When Andy Schallitz was trying to make a big snap decision on whether to purchase his pristine 1974 AMC Matador X coupe, he got a piece of advice from his twin brother Adam that he just couldn’t argue with.
“We were coming back to the guy’s house and pulling in the driveway (on a test drive) and my brother — he’s always loved these things — he just leaned over to me and said, ‘If you really want one of these, you’re never going to find a nicer one.’”
That was really all the affirmation Andy needed to hear. He pulled the trigger that day three years ago and he’s had no second thoughts ever since. The decision was certainly made easier by the fact that the tan Matador was a true time capsule car with a paltry 5,760 miles on the odometer at the time. It hadn’t even been properly broken in 46 years after it had been ordered new by a Matador fan who couldn’t wait to own one.
“I came across an ad on Craigslist for this Matador, and the guy said if you want a Matador you have to come and see this,” Schallitz recalled. “I didn’t believe [the mileage] at first, but he had all these pictures and stuff. So my brother and I went to look at it and sure enough, he showed us everything and the story with the car is: ’74 was the first year that these Matador coupes came out, and a guy who lived in Wyoming couldn’t wait to get his hands on one. So he pre-ordered one and when it finally came in — he even had the newspaper from the day he bought the car, he saved everything for the car, which is why I still have the Wyoming plate on the car — he put 500 miles on the car and then he passed away, unfortunately. His only family was a sister in Detroit, and she had the car shipped to Detroit, and the story goes that she kept the car for her brother because she knew how much he loved it. And she drove it once a year in a 4th of July parade in a little town outside of Detroit.”
“Then the gentleman I bought it from, this was his first car in high school. I don’t know how he came across it, but he found it and he put about 1,500 miles on it… He had never owned a classic car before and he didn’t realize how much work it was to maintain it. He decided it was too much work and that’s when I found it.”
Like a lot of AMC fans — and both Andy and his brother certainly qualify — Schallitz says he is attracted to cars that are a little unusual and out of the normal mainstream. The Matador X was definitely that; a bit Camaro-esque in its silhouette and body lines, but with more of a big-car body and some unique bug-eye headlights that leave a lot of people scratching their heads.
“Anywhere I go with this, it’s always the only one there. Anybody under 40 asks me what kind of car it is, they’ve just never seen one,” Schallitz chuckles. “My brother had the AMC bug since we were little, and he always wanted a Javelin or an AMX, and he finally got his AMX. I went to a few all-AMC shows with him and I just really liked the people and the cars really started to grow on me. Being from Wisconsin, I always kind of had a soft spot for them.”
“I like that it was a coupe. This body style looked like nothing else that AMC did. None of the other models looked like this. And I remember that this car was in ‘Man with the Golden Gun,’the James Bond movie, and I can’t remember the bad guy’s name, but they put glider wings on it! [laughs].”
The Matador 2.0
The Matador lived from 1971-’78 as AMC’s main entry in the mid-size market and the company’s best-selling model. The 1974 model year was the start of second generation for the Matador after a major restyling gave the cars a longer, lower, racier silhouette.
The Matador was actually conceived with stock car racing in mind. After Mark Donohue captured the SCCA’s Trans-Am Series championship in 1971, AMC created a factory racing team with Donohue as driver and Roger Penske as team manager. By the time the car hit the production stage, the energy crunch had negated the effect of performance on sales.
Matadors were available with either two or four doors, or as a station wagon. The coupes could be ordered in base trim, a fancier Brougham, or in the sportier X version. In addition to having shorter wheelbases, Matador coupes had some equipment differences, including split-back front seats and front door light switches.
The Matador X was actually considered its own sub-model, even though it was more of a trim package with goodies like a three-spoke Sport steering wheel; bodyside stripes; hood stripes; slotted-style wheels, blacked-out grille; Matador X cowl nameplates; automatic transmission; and two-barrel 304-cid V-8 rated at 150 hp. The X’s could also be equipped with optional 360-cid two- or four-barrel V-8s, or the a 235-hp 401-cid with a four-barrel.
