The Matador replaced the AMC Rebel, which had been marketed since 1967. With a facelift and a new name, the AMC Matadors were available as a two-door hardtop as well as a four-door sedan and station wagon. The Matador was based on AMC's "senior" automobile platform shared with the full-size Ambassador line.
The sedan and wagon models "offered excellent value and were fairly popular", including as a prowl car. Matadors were offered to fleet buyers with various police, taxicab, and other heavy-duty packages. Government agencies, military units, and police departments in the U.S. equipped Matador sedans and wagons with 360 cu in (5.9 L) or 401 cu in (6.6 L) V8 engines.
The Matador received a redesign in 1974, in part to meet new safety and crash requirements, as well as a completely different model "to contend with the bull market for plush mid-size coupes that sprang up after the end of the muscle car era."
American Motors advertising assured that the new Matador was not just a name change and facelift, but in reality it was the 1970 Rebel restyled with a longer front clip and a new interior. The 1971 model year Matadors acquired a "beefier" front end look for all three body designs: two-door hardtop, four-door sedan, and station wagon. The AMC Matador shared its basic body design from the firewall back with the Ambassador, which was built on the same platform, but had a longer wheelbase and front-end sheetmetal, a formal grille and luxurious trim, as well as more standard equipment that included air conditioning. Interior wise, it shared the same dash, instrument cluster, steering wheel, and arm rests as the 1970 Rebel. Also reused was the 1967–1970 Rebel "Weather Eye" three-lever fan/heat control unit. The 1971 model came with a split-bench front seat with individual fold-down center arm rests for passenger and driver seats. Externally the 1971 model retained the same trunk lid chrome strip and rear-corner chrome garnishes as the 1970 Rebel. The rear bumper was also the same as the 1970 Rebel but with a new tail light lens assembly of three-in-line square lenses with rounded corners.
While "Matador" may have been a move away from connotations of the Confederacy inspired by the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, it did not help solve the obscurity problem, as AMC adopted a "what's a Matador" advertising campaign. This self-disparaging marketing campaign "turned the styling of anonymity into an asset." Consumer-research polls conducted by AMC found it meant virility and excitement to consumers. However, American Motors ran into problems in Puerto Rico, where "matador" has connotations of "killer" on the island where bullfighting was abolished when the U.S. took its control.
The Matador station wagons had an available rear-facing third-row bench seat increasing total seating from six to eight passengers. In addition, all wagons included a roof rack and a two-way tailgate that opened when the rear window was down either from the top to serve as an extended flat surface that was even with the load floor, or to swing open like a regular door hinged on the left side.
The Matador came with a straight-6 or a number of V8 engines. Transmissions for the Matador included the Borg-Warner sourced "Shift-Command" three-speed automatic, a column-shifted three-speed manual and a floor-shifted four-speed manual.
Continuing in the muscle car market segment, the "Machine" was moved from being a distinct 1970 AMC Rebel model to the new Matador only as a performance package option for two-door hardtops. However, the options could also be ordered individually making it possible to equip the equivalent of a "Go Package" on a four-door Matador sedan or station wagon.
The 1971 "Go Package" Matador two-door lacked the optional bold red, white, and blue striping of its AMC Rebel-based predecessor, and also had no special identification or badging. Less known than the 1970 original, around 50 Matador Machines were produced for 1971. The package featured 15 × 7-inch slot-styled steel wheels with white-lettered "polyglass" belted tires, dual exhaust system, a heavy-duty handling package, power disk brakes, and a choice of either a 360 cu in (5.9 L) ($373 option) or the 401 cu in (6.6 L) V8 engine (for $461) with either a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic transmission.
In 1972 the innovative AMC Buyer Protection Plan was introduced. This was the automobile industry's first 12-month or 12,000 miles (19,312 km) bumper-to-bumper warranty. American Motors started with an emphasis on quality and durability by focusing on its component sourcing, improving production that included reducing the number of models, as well mechanical upgrades and increasing the level of standard equipment. This was followed by an innovative promise to its customers to repair anything wrong with the car (except for tires). Owners were provided with a toll-free number to the company, as well as a free loaner car if a warranty repair took overnight. The objective was to reduce warranty claims, as well as achieve better public relations along with greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The previous Borg-Warner sourced "Shift-Command" three-speed automatic transmission was replaced by the Chrysler Corporation-built TorqueFlite three-speed automatic that AMC marketed as "Torque-Command." The column-shift three-speed manual continued as the standard transmission, but the optional four-speed manual was discontinued.
