1978 AMC Matador Sedan: Triple Black Project

Here it is, the last ‘big’ AMC car. The Matador. Technically a midsize when it first appeared in 1971, alongside its slightly flossier, slightly longer Ambassador sibling. Essentially, the ’71 Matador was a facelifted 1967-70 AMC Rebel with a new front clip and name.

It became American Motors’ largest passenger vehicle after the Ambassador (itself a Matador with more chrome, fancier interior, and longer hood and front clip, but with the same interior dimensions) was cancelled after the 1974 model year.

Many, many folks have questioned why the ’74 Matadors got such a Jimmy Durante style facelift to go with its new 5 mph front and rear bumpers, with the pronounced proboscis of the grille jutting away from the front fenders and headlights. I’ve heard they simply wanted the car to look bigger. But for whatever reason, I’ve always liked these. The sedans, the woody station wagons, even the big, blowsy 74-78 Matador coupes. What can I say, I like the offbeat stuff!

So I was intrigued this past weekend when I saw this final-year specimen on one of my preferred Facebook groups, 1970’s Great American Land Yacht. I eagerly clicked on the pictures when I saw the black paint and top and those excellent optional aluminum wheels, but upon closer inspection, it’s a project car, not a turnkey driver. But still, I felt the need to share it here on RG.

Coupes rode a 114″ wheelbase while sedans and station wagons had a 118″ span. Approximately 6,800 coupes and sedans were built, along with 3,746 wagons. A sedan based at $5,039 with the standard 304 V8; $4,849 with the 258 CID six. A 360 V8 was standard on station wagons and apparently optional on sedans, though my reference book was a little vague on that.

At any rate, sixes were virtually non-existent on ’78 Matadors; only 23 sedans and coupes were built with it. Well, compared to new, modern cars like the Fairmont, Omni and full size B body GM cars, the AMC was pretty old hat by this time. I doubt many people went Matador shopping in 1978. And the few that did probably drive off the lot in a Concord instead.

Numbers were way down over ’77 Matadors, as over 30,000 were sold that year. But Renault had essentially taken over the Wisconsin firm, and changes and uncertainty ran rampant. I imagine the 1967 Rebel-based Matador was on the short list for cancellation.

From the auction description:

This 1978 AMC Matador Sedan was purchased by  Fred Russell of Canton Ohio in February 27 of 1979. It was a Dealer Demonstrator model and had 10,000 miles on the car. The total price was $6,899.00 which was pretty hefty for an AMC in 1979. The car was lovingly cared for until May 1997 when Mr. Russell sold it to Michael Lafoilleitte.   

“Every single penny spent was included in a log book. Owners manual and receipts for many many transactions included thru 1996.  Warranty paperwork and old registrations included. Mr Russell had installed after the car was a few year old a Sun Roof from Tidy Cars. It was also factory Ziebarted from new, you can see under the car and also in the troughs in the engine bay, the car is literally covered in Ziebart.”

“The car runs and moves. I bought her for 800 dollars in November 2018 from an AMC collector’s estate. I’m the fourth owner. It appears that between 1997 and 2010, 11,000 miles were put on the car. It was left parked outside to sit for 9 years. The last inspection sticker is from PA in 2010. You can see the damage done to the hood, roof and rear trunk paint job from being outside in the elements.”

“The car itself is extremely solid, but the almost 10 years of being parked outside took it’s toll on the Roof and C Pillars. It isn’t that bad, the rust, two spots at a seam. The trunk is solid as is the floors board snd rocker panels. These tend to be in very bad shape normally in an AMC and require restoration. Unibodies don’t normally hold up in the North East USA. This car needs no rust repairs on the underside or sub-frames, only the two spots on the roof.”

It needs some help for sure, but boy, it really would be something if fixed up. Probably will never be worth much, but hey, if you’re looking to make money, you’re not really a hobbyist, ha ha.

Black, black top, black interior and those excellent styled wheels. If you’re so inclined, check out the auction. If not, simply enjoy the pics. But hey, when’s the last time you saw one of these?

