By on July 6, 2012

A couple of days ago, I accompanied a friend on a journey to pick up a couple of Rabbits at a mysterious not-open-to-the-public yard that sprawls across a couple of square miles of prickly-pear-covered prairie east of Colorado Springs. I’ll tell the story of that adventure soon, but I just couldn’t wait to share this car that I spotted during our visit: one of the finest examples of Malaise Era special-edition marketing madness in the history of the universe!
After Chrysler scored big with the vaguely Spanish-themed Cordoba personal luxury coupe in 1975, the marketing wizards in Kenosha knew they had to fight back with their own crypto-Iberian-themed machine. Unfortunately, AMC had a budget of about 19 bucks to work with, so they couldn’t afford to hire their own Ricardo Montalban counterpart… but they could spray the Matador coupe in two-tone brown and put some special badges on it.
I already had a pretty severe case of Junkyard Stendhal Syndrome by the time I spotted the Matador Barcelona, having been wandering around endless fields of Willys Aeros, IHC Travelalls, and the like in 100-degree air full of smoke from all the nearby wildfires. Sort of a mid-apocalyptic environment, and then this brown-on-brown apparition appeared out of the haze, parked between a Cordoba and the only Integra for miles.
I may be the only person in this time zone who thinks that the Matador coupe is a good-looking car, and someday I will own one. Sadly, this car is already spoken for. By the way, the official names for the paint colors are “Golden Ginger Metallic” and “Sand Tan.”
Life at 6,000 feet on the High Plains is not kind to car interiors, but you can get a sense of the former majesty of this soft velour upholstery.
Imagine this car with a built 401 and a 4-speed… and a Montalban-esque Spanish accent, of course.

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52 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1976 AMC Matador Barcelona...”

  • avatar

    Awesome find! What a sweet yard. Lots of old school iron out there.

  • avatar

    A great big slab of pure ’70s American cheese. Memories…

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    It’s too easy to play the “Which 70s automobile looks better without its federally mandated 5mph bumpers?” game, even if you forbid low hanging fruit (FIAT X-1/9, etc.), but that Matador would definitely look much better without its continental shelves.

    I can see a restomod turning out very well indeed, although I’m inclined to cover that body in some 80s-style high-contrast stripe graphics.

    • 0 avatar

      You are exactly right. Seeing a car body in primer without bumpers, lights, and other trim gives you an idea of what the designers were seeking. I recently saw a 1971 Camaro in this state and it looked great. Even a 1996 Taurus looked much better before all the garbage was added.

  • avatar

    Just look at the overhang in those fenders. That is definitely one of the ugliest cars of its era. “Two-tone brown” should be brought back as a color choice, though, along with “Avocado”.

    Obligatory “make sure you find one with the attachable wings and jet engine option”.

  • avatar

    This is why your car designers should not take drugs during work hours.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    As 1970’s personal luxury coupes go, the Matador was a refreshing change from the baroque excess of the contemporary Thunderbird, Cordoba, Monte Carlo, etc. Like most AMC cars of the period, the Matador has a very clean, uncluttered appearance. Then again, maybe this didn’t work so well for the Matador which looks for all the world like a Hornet on steroids. This is not what 1970’s personal luxury buyers had in mind.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. AMC had some of the cleanest and tidiest designs of the period. It was a good thing too, seeing as how the 1970 Hornet Sportabout body stayed in production for nearly 18 years, and still didn’t look *that* dated by the late ’80s.

      I’ve always thought that the Matador Coupe ranked along with the Cordoba as one of the best styled personal luxury coupes of the era, but as you said, clean and tasteful were not what buyers of the time wanted. They wanted pseudo Rolls-Royce grilles and faux spare tire humps, and chrome and coats of arms emblazoned everywhere. The Cordoba succeeded partly because of Chrysler’s better marketing budget and partly because it at least recognized what the trends were and did its best to incorporate them. Dick Teague basically ignored the market entirely.