Externally the 1972 model was the same as the 1971 model, retaining the same front end but with 3 vertical strips added to the grille. The chrome trunk lid strip and rear corner chrome of the 1970 Rebel and 1971 Marador was dropped. The rear bumper again was the 1970 Rebel bumper but with a new lens assembly with each assembly divided into nine recessed vertically rectangular lenses. Interior-wise the 1972 model saw the return of the round instrument dials of earlier Ambassador and 1967 Rebel models. The steering wheel was the same as previous models. New for the 1972 model was slimmer arm rests for the doors and a bench seat without the fold-down centre arm rests.
Matador hardtop, sedan, and station wagon body styles came in only one trim model for 1973, with numerous appearance and comfort options. The 1973 model year brought new U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations that required all passenger cars to withstand a 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) front and a 2.5-mile-per-hour (4 km/h) rear impacts without damage to the engine, lights, and safety equipment. Matadors gained stronger front and rear bumpers. The front bumper included self-restoring telescoping shock-absorbers and more prominent vertical rubber guards, while the rear bumper gained vertical black rubber bumper guards that replaced a pair of similar and previously optional chrome bumper guards. Aside from the changes to the bumpers, the design of the 1973 model was identical to the 1972 model with the exception of new tail light lens assemblies. The full-width bench seat was standard with 50/50 individually adjustable and reclining seats were optional on all body styles. The station wagons came with "Uganda" vinyl upholstery, while the two-door hardtops offered optional front bucket seats.
All V8 powered Matadors came with a TorqueFlite 998 automatic transmission and a column-mounted automatic shifter. The 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 was the base engine with a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission, with a 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 optional, with which only the station wagon could be ordered with a manual transmission because almost all six-cylinder powered Matadors came with TorqueFlite 904 automatics.
Marketing of the Matador included NASCAR appearances. Mark Donahue drove a two-door hardtop prepared by Roger Penske on the road course at Riverside, California, in January 21, 1973, lapping the entire field to win this NASCAR Cup Series race This was also Penske's first NASCAR victory at the Winston Western 500, with Donahue's Matador leading 138 out of the 191 laps.
A comparison of 1973 Matador owners conducted by Popular Mechanics indicated increased satisfaction and fewer problems than was the case with the owners of the essentially similar 1970 AMC Rebel three years earlier.
The intermediate-sized car market segment was growing to almost 20% of the total market by 1973, but the hardtop was the slowest-selling version in the Matador line, "in a segment where two-door hardtops were customarily the most popular (and profitable) models." Automobile Quarterly reviewed the 1973 cars and summarized that "AMC actually has a very strong product line, but public awareness of it seems so feeble as to be negligible. ... The Matador became a typical intermediate, an exact counterpart of the Satellite/Coronet or Torino/Montego", and ranked AMC's car as a "good buy."
A major design change was introduced with the 1974 models for both the sedan and wagon, while the two-door became a separate and radically styled hardtop coupe. These could be considered the "second generation" Matadors. New passenger car requirements set by NHTSA called for the front and rear passenger car bumpers to have uniform heights, take angle impacts, and sustain 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) impacts with no damage. The 1974 AMC Matadors accomplished this with massive bumpers. The four-door sedans and wagons received a new front fascia with a hood and grille featuring a prominent central protrusion that followed the front bumper shape. Matadors with this front fascia are sometimes nicknamed "coffin noses".
Second generation sedans and station wagons continued over all the model years with only minor trim and equipment changes. Powertrains included inline six or V8 engine was available with a three-speed automatic transmission. A three-speed manual column-shift transmission was also available with the six-cylinder engine from 1974 to 1976. A floor shift automatic transmission was available only on the coupe with center console and bucket front seats. The 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 was only available for the 1974 models, except in California. The 401 cu in (6.6 L) V8 was a fleet-only option after 1974. Starting in 1975, no-lead fuel was required and only V8-powered Matadors were available in California. The "Power Package" 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 (4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust with twin catalytic converters) was available through 1976. For 1977 and 1978, all Matadors came standard with the automatic transmission.
