Introduced in the fall of 1973, the 1974 AMC Matador coupe combined the shock of the new with some familiar details. It was a 1970s-style fastback, with a low roofline, close-coupled cabin, and a long, long hood. Exterior design was the work of a team headed by Robert Nixon, director of passenger car exterior styling, while interior design was handled by stylist Vince Geraci and his staff.
If the idea was to come up with a look that was all-new and visually striking, they did their work well, as evidenced by the cover of the November 1973 issue of Car and Driver magazine, which featured a flaming red Matador coupe that Car and Driver boldly pronounced "1974's Best Styled Car."
Probably the most distinctive styling element was up front. The sloping hood was capped by deeply tunneled headlamps that served as the focal points of the frontal styling. The inset grille was deliberately understated, but featured turn signal lamps styled to resemble driving lamps.
The forward edge of the hood was the starting point of a crease that ran completely around the middle of the car. Two sets of round dual taillights peeked out from under the fold at the rear. The wide doors carried frameless door glass, but the triangular rear quarter windows were fixed behind a thick B-pillar.
It was an effect much like that used by General Motors's new-for-1973 intermediate coupes, although with more of a fastback roofline than seen on the General's mid-size two-doors.
The headlamps recalled the 1964-1965 Rambler American and for good reason -- Nixon worked on both designs. Their selection was a deliberate effort to reflect the earlier design. "We wanted to keep some family resemblance and do it in a mid-size [car]," he said. Nixon pointed out that the rounded headlamp theme was carried over to the taillights as well.
It has long been rumored that the coupe's fastback roof styling was a deliberate attempt to enhance its race track potential, and that racer Mark Donohue (famous for campaigning Trans-Am series Javelins) helped design the car, but Nixon said there was no substance to those notions. "Racing was never a major design issue .... We did talk to Mark Donahue from time to time, but I don't believe it had anything to do with the Matador. We were doing some show cars [the AMX 3] and we talked to him on that."
A very unique and innovative feature debuted that year on the Matador coupe -- AMC's free-standing bumpers. Stringent new federal bumper regulations forced automakers to increase the size of bumpers and place them further away from the body. The gap between body and bumper was usually filled with a plastic "sight panel" that, in combination with the large bumpers, gave many cars a nose-heavy look.
AMC solved the problem by eliminating the filler panels that normally spanned the space between body and bumpers, instead covering just the retracting pistons that located the bumpers to the car. Although it sounds like a simple concept, in 1974 it was considered audacious.
See the next page for a rundown on the 1974 AMC Matador lineup.
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