Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The 1974 AMC Matador Coupe 401

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to showcase those cars that you may have forgotten about. It was late in 1973, and the Detroit automakers were celebrating because of a record production year. However, there were ominous clouds gathering, with pending emission regulations, newly enacted crash and safety standards, and federally mandated bumper regulations. Engine output was being choked with air pumps, and a myriad of vacuum hoses, to try and clean up tailpipe emissions, so the performance market was lagging. During this dark period, a distinctly designed two door coupe was let loose on the market, from the smallest of the Detroit automakers. Let’s take a look at the 1974 Matador Coupe (with the 401 V-8).

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AMC Introduced that Matador nameplate during the 1971 model year, to replace the venerable Rebel series. It was a dependable, if somewhat boring lineup of cars including Sedan, Station Wagon, and 2 Door Hardtop models. The sedans and wagons seem to be selling well (even landing a large Police Car Fleet like the Los Angeles PD), but they never seemed to capture the youth market like the other mid-sized offerings from Chrysler, Ford, or GM. In 1972 and 73, AMC even fielded a NASCAR entry (piloted by none other than Mark Donohue) to try and breathe new life into a not so exciting car. That was all about to change.

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It was decided to come up with an all new coupe model, and leave the current sedan and wagon models as they were. The task of redesigning the Matador was under the masterful care of Richard Teague, then VP of Styling for AMC. The decision to allow this Matador to be just a coupe allowed the designers the freedom to produce a car without having to make compromises for other models. Introduced in the fall of 1973, the Matador Coupe looked like no other AMC car before. A long hood, fastback rear deck, fixed “B” pillars, an aggressive pointed snout, and free floating bumpers gave it a look that no one could forget. It’s most distinctive characteristic was probably the “tunneled” headlamps.

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There were three distinct models within the Matador lineup, including base, the luxurious Brougham, and the Matador “X”. AMC was ahead of it’s time in naming the sportiest AMC models “X”, way before Xtream sports were all the rage. Under the hood were a slew of engine choices, including two six cylinder engines, a 304 V8, two different 360 v8′s, and the big 401 Cu In V8, belting out 235 HP, and over 335 Lb Ft of torque, unfortunately, only through an automatic transmission.

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Car Magazines of the day seemed to love this big. bold AMC. Car and Driver Magazine pronounced it as “1974′s Best Styled Car.” They went on to say that “There’s an undeniable air of smugness stamped into the fenders of this new Matador X.” Road & Track felt that the Matador was “Sleek and fast, but oversize and thirsty.” Super Stock magazine even took a 401 equipped Matador X to the quarter mile, and the best run was 15.38 at a little under 95 MPH. Remember, this was a heavy car (weighing close to 5,000 pounds), equipped with a version of Chrysler’s excellent TorqueFlite automatic, and Air Conditioning, and was still able to post these numbers.

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Production of the 1974 Matador Coupe totaled a little over 62,000, compared with the previous year of only 7,000. But like most AMC models introduced during the 70′s, sales start off very strong, but trail off steeply after that, and the Matador was no exception, with sales falling to 22,300 for 1975, and falling off to 6,800, and finally a little over 2,000 for the 1978 model year. The big 401 wasn’t offered after 1974, so this is the only year that this car was a true Muscle Car.

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Now, is this piece of AMC History an Obscure Muscle Car, and does it deserve a place on the Garage? Or is it just another 70′s boulevard cruiser, with wonky looks, and weight to match. As always I look forward to your lively debates on this series, so keep them coming.

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

23 Comments

  1. The muscle car label is debatable, but one of my all-time favorite bodies. The wonkiness bugs me in all the right ways. If you look up "design tension" in an art book, it should picture this car.

  2. My father had one. Can't remember if it was 1972 or 1974.
    I just don't like the proportions of the Matador or the interior appointments on the X. I mean, woodgrain INSIDE of the gauges?

  3. The Matador could only stand still as the Bull from that year came rushing by (Countach). It was a classical example of nemesis and rivalry. There was never a thought of a matched competition…as the Bull would best Him in almost any regard. More powerful and more agile than the Matador…a powerhouse that would ruin you if you dared to try to tame it.
    No the Matador was the retired overweight athlete still trying to hold on to the thrill of danger and the excitement of the crowd. His only saving grace was a strong base, a reliable record and enough flamboyancy to make the crowd jeer. Some flair here, a busted line from the Bull there…it was all part of the show.
    But deep down all we really wanted to see was the Bull run that fat bastard over.