A road test by automobile journalist Vincent Courtenay of the 1974 Matador station wagon "praised its performance, handling, and fuel economy considering its size and 360 CID engine." He described it as "a real sleeper on the market. Its performance ranks it in the first line of cars, yet it's reasonably priced."
Changes for the 1975 model year were minor as AMC focused on the development and introduction of its innovative Pacer, but Matadors now included a standard "no maintenance" electronic ignition developed by Prestolite. All U.S. market Matadors featured catalytic converters that required the use of unleaded regular-grade fuel. New "unleaded fuel only" decals were placed by the fuel filler door and on the fuel gauge. Steel-belted radial tires became standard equipment on all Matadors.
American Motors' executives saw an opportunity to replace the "uninspired" Matador two-door hardtop with a new design to capture people looking for exciting, sporty styling in a market segment that was outpacing the rest of the automobile market; and were looking to answer the demand for plush mid-size coupes after the end of the muscle car era.
The 1974 model year introduced an aerodynamically styled fastback coupe with pronounced "tunneled" headlight surrounds. The Matador coupe was the only all-new model in the popular mid-size car segment, specifically targeting the Chevy Chevelle Coupe, Ford Torino Coupe and Plymouth Satellite Sebring. The coupe was designed under the direction of AMC's vice president of styling, Richard A. Teague, with input from Mark Donohue, the famous race car driver. AMC's styling department had greater freedom because of a decision to design the new Matador strictly as a coupe, without the constraints of attempting to have the sedan and station wagon versions fit the same body lines. Reportedly Teague designed the coupe's front as an homage to one of the first AMCs he designed, the 1964 Rambler American. Many were amazed that AMC came up with the fast, stylish Matador, considering the automaker's size and limited resources.
The coupe's wind-shaped look was enhanced by a very long hood and a short rear deck. The Matador coupe stands out as one of the more distinctive and controversial designs of the 1970s after the AMC Pacer and was named "Best Styled Car of 1974" by the editors of Car and Driver magazine. A Popular Mechanics survey indicated "luscious looks of Matador coupe swept most owners off their feet" with a "specific like" listed by 63.7% of them for "styling".
Sales of the coupe were brisk with 62,629 Matador coupes delivered for its introductory year (August 1973 thru December 1974,Long Year), up sharply from the 7,067 Matador hardtops sold in 1973. This is a respectable record that went against the drop in the overall market during 1974 and the decline in popularity of intermediate-sized coupes after the 1973 oil crisis. After it outsold the four-door Matadors by nearly 25,000 units in 1974, sales dropped to less than 10,000 in 1977, and then down to just 2,006 in the coupe's final year. Nearly 100,000 Matador coupes in total were produced from 1974 through 1978.
American Motors executives, including vice president of design Richard A. Teague, described design plans for a four-door sedan and station wagon based on the coupe's styling themes that did not reach production.
As part of a significant product placement strategy, an AMC Matador coupe played a starring role in a James Bond film that was released in 1974.
The Man with the Golden Gun features the newly introduced Matador Brougham Coupe in the Oleg Cassini edition - along with Matador four-door police cars (painted in the black and white livery used by the Los Angeles Police Department) and a Hornet X hatchback. This was Roger Moore's second appearance as the British secret agent. The Matador is the car of Francisco Scaramanga, and along with Nick Nack, they use the "flying" AMC Matador to kidnap Mary Goodnight and make their escape. "Bond is foiled by perhaps the best trick a getaway car has ever performed" as the Matador transforms into a plane to fly from Bangkok to an island in the China Sea. The whole automobile is turned into a light airplane when wings and a flight tail unit are attached to the actual Matador coupe (that served as the fuselage and landing gear). The idea was based on the Taylor Aerocar design of a roadable aircraft. The machine for this Bond movie was 9.15 metres (30 ft) long, 12.80 metres (42 ft) wide, and 3.08 metres (10 ft) high. A stuntman drove the "car plane" to a runway. The machine was not airworthy and could only make a 500-metre (1,640 ft) flight, so a meter-long (39-inch) model was used for the film's aerial sequences. The scenes show the remote controlled scale model built by John Stears.
According to some critics, the movie "didn't offer much to recommend it other than the clever use of cars" such as the conversion of car into an airplane. The "flying AMC Matador" machine was exhibited at auto shows. It was part of AMC's marketing efforts for the aerodynamically designed coupe, as well as publicity exposure for the concept of unique flying machines.
