An amazing story of an Australian Matador X


In 1983 I was fresh out of high school and keen on cars, always ogling magazines, car yards, classifieds and car shows but the car that really intrigued me was a MATADOR X prominently parked on the front corner of the local suburban used car yard (the kind that has a maximum capacity of 20 vehicles) it was a copper MATADOR X with ralley wheels, 360 4bbl, T bar auto, black interior with houndstooth inserts, Id never seen anything like it (despite owning a 4' high pile of car magazines largely filled with US iron).

I inspected it on many occasions, as it languished there for months, it had bodgy wiring, some rust and some lunatic had scratched several abortive attempts to record the firing order into the off side (LHS for us down under) inner guard well, an irregular wonky circle approximating a distributor cap with numbers radiating out at all angles, scared deep into the paint and metal (probably with a razor blade or Stanley knife), numbers were scratched out and corrected, then when that got too messy a second bent circle was gouged in and more numbers smattered over it , all up about 30 numbers (1 through to 8) blighted its inner flank. MATADOR Xs are rarer than rocking horse shit out here, only 80 were brought out to Australia in kit form and assembled and converted to Right hand drive - it took 3 years to assemble and sell them (during the fuel crisis) so this 74 model has a compliance plate dated 12/76, they've never been cheap or plentiful so I cant imagine why anyone would abuse one so casually. The car was $9,000 which to a suburban teenage poultry processor (chicken killer) was unrealizable, it languished in its prominent position for many months dwarfing all the lesser vehicles that surrounded it. I would often visit it late at night after attending the drive-in theatre down the road; sometimes I'd take friends there just to show them this bizarre car.

Eventually a local dental surgeon (whose polysyllabic surname begins with a 'Z') bought it and for years Id see it, a lonely sentinel, patiently awaiting its owners return, like a big brown dog lurking outside the entrance in an otherwise deserted floodlit car park of the 24 hour medical center, a stark and stylish monument to 1970s excesses. I've never seen another MATADOR X in 20 years of extensive driving, but this local fixture belonging to mysterious Dr Z always beckoned a second glance as I cruised by late at night, I don't recall ever seeing it driven even though I lived and worked in the adjacent suburbs, but for many years Id cast a passing glance at the big brown beast covered in dew and nod and smile in admiration of its bold lines and sheer presence.

A few years ago it disappeared. Dr Z had relocated and it fell into disrepair. I've always been handy with cars and often fix or check out cars for friends, a couple of months ago 3 separate friends each asked me to find cars for them, so I bought the auto trader to see what was available, lo and behold under 'CLASSICS and COLLECTABLES' was a MATADOR X for $1800. Being unemployed I didn't have $1800 nor could I justify buying another car that needed restoration and which I had no room for but I tried to convince one friend that it would be worth checking out as a cool project to help him build a weekend cruiser (if I couldn't have it at least it would be within my circle), though my friend declined to chase it up. A week later on a whim I decided to persevere on his behalf (and basically, out of idle curiosity, just see if it was still available), I phoned but the owner was interstate, I left my details but afterwards dismissed it as a waste of time since my friend was also impoverished and didn't want a behemoth that would be difficult to impossible for parts, too thirsty and difficult to squeeze into most parking spaces. I decided not to persevere or even trek out to look, another week passed and the owner called me back, it was complete, everything worked but it needed a chunk of body work-I was intrigued, it took a further week to convince my friend to come check it out (since he'd be financing the expedition). I was somewhat put out when he off handedly suggest we venture out to the boondocks on a stinking hot Saturday, it was a long way to go for a look see and en route he announced that he didn't have sufficient funds but being a James Bond fan simply wanted to check out the car featured in 'The Man with the golden gun'. I nursed my dilapidated 1986 Mitsubishi colt overheating and spluttering out to whoop whoop and saw this bronze wreck. It was complete but everything was destroyed, every panel rusted and dented, paint scratched faded and ruined, botched repair work, shredded interior, melted wiring, the 360 had been converted to LPG, it spat the dummy, then converted back to petrol, the motor was supposed to have been reconditioned 1500 miles ago but that was 2-3 years ago when the current owner had spotted an ad for a wrecked MATADOR and wanted to sling the motor into his JEEP but when he saw it was a coupe (he expected the more common 4 door) he decided it was worth restoring, stuck it into a shed and never got around to start on it but with a bunch of other cars and bikes to fix his wife insisted something had to go and the big car that took up too much space, needed too much work and too hard to find bits and pieces was the choice, it sat outside his house for months with a for sale $1800 sign, but no one knows about these cars, passers by looked out of curiosity, wanted to know what on earth it was, but no one wanted the odd ball wreck. The carpet was sodden though the floor intact, gaping rust holes cratered around the taillights and rear windscreen, rear wheel arches, bottom of doors and guards it was a sorry sight, with a jump start he fired it up and it rattled and clattered, I lent way over into the cavernous engine bay and gently eased back the accelerator cable hoping that a few more revs would circulate the oil and quiet it down but it only rattled and clattered louder "uh switch it off, put it out of its misery" I begged.

