Rare Rides Icons: The AMC Matador, Medium, Large, and Personal (Part III)
We left off in Part II of our AMC Matador coverage during the model lineup’s second year on the market. The Matador was working overtime by 1975, as AMC marketed their largest car to the intermediate and large car buyers. Unfortunately, things only went downhill from there.
AMC pulled the full-size Ambassador after 1974, but in exchange, a new luxury Brougham trim was added to Madator in 1975. Matador received a number of technical changes ’75 too, as a new Prestolite electronic ignition arrived. Prestolite and AMC assured Matador’s ignition system was now maintenance-free. Emissions regulation meant all Matadors for ’75 had catalytic converters and ran on regular unleaded. Steel belted radials were also added as standard but could be deleted if bias-ply tires were preferred.
The wildly successful first year of the Matador Coupe was not repeated, and sales began to fall immediately. The top trim Matador Coupe of 1975 was a continuation from 1974: The designer edition Oleg Cassini. AMC had been offering fashion-related designer trims since 1971 and beat Lincoln to the idea by five years. AMC contracted with ready-to-wear designer Cassini to outfit the Matador Coupe and turn it into a stylish personal luxury lounge. The theme was black on the inside, black, white, or copper on the outside, and copious copper-colored trim pieces.
Interior accents relied on a copper color treatment as well. Oleg Cassini badging was placed here and there to remind buyers they were in something truly special. Wheels were a turbine style, and unique to the trim. AMC dealers moved a good number of the special Oleg Cassini Matadors, as they sold 6,165 in 1974 and 1,817 more in 1975.
Changes to the Matador sedan and wagon were minimal in 1976, though a performance carb was available on the 360 (5.9L) V8 for one final year, and included a dual exhaust. The Coupe received a floor-shift automatic on examples that had bucket seats and a center console. 1976 was the only year the Matador Coupe went without a special edition trim. An updated grille appeared on the Coupe, where said grille was divided into two separate rectangular sections. Turn indicators became square to match the sedan and wagon.
1977 brought even more brougham to the Matador Coupe, as AMC debuted the Barcelona II coupe. Barcelona II served as top trim, and though not fashion-derived took the place of the Oleg Cassini in the lineup. Complete with a padded vinyl roof and fixed opera windows, the Barcelona did its best to cover up the sleek styling Dick Teague penned. It was available initially in just one color, two-tone gold and tan. Especially plush on the inside, Barcelonas had much-ruched velvet and Spanish-inspired trim pieces. Door panels, headliner, and some extra thick carpeting were all unique to Barcelona, as were interior and exterior gold medallions. The exterior trim was largely body-colored and included front and rear painted bumpers. Slot-type wheels matched the exterior paint too.
Elsewhere in the Matador lineup, there were additional standard luxury features. By 1977 all transmissions were automatic, brakes were discs, and front seats reclined. As Matador leaned into luxury and emissions strangulation continued, the Power Package carb and dual exhaust option for the 360 V8 disappeared. Standard interior trims for sedan and wagon were coordinated to exterior paint colors and used plaid textile. A fully vinyl-ized interior was optional. Wagons received an upgrade to the cargo area this year, as nice carpet appeared in the rear rumpus room. Chrome trim strips helped boxes slide across the luxury carpeting with ease.
Notably at the corporate level for 1977, AMC introduced the second generation of its Buyer Protection Plan. Like the Barcelona, BPP added a II to the end of its title. Comprehensive warranty coverage doubled, from 12 months, 12,000 miles to 24 months, 24,000 miles. And though AMC was ahead of the curve on its warranty coverage, they were behind it with their midsize offerings. Domestic competition was downsizing in response to the onslaught of economic Japanese cars and energy crises, but AMC soldiered on selling the heavy, large intermediate Matadors on a platform from 1967. Consumers were tired of the Matador Coupe by 1977, and sales figures didn’t even reach the 10,000 mark.
Matador had one final outing in 1978, as trim was simplified to decrease costs. All sedans and wagons were now the Brougham trim level but were not marked as such since there weren’t any other trims. Newly available was a Barcelona packaged layered on top of the Brougham trim on the Matador sedan. Almost all features found on the Barcelona II Coupe were transferred to the sedan in their ruched glory.
Gold and tan with a tan interior returned on the Barcelona, but a second scheme, a two-tone red (Autumn Red over Claret) upped the luxury ante. Interiors on the new red Barcelona were finished all in claret. There was slightly more trim in 1978 than before, as Spanish-style woven accent striping appeared over the top of the velour seats, and continued onto the revised Barcelona-specific door panels. All examples came with dual front mirrors, at a time when the passenger side mirror was optional.
In its final year engine offerings were down to two: The 258 (4.2L) inline-six still provided Matador’s standard motivation on sedan and Coupe, while wagons used at least the 360 (5.9L) V8. The 360 was an option on sedan and Coupe. The inline-six engine gained a few horsepower this year – up to 120 – while the V8 reached 140.
The Buyer Protection Plan II was a short-lived one, as only 1977 models received the 24-month/24,000-mile coverage. AMC was feeling the financial squeeze and dropped its corporate warranty back down to 12 months and 12,000 miles in 1978.
With its aged platform and excessive trim, the Matador was on its last legs. Customers just weren’t flowing into showrooms to check out Matadors with half the warranty they had the prior year. Sales of the Coupe dropped off very quickly too, as the Barcelona never managed to generate the excitement of the Oleg Cassini. The Coupe’s styling was so distinct that the majority of its buyers showed up the first year, then saw no need to return to buy another. Overall Matador sales fell by 67 percent in 1978, and the Coupe dropped down to a sales low of 2,006 examples. With a production figure of about 100,000 Coupes, it turned out that nearly 63 percent of its sales were in the first year.
The sales cliff effectively killed any plans for an expansion of the Matador Coupe into a lineup of its own, as Dick Teague wanted to extrapolate the seductive Coupe curves into a sedan and wagon. These would’ve theoretically replaced the standard Matador offerings, and looked a bit Vega-esque.
Matador was technically the last midsize car AMC ever made. The company produced the smaller Spirit and Concord in the early Eighties before it was reduced to a Renault-Jeep-Eagle enterprise. Officially, the company’s next midsize was the Renault 18, but its successor with real AMC engineering was the Eagle Premier. However, Matador’s story receives one final chapter in our next installment. Unlike the majority of US domestic cars at the time, the Matador lived a healthy life in a few different countries across the sea and south of the border. The Matador donned different branding for its international adventures and was built in three different nowhere near Kenosha. Until next time.
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The flush door handles were an AMC design cue on many models, always gave the side panels a nice streamlined look.