A special Oleg Cassini edition of the Matador coupe was available for the 1974 and 1975 model years. This was following a recent tradition of Designer cars by AMC, the Gucci Hornet and Pierre Cardin Javelin were previously done. American Motors had the famous American fashion designer develop a more elegant luxury oriented model for the new coupe. Cassini was renowned in Hollywood and high-society for making elegant ready-to-wear dresses, including those worn by Jacqueline Kennedy. Cassini himself helped promote the car in AMC's advertising.
With Cassini's styling, the new "smooth and slippery" two-door featured "marks of haute couture" with the "upholstery, panels and headliner done in jet black, with copper trim pieces, and with carpets and vinyl roof also offered in a copper accent color. The exterior trim included striping, rub rails, wheel covers and special "Oleg Cassini" crest badging mark the Matador as Cassini's." The Cassini Coupes were limited to black, white, or copper metallic exterior paints, and all came with the vinyl-covered roof. They also featured copper-colored trim in the grille, headlamp bezels, in turbine-type full wheel covers, and within the rear license plate recess.
The interior was a Cassini hallmark featuring a special black fabric with copper metal buttons on the individual adjustable and reclining front seats and on the padded door panels, that was set off by extra thick copper carpeting. Additional copper accents were on the steering wheel, door pulls, and on the instrument panel. Embroidered Cassini medallions were featured on the headrests. The glove compartment door, trunk lid, front fender, and hood featured Cassini's signature.
The use of a fashion designer to specially create appearance packages for American cars was taken up by the Lincoln Continental Mark IV in 1976. In 1979, Cadillac briefly used this approach on the Cadillac Seville partnering with fashion designer Gucci but ended this practice in 1980.
For 1977 and 1978, the "Barcelona II" coupe featured a padded Landau roof and opera windows, styling cues that were required at that time by buyers in the highly popular two-door "personal luxury" market segment. At first it was available in only one distinctive two-tone paint pattern consisting of Golden Ginger Metallic with Sand Tan. For the 1978 model year, the Barcelona came in a second color scheme: an Autumn Red Metallic on Claret Metallic combination. For its final production in 1978, the Barcelona model was also available on the four-door sedan body style.
The Barcelona included numerous comfort and appearance upgrades in addition to the extensive standard equipment that came on all Matadors. The special items were: individual reclining seats in velveteen crush fabric with woven accent stripes, custom door trim panels, unique headliner, headlight bezels painted accent color, black trunk carpet, rear sway bar, GR78x15 radial whitewall tires, color-keyed slot styled wheels, body color front and rear bumpers, two-tone paint, landau padded vinyl roof, opera quarter windows with accents, dual remote control mirrors painted body color, Barcelona medallion on glove box door and fenders, 24 oz (680 g) carpeting and bumper nerf strips. The standard roll-down rear quarter windows were converted into fixed "opera windows" with fiberglass covers over the stock openings that were finished with padded vinyl inside and out.
Motor Trend magazine road tested a 1977 Barcelona II coupe and found it to be equal to all in the objective areas, as well as one of the most distinctive vehicles on the road that "makes a good deal of sense... if you're not put off by the Matador's unique lines."
Penske Racing prepared factory-backed Matador hardtops and coupes were used in NASCAR stock car tracks. Drivers included Indy winner Mark Donohue and Bobby Allison, and they won a number of races.
As it was AMC's first entry into NASCAR since the Hudson Hornet of predecessor company Hudson, the company's effort "raised eyebrows" for many NASCAR veterans because AMC was not known for cultivating a racing image. Racing pundits "initially scoffed at the notion of an AMC entry" on the circuit, but "the Matador acquired a fan following of its own."
Hutcherson-Pagan built a pair of 1972 2-door hardtop "Bull Fighters" for Penske as the marque's first attempt at NASCAR in 1972. The Matador was one of the first oval stock car to use disc brakes. After Donohue won the Western 500 with the first generation Matador hardtop with four wheel discs, other teams soon followed with the upgrade.