The owner offered a test drive but I declined, it would be cruel to run an engine in that state, I then spied the familiar inner guard scratchings, those scattered numbers tattooed like some chaotic cabbalistic code, this was the same MATADOR X Id admired in my youth, I didn't recognize it at first but it is the only MATADOR X I've ever seen, there was no escaping it, it was haunting me.

We ummed and ahhed, I advised my friend that it would be an enormous job but a car worth saving, he estimated 2 years of weekend work, to encourage him to buy it for himself I offered to fix one side whilst he did the other (no money involved just mates helping each other out), we had fixed cars before and it was within our ability but urgh, who would want to embark on such an enormous undertaking, and there's no such thing as a good cheap respray, the purchase price would only be the start of an ongoing financial burden, he offered to lend me $500, help me restore it and even use his carport, but did I really want to buy into such a big project and even $500 (I didn't have the rest) would only buy me access to a money pit that would tie up my meager income for years, he then proposed a duel ownership arrangement but I quickly knocked that on the head, that never works and I value his friendship too much, only one of us could own it- whoever wanted to commit, the other would help but the principle burden would lay with the purchaser. I told the owner that I didn't think it would be worth his while to transplant the motor as it sounded pretty far gone but was still a car worth preserving, we all agreed, it was a lot of work but someone had to do it (preferably someone else!). We left to think about it.

As a parting shot the owner volunteered - "It owes me $950 if I can get that back I'll be satisfied to see it go to a good home, I won't sell it to be dismantled, it deserves to be restored and I'll come and check up on it", that certainly made it more attractive but was still a ton (two tons?) of work and still out of my reach financially, my friend suggested we offer $500 but I said that would only be insulting and we still weren't sure we wanted to buy into it.

We deliberated for hours, it plagued our conversation, thoughtful pauses were interrupted only by further pondering about what to do with the alluring prospect of such a project, realistically this would be the only opportunity to find and afford a MATADOR X, with some wrangling the money could be got later during the week My old colt was on its last legs, by evicting it out into the elements I could accommodate the MATADOR X Id soon need another car to get around in and since I could only afford the bottom end of the market why not the ultimate impractical indulgence of a MATADOR X but could either of us afford to run let alone restore such an obscurity?

I deliberate a lot but my friend is usually pretty cut and dried, even he spent a sleepless night on it until the next evening he called to say he had decided against it, the money was on offer to me but the prospect of that much work coupled with his existing credit card debts was too much for him, his decline edged me towards a 'no' too but Id been bitten deeper, the MATADOR X was under my skin and working its intoxicating obsessive magic, I called the owner out of courtesy to let him know my friend had declined but I was still obsessing, he laughed knowingly, he too had an affection for the car and knew how it hooked you, "yep it's a batmobile", I frankly told him it was well worth the money but was daunted by the work-The normal rules of negotiation are polarized by such a peculiar car, the owner voluntarily halving his price to see it go to a good home and the purchaser advising the car is worth more than he's asking- the esprit d'corps of MATADOR X admirers.

I tossed around the idea for another couple of days, enthusiastically relating the account to a few friends. Three separate friends each (without any prompting) volunteered to lend me $1000 to pay back at my leisure, I declined because I have misgivings borrowing that much from friends especially without short term prospects of paying it back, besides my policy is 'if I cant afford it, I can live without it', finally I called the owner, could I come out to have another look, I was still undecided but just wanted to visit the old girl for one more going over, as a back up I took a friend along who brought $1000 with him incase I decided to avail myself of his offer.

I now own the car. "This car is easily worth what you're asking, I don't wish to offend you but $800 is all I can offer (the tow truck would be $240) It deserves to be restored, one of us has to do it, I can ill afford it but would be stupid not to pick it up if it can be had for $800, and I'll live on beans and rice for the next few months paying back the money." He accepted, recognizing a worthy recipient. The tow truck driver knew the address as soon as we identified the car, that strange car that had been killing a huge patch of front lawn for months, everyone knew it.