  • avatar

    Was tbis the Man With the Golden Gun car?

    • 0 avatar

      Not exactly, bryanska. Scaramanga and Nick Nack had a Matador like this, but it was a 1974 Oleg Cassini Edition instead of the Barcelona we see here.

  • avatar

    At first I thought it had faux wood sides – I am sorely disappointed.

    It’d be interesting to see an article on the styling of the AMC cars of this era. Not great cars but the styling was ahead of its time – clean , smooth.

  • avatar

    According to the magic Google, the Barcelona treatment was also available on the sedan. It also came in a dark red treatment as well as the two tone sand color shown here.

  • avatar

    I always thought the Matador COUPE was attractive. The SEDAN, however… *shudder*

    • 0 avatar

      Depends on the year. The late ’60s and early ’70s Matador sedans and two doors weren’t bad looking cars. The problem is that as the ’70s went on, the car’s proboscis grew, exaggerated by the 5mph battering ram bumpers.

      I’m a fan of Dick Teague’s but I’ve always thought that AMC styling lost its way in the ’70s, with this Matador coupe and the second generation Javelin, which I think is a bit cartoonish, as examples.

      If you look at AMC concept cars, like the AMX/3 and others, you can get an idea how the Matador coupe ended up looking like it did. It was striking and has some good lines, but I don’t think it hangs together as a whole.

      BTW, I believe that the Guild of Automotive Bloggers’ style manual says that the Matador should not be mentioned without reference to the “What’s a Matador?” ad campaign.

  • avatar

    I see someone has nabbed the rear 1/4 window inserts that created the opera windows featured on the Barcelona edition. The smaller window treatment debuted mid 1974 on the D/L model to meet NASCAR’s build requirement, allowing Team Penske to reduce the drag created by the large rear 1/4 windows. Although it greatly reduced outward visibility on the street, it did improve the cars on track performance.

  • avatar

    “I may be the only person in this time zone who thinks that the Matador coupe is a good-looking car, and someday I will own one.”

    Murilee Martin in a Matador. Has a certian ring to it!

  • avatar

    I believe you may have found The Most Interesting Car In The World.

    • 0 avatar

      “I don’t drive Malaise Era automobiles very often, but when I do, I drive an AMC Matador coupe…”

      I have seen one of these without the federal bumpers, and it’s a completely different car.

  • avatar

    I remember another Matador “special edition”, a nautical themed station wagon with whitewash fake wood siding. What were the AMC boys thinking back then.

  • avatar

    When you say the car is “spoken for”, I sure hope that means restoration or at least conservation of this survivor. Sure, it’s a big beige piece of 70’s AMC cheese, but I’d be OK with something like this.

    I’d like to get a standard coupe, paint it to look similar to the Matador X offered in 74 & 75 , but upgrade the drivetrain to LSx power.

    THAT would be fun…

  • avatar

    I have to give credit to AMC for designing an all-new coupe body as late as 1974 with rear quarter windows that rolled down.

    I’ve been trying and failing to think of a post-1974 new coupe design from the domestic manufacturers that offered four roll-down windows. (I’m not counting the 1975 Plymouth Fury coupe, closely derived from the 1973-74 Satellite, or its Dodge equivalent.) The new-for-1974 full-size Chrysler line also had a coupe with four proper windows.

    Having lived through the era and having given it some thought, I’ve concluded that with respect to “styling” (as opposed to design changes required by regulations), the spread of non-opening rear quarter windows actually precipitated the malaise era. They combined cheapness (lower manufacturer cost) with sheer tackiness, as can be seen in the optional padded-vinyl treatments for both the Matador and Chrysler coupes as well as other coupes of the era that already used fixed quarter windows. Generally hideous.

    The era was ultimately defined by the deletion of rear roll-down windows even on four-door cars, which happened twice: the 1978 GM intermediates and the 1981 Chrysler K-cars (although the latter did switch to roll-downs after a year or two).