The new 1974 coupe replaced the previous "flying brick" two-door hardtop design. Penske was quoted as saying that they did what they could with the old hardtop, and it did better on tracks with more curves and fewer straightaways. Donohue did not survive to drive the new aerodynamically designed fastback coupe, that many believe was aimed at NASCAR racing. The five wins for the AMC Matador are:Winston Western 500 - Riverside - Mark Donohue - January 21, 1973
Los Angeles Times 500 - Ontario - Bobby Allison - November 24, 1974
Winston Western 500 - Riverside - Bobby Allison - January 19, 1975
Rebel 500 - Darlington - Bobby Allison - April 13, 1975
Southern 500 - Darlington - Bobby Allison - September 1, 1975
Bobby Allison also won the non-points Daytona 125 qualifying race on 13 February 1975, and finished second in the Daytona 500 three days later.
Following the discontinuation of the Matador in 1978, AMC would not field another entry in NASCAR until its purchase by Chrysler in 1987. (Chrysler was itself from a hiatus from NASCAR at the time.) The Madator would also be NASCAR's sole entry that was not from Detroit's Big Three following MG's withdrawal in 1963 to Toyota's entry in 2007.
Though the full-sized AMC Ambassador was also offered as a police car, the Matador would prove to be very popular. The largest user of Matador patrol cars was the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), primarily from 1972 to 1974, with some staying in service until the mid-1980s. After extensive testing of the special police models offered by Chevy, Ford, and Chrysler, the LAPD chose the AMC Matador because they "out handled and out performed all the other cars." The LAPD police Matadors included among other special equipment: T-2 can lights, a five-channel Motorola Motrac 70 radio, a Federal siren, and a "Hot Sheet Desk" with a Roster gooseneck lamp.
Matador sedans and station wagons was also used by other agencies, including the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department and many other law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada, as well as by military police units.
While V8 power was down for many domestic sedans, AMC used a 401 cu in (6.6 L) V8 engine that outpowered most other police vehicles. Tests of the 1972 AMC Javelin pony car and Matador sedan equipped with the 401 V8s resulted both running the quarter-mile dragstrip in the 14.7-second range. Zero to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) times were within 7 seconds, comparable to a 2006 Hemi Charger police car. Top speed was about 125 miles per hour (201 km/h), which took 43 seconds, much faster than the previously used Plymouth Satellites.
The high-performance 401 V8 was last available in 1975 only for fleet and police ordered sedans.
The 1974 models would be the last year for the LAPD's purchase of the Matador. The second-generation longer-nosed restyle and the 5-mile bumpers added weight that affected handling and performance. Moreover, after 1976, AMC "let the police car business go as it causes too many problems."
The AMC Matador police cars would appear in many television shows and movies during the 1970s, most famously, Adam-12 from 1972 until the show's end in 1975, CHiPs in its early seasons, Police Academy, and in The Rockford Files beginning in 1974.
Australian assembly of the Matador by Australian Motor Industries (AMI) started in 1971, and the model was discontinued after 1977. The AMI cars were marketed as the Rambler Matador.
Sales dropped after 1974 and AMI stopped assembling Matador sedans and wagons in 1976 but were still marketed through 1977.
Starting in 1971, the AMI-built Matador was available in sedan and wagon body styles. Standard equipment included automatic transmission, power steering, power windows, air conditioning, and an AM radio. The engine was AMC's 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8, following its introduction in the 1970 Rebel. Among the options were an exterior mounted sun visor, vinyl roof cover, tow hitch, and mud flaps. The cars were targeted at the top market segment and advertised as "the American luxury limousine made for Australians" and built for Australian conditions.
Knock-down kits were shipped from AMC's Kenosha, Wisconsin factory for assembly in AMI's facilities in Port Melbourne, Victoria. AMI used the same paint codes for the Matadors as the Toyota and Triumph vehicles they also assembled. These paint codes did not correspond to the AMC paint codes and thus Australian Matador colours are unique.
In addition to the modifications needed for Australian standards and market requirements, changes included the use of "local content" sourced parts and components (such as seats, carpeting, lights, heaters, and even unique "R"-logo wheel covers) that reduced the tariff added to each car. All AMI Matadors were right-hand drive and continued to use the dash and instrument dials of the U.S 1967 Rambler Ambassador. Also reused throughout the whole production run was the split-bench front seat and door cards of the U.S 1971 Matador which were both Australian-made. Despite the reused interior, all exterior model year changes corresponded to those of U.S. production As red rear flashers were prohibited in Australia, amber-coloured trailer lights were retrofitted to the rear of all AMI-assembled Matadors, drilled into the tail gate of the station wagons or mounted over or behind the reversing lens of the tail light assembly of the sedans, and then re wired so the turn signals would flash orange.