The Matador X’s were available only with V-8s, 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 six-cylinder for $3,052. The X’s were the priciest at $3,699 with the base 304 V-8.
The Chrysler-sourced automatic with a floor shifter was standard and was accompanied by bucket seats and a console. Front disc brakes were standard with power-assisted units available. The 114-inch wheelbase on the coupes was four inches shorter than the four-door sedan and wagon. Coil springs dampened the bumps and a front sway bar and insulation package were also standard.
Only 10,074 of them 99,586 1974 Matadors were Matador X’s. Strangely, the X turned out to be a one-year wonder. An X package was offered for $199 on 1975 models, but ’74 was the only year the Matador X was identified as a separate model.
The Matador nameplate never made it out of the 1970s, but AMC enthusiasts recall them fondly as nice all-around vehicles that were part family car, part personal luxury cars and even a husky sports car if you got a big enough V-8. Some 401-equipped cars were even used as police cars, most notably by the Los Angeles Police Department.
A Happy Homecoming
Schallitz says he was attracted to the Matador X for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is it’s a Wisconsin car and Schallitz is a Wisconsin guy. The idea of bringing the car home to Brookfield, Wis., less than an hour from the Kenosha AMC plant where it was built made it especially appealing.
“The engine was built at the Milwaukee plant where my wife’s grandfather worked. The car was assembled in Kenosha. Everything was made here, it left, went to Wyoming, went to Detroit, and now it’s back here again,” he says. “That’s one of the things I really like about it.”
The fact that the car wasn’t going to need any restoration or major work was also a nice bonus. The previous owner had replaced the air cleaner cover and valve covers, mounted some new shock absorbers and done some work on the fuel system so the car was ready to drive and enjoy right away. Schallitz still has the parts that were replaced, but for now he’s happy to preserve the Matador X exactly the way it is.
“The woman who kept it all those years, how much she must have loved that car,” Schallitz noted. “I mean, it’s got its flaws here and there, but it still shines. This car was obviously well looked after for all those years, and I’m just kind of the next caretaker for it.”
The Matador X’s were available in a variety of colors; Schallitz’s car is outfitted in a unique Camel Tan with a brown interior and black racing stripe.
“Sometimes I wish it were another color like a red … but this is about a ‘70s as you can get!” he says.
“This car drives like you expect like a mid-‘70s kind of luxury car to drive. It floats down the road. The power steering is super light. It’s got a slow, steady acceleration. It’s no speed demon. The ride is just very comfortable. It’s like you are driving a big mid-70s American car, which is what they were going for. They were competing with the Cordobas and the Monte Carlos and stuff like that. Everything was going towards the personal luxury car, and this was sort of a sport-luxury car… It’s funny, when we went to look at it, we went in my brother’s AMX! [laughs]. That’s a pretty stiff ride! So when we drove this, we couldn’t believe how smooth it felt. I had never driven one before. I had never even sat in one.”
Schallitz says he has been having a ball showing the car off at local shows and this past summer he joined hundreds of other AMC enthusiasts at the big Kenosha Homecoming show that was a true feast for AMC fans.
“People were coming up and asking if it was for sale, and I was hemming and hawing and saying, ‘Well, I don’t know, maybe’. And my brother came up to me and said, ‘If you sell that car you’re going to be kicking yourself.’ And he’s right, it’s such an original car.”
“The guy that I bought it from was real happy that we were AMC guys and we were going to take it to shows. He wanted it on the road. He didn’t have the time for it and he wanted people to see it, because it is kind of a time capsule. It’s fun to drive and people like seeing, so I try to get it out as much as I can.”
Of course, putting more miles on the clock of a car with only about 8,500 miles these days also presents a bit of a quandary. Where do you draw the line between getting the car regular exercise while also trying to preserve its fantastic original condition?
“My buddies are like, ‘Well, are you going to drive it?’ And if it was like a ’63 Corvette or a Boss Mustang or something, I probably wouldn’t,” Schallitz says. “But with this car I put maybe 1,000 miles on a summer. So if in 10 years it winds up with 18,000 miles on it, I’m OK with that.”
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