By on April 20, 2018

The Rare Rides series has previously featured a couple of AMC products. First up was the unique and stylish Eagle Sundancer, followed up by the Van concept that never quite made it to production. Today, we head back to the late Seventies and take a look at the seriously brougham Matador coupe. And it’s not just any old Matador — it’s the special Barcelona version.

I hear polyester rustling.

The Matador started out in life as the midsize sedan offering from American Motors in 1971. Ever the penny pincher, AMC created the “brand new” Matador off the bones of its predecessor, the Rebel. Initially, the Matador was available in two-door hardtop, four-door sedan, and wagon configurations. Small trim changes and improvements occurred annually, and by 1973 owner satisfaction had improved over the prior Rebel model.

A second-generation Matador collection debuted in 1974, bringing some substantial changes to the lineup. While the four-door sedan and wagon bodystyles retained the same basic shape, the plain-looking two-door hardtop transformed into a stylish coupe with sweeping lines. Like the Van concept up above, the Matador coupe was penned by AMC’s favorite (and lead) designer, Richard Teague. With his design, the Matador coupe separated from the brass band and went its own direction, as top execs at AMC intended to inject some unique excitement into the burgeoning mid-market coupe segment. For ’74, Matador was the only new coupe on the market, and went toe to toe with the established coupe variants of the Ford Torino, Plymouth Satellite, and Chevrolet Chevelle.

The long, flowing hood matched to a short rear deck made for classic coupe proportions, if a bit distended by US bumper regulations. Not satisfied with the soft middle, AMC aimed higher with two luxury versions of the Matador coupe — the Oleg Cassini designer edition, and today’s Barcelona.

First up was the Cassini, available in 1974 and 1975. It mimicked the Lincoln tradition of employing a designer to outfit both the interior and exterior of a standard car, and putting his name on it in several places. The Barcelona trim followed up for 1977 and 1978, rounding out the remainder of the Matador’s lifespan. Both of these trim levels pushed the Matador coupe to new heights (and into the Personal Luxury Coupe segment).

All Barcelona coupes had a padded vinyl roof and opera windows in the finest brougham tradition. Though initially only available in a two-tone gold color combo, a second color combination in this dual-red was available only for ’78. Other special items included crushed velvet seating, special door trim, headliner, painted headlamp bezels, color-key wheels (gone), and some Barcelona medallions in select locations.

Today’s example has been meticulously maintained. The front bumper has been removed, and it’s been lowered a bit and put on some new wheels. All the standard and additional luxury features of the Barcelona are powered along by the AMC 360 V8, which is 5.9 liters in foreign metric units. The only transmission available is the three-speed Torque Command automatic, because this Matador is for relaxed, luxury motoring only. The seller expects more than $13,000 for it, as the last couple of listings have reached that figure and not met the reserve.

[Images via eBay]

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65 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1978 AMC Matador – Baroque and Barcelona...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    That interior colour and upholstery is just magnificent.

  • avatar

    Along with the Pacer, the 1974 Matador coupe helped drive AMC into the loving arms of Renault. A new “sporty” intermediate like the Matador might have made it in 1970, but 1974 was far too late.

  • avatar

    Crank windows… such luxury!

    I like it overall. I wonder how hard it would be to “wake up” the AMC V8? (Says the guy living in a part of the state with no emissions inspection.)

    • 0 avatar

      I expected it would have power windows as well. But maybe those were reserved for the Ambassador.

      • 0 avatar

        No Ambassador by then, and Pwr Windows were only available in the Matador Sedan and Wagon. Don’t ask me how I know this.

        • 0 avatar

          Tell us more, FORMER AMC SALESMAN!

          • 0 avatar

            I worked for a dealer group that had Chevy and AMC/Jeep across the street. Part of my job was training sales people and ordering inventory, so yeah… I am LOADED with trivial knowledge on this stuff.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m glad I guessed correctly! AMC was a complicated web of trims and models, especially toward the end there.

            Eagle SX/4
            Spirit ___ something
            Concorde (D/L?)

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            Air conditioning was standard on the Ambassador from the late 60’s on.
            Richard Teague had a four door version of the Matador coupe on the drawing board to replace the Rebel based Matador that was long in the tooth since 1967. By 1978 they decided to pull the plug on mid and full sized cars and stick with subcompact Gremlin, Spirit and Pacers as well as compact Hornets and Concords as well as the groundbreaking AWD Eagle. Kind of prescient.

