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|Orphan Car Oddities: 1971 AMC Matador Machine|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Friday, 26 March 2010 17:45|
The little-known follow-up to the 1970 AMC Rebel Machine
I spent a bit of time yesterday evening visiting some websites that specialize in orphan cars and, with a Corvair, two Fieros, and several Ramblers in my own orphan-car menagerie, I always find these websites... interesting. That is to say, they provide an enjoyable diversion from more pressing obligations, like the stack of editing clogging my in-box.
The diversion reminded me that over the years I've written about more than my share of orphan cars for magazines like Musclecar Enthusiast, Pontiac Enthusiast (my 1984 Fiero appeared there), and Cars & Parts (my 1964 Rambler American 440 convertible graced the cover of the August 2008 issue). But in going through my Musclecar Enthusiast archives, I came across what is quite possibly the rarest of AMC muscle cars, the 1971 AMC Matador Machine--a vehicle so rare that best-guess estimates place its total production run at no more than 57 units.
The 1970 Rebel Machine was a one-year-only model, with only 1,936 or 2,326 (depending upon who you quote) units rolling down the Kenosha assembly line. While most were painted a distinctive red-white-and-blue scheme, it certainly stood out in a crowd. Equipped with a 401-cubic inch V8, it was competitive with other intermediate-sized muscle cars in 1970, but it was not the sales success AMC had hoped. In reality, it sold only slightly better than its red-white-and-blue little brother, the 1969 SC/Rambler, which sold about 1,500 units. For 1971, with higher insurance rates and lower compression ratios on the horizon, the Rebel Machine was discontinued, replaced in a way by the $373 Go-Machine option package for the renamed Matador intermediate.
Available with either the 360- or 401-cubic-inch V8, the Go-Machine package consisted of a four-barrel carb, dual exhausts, the heavy-duty handling package, power front disc brakes, E-60-15 Goodyear Polyglas raised-white-letter tires, 15x7-inch styled steel wheels along with a space saver spare. What makes this an interesting combination is that while the Go-Machine package was available only on Matador hardtops, by judicially checking off the right lines on the option sheet (see brochure), you could get everything but the 15-inch wheel/tire combo--and that could be purchased at the dealer level. So, in theory at least, it was possible to "build" a "Go Machine" four-door sedan or station wagon. AMC had a long history of offering interesting station wagons, including many with reclining bucket seats.
Because the 1970 Rebel Machine was available with a restricted number of options and a reduced color palette, for 1971 the Go-Machine package was available in all AMC colors along with all options. Despite this flexibility, the 1971 "Go Machine" package sold even more poorly. Bill Deringer, who worked in AMC's Kenosha facility and built the motor for the Breedlove AMX restoration (and still works at Jeep in AMC's old Plymouth Road facility), remembers seeing the cars come down the line. He recalls that a very small number were built: 55 or 57 are the numbers that stick in his mind all these years. If that was the case, then a 1971 Matador with the "Go Machine" package would be one of the rarest muscle cars in existence--not quite in the Hemi 'Cuda convertible category, but damn close. Unfortunately, there's no notation in the VIN (unlike in 1970, when X designated the separate Rebel Machine model in AMC's VIN scheme as the seventh character). Without a factory build sheet, dealer order, or window sticker, the Matador Machine is ripe for cloning.
The Matador Red Go Machine you see here has a long documented history going back to its original title when it started life as a black-on-silver hardtop. Brad Denning of Summit, New Jersey bought the car back in 1998. Over the next seven years, Denning, who owns Dobbs Auto Body in Springfield, New Jersey, patiently disassembled the Matador, collected as many NOS parts as possible, and completely restored the car, rotisserie-style. (Check out the documentation of the restoration at John Rosa's AMC website.) And, as soon as it was finished, having tired of the ordeal, what did Denning do? He put the car up on eBay where we first saw the car, and where it stalled at just under its $25,000 reserve (a fraction of the cost to restore it). After getting in touch with Denning, he explained his situation:
"The car was unique and was the only known, documented survivor. One AMC guy said that it could not be restored--it was far beyond repair! Since I was in the market for a unique muscle car, and I had previously decided on a Rebel Machine, when I came across this car, I grabbed it. In acquiring parts, it was amazing at the range of the cost of new old stock parts that I located. The cost ranged from ridiculously cheap to second mortgage price. The mechanical parts were easy--my local parts store had everything in stock--but body and trim parts were difficult to locate because there are no reproductions available."