24 Replies to “1978 AMC Matador Sedan: Triple Black Project”

  1. John C.

    In my 1974 Cunsumer Guide produced auto guide they rated this Matador tops among domestic intermediates. They liked the engine (360 2 barrel) teamed with the torqueflight the upright roomy seating and firmer suspension. They admitted that the ride and noise control was sub par but back then the testers if not buyers were rebelling against long and low coke bottle styling.

    All that wasn’t enough once American became frano American motors and it was time to pony up for another restyle. One can imagine the look on the new French Overlords faces seeing something like this coming down the line. If they understood the American market that the French taxpayer spent so lavishly to get them into, they might have understood that by 79 the market had returned to Matador proportions and a thorough upgrade might have kept AMC in the game.

    • Carmine

      Which game? The extremely distant 4th place in full -ish sized car sales race game?

      It would be interesting to see what a cheapo “Sheer-Look” remake could have done to this, some square dual sealed beams, getting rid of that belt line thats more 1968 than Goldie Hawn in a mini skirt on Laugh In would probably also help, but what would the results be, probably not really worth the effort. I think that AMC made the right choice on which LBJ/Nixon era car they were going to update with their limited resources.

      Bear in mind also that 1979-1982 were the absolute pits for big car sales, even heavy hitters like the Impala were looking at some really grim numbers.

      • John C.

        Yes Carmine, getting back to 30-40k of annual sales of the car with the highest transaction price would not have been worth the effort to do even a modest restyle and who knows a slightly jacked up cross country 4wd full size wagon. Now that AMC was kneeling in front of their new foreign masters, wasn’t more resources supposed to be the advantage? The French after all were going all out and about to send us their delightful Le Car 5 door.to sell through AMC dealers. I should probably describe the Le Car’s personality as winsome the way C/D’s Don Sherman did in the same issue Patrick Bedard shat all over the Chevette and the XJS.

  2. CJinSD

    Hoarders don’t really want to sell their cars when their families lean on them. That’s why the starting bid is so high. I love the interior, but I just can’t think of a use case for this car where everything but the front bench seat doesn’t get thrown in a dumpster the week before a demolition derby. Too bad it isn’t out west, where possibly one of the movie fleet operators would pick it up and spray it well enough for period film use. They could even shoot interior scenes.

  3. Carmine

    The aftermarket sunroof is a downer, not that the car is much of a party to begin with. It doesn’t look that bad when you start from the back, the simple rear tail lamp treatment even looks sort of contemporary with the downsized GM 1977 full size cars, even similar to the B-body Riviera.

    Then you go down the side and it starts getting a little weird and then you get to the front. Ughhh…..

    The trip black color combo makes this possibly the most bad ass Matador sedan ever made, what Satan would drive in a movie…..if he was being played by Stephen Tobelwolsky……and he was reprising his role as Ned the Head Ryerson from Groundhog Day. BING!.

    I imagine the $6,899 the seller brags about being “a hefty sum for an AMC” that this 1978 with 10K on the clock sold for in 1979 was a probably deeply discounted from its original sticker price.

  4. Ronnie Schreiber

    The only time that I recall being in an AMC dealership when I was a kid when I was in high school and my dad was shopping for a new sedan to replace his ’66 Olds 88. The American Motors dealer at the corner of Telegraph and Plymouth (I think) had a deal on a demo Ambassador he was considering. In retrospect, there was an air of sadness about that AMC dealer, as if they knew they really couldn’t compete with the Big 3. My dad ended up getting a big Mercury Monterey from a car broker, which stayed in the family when he later replaced that with a Marquis Brougham.

    The only other time was when my ex and I took a test drive in a Renault Alliance. I foolishly believed what the buff books said back then and we could have used a new car. It was comfortable and sort of fun to drive, but we barely could afford it so we opted to keep driving old Volvos, probably a wise move.

  5. -Nate

    The L.A.P.D. bought a fleet of Matadors, they were pretty sturdy .

    This one isn’t really for sale ~ the $1,500 asking price and the ripped out and poorly repaired driver’s door striker means this is a $500 parts car at best .