      • 0 avatar

        Remember back then just about everything was optional on most American cars. The base model was bare bones that most buyers would add onto according to taste and budget. AMC didn’t even make electric windshield wipers standard until 1972!

        As far as AMC offering power windows, you could definitely get them on a Rebel or Matador. I don’t recall ever seeing them on a Hornet or Pacer but they were available on the Concord and Eagle.

        • 0 avatar

          The pick-and-mix options sheet just doesn’t spring to mind for anybody born after say… 1975.

          • 0 avatar

            Oh it does for me (1977 birth here) but that’s because I’m a little obsessive about “oddly” optioned cars.

            One of my former teachers said he once bought a (used) Ford LTD wagon (early 70s model) that was total luxury on the outside (lots of chrome, hidden headlights, etc…) and total poverty on the inside (no AC, manual everything, AM radio).

          • 0 avatar

            I knew you were either 40 or 43.

          • 0 avatar

            @ PrincipalDan

            Dealer in Southern Oregon ordered 50 or so 3/4T 4X4 pickups fully loaded- everything except… Power Steering. And Chevy built ’em. Took him years to work out of all of them.

            (I’ve got a couple decades on you)

          • 0 avatar

            If you have older relatives, you’ll get an earful about “options”. One uncle bought a new 1963 Buick Riviera in Rhode Island, and was ticked off that the heater and windshield defroster were optional.

        • 0 avatar

          For the benefit of younger or less mechanically wonk-ish readers (if any) you should note that the alternative was vacuum-actuated wipers, not, er, manual wipers.

          (vacuum wipers were quite terrible: they relied on scavenged power from the fuel pump in the case of the AMC, and it just wasn’t a consistent power source. Pop-up headlamps were another accessory that would often be vacuum-powered on cars, what fun).

        • 0 avatar

          I loved ala cart option ordering.

    • 0 avatar

      This is how to wake up a 360, though admitedly its not in a Matador

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I struggle to find any sheet metal from the Malaise Era that doesn’t trigger a little retch. But this…this looks good.

    Except those seats. Dear god, is that floral print?

  • avatar

    This car as well as pacer helped keep AMC alive if only for the moment. this one is truly beautiful although i’m a fan of the personal car king-the Monte carlo, i give credit where it’s due. this car stood out and worked the personal car formula very well!!

  • avatar

    Scaramanga’s nipples – all three of them – got hard after reading this post.

  • avatar

    OMG (as my daughter would say), we had a neighbor down the street who had what I remember as one of the Barcelona editions. I remember thinking that is one good looking car, which should speak volumes as to my taste.

    But, the front bumper was still installed, so you didn’t get to marvel at it with the bumper removed. Night and day difference.

    You’ll have to excuse me now as I fill my eyes with eye drops to regain my vision, perhaps a quick trip to the local priest to fess up to my historical shortcomings.

  • avatar

    I remember the earlier four door model of one of these I saw as a kid. It was (to me) the ugliest car I had ever seen. Still is.
    But wow, rare or not this thing is close. FUGLY! The interior looks like it came out of a bunny ranch in Vegas.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    ¡Ay carumba! If you look closely with a blacklight, you might be able to see the STDs still embedded in the seats.

    The styling is about 5-6 years out of date; rectilinear was rapidly taking over by ’78.

    • 0 avatar

      It was already out of date by 1975. Personal luxury coupes were to the ’70s what upmarket small crossovers are today, but the Matador coupe styling was stuck in the early ’70s with its fastback and frog-eye round headlamps. AMC tried to shift course with styling modifications to better compete with the likes of Cordobas, Monte Carlos, and Cutlass Supremes, but this car just had the wrong shape for opera windows and vinyl roofs.

      • 0 avatar

        The truth. And with that horrible vinyl top, one lost the roll down capability of the rear windows.

        Too bad about the missing front bumper.

        Lots of delicate sheet metal unprotected from even the smallest tap.

        AMC’s Federal bumpers were a lot more elegant in execution than Ford’s offerings, or the hideous and slow rotting plastic caps and vanity patches used by GM.

  • avatar

    The PERFECT Disco Ride!!!!!

  • avatar

    Matadors look so much better with the chunky bumpers removed.

    If the automotive world had gone aerodynamic as the 70’s wore on, instead of boxy with more Brougham styling, this car would look normal in hindsight. Unfortunately for AMC, that’s not how things played out.

  • avatar

    There are several marketing missteps here. Maybe the result of too long a product cycle?

