. Very nice looking car.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re talking about a black one, as of August 2012, there is a black one for sale in Fredericksburg in the Craigslist ads. It needs a some work; there’s a big dent just behind the driver’s door and the ad says it needs battery, carb, and brake work. Also, I’m not sure that car is original; I think it was originally a different color.

      The ad says the 304 V8 in it has “original” low mileage, but that suggests the motor is not original to the car.

      It’s hard to get real money for these cars in showable, first-class condition; some spectacular low-mileage Matador Coups went for appallingly little money at the Steve Green Collection auction in 2009 (?).

      The one for sale in Fredericksburg right now has an asking price of $3000. If the prices that nicer ones are going for on eBay are indicative, at $3000 the Fredericksburg car doesn’t leave a lot of headroom for doing any serious restoration work.

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved these Matadors. Much like my tastes in general, I tend to like the “Zigs” versus the “Zags”. I think AMC suffered most in that they attempted to compete across the line with the big three. Instead of finding a niche and owning it, they tried to field a full line of cars.

    They could neither afford to fully engineer any of their cars nor could they, in the end, afford for any of them to fail. The Matador is a great example of a car that, given the resources squandered on the Pacer, could have been successful as an alternative to the customer that wanted a coupe but wasn’t attracted to 1970’s faux luxury.

    Let’s not forget that although a lot of people bought horrible particle board Louis XVI furniture, for instance, in the 1970s, there was also a sizable minority of folks that bought Danish modern.

    • 0 avatar

      And here I thought that I was one of the only ones who liked the styling of the ’74 Matador (though not the version with the vinyl roof). Being of high school age back then, I built a model of one (the NASCAR version, in red, white, and blue) which I still have.

      Of course, my furniture is Danish Modern too.

      I had tried to interst my father in buying one of these, but when we went into the dealer together, they did not honor the price offer that they had given me when I had stopped in alone. My first experience in dealing with car dealers, I guess.

  • avatar

    I don’t think there are any Matadors in this video, shot by a friend of mine at the American Motors Owners Association’s mid west regional meet last weekend, but there’s at least one Marlin and lots of Ramblers. I’m a big fan of AMC cars so there have been a number of recent AMC posts on Cars In Depth including one on a Rebel “The Machine”. After you check out the video, just go to the home page and scroll down.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine in Buffalo, NY has one of these, it lives under a cover most of the year. Since it wasn’t born a Buffalo car, and was in fact a California car, the body, vinyl roof, everything is in surprisingly excellent shape. His is the Matador Barcelona, dark red, red vinyl top, and beige interior. Really quite a sharp car. He removed the A/C compressor and hopped up the engine a bit with some Edelbrock performance parts. Quite a nice little ride.

    Unfortunately, with kids occupying the home life now the car hasn’t been moved in about a year. He finally contacted me the other day in hopes of finding it a new home. If anyone’s looking for a very nice driver of a 1977 AMC Matador Barcelona, you probably won’t be able to find a better deal on one. Let me know…

  • avatar

    I always liked the styling of the two door Matador, but the four door sedan was totally frumpy–one of the most ugly vehicles I ever saw. Also I have to wonder why AMC decided to name it after a guy who wears a funny looking suit and dances around a ton of angry pot roast.
    If bullfighting had any following in the United States it was totally under the radar and too tiny to mention.
    American Motors bought the tooling for Buick’s v6 in 1966 for one of their Jeep models; I always wondered why they never made use of it in their passenger cars. I always thought AMC would have done better with a modernized Hornet, a redesigned Javelin and istead of wasting money on the Pacer tried to design a good subcompact instead of the Gremlin.

  • avatar

    My brother had a ’75 Matador in the early to mid-80s. We called it “the frog”. Like all his cars in that era, it was a hand me down from his parents in law. Despite the 8, in never seemed very powerful.

  • avatar

    One of the more hideous versions of a really hideous car. Those giant wheelwells half filled with skinny tires looked ridiculous. When this style came out, someone who lived down the street had a red one, a base car with hubcaps and tiny tires on it. It was a dog from day one, and in 3 years, it was replaced with a Pontiac J2000. Well, at least it looked better…

  • avatar

    With Chrysler having bought AMC in 1987, this could be an engine swap project involving the 3G Hemi currently being produced. Oleg Cassini SRT-8 anyone?

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