By
Brian Earnest
There arent many certainties in life, but Jim Schwartz of Hudson, Wis., can be pretty sure of one thing: When he takes his bright red 1974 AMC Matador X out of his garage, somebody is going to talk to him.
The conversation might not always be flattering, but the affable Schwartz is almost always entertained. He knows hes got a bit of an oddball car that is pretty much guaranteed to get some kind of reaction wherever it goesand thats the way Schwartz likes it.
The current Matador is probably roughly AMC No. 20 for me,” he says with a laugh. “Thats in 21 years of driving. Ive owned a lot of them and they say you have to be a little bit off to be an AMC guy, and I think with the Matador Coupe you have to be even a little more off. Even in AMC circles, the Matador Coupe is a loveitorhateit car.
Ive got some AMC friends that say they dont get the Matador Coupe. They say, ‘Those things are ugly!’ and these are people that love the Pacer and the Gremlin! Its a bit of an oddity, but I guess thats why Im drawn to it.”
For Schwartz, landing the Matador was a case of persistence paying off. He had been on the trail of a nice, original Matador X for quite a while when he spotted his current car in 1999 for sale in Bismarck, N.D. Before he could get there to buy it, however, the car was snapped up by a one of Schwartzs AMC friends who lived in Dundas, Minn. “We didnt know we were both interested, and he kind of bought it out from under me,” Schwartz recalled. “I was going to go look at it on Saturday and on that Thursday night I talked to the seller. Then on Friday night he said dont come out, somebody just bought itI told [the new owner] if you ever sell it you better contact me first, and almost two years ago he emailed me and told me he was going to sell it, so thats when I got it.”

Schwartz had never seen the car in person, but he was pleasantly surprised that it had remained in such fine original condition. After several years of looking, he knew that survivors that had not been beaten up or rusted out were few and far between. The car was actually Schwartzs second Matador X, and helped take the sting out of his earlier purchase that didnt turn out as well.
I bought that one after the disappointment of missing the previous car,” he said. “I bought it with the understanding that it was a rustfree car. It had been patched very poorly with body fillerI bought the car, had it transported to me, and whereas I was pleasantly surprised with the Matador that I have now, I was very, very disappointed with the condition of that oneThere was really no bringing it back and I wound up selling it.”
These days, Schwartz loves to answer the question that AMC posed in an advertising campaign in the early 1970s: “Whats a Matador?” They might be a bit of a forgotten model these days, but from 1971-’78 they were AMCs contender in the midsize market and the companys bestselling line following the muscle car craze of the late 1960s and early70s. The 1974 model year marked the beginning of the second generation for the Matador, as a major restyling gave the cars a longer, lower, racier silhouette. Buyers could get their Matadors with either two or four doors, or as a station wagon. The coupes could be had in base trim, a more refined Brougham, or in the sportier X version, which was actually considered its own submodel, even though it was more of a trim package. Matador X accoutrements included a threespoke Sport steering wheel; bodyside stripes; hood stripes; slottedstyle wheels, blackedout grille; Matador X cowl nameplates; automatic transmission; and twobarrel 304cid V8 rated at 150 hp. The Xs could also be ordered with 360cid twoor fourbarrel V8s, or the most muscular option, a 235hp 401cid with a fourbarrel.
The Xs were available only with V8s, but the other four Matadors on the 1974 menu could all be had with either sixes or eights, starting with the base Matador coupe equipped with a sixcylinder for $3,052. The Xs were the priciest at $3,699 with the base 304 V8.

