All-American: 1976 AMC Matador Coupe

Feeling nostalgic for the Spirit of ’76? What you need, my friend, is this Bicentennial baby, a 1976 AMC—yes, that’s American Motors—Matador coupe! In 1974 and ’75 there were chi-chi-la-la Oleg Cassini editions, and there was a Barcelona trim for ’77 and ’78, but neither of these suspiciously foreign-sounding options would do for America’s big year, so what we have here is over seventeen feet of brown, basic, bench-seated American coupe. On top of that, this one’s got just two owners and 47,000 miles under its (presumably white) belt, and a reasonable price of $6,800. Find it on craigslist in Evansville, Indiana—and thanks to Pat L for another great find! (Archived ad here.)

AMC had a pretty firmly established dorky reputation by the 1970s, but as the Matador coupe proves, Wisconsin’s scrappy challenger to the Big Three was willing to take stylistic risks and try some pretty dramatic stuff. Following on the heels of the voluptuous 1971 Javelin and AMX, which the Matador coupe functionally replaced when it became apparent that continuing to modify the Javelin to meet bumper regulations would be too costly in the face of a shrinking performance car market, the Matador’s flowing lines were partially intended to give it an aerodynamic advantage in NASCAR racing, an endeavor that AMC was returning to for the first time since the days of the Hudson Hornet. Those lines also give the Matador a unique presence among the era’s personal luxury coupes, with a less baroque style than contemporary Monte Carlos, Cordobas, and Thunderbirds.

This relatively low-spec Matador takes us back into dorky territory when we check out its plaid cloth-and-vinyl six-place interior, but it sure is in great shape and, as latter-day VW GTIs have shown us, plaid is in again. The seller notes that the air conditioning blows cold; AMC’s former subsidiary Kelvinator would be proud, although given that they had already been sold off before 1976, I don’t actually know if they still provided AMC’s systems at that point.

Things are similarly clean under the hood. We know that eight healthy-running cylinders are in residence here, partnering with a three-speed automatic, but not much more than that. It’s likely AMC’s 360-cubic inch V8; the single exhaust out back tells us that it’s unfortunately not likely that it’s the four-barrel carb “Power Package” version, so figure somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 horsepower.

I always appreciate a seller who shows us the boo-boos, and this one is conscientious, indeed. Certainly there’s nothing to seriously detract from this Matador’s quirky appeal as a driveable, comfortable (air conditioned!) classic—and what could be more American than that?

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. 70kingswood

    ugly back in the day which has mellowed to unusual styling today, this one is in spectacular shape and with some mods would be a great cruiser!

  2. Gunner

    We used to make fun of these back in the day. Later on, I came to actually like them, bumpers removed. I will always recall the James Bond movie where the bad guys attach a set of wings to one of these with 007 giving chase. I love the far out interiors that you see in the 70’s AMC Cars.

  3. Superdessucke

    These were heartbreakingly ugly back in the day and time really hasn’t helped IMHO, though I will give AMC some credit for trying to step outside the box, and they were relatively popular when new. I can’t imagine the looks this would get now. Fitting example in brown and plaid.

    • mike D

      thought they were EXTREEMLY ugly when they were first made, still think so today.. me, personally there are cars out there that I thought were ugly, but they grew on me , and grew to like them . there was this one guy at work who bought one new with $$$ he inherited ( cash, no payments) all I could do is just look at him .. he was proud of it, didn’t want to burst his bubble .. nuff said still ugly today

  4. Sam

    Our family had a 76 Matador Bro-ham Coupe which my dad was awarded for being manager of the month with Howard Johnson’s.

    The car had a 304, AC, crank windows, reclining buckets, plaid seats with plaid door panel inserts, gold pinstripes over a burgundy/brownish metalic paint.

    I drove it during college…another kid in the dorm had a white/gold vinyl top Oleg Cassini Coupe.

    Great memories!

    • boxdin

      I met Oleg Cassini in 1966 on the Hopi Indian reservation in AZ.

      I know … strange…..

  5. tompepper

    Gimme a Gremlln

    • John T

      Gimme a straight six with a manual transmission, please.

  6. Karo

    Sticker on the side of the air cleaner clearly reads “304,” so no hopes of a 2- or 4-barrel 360. This car would get a lot of attention at shows for its rarity and general malaisey-goodness.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Member

      Clearly! Even with a good zoom, my prematurely aged eyes couldn’t make that out. Thanks for the spot.

      • Jack

        I can clearly see a sticker on the air cleaner, but I cannot for the life of me read what it says. Really good set of eyes @Karo

  7. PaulG

    Having owned a ’74 Javelin AMX in red, and a ’74 Matador coupe in blue, I always got more looks and ??? with the Matador. Nice example here…

  8. Scot Douglas

    At first glance, this car seems ugly and awkward – however – I think it would look quite muscular if it was fitted with wheels / tires that fill out the body / wheelwells. Think 91-96 chevy caprice vs. the same generation Impala SS.

    • Chebby

      Agreed, this was my go-to ugly American car, but the shape of it is absolutely transformed by removing the bumpers and putting on some aggressive wheels. Add a sporty steering wheel and this will look very good, even in brown.

  9. AMXSTEVE

    The Matador did not replace the AMX/Javelin the Pacer did, Unfortunately. These cars are so rare now it’s hard to find parts. They are a completely different car when you take the bumpers off and are actually great looking.

    • Superdessucke

      This is a great point. In NASCAR form they looked pretty good, due to the huge tires. In street form, with the skinny little pizza cutters, they looked rather awkward and rather ridiculous.

  10. Harvey Peever

    I too would luv to remove the bumpers. Replace those tail lights with first gen firebird tail lights and change the rear passengers side widows to something less ugly

    • Harvey Peever

      Rear side windows more like a Shelby mustang.

  11. Moparman Member

    It always amazes me how much people compain about the bumpers on this car, which, (IMO) were NO WORSE than the abominations Ford & GM put out. AMC did not try to hide the gap between them and the body with ill fitting, and UV-degradeable plastic fillers, which was unusual. Personally, I think these look good with/or without bumpers, but I would love it to have been a Matador X!! :-)

  12. David Miraglia

    Always liked this dorky geeky design. A nice odd ball to my preferred Lincoln Mark 5

  13. Kevin

    Still ugly. I’d rather have a mid-60s Marlin, if I was into collecting Ramblers that is.

  14. W9BAG

    My buddy had one of these, and we all called it the “Tuna Boat”.

  15. DweezilAZ

    Unlike a lot of 2 door cars in the 70s, the rear windows in the coupe actually roll down.

    Never marketed as a “personal luxury” car but could be optioned like one with the designer packages and awful vinyl roofs.

    I like this better than the gruesome Torino. There would be no helping that design, with or without bumpers.

    AMC’s bumper system was a very elegant response to the 5 mph bumpers mandated by the Feds. Trying to adapt designs from 71 or so to the regulations brought about some horrible assaults on the eyes: Maverick/Comet, Matador 4 door, Chevelle, Torino/Cougar. Far worse offenders than this Matador for the period.

    • Kevin

      Torino was a far better looking car, no comparison lol. Get real.

  16. Dave Brennan

    I had L60 15s w air shocks on my 74 and w the bumpers removed the car looked gr8

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