    That’s my theory, which is mine.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      I blame the growing popularity of air conditioning in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Thanks to a.c. car makers didn’t think we needed things like roll down quarter windows or vent wings on the front door windows. Of course when your malaise era a.c. expired you were left to bake in a greenhouse with minimal ventilation. You were really going to suffer if your car’s interior had vinyl upholstery.

    • 0 avatar


      “I have to give credit to AMC for designing an all-new coupe body as late as 1974 with rear quarter windows that rolled down.”

      Man, you beat me to it!

  • avatar

    It’s so hideous, and yet, I feel compelled to own it.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    As the ad said “What is it? It’s a Matador!” Apparently AMC had on the drawing board a 4 dr version of the coupe to replace the long in the tooth Rebel based 4dr. I remember seeing a pic of it in a car mag back then. Matador CLS?

  • avatar

    Like everything else AMC did during this period it reeks of budget constrained desperation. Having been pound foolish with putting the Pacer and Matador coupe into production they had very few pennies left to play with.

    Looking forward to an article on that junkyard! MM sure is carrying TTAC these days, and with one arm tied behind his back too since LeMons updates have gone elsewhere..

  • avatar

    My Dad owned an AMC/Jeep dealership in the 70’s, a bad time to have any dealership! But he had one just like this as a “Demo”, and drove it on vacation. Had a 360 V8 with a Torque-command (Torque-flite) via Chrysler. He sold AMC’s because he had take the cars to get the Jeeps he could actually sell. But Dave Marcus and Bobby Allison drove the Matadors to victory in a (very)few NASCAR races. Wasn’t easy competing against the Big 3! I left the car business in 1977… Do you wonder why?

  • avatar

    Wow. Look how small the emblems on the trunk are. The AMC badge looks like it’s the size of a postage stamp. You can hardly read it from one car-length away!

    Nowadays it seems like companies just ram their branding down your throat! I think the Ford emblem on the front of the current model F250/350 is as big or bigger than a football. The Cadillac medallion on the front of the ‘Slade is the size of a large pizza. Then you can get “Hybrid” decals for the side of your Tahoe/Slade in big 10″ tall letters that run above the rocker panels.

    “Holy jumping Caesar’s catfish! My ‘H’ has been stolen! Awwwww… that’s how people know its a Honda. What’s the point of having a Honda if you can’t, show it off.”

  • avatar

    Didn’t Mikey Teutul buy one of these a few years ago?

    I’m astonished at how much wider the body is than this car’s actual track. Is that platform sharing in action? It looks like the body of a large car placed over the chassis of a smaller car.

    There are some wide tires and cool negative-offset wheels on the driver’s side and it’s still not even close.

    Cool find.

  • avatar

    He’s from Barcelona

    Oh I Know!!

  • avatar

    Matador Barcelona one year after el caudillo died. By this time a shrivelled, wrinkled old despot hobbling around in dark glasses & sashed uniform. It was all those Eisenhower hugs and Gerald R Ford handshakes that did the generalissimo in. Even Guardia tricornios (3-pointed hats) couldn’t keep presidents away.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    In my memory the Barcelona model had a padded vinyl top with an exclusive and awful opera window treatment similiar to the one on the Eagle two-door . I can’t tell looking at this one if the plastic opera window was pulled out , or if – hopefully – it was optional , or maybe on a later Barcelona . The hideous color coordinated bumper I know was exclusive to this model , as ” normal ” – maybe an oxymoron – Matadors had steel bumpers . My older sister had the cheaper Matador coupe , in a brown color with darker brown vinyl top . I rode in it a number of times . The back seat compared to other personal luxury coupes wasn’t bad as I recall and as noted above the rear windows rolled down which impressed me . One cheesy malaise- era feature I remember was that the gauges had the numbers and script over a
    ” woodtone ” field – never saw another vehicle with that . One problem sister had was that the window wells would fill up with rainwater . She never liked the car which my B-I-L had bought used . Note the other cool cars pictured in the background in the photos here . If I’m not mistaken I see a ” bullet nose ” Studebaker , a 1956 Lincoln , a Checker , a mid – sixties Imperial , A 1955 New Yorker – I think – in pink , and isn’t that a ” Darrin dip ” fifties Kaiser , plus several International Harvesters , among others . Looks like a fun junkyard .

