The Matador Coupe was a radical, all-new departure for AMC, which had relied for years on the same basic line-up of cars. Unfortunately, the expectations of the car in the racing world (4 wins in 2 seasons) and in sales were never completely realized, and the model was dropped after five years. It is easy in retrospect to point fingers, but a combination of factors ultimately led to the cancellation. However, the Matador Coupe cannot be so easily labeled as a "failure". 62,629 Matador Coupes were sold in 1974, up sharply from the 7,067 Matador hard tops sold in 1973, despite a drop in the overall market in 1974. Nearly 100,000 units in total were produced from 1974-1978.
The Matador Coupe was born in the rosy year of 1973, when AMC's share of the domestic auto market jumped to 4.2%, up from less than 3.3% in 1972. That may not sound like much, but the domestic market is huge. Profits were seven times higher in 1973 than the previous year, and things looked good.
The purse strings at AMC had always been very tight, resulting in minor modifications of the same body style year after year, and shared parts for many of the cars in the line (especially the Gremlin, Hornet, and later Concord and Eagle). However, in the glow of this unprecendented company performance, the green light was given to Dick Teague and his design team to style a brand new car - an intermediate size car designed to fight for market share with the Big 3. Unlike the other cars in AMC's lineup, there were no plans to make a 4 door version, although there was, apparently, at least a "design concept" of a 4 door vehicle using the new Coupe styling. In addition, the new Matador was being designed with aspirations of glory in the NASCAR circuit, replacing the old style Matador piloted by the likes of Mark Donohue.
The car drew high marks for it's styling, including "Best Styled Car of 1974" by Car and Driver magazine, and performance with either the 360 or 401 V8 was very good. Unfortunately, in the days before fuel injection and computerized engine controls, the 304 V8 and the 258 (also a 232 in 1974) inline 6 cylinder were underpowered for such a large car, victims of emissions controls. In addition, although the car is quite large, seating is really limited to 4 adults, and the headroom in the rear seat is somewhat low due to the sloping roofline. As a 2-door, it was never seen as a real family car, and with the fairly pedestrian interior styling, especially in the base model, it was never really seen as a Sports Coupe.
The car was offered in several super-luxurious models, notably the Oleg Cassini model and the Barcelona model, which were popular. However, sales suffered as the Coupe found itself without a niche market and unable to compete with customer demands for more fuel-efficient cars as fuel and money worries became increasingly intense in the days of the oil embargo and double digit inflation.
Many AMC historians have claimed that the Matador Coupe ultimately caused the demise of AMC. However, since approximately 100,000 Matador Coupes were sold, it seems pretty clear that at least the bulk of the tooling cost of the Matador Coupe was recovered, and it seems unlikely that the Coupe alone is to blame. To get more exhaustive, Matador Coupe averaged 20,698 cars/year, and the Matador's 74 tooling ended up costing $386.52 per unit through 1978 with the $40 million tooling figure. However, there is some dispute as to the actual tooling costs - a figure of $17 million has also come up, based on the AMC Annual Report. This figure may have taken into account any tooling salvaged from the aborted 1972 Matador retooling.
While the demise of the Matador Coupe did contribute to AMC's financial woes, a combination of business decisions, global economic factors (such as 18% inflation), and the difficulty of competing with the Big Three automakers is what ultimately led to the end of American Motors. The lack of a large, well-established dealer network (less than 2000 dealers nationwide) was also a big factor. Unfortunately, AMC was not a big enough company to attract the government bail-out money that was given to Lockheed and Chrysler when those companies were essentially bankrupt.
As an interesting exercise in "what might have been", AMC insiders and Dick Teague himself said that there were plans to expand the new Matador body style into a 4 door sedan and a wagon, and in fact at least the initial designs were drawn up. These cars would have kept the distinctive front end and basic body lines, and undoubtedly much of the interior. Unfortunately, this never happened. In the pictures of the concept drawings of these cars below, the 4 door has a sort of Studebaker look, while the wagon looks like a big brother to the Pacer wagon. Special thanks to Larry Daum for sending these pictures.
|PRODUCTION NUMBERS CHART 1
|1974||Matador Coupe TOTAL||62,269
|1974||Cassini Matador Coupes||6,165
|1975||Matador Coupe TOTAL||22,368 (down 64% from 1974)
|1975||Cassini Matador Coupes||1,817
|1976||Estimated production figures||10,000 (down 55% from 1975)
|1977||Matador Coupe TOTAL||6,825 (down 32% from 1976)
|1978||Matador Coupe TOTAL||2,006 (down 71% from 1977)
The following are Coupe production numbers taken from:
1) December 1996 issue of Collectible Automobile article entitled "1974-78 AMC Matador Coupe: Kenosha's Question Marque" (thanks to Christopher Ziemnowicz for finding this information); and
2) AMC List Archives (thanks to Ralph Ausmann and Tom Benvie).
|PRODUCTION NUMBERS CHART 2
|93 with 401 V8|
||21,026 (includes 6,165 Oleg Cassini)|
|312 with 401 V8|
|405 with 232 6 cyl.|
|315 with 401 V8|
|Total||22,368 (includes 1,817 Oleg Cassini)|
|Total||est. 10,000 - no firm numbers available|
|Total||6,825 (includes Barcelona II)|
|Total||2,006 (includes 396 Barcelona)|
Some interesting comments on the Matador from Tom Benvie, in response to several postings blaming the demise of AMC on the Matador Coupe and the Pacer
Date: Sun, 16 Aug 1998 21:12:03 -0400
From: email@example.com (Thomas M. Benvie)
Subject: Matador and Pacer
I might not remember it all correctly, but if memory serves me right, the
opera windows were regular Matador windows with a fiberglass panel under
the roof, and a screw-in insert inside to cover the window and leave only
the opera style window as an opening. If you took this large panel out of
the inside, the regular Matador window was underneath. (Webmaster's note: This is absolutely true. All Matador Coupes have the same rear quarter window glass.)
And some of you might be missing the point of why AMC built the Matador Coupe.
The Federal Govt had a number of regulations coming out in 75, mainly the
5 mph bumper. No way the Javelin could be redesigned to meet this, so it
was discontinued - sales were mediocre anyway.
In 1974, AMC sold 27,536 Javelins and 31,169 base Matador Coupes, an
additional 10,074 "X" models and another 21,026 Broughams; 27,608 4 door Matadors, and
9,709 Matador wagons, for a total of 99,586 Matadors. They made 3 times as many
Matadors in one year than 2 seater AMXs! They made over 100,000 Matador
coupes for the 5 years, only 2,006 of these in 78 when the writing was on
the wall for them. And in 6 years, they made over 280,000 Pacers. Compare
this to what everyone calls a successful car, the Spirit - AMC made 192,000
Spirits, with an additional 36,000 Spirit based Eagles. And no money to
redesign? We're talking about the same comapny that based the new Hornet
on the American, then renamed it Concord, had a Gremlin offshoot, as well
as the cousins Javelin and AMX. They used the same body on the Wagoneer
for years, and the CJ was little changed. So what are you basing your
specualtions that the Matador and Pacer killed AMC?
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