AMC sold 99,586 Matadors in 1974, but only 10,074 of them were Matador Xs. That total apparently wasnt enough to make them worth keeping, as the X turned out to be a oneyear wonder. An X package was offered for $199 on 1975 models, but74 was the only year the Matador X had a banner of its own. Perhaps it was because they suffered from a bit of an identity complex. The public may have been a bit confused over whether the jazzedup Xs were meant to be family cars, poormans personal luxury cars or an oversized sports car. With a full back seat and weighing in at a hefty 3,700 lbs., they were not exactly stars of the slalom course, but they held their own when it came to straightline power. Looks, of course, are subjective, but the Matador X certainly didnt need to make any apologies.
My biggest draw to the car is definitely the styling of it. Its almost one of thoseIts so ugly its cutethings,” Schwartz chuckles. “Those bulging headlightsit just screams70s to me. Its not a car that really, when you look at it, could come from any other era. It has that, dare I say, disco look, and the fact that so many people think its ugly makes it more appealing to me.”
Schwartz believes he is the fifth owner of his Matador, which now shows about 61,600 miles on its odometer. The car was accompanied by a threering binder documenting much of its ownership history, dating back to its original purchase at a dealership in Walla Walla, Wash. “From there, it was traded in in 1976 at a Datson dealership, probably for something more economical at the time.”
The car had about 59,000 miles when it made its way to Minnesota, which means it has been driven only about 2,000 miles in the past 14 years.

My wife says Im overly careful with it,” Schwartz admits. “It resides in the garage and the car thats my daily driver sits outside every day. [The Matador] stays in the garage and under a cover all winter long. Im very careful with itProbably 500 miles a year is about what Ill average. Its essentially just a show car and occasional cruise kind of carWe have cruise nights every other week in my town, and Ill take it out for those.”
So far, the AMC has been troublefree and exactly what Schwartz was hoping for. He hasnt had to do much in the way of repairs, and he has no plans to ever give the car a big restoration.
I havent done too much to it, mostly maintenancetype stuff,” he says. “I did have the heads sent out for a valve job and general reconditioning. I took advantage of that opportunity and painted the engine in its correct AMC engine metallic blue. Ive touched up what seems like hundreds of tiny little paint chips that were here and there and everywhere in the paint.
Its a pretty original car so I havent wanted to touch it up much. The stripes were kind of notorious for cracking on these things, so there were little voids and little hairline cracks that I touched up to try to give it more of a smooth look up close.”

Keeping the white vinyl interior looking as good as the original Trans Am Red paint is no easy task, however. “I love the white. I get a lot of positive comments. It really stands out, but it is a nightmare to keep clean,” Schwartz said. “The best thing Ive found is citrusbased type cleaners. Its in remarkable shape inside for being nearly 40 years old now. There are no rips or tears in the upholstery. It was clearly well taken care of from the getgo.”
The original owner of Schwartzs Matador X did not opt for any of the bigger, thirstier V8s on the menu, but they did get power steering. The Chryslersourced automatic with a floor shifter was standard and available only with bucket seats and the console. Front disc brakes were standard, but powerassist cost extra. The 114inch wheel base on the coupes was four inches shorter than the fourdoor sedan and wagon. Coil springs were found at all four corners and a front sway bar and insulation package was also standard fare.
It didnt have a lot of options,” Schwartz said. “It only has an AM radio. It has the handling package, which was heavyduty shock absorbers and a rear sway bar. Its not the kind of car youd want to take on twisty roads, anyway. Its pretty friendly to drive. Its got the overassisted power steering that was so common for that time. It reminds me of a car that I drove in high schoola 1978 Monte Carlo. It drives like that. Not too sporty, but not overly plush like, say, a Buick.”

Schwartz is pretty plugged into the network of devoted Matador X lovers across the country and he estimates there are between 300 and 500 specimens remaining. “You occasionally will see one come up for sale on eBay or through Craigslist if you do a national search, but its not real common and the ones you find are usually pretty far gone,” he noted. “People will buy them and fix them up, but they dont try to restore them to original, which is one of the things that makes my car so unique and gives me the hesitation to restore it.”
Hes only had it for two years, but you get the feeling from talking to Schwartz that it might be a long time before his Matador X moves on to owner No. 6. Owner No. 5 is having far too much fun enjoying the attention that his car inevitably gets when he shows it off in public. Having an obscure machine that not everyone remembersor even wants to rememberdoes have its advantages.
Very few people know what it isand Ive had comments all the way from, ‘Whats a Matador,’ to evenWhats AMC?’” he laughs. “Hey, its easier to love a TriFive Chevy or Chevelle or GTO, but I dont know. Its neat to have something not everybody knows or everybody likes.”

Written by stavrovoleg

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