I've been living on next to nothing for the last two months and have now paid back my friend, the more I dig into this car the more bizarre it is, what I thought were rear speakers concealed behind a carpeted bulkhead is a huge rear air conditioning unit, there's a brake adjusting doo hicky (unlike anything I've ever seen) gaffer taped under the dash that I initially mistook for an 8 track deck, wads of silver grey gaffer tape clot up the worst wiring job I've ever seen, it looks like its been rewired by a monkey, most of the fuses are blown and wired solid, there are shorts all over the place, and a congealed black tar snot dribbling out of melted relays in the engine bay, fence wire and bits of old car tyre stop the duel exhaust clanging against the red Gabriel shocks and green coil springs, the fuel tank, floor pan and bellhousing are smashed from what must have been a Dukes of Hazzard stunt, sections of fuel line are crushed flat (from the same stunt?) I wonder if this car belonged to stunt driver Ken Carter. The 4 barrel carb has a restrictive clot of the smallest diameter fuel line fitting wedged in with an overabundance of plumbers tape, carb circlips are replaced by several feet of copper wire entwined around linkages, the misaligned radiator cowling has been chopped up by the fan and there's a mile of wiring that goes nowhere, thick positive terminal wires are soldered to a few strands of speaker wire and vice versa and either exposed bare or insulated with globs of gaffer tape, there are 5 horns and the T bar shifter has a wobbly neck, naked bulbs hang loose with no mounting point or purpose in sight, and a hole the size of a fuel cap punctuates half way down the extensively and poorly bogged up rear quarter where the stump of a busted Ariel protrudes, the LPG cap (with sock in the orifice) blights the other rusty rear quarter. The air filter looks like it was dredged out of a swamp and is sandwiched between a dented and mangled housing (how is it possible to dent up the lower housing?), the gutted oil breather cap pulls in half when you try to lift it off with the base stuck fast to the pipe. The houndstooth seats are shredded and slabs of previous poor repair work is rusting out from under mismatched paint. That the car runs at all is miraculous.

Sections of wire have the insulation stripped and intercepted by other wires that go nowhere (except to provide another short), the fuse box is so mangled that many of the fuses simply flop out, the bonnet cable is wrapped around a bolt which catches on the linkage, and the tow bar is a cradle of rust. If it were any lesser car Id be insulted that someone would try to sell it as a prospect for restoration but in 2 months I've fixed most of the mechanical and electrical problems and its only cost about $150 (mostly on new filters/fuel line/electrical wire).

It has 5 ralley wheels (5 spoke), a Limited slip diff with gigantic finned drums, fat thick front and rear stabilizer bars, front and rear air con, power steering and everything works, if I was offered $10,000 for it Id decline, its my dream car, Ill never part with it, it doesn't fit under my carport (its nose sticks out) and I still stand and admire it from my kitchen window, I cant believe I own this car and cant believe I didn't snap it up as soon as I saw it, the other day when the electricity guy came to read the meter he walked over to it and patted that big arched fender, I cant blame him, I've done it myself, its that kind of car that inspires that kind of affection.

I'm delighted to own the worlds worst MATADOR X, I'm unsure what colour I'll have it resprayed (I haven't even begun to fix the body yet) but it'll be either Hemi orange (more a red than orange) with a roll cage, 12" of rubber and number 23 (my favorite prime number) painted on the doors for the NASCAR boy racer look or a light metallic green for the sleek cruiser look. I never thought I'd own a car like this, to find one let alone afford it but now I think it was fated, I'm sorry for this agonizingly protracted account but you can see the type of alluring hold the MATADOR X has, it possesses you with its captivating presence, its excessively stylish charisma, it's futile to resist, this car has been stalking me for 2 decades and now it's finally fulfilled its fate-it belongs to me.

I must be the worst photographer in the world but here are the 2 best shots of my Matador (I sent a lengthy account a few months back and you asked for photos, so here they are), I'm told that of the 80 sent out down under. It took 3 years to assemble and convert to right hand drive and sell off during the fuel crisis, I'm now told that about half were returned to US because they had difficulty selling such a bizarre and thirsty, heavy car, I cant speak with any authority, I'm only relaying what I've heard. The VIN is C69071 engine A1100P, if numbers are of any interest to you, they really don't mean much to me, I'm just delighted to have such a cool car, its a balltearer, I'm still in the process of restoring it but its coming along nicely,

I recently found these reflectors in a hock shop and had to have them for the box alone, the badge on the back has AMC whereas mine has a 'RAMBLER' badge on the left side and 'MATADOR' on the right at the rear. I'll send some more photos when it's looking more presentable, these photos were taken before I started on the body, they are flattering shots though, you cant see the gaping rust holes at the rear, I think I can safely claim to own the worlds worst (most dilapidated) Matador X.