  • avatar

    “…only person in this time zone who thinks that the Matador coupe is a good-looking car”

    I have sincere doubts as to your mental state.

  • avatar

    AMC advertised it with the catchy phrase, “What’s a Matador?”

  • avatar

    I drove a 75 Matador Coupe “Brougham” in high school (in the early 90’s). I simultaneously loved and hated that car. One of the fun features was that you could keep spare oil and tools in the gigantic valleys under the hood where the round headlights flowed back.

  • avatar

    I totally remember driving past this yard when I live in the Springs in the 80’s. I specifically remember the rusted hulk of a Pierce Silver Arrow clearly visible from the road.

    Checker Marathon FTW in the background of the first photo.

  • avatar

    A truly hideous car in a very bad color combo. I remember the first time I saw a Matador, it was bright red, and I laughed at how much room the stock wheels and tires left in the wheelwells. I saw one later on, parked in one of the fields near National Trail Raceway, and it had huge wheels and tires and it was a huge improvement. It was still one of the ugliest cars of it’s era, but it wasn’t totally ridiculous like it was when it was on the showroom floor.

  • avatar

    The Matador and Pacer would have both benefited from removing the beam like 5mph bumpers. The other best modification would have been getting aero-flush mount headlights in place of the 7″ diameter DOT crap sealed beams (and resultant removal of those crazy hood bumps / tunnels for the lights). The Pacer could have looked even late 1980ish in fact -like a massive Honda Civic 2dr wagon hatch back.

  • avatar

    This looks like the ’74 used in the 007 flick ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, the one with the AMC dealership in Thailand of all places. Priceless. Kenosha! :)

  • avatar

    SOMEONE! Hire the Dos Equis guy to sell this car NOW! Ricardo Montalban is dead so let’s get the next best Brougham-spokesman to sell this car!

  • avatar

    Personally, I like the styling of the Matador coupe, but vinyl tops, or the faux opera windows on the later models ruin a really clean design. I like to think Dick Teague used the SR 71 Blackbird as a design reference. All 74 cars suffered from the federally mandated 5 mph bumpers, but the Matadors, freestanding, allowed a little more of the original concept.
    Beauty is in the prejudiced eye of the beholder. Its always been easy to dismiss tiny AMC vs. giant GM. Really compare a 74 Matador X with a 74 Monte Carlo -truly a homely barge- then and now. Popularity trumps aesthetics whether it’s watches, clothing, architecture, or cars. Most people, insecure, go with the herd.
    The narrow tread width was a result of AMC having no budget… The basic chassis dates at least to 67, and the coupe and sedan even share the dash. Wider wheels and thin bumpers (think Avanti or 71-2 Camaro) would result in a stunning automobile.
    Car and Driver called the Matador “best looking car” in ’74. The problem was its introduction as a styled design, right on the paradigm shift to ersatz Mercedes boxy anachronisms ushered in en masse in 1975. Ford Granada is a perfect example. The Matador was an “old” design on its first birthday.

  • avatar

    This car was crap when new and ugly and it has not changed since.

    I generally understand that AMC had little to work with, but this car was 10 years late to market and was weird. I love Detroit iron and coupes but never could understand why something with a fast back would be whored out as a luxury product (well, called a luxury product). As a muscle car, this would be a worthwhile trip down memory lane, but even when the Matador was introduced in this form, it had the performance of a 50 year old couch potato marathon runner.

    This would have been cool in 1968 with some of the engines Rambler/AMC offered then.

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