    1. Yet the Matador died from heart attack and the Bull was crippled by an overdose of steroids on a toll road. The unlikely and epic showdown never happened, and everyone left the arena in a Corolla.

  4. Dick Teague could do amazing things with no money. By "floating" the bumpers he saved on all the filler panels, a neat detail. Sadly the tight margins showed up most in the craptastic interiors. In X form, very attractive, then they started putting padded landau roofs and brocade seat covering on them…the end was near.

  5. my jaw dropped when i read that it weighed nearly five thousand pounds.
    blew my mind. that is enormously fat. maybe that's more or less what everything weighed back then, but it's still too much for a two-door car. i also don't like the styling around the rear three-quarters: those bloated fenders really scream "personal luxury coupe". so if it looks like a personal luxury duck and weighs like a personal luxury duck….you know where my vote went.

    1. No they do not weigh near 5,000lbs, fully loaded they tip the scales under 4,000lbs and can weigh as little as 3,500lbs in base form.

  6. You forgot the "Go Machine" version of the Matador, of which only one or two are confirmed to still exist!

  7. I remember seeing this car in a showroom the year it came out and was amazed that it looked much better in person than it did in the magazine ads. It was a big car but Teague made the proportions just right so that it carried it's weight well.Great color selections for both interior and exterior as I recall. They ruined it with the Oleg Cassini edition "personal luxury car" affectations. I was tempted to buy one with the 360 v-8 but I recall that the only available tranny was an automatic. I bought a v-6 Capri instead.

  8. I always think that the '75 Jag XJS could have been obliquely influenced by the Matador.
    Of course, If I had one it would have to come with Britt Eckland and her leather miniskirt.

  9. My neighbor had one of these along with a AMC wagon from the very same year, it wouldn't surprize me if the wagon wieghted less than the two door. I never cared for the 2 door, it was slow and huge, even in comparision to the wagon… the wagon had three rows of seats! and it was only about a foot longer than the 2 door which had 1.2 rows of seats, they were way to small for us even as tiny kids…. I want a wagon, but have no interest in the 2 door:(

  10. Will someone elaborate on this part?:
    But like most AMC models introduced during the 70′s, sales start off very strong, but trail off steeply after that, and the Matador was no exception
    Was the quality so awful? Weren't there enough year-on-year changes to keep them interesting?

    1. I think it is due to the small number of actual people that want an AMC and the relatively long time between new or substantially updated vehicles. So you had people holding out for something new to come along. When it did come along the AMC faithful had were more than ready, bought one as soon as it came out and the market was saturated in year one.

  11. My Encyclopedia of American Cars says that the Matador X Coupe weighted 3,700 lbs. Seems pretty slim to me.

  12. It just looks portly to me. What really took the muscle away from this car was the oleg cassini version. just looks very tacky to me. Also didnt these things come from the factory equipped with rust?

  13. I have two 1978's ,one special ordered as a 1977 all black with the styled road wheels, just like in the dealer book. Ordered it late spring, finally heard production ended for year, took a 78 for same price. Finally arrived at dealer with another modern gre
    Matador coupes, truly AMC's Avanti , love it or hate it. I remember
    well when it first came out , all the competition was styled so square, like horse and buggy carriages complete with opera windows and landau bars. That's what sold so AMC had to jury rig a quick version of it:s own. Then came the 1974 oil crisis and it was push the basic coupe with six cylinder and skinney tires. #1. Must have largest tire size available. #2 Preferably in a dark color #3 styled road wheels, aluminum wheels, or best of all, the full wheel covers, like those on your maroon model above. As the one comment above, they look best on site, in pictures often awkward.

  14. 5000 lbs??? Not even a Wagoneer weighed that much…it’s an AMC! An X model with a 401 – very rare and fast! That car would run with the best of them in the day…Monte Carlo’s. Etc…
    One things for sure…Dick Teagu’s designs were not a cookie cutter…bold!

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