As with the previous Rebel model AMI continued to assemble previous-year-model Matadors in the subsequent year. For example, 1973 Matadors were still being assembled in Australia as late as December 1974.
As with the U.S second generation Matadors, Australia assembled the revised 1974 model from 1974 until 1976. However, each year of assembly in 1975 and 1976 was simply a re-assembly of the 1974 model. This is observable by the fact that all 1975 and 1976 Australian models have the same 1974 "coffin nose" grille and tail light lens assembly. Concurrently, first generation Matadors were still assembled in Australia as late as December 1974.
For the Australian interiors of the second generation Matadors the 1967 Ambassador dash assembly was again reused but this time with the 1974 U.S Matador instrument cluster. As with the Australian first generation models, the 1971 U.S Matador front split-bench and 1971 U.S Matador door cards were reused but were Australian-made. The revised steering wheel of the U.S 1974 model was also used on Australian models.
In order to meet the requirement of amber rear turn indicators, the tail light lens assembly for the Australian models included an amber lens.
A total of 145 Matadors (118 sedans, 27 wagons) were sold in Australia during 1974. Some were first generation 1973 models assembled in 1974. Registrations for 1975 were 118 Matadors (85 sedans, 33 wagons). In 1976 there were 88 Matadors (78 sedans, 10 wagons), and in 1977 there were 27 Matadors (24 sedans and 3 wagons.)
The second generation Matador Coupe version was assembled by AMI in limited quantity in only its 1974 model year version but was held over until 1977 whereupon it was sold for one year only. As with the Australian and New Zealand assembled Rebel and Matador sedans and wagons, the Australian Matador used the dash of the 1967 Rambler Ambassador, although the instrument dials, center column, and steering wheel were from the U.S model.
The AMI-built Matador may be the last AMC vehicle of any kind to carry the "Rambler" automobile name.
U.S.-built left hand drive Matadors were exported to several European countries.
Matadors were built by Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) in Mexico.
Continuing the concept of VAM's version of the AMC Rebel, the Mexican Matadors were only available as a single trim level and in four-door sedan and two-door hardtop forms in their initial year. The hardtop retained the Rambler Classic SST name while the four-door sedan changed from Rambler Classic 770 to Rambler Classic DPL. Both body styles saw the same features as the 1971 AMC Matadors and were almost equal with only few exclusive characteristics for each. Standard equipment consisted of four-wheel manual drum bakes, manual steering, 170 bhp (127 kW; 172 PS) gross at 4600 RPM 252 cu in (4.1 L) I6 engine with Carter WCD two-barrel carburetor and 9.5:1 compression ratio, fully synchronized three-speed manual transmission with column shift, 10-inch heavy duty clutch, 3.54:1 rear differential gear ratio with manual transmission, 3.07:1 rear differential gear ratio with automatic transmission, electric two-speed wipers, electric washers, rectangular full-length 200 km/h speedometer, electric analog clock, collapsible steering column with built-in ignition switch, luxury custom steering wheel, courtesy lights, cigarette lighter, dashboard ashtray, locking glove box, wide individual front seats (hardtop), front bench seat (sedan), two-point front seatbelts, front and rear side armrests, dual rear ashtrays, single round dome light (sedan), dual C-pillar dome lights (hardtop), dual coat hooks, bright molding package, luxury wheel covers, and driver's side remote mirror. Optional equipment included power drum brakes (standard with automatic transmission), power steering, heavy duty suspension, automatic transmission, heater with front defroster, vinyl roof, remote-controlled driver's side mirror, passenger's side remote mirror, bumper guards, bumper tubes, and locking gas cap.
For 1972, all VAM cars received the same revisions and improvements of the AMC models. The Classic line saw upgrades in the replacement of the 252 cu in (4.1 L) six in favor of the 282 cu in (4.6 L) with gross 200 bhp (149 kW; 203 PS) at 4,400 RPM with Carter ABD two-barrel carburetor, 9.5 compression ratio, and 266 degree camshaft. Power brakes with front disks became standard equipment regardless of transmission, a Chrysler A998 three-speed automatic transmission in place of the older Borg-Warner automatics, heavy duty suspension with front sway bar, improved heater with revised controls placed to the right of the steering column, and new two-round-pod instrument cluster. New wheel cover and grille designs were noticeable on the exterior, while seat patterns and side panels were also updated.
