The Detroit automakers spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to advertise their products, if not by television and magazine ads, then through racing and other forms of entertainment.
While not as common today, the Detroit companies used product placement as a form of advertising in past decades, and that use was most prominent in the 1960s. Most people who lived through that era and were ardent TV viewers probably remember that Sheriff Andy Taylor always drove a Ford Galaxie police cruiser, and that Fred MacMurray, in My Three Sons, always drove a Pontiac. Ward Cleaver, for a few years in Leave it to Beaver, drove a Plymouth Fury. And in The Streets of San Francisco, circa 1974, the two cops, played by Karl Malden and Michael Douglas, drove a four-door Ford Galaxie.
What about the original Hawaii Five-O? Steve McGarrett drove a late-model Mercury Marquis.
Or Kojak? The Telly Savalas character drove a Buick Century. In the Rockford Files, James Garner tooled around in a Firebird.
Charlie’s Angels? The three young women each drove their own Mustang II variant in that silly 1970s television series.
Even the Beverly Hillbillies got into the act. Banker Milton Drysdale drove a beautiful Imperial, while his secretary, Jane Hathaway, was seen in a Dart or Valiant.
Such product placement could backfire. In The Streets of San Francisco, for example, even the “bad guys” drove Ford cars. If there was a police chase, every car on the street was a Ford. It became a bit of a joke.
And yet product placement was even used in Adam-12, the most realistic and perhaps respectable of the dozens of cop shows that populated TV in the early 1970s. For the first several years of the series, the two officers patrolled in a Plymouth Belvadere and then a Plymouth Satellite cruiser. Later, they switched to an AMC Matador.
The boys in blue didn’t make the switch because Matador had a better siren or was faster. It was because AMC provided the car to the show’s producers.
And if ever a car existed that needed the benefit of product placement, it was Matador. Built from 1971 to 1978, it was an unforgettable offering from AMC, a company renowned for its quirky designs and styling gimmicks.
Matador was designed by AMC’s Richard Teague, who also penned the beautiful Javelin, the goofy-looking Gremlin, and later the Pacer. Matador was AMC’s full-size car, built alongside the more expensive Ambassador but destined to replace it. Matador was initially introduced in 1971 as a replacement for Rebel, whose name was quietly shelved because AMC bosses feared a public backlash against a name that, in the U.S., was tied to the old Confederacy.
As with Rebel, Matador was a big car, with a 114-inch wheelbase. It came in several configurations, including a two-door sedan, four-door sedan and four-door station wagon. Buyers were offered the choice of two six-cylinder engines, or three V8s. The largest V8 was AMC’s 401-cubic-inch model.
Oddly enough, buyers could also choose to use a three-speed manual transmission (on the column), although most opted for the automatic gearbox.
Matador was a bland-looking car and didn’t stack up well against the competition. To sweeten the pot, AMC for 1972 rolled out the industry’s first comprehensive warranty, the AMC Buyer Protection Plan. It guaranteed protection against all and any repairs (excluding tires) for the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of new car ownership. The idea was to reduce warranty claims and to also foster better customer relations at a time when the Detroit companies were experiencing a lot of quality issues with their vehicles.
When the U.S. government demanded that all new cars be provided with better protection against front and rear-end collisions, designer Teague took advantage of the opportunity to alter Matador’s front end grill, extending it coffin-like while encasing the front with enormous bumpers. It certainly made Matador stand out from the crowd.
For that same model year (1974), the two-door Matador sedan was shelved and a two-door coupe introduced. It offered a hatchback-like design, with pronounced tunneled headlights and a sleek body. The Matador coupe was unconventional, almost ugly, but so different from the other “personal luxury cars” offered by Detroit that it earned praise from automotive writers. It also won Motor Trend’s award for Best Styled Car of 1974.
That was the same year AMC scored big in product placement. Producers for the James Bond films agreed to use AMC vehicles in The Man With The Golden Gun. Film-goers watched as four-door and two-door Matadors caroused throughout the film, along with an AMC Hornet. More people were probably exposed to Matador during the Bond film than perhaps to the dozens of TV commercials that AMC had rolled out.
For 1976, AMC rolled out a Barcelona option for both the four-door sedan and the two-door coupe. Barcelona was AMC’s idea of luxury, with the usual 70s gimmicks -padded vinyl roof, accent stripes, a Barcelona medallion, “opera” windows on the coupe, and colour-keyed slotted wheels. There was plenty of fiberglass and fake wood, but AMC wasn’t the only company using such tricks.
Matador was AMC’s last full-size car, and its production was halted in 1978. From 1979 until it was swallowed by Chrysler Corporation eight years later, AMC struggled. In 1978, for example, the company held less than two per cent of the American car market. It would join forces with Renault in 1979, before hitching its wagon with Chrysler. Today, the only remnant from AMC is the Jeep division, which has become a dominant force for Chrysler.