"The most difficult part of the restoration was the fabrication of the floor section and the inner and outer rocker panel. I was very fortunate in this area because of a very good friend of mine, John Sommers from Springfield Metal Products, just a mile from our shop, was able to custom fabricate any sheet metal or structural parts that were no longer available. I was lucky enough to find one person that had a complete ram air/tach assembly from a 1970 Rebel Machine [ram air was not available for the Go-Machine package in 1971] but the tach was in terrible shape. I sent it to a gauge specialist in Florida, and he charged me $440.00 and took two years to restore it."
AMC purists will look at the car and pull back when they see the dog dish wheel covers, but there was a method to Denning's madness: "I did not like the look of the original Machine wheels. I was looking for something different. I wanted to give the car a pure muscle look. I decided to search for the original dog dish hubcaps that were used on the Adam 12 car. I was lucky enough to locate seven NOS ones. These are original AMC parts with AMC part numbers on the inside, which some people try to tell me are Mopar items. They are not."
The story might have ended here, but Denning decided to take another chance on eBay. On the second attempt, the car was sold to Fred Phillips of Calgary, Alberta. President of a Focus Auto Design Inc., Phillips is a certifiable AMC nut (like me). Phillips added the Matador to an eclectic collection that includes two AMC prototypes, the Vignale AMX I that for years resided in the museum next to the Talladega Motor Speedway and the AMX II pushmobile, in addition to a 1969 AMC SC/Rambler and one of the two four-wheel-drive SC/Ramblers raced by actor James Garner.
When asked about his thing for AMC concept cars, Phillips had this to say: "Prototype cars are just plain cool. After participating in car shows, I guess that I just got sick of the 'date coded hose clamp club.' It just seemed wrong to crap all over a guy who spent countless hours restoring his car, what he deemed was the best. It was then I decided to pursue unrestored original and prototype cars. I'd rather spend my time looking for a whole car rather than a service part that usually ends up being made of unobtanium"
Having experienced how tight the Matador drove on our freezing February New Jersey photo shoot before it was shipped to the far north, I was curious about Phillips' first impression behind the wheel: "It feels like a lot after getting out of my Suburban, but when I get into my pro-touring Mach 1 (600-horsepower, 12-quart dry sump, four-wheel disc, Jerico trans) it feels... pedestrian. Hey, I've tasted the forbidden fruit--sorry. The true enthusiasts make the car world so interesting. AMC specialists like Eddie Stakes and Mike Lewis that have knowledge of these cars that give them the presidential seat on the date coded hose clamp club. But at the end of the day, Brad deserves all of the credit for saving this car, enabling me to preserve and enjoy it."
Rebel Machines in the Warehouse
One of the great things about the Internet is the way it brings like-minded enthusiasts together. In researching this story, I made it known to the AMC online community that I was looking for Machine information and received this E-mail from Lee Schulz:
Hello Richard, I have a little information on the rebel machine you might find interesting. In 1972, my father was a salesman for an AMC dealer in Ontario, California. The AMC factory representative told my father that there were 50 brand-new 1970 Rebel Machines in a warehouse in Phoenix, Arizona, and one could be bought for a bid of $2,500. When my father told me this, I was 18 years old, and I was interested in one, but I wanted to see one in person. The factory rep told my father that Savage AMC in Monrovia, California had bought some of the cars from Arizona. I went to look at Savage AMC, and the dealer was buying the cars and repainting the original factory red-white-and-blue paint jobs. At the time, I was driving a brand-new 1970 Rebel Machine, which was painted black and had a four-speed. Mind you, this was 1972. I wanted to buy one of the Arizona cars, but in the end my father won out, making the point that if AMC couldn't sell them in 1970, what kind of resale value would this car ever have. Well, that's my "fish that got away story."
Be sure to check out the high-resolution images of the 1971 AMC Matador Machine in the Automotive Traveler Image Gallery.