Since its redesign in 1970, the hardtop body style started to drop in sales and the front end facelift of 1971 did not help to reverse the trend. VAM did not want to drop it leaving it without a mid-sized two-door. The model was reworked into an all-new limited edition with a sportier focus for 1972, as well as featuring more appointments similar to a personal luxury car. This became the VAM Classic Brougham, with the name "Rambler" removed to rejuvenate the line, while the four-door sedan became the VAM Classic DPL. The Brougham included as standard equipment power steering, three-speed automatic transmission with floor-mounted shifter (the same unit as the U.S. Rebel Machine models), center console with locking compartment (also shared with the Rebel Machine), individual high-back bucket seats (shared with the VAM Javelin), bright trim for pedals, heater, AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers, tinted windshield, and a remote controlled driver's side remote mirror. Despite the marketing and high level of equipment, the public saw it as the previous model. The only external differences with the previous model were limited to the colors, the grille, the standard vinyl roof and the wheel covers. The price was higher than that of the Rambler Classic SST and it did not increase sales for the year, ending below VAM's expectations. The VAM Classic Brougham is the closest Mexican equivalent to AMC models Rebel Machine and Matador Machine sold in the U.S. and Canada and is probably the most collectible Matador/Rebel model produced in Mexico.
Because of the low sales of the Classic Brougham hardtop, the Classic DPL four door sedan became the only Matador version produced by VAM for 1973, with Javelin being the largest two-door model offered by the company. The 1973 Classic DPLs were virtually the same to their previous year's counterparts with differences only in seat and side panel designs as well as the grille design and a new engine head with larger valves and independent rockers.
The generational change that AMC Matadors received for 1974 in the United States was also introduced in Mexico. The Classic DPL obtained the longer "coffin nose" front clip design complete with the change from dual headlights to single units, grille-mounted parking lights as well as five-mile-per-hour bumpers with standard bumper guards. The rear licence plate was relocated to the center of the rear panel and obtained new longer rectangular taillights. The interior saw the all-new padded dashboard with three squared pods for instruments (emergency lights, gasoline level and water temperature to the left, 200 km/h speedometer at the center and the electric clock on the right) and a horizontal radio design. Seats and interior door panels were once again redesigned. Units ordered with the automatic transmission also included power steering and a heater. The beginning of automotive engine emission certification in Mexico affected the 282 cu in (4.6 L) six, which changed to a lower 8.5:1 compression ratio.
The biggest news of the year was the arrival or a new two-door model, AMC's Matador coupe. Unlike all previous (Matador and Rebel) models, it was available in two different trim levels; the sporty Classic AMX equivalent to the AMC Matador X model and the luxury Classic Brougham equivalent to the AMC Matador Brougham coupe model. Both versions were mechanically the same, carrying the same technical specifications as the Classic DPL models. Their main differences relied in appearance and accessories. The Classic AMX sported VAM's inhouse five-spoke wheels with volcano centercaps and trim rings, a blackedout grille and a rally stripe surrounding the full length of the car with an integrated AMX emblem on the right corner of the trunk lid; the Classic Brougham had a standard vinil roof cover with its respective moldings, wheelcovers (new design for the year), standard grille and "Brougham" emblems over the C-pillar bases. The Classic AMX showcased a three-arm spoked sports steering wheel, high-back fold-down individual bucket seats, center console with locking compartment, floor-mounted gearshift, and AM/FM radio. Despite the sportiness of the model, intended to take the place of the Javelin as VAM's top-of-the-line performance model as well as the image and enthusiast builder, the side armrests were the standard designs used in the Matador base models of the U.S. On the other hand, the Classic Brougham sported a custom sports steering wheel and column-mounted shifter with a fold-down split-back bench seat and AM radio. Unlike the Classic DPL, both the Classic AMX and the Classic Brougham included the automatic transmission, power steering and heater as standard equipment. A unique characteristic of the 1974 VAM Classic AMX was the shifter because it was the Javelin's "aircraft" U-shaped design.