    1. Why keep the Matador name when it was also still attached to the dull sedan and wagon? The ad campaign said, “WHAT IS A MATADOR?” Well, it depended on which one you were looking at.

    2. Introducing a sporty fastback when personal luxury was all the rage. If they had aped the style of the GM coupes the way Chrysler did with the Cordoba would it have sold better? Or would it have been just so much, “me too”?

    • 0 avatar

      1. back then one model name could encompass several bodystyles (sedan, hardtop, coupe, convertible, wagon) unlike today when automakers use a different model name and unique sheetmetal on the station wagon versus the sedan or between the convertible and hardtop versions of cars in the same division and built in the same chassis.

      Look at the Oldsmobile Cutlass or Chevy Chevelle, which could be a mild-mannered grocery getter sedan or wagon or convertible with lots of chrome or a muscle car. Another example is the Plymouth Valiant. The Barracuda was initially marketed as the Valiant Barracuda and the Duster as the Valiant Duster when introduced.

      2. I was getting at the same thing with my comment above. For example, the Mopar B-bodies moved away from their Coke-bottle styling after 1974, just as the Matador coupe came onto the market.

    • 0 avatar

      “Oh, so that’s a Matador.”

      One of the worst marketing campaigns that I’ve ever heard.

  • avatar

    After 40 years this car is no longer a ugly and weird looking. Now it’s a classic weird looking car.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    What a tremendous find!

    A family friend bought a new Matador back then. What a dog it was; IIRC it was plain blue with hubcaps. I think the Matador filled the gap between a New Yorker and a Chevette.

  • avatar

    I see a lot of AMX in the design – did they share similar underpinnings? (too lazy to look it up).

    Of course AMC was always on a tight budget, making new models out of old ones. Amazing what they could pull off considering their lack of money.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I want to take a nap on that roof.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Who bought these cars? What was their target market? I never understood this. AMC was alway at the trailing edge of technology because they didn’t have the money to keep up. This car would have been OK as a 1968 but by 1974 it was out of date in many respects. Did people buy these because they didn’t know any better? Because they were a few hundred $ cheaper? Because their reliance on “well proven” (old) technology made them a little more reliable than other makes? What was the selling proposition?

    • 0 avatar

      I doubt AMC knew either. They had one car that worked in this timeframe- the Hornet Sportabout. If that’s where their strength was, that’s what they should’ve focused on. And of course the Jeep line, which the AMC people never really understood, so they thankfully left it alone.

    • 0 avatar

      The answer to the question of the rationale for the Matador coupe can be answered in one word: Javelin. AMC’s ponycar was going away after 1974 (like Chrysler’s E-body) and AMC wanted to keep some sort of sporty, specialty car in their lineup. So, for someone wanting a sporty AMC but who had missed out on the Javelin, here comes the Matador coupe.

      It also fit into the burgeoning personal luxury car market by offering brougham-style options, certainly much better than the Javelin. It was essentially AMC’s version of the 1971-74 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus. Chrysler, like AMC (and unlike Ford and GM) couldn’t afford distinctive personal luxury car sheetmetal, so they just made a separate intermediate coupe that was completely different from the sedans.

      Better late than never Chrysler finally made a big splash with the 1975 Cordoba but the virtually identical Charger of the same year was a big dud. AMC had blown all of their already tight R&D budget on the Pacer, so they were never able to get in on the intermediate PLC wave started by the 1969 Grand Prix. The 1975 Matador coupe would as close as they’d ever get to cashing in.

      The biggest issue with the Matador coupe was in trying to cover all bases, it didn’t hit any of them very well. AMC was simply hoping that there was still a market for people who had bought the similar Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus but there just wasn’t. Those cars simply didn’t have the caché of the class-leading Cutlass Supreme Brougham, of which Oldsmobile sold exponentially more. Frankly, in choosing a car that exemplified the seventies (at least the mid-to-late period), the Supreme Brougham might be it..

  • avatar

    Corey, fantastic find. Next find should be a Gremlin Levi’s Edition.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t drive this around Barcelona. Red & black are the falange pronounced ‘fallack’ fascist colors of the old Franco regime.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My first new car was a 77 Monte Carlo with swivel buckets, console shifter, power windows and locks, rear window defroster, AM/FM Stereo, rally wheels, custom floor mats, light under the hood and in the trunk,Landau vinyl top, and rubber trim around the bumpers. In 1977 this was a well option car which had a MSRP of $8,100 which I got for $6,200 plus tax title and licensing. My Monte was buckskin color (bronze gold) with tan landau top and tan interior. It was a good looking and nice driving car. I would have never looked at an AMC product considering them stodgy and out of date. I never really liked this Matador before but the looks have grown on me over the years. The sedan Matador is hideous and has never grown on me especially the grill.