    Too bad, it’s unique and would always be the only one at any gathering .


    • dejal

      Adam-12 (obviously not this model year)
      Pete Malloy:
      This black and white patrol car has an overhead valve V8 engine. It develops 325 horsepower at 4800 RPM’s. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in seven seconds; it has a top speed of 120 miles an hour. It’s equipped with a multi channeled DFE radio and an electronic siren capable of admitting three variables, wail, yelp, and alert. It also serves as an outside radio speaker and public address system. The automobile has two shotgun racks, one attached to the bottom portion of the front seat, one in the vehicle trunk. Attached to the middle of the dash, illuminated by a single bulb is a hot sheet desk. Fastened to which you will always make sure is the latest one off the teletype before you ever roll.

      • dejal

        Forgot to say anything about that door striker. I’d be all over that car with an awl poking it everywhere just because of that. I’ve never seen someone have to replace a rusted/broken door striker area.

        • Tom Klockau Post author

          Yeah, that’s pretty weird. Might mean the whole thing is rotten as a pear. Run fast, run far. Even if you found the nicest, most showroom new Matador in the world, it still probably wouldn’t set you back more than $3500.

          • Dean Edwards

            I had to get a plate welded in my door striker of my ’75 Valiant circa 1983. It looked like someone took a can opener and cut a circular pattern about 1 inch around the striker. Other items welded included both front torsion bars where they meet the K-frame. both rear spring shackles at the point where they meet the rear-most frame, trunk floor, front fender rails, rear quarters, front header panel, spot-welded in the upper passenger ball joint back into the control arm (It popped out due to rust), and the rear shock mounting where it bolted to the rear trunk area. I got to know my welder on a first name basis. As Tom says, run like hell!

      • -Nate

        The Divisions had the Matador wagons as Capatin’s cars, they were nice and we retained them as unofficial shop cars for many years on .

        One time I was out back and an elderly Black man drove in in one with the back full of Acetylene bottles lying on their _SIDES_ ! YIKES .

        I beet feet after telling him hos lucky he was to still be alive .

        Only once do you need to see an Acetylene bottle flying like a rocket, punching big holes in Concrete walls to learn that safety lesson .


  6. JustPassinThru

    That model always had the stink of death on it. The sobriquet “Coffin Nose” was probably fitting. The body was long obsolete; the stylist assigned it (obviously not Teague) was clean out of inspiration. Above, someone mentioned a “Sheer Look” redo as a possible save. Well, that body, as the Rebel, did have the Sheer Look. Straight beltline; neat, well-proportioned door cutouts.

    The market went for the Coke Bottle look, and there wasn’t the money to rework the body. So that upkick on the rear door was tried – they should have known it would be an awkward, unattractive mess. Hell of it is, the wagon KEPT the original beltline profile. Reverting would have saved money.

    But by this time AMC was frantic. I recall Popular Mechanics interviewing new AMC head Gerald Meyers, months before the Renault deal was first floated. PM asked if it was possible AMC would exit the passenger-car market and just sell Jeeps. No, no, Meyers said – the engineering cost had to be split at least 50/50. I didn’t follow his rationale; and of course the Jeep Four later was done with ONLY the Jeep products in mind…but it struck me, how fast things changed in the seven years since AMC took on Kaiser Jeep as a sideline.

    So the French came in and were ready to condemn the whole menu offering. Except they spent too much money to throw it all away; and anyway, interest was building in the new 4×4 car being proposed. So the Hornet and successors got a pass, as well as an excuse to keep the AMC six in production. For the new French crew hated that six – the XJ was designed INTENTIONALLY so the Six would not fit.

    The ConcorEagle kept it alive until it could be updated and turned into the most-desired Jeep powerplant, ever. Which was one more bit of serendipity that made Jeep, with its parent dead, a success for another generation.

    But this thing…it’s a 1966 Studebaker, without the romantic backstory. The failing, obsolete product of a failing, money-starved, imploding automaker.

    • John C.