For 1975, changes on all three versions were few. The Classic DPL obtained a new grille design with rectangular parking lights alongside new seats and door panels. The luxury steering wheel obtained a new design for the both Classic DPL and the Classic Brougham. Both coupe models obtained new interior door panels with AMC's full length X-model side armrests; the panels of the sports version also carried an etched "AMX" emblem over the vinyl near the top front corner of the door. The Classic AMX also featured AMC's X-model floor-mounted shifter design. All three versions shared the upgrades of electronic ignition, a vacuum gauge in place of the electric clock, a 282 cu in (4.6 L) I6 with a lower 7.7:1 compression ratio, and Holley 2300 two-barrel carburetor. The rear differential gear ratio was changed to 3.31:1 for both transmissions.
There were more changes for the 1976 model year. The Classic DPL and Brougham featured a new design for wheel covers. Both coupe models obtained a new grille design divided in two portions with squared parking lights. The Classic AMX had a new and more discreet side decal covering only the front fenders and a new metal "AMX" emblem on the trunk lid corner. All three versions shared a new 160 km/h speedometer, tinted windshield, and seat designs that were based in AMC's Oleg Cassini units for the Matador coupes. These were color-keyed with the rest of the interior, the most unusual ones were those of the AMX as they were individual and included adjustable headrests with integrated Cassini crests and reclining mechanism. This is the only case of a VAM car close to the various U.S. AMC designer cars.
The Classic line was discontinued in the middle of the 1976 model year. VAM was looking forward to introducing the Pacer model to Mexican market, which would represent its fourth product line, while Mexican legislation at the time allowed only three per marque. Having both the Classic and the Pacer in the luxury market segment would have also caused internal competition. VAM favored the new Pacer over what until that time had been its flagship model. Starting in 1977, VAM's most luxurious model was the Pacer, and its largest sized models were the Americans (AMC Hornets).
The Rambler name was used on right hand drive Matador models sold in the UK. The cars were supplied by AMI in Australia up to 1976, but the final 1977 models in the UK were regular LHD versions imported from the U.S.
During the late 1970s, the domestic automobile market was moving to smaller cars. The large-sized Matador was no longer attractive to customers demanding more economical cars as fuel and money became increasingly worrisome problems after the 1973 oil crisis and the continuing double digit domestic inflation.
Lacking the financial resources for a full redesign (partly because of the expensive tooling costs of the coupe), AMC dropped the large Ambassador after 1974, while the Matador was discontinued after 1978, around the same time as Ford moved their full-size nameplates to a smaller platform. The downsized 1977 Chevrolet Impala also spelled doom for large intermediates from AMC and Chrysler. American Motors responded to the declining demand for large cars by introducing a new nameplate in 1978, the AMC Concord. The Concord was an upmarket restyling and positioning of the compact AMC Hornet which had the same 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase as the redesigned intermediate 1978 Chevrolet Malibu. It was presented as combining an "easy-to-handle size with a roomy sumptuous interior" and in contrast to the Matador coupe, the "overall styling was pleasant ... would not offend anyone" This was the first full-line of economical, compact-sized cars with luxurious trim, features, and comfort levels previously available only in larger automobiles.
American Motors did not have another large car until the Eagle Premier that was developed with Renault's partnership and introduced to the marketplace following the purchase of AMC by Chrysler in 1987.
While well-restored examples of Matador sedans can still be purchased for under US$3,000, ads have been published asking over US$10,000 for restored coupes. In Australia, a "survivor" or restored Matador sedan can fetch between AU$10,000–14,000.
Hemmings Classic Car magazine listed the 1974–78 Matador Coupe as one of their 19 pieces of rolling proof that the old-car hobby need not be expensive and described the Coupe as "possibly one of the most distinctive shapes to come out of the 1970s, and arguably a style pinnacle for the personal luxury movement", the James Bond movie role, as well as its NASCAR history.
The 1991 Esquire article "Cool Cars Nobody Wants" describes the 1974–75 AMC Matadors as a collectable, stating: "long considered the automaker to geeks, American Motors began its slow decline, we believe, when the liberal do-gooders who made up its core market began earning enough money to buy Scandinavian cars."
In 2014, Hagerty collector insurance listed the Adam 12 AMC Matador as their number one "favorite full-size, rear-wheel-drive American cop cars from 60 years of the best cop shows."