  • avatar

    I love this Matador body style, but I prefer the Matador X with white Mopar-aping stripes going down the sides…

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Always liked the Matador. Great looks in a sporty package.

  • avatar

    My family had a 74 sedan. Build quality and gas mileage were pretty atrocious (surprise!) but it was decently reliable and stayed in the family for a long time. The biggest selling point for my parents was that it was the roomiest car that would fit in our small prewar garage.

  • avatar
    Trucky McTruckface

    Losing the front bumper makes a big difference. Looks like the back bumper has been tucked in as well. The upsized, Mopar-style rally wheels really work here.

    All of that is almost enough to overlook how out of place the Barcelona vinyl top and hood ornament look on this design.

    Shame about the Matador’s timing, it’s not so much an ugly car as a poorly timed one. Bottom-rung Colonnade coupes with their big windows and big crash bumpers really weren’t any better looking. But the stench of AMC would have been the hardest thing to overcome, even if this car had been a looker.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes, but they sold a lot of those Colonnades. GM had the midsize market for most of the 70’s. I had a 73 Chevelle 4 door Deluxe, I don’t know if you would call it a Colonnade but it was a great car–very reliable and smooth running. The GM midsize cars for the most part ran well especially with a V-8. If I had it to do over I would have kept the Chevelle and not bought the Monte because the Chevelle ran much better. I doubt I would have bought an AMC because their reputation was not that great.

    • 0 avatar

      The difference in drivetrain, body quality and content level in ten years, between the first Chevelle in 1964 and the new model in 1973, was quite dramatic. The original had the 283 V8 and two-speed powerglide, crude but got the job done. The ’73 had the much-improved 350 V8 and a turbo-hydramatic trans, making for a very smooth and peppy car, even though the 73 was likely more than 500 pounds heavier than the ’64.

      I have a friend who bought a ’73 Malibu Colonnade Coupe in ’74, almost new, in a unique exterior yellow and all-vinyl brown interior. It was a great car with very smooth drive and ride. One of GM’s best and why they left AMC in the dust.

  • avatar

    Long time AMC fan and down to 4 cars now, retired and just sold my 73 Gremlin X Levi edition, front disc brakes and A/C out of Alabama rust free.
    Still have my 70 Javelin MD option 390, 4 speed, 140 mph and tach,
    The Dean Blagowski 82 SCCA Eagle, 79 AMX cloned like the BFGoodrich Nurenburg Race car, and a 81 Eagle Hatchback

  • avatar

    Luv the sort of retro SF exterior looks, like it could have featured in the movie Gattaca. THe interior looks like it came straight from a 70’s porn movie though.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Looking at the pictures of this Matador again losing the cow catcher bumpers makes this car much more attractive. Maybe that is the main reason I didn’t like this car. I like this particular car.

  • avatar

    The Matador X had the right idea – without the stupid vinyl top, bordello interior, and the massive bumpers, the Matador was pretty nice to look at. Of course, it was the ’70s, and any hope of cool burst in flames right along with AMC’s balance sheets.

    But do up a restomod Matador X with an injected 390 or 401, 6-speed manual, 4.10 gears, and a suspension that isn’t 50 years old, and you’d have a wicked ride you won’t see everywhere.

  • avatar

    I have to repeat someone’s earlier question and ask why this was called a Matador, but so was the big sedan and wagon that was totally different (the ADAM 12 squad car, for example)?

    I think I recall that this kind of Matador had a somewhat successful racing resume for the time. Unusual cars. Glad to see one being preserved.

  • avatar

    Man that car was about 4 or 5 years too late from being a true classic IMO. Imagine that shape coming out in 1969 or 1970, the designers were free to do the bumpers how they saw fit. Also wouldn’t have had that silly vinyl roof/opera window(I know that was optional). The 360 V8 would have had about 300hp or so before the government killed all the fun on horsepower.

    This would have been an interesting comparison between something like the new 1970 Challenger or 1970 Camaro, both had similar, very swoopy styling.

  • avatar

    “Look! Up in The Sky! The Flying Car-Plane…The Flying Car-Plane!”
    That’s right, the Matador was used in the James Bond movie “The Man With The Golden Gun”!
    What a show that was !

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