      The idea that Teague didn’t have binders full of ideas of how to improve the whole AMC line if there was just a little money for tooling is just absurd. Remember how many years before the Spirit upgrade of the Gremlin was in show cars (1973) before it actually debuted in 1979.There just was no money. For example the coffin nose was just so they could use the old fenders with 5mph bumpers.

      I wonder if the French were telling them that they weren’t going to invest either they just wanted a dealer network in America on the ludicrous idea that anyone wanted Le Cars. They must have agreed to keep Kenosha open or why the Alliance? Given that, a little investment in the existing full line had a bigger chance of success that spending big on a front drive line that was too small and cheap to make money even if it sold due to American wage rates.

    • Tom Klockau Post author

      And that’s why the wagon was the best-looking, right to the end. No giant quasi-finned quarter panel like the sedans. That super high quarter panel reminds me of the late Lincoln MKS. Just too high for a four-door sedan.

        • Tom Klockau Post author

          Oh, I don’t hate the MKS or anything, in fact, I was tempted last year by a ruby red over cream leather one at the Lincoln dealer in Iowa City. But I wasn’t ready to trade my car in. But that is one tall quarter panel, the Taurus too.

          • -Nate

            I’m vacationing in the Coachella Valley, there are tens of thousands of retirees here and plenty of pristine GranMarquis, panthers and Lincoln Town Cars .

            After all : you cannot spell GranMarquis without GRAN MA =8-) .


        • John C.

          I always thought it looked too much like the 04-12 Mitsubishi Galant. In a world gone mad twist, our Japanese friends at Mitsubishi had the bigger V6.

  7. George Denzinger

    I saw this car on the Osborn Tramain YT channel when he first brought it home.

    It’s definitely a mixed bag. I don’t have the skills (or the money) to fix something like this up and frankly the striker plate scares me. I can’t imagine what demons hide behind that vinyl roof and the aftermarket sunroof. Those never went wrong.

    A guy I went to HS with bought a 1972 or 1973 Matador. It had the 360 and (IIRC) a 4 barrel carb. I asked him why he got it. He said that all of us fools that were scraping and saving for a decent Charger, Chevelle or Cutlass (in the rust belt, the desirable early 70’s versions were becoming piles of iron oxide by 1979), while he picked up the (very clean) newer Matador for a fraction of what a crappy beat to death Chevelle would cost back then.

    On top of it, this particular Matador had all the power accessories and very nice brocade interior. A decent stereo too, but honestly, we were all buying SuperTuners and ditching the factory stuff. A race car it wasn’t, but it was a damned nice cruiser and a lot newer than most of the late 60’s early 70’s stuff other kids were driving. Ask me how I know. I had a 1969 Torino GT, that was more bondo than metal…

  8. Leon

    Plenty of people today love these coffin nose Matadors. They are way more attractive than the blocky, ugly, mid 70s Chrysler and GM monstrosities. This one has an amazing condition interior. That’s worth the price of the car alone. You don’t ever find them that good.

  9. OsbornTramain

    Seeing this made me laugh honestly….First, OsbornTramain is my youtube Channel I created 15 years ago, so it’s great seeing my upload highlighted here……then the second thing…..This is my car! My 1978 AMC Matador. I just recently sold it and it’s on it’s way to California.

    One major Correction. Renault and AMC didn’t enter into their Alliance until March of 1979. The deal was AMC would focus on Jeeps and Renault would focus on Automobiles for AMC to use. Renault didn’t take any ownership stake into AMC until 1981. It wasn’t a big stake and it did end up getting to 46% by 1987. They never controlled AMC per se, AMC was a public company traded on the NYC stock exchange. They had influence, but frankly the relations changed in 1986 and Renault wouldn’t help AMC any more. AMC used the Junk Bond market to finance the company when Cash was tight. They also began their relationship with Chrysler in 1986 when AMC agreed to manufacture the Dodge Diplomat, Plymouth Fury and Chrysler Fifth Avenue thru a contract relationship. Your understanding of the Renault relationship and timing is way off.


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