Muscle Cars You Should Know: ’71 AMC Matador Machine 401

We all know the stories of the ultra-rare muscle cars that people have kicked themselves for selling back in the day, simply because they were “just another car” at the time. Mopar’s hardcore fans worldwide likely have the production number of the ’71 HEMI ‘Cuda convertible tattooed on their minds, but the HEMI ‘Cuda was as desirable when new as it is today. The ’65 Chevelle Z16 had an ultra low production run of just 201 cars, and while it was not as popular as the ’71 HEMI ‘Cuda convertible, it was still sought after by rabid muscle car lovers and they all know it well.

Yet, perhaps the rarest muscle car that you’ve never heard of is the ’71 AMC Rebel Machine. It was a one-year only package, and as soon as it arrived it disappeared. Reports show that just around 60 or so were made, and it could well be that just a handful still exist.

Before we dig into the ’71 Machine, a bit of perspective is in order. By 1971, the muscle car era was waning down at a rapid rate. Government safety and emissions regulations combined with higher insurance rates spelled the end for the factory-built hot rods. AMC had a loyal following of enthusiasts, but even they could not help to avoid the inevitable decline of performance. Unfortunately, AMC muscle car sales reflected it.

In 1970, their hot-shoe intermediate model was the Rebel Machine. Nearly every car built carried the distinctive red, white, and blue paint scheme that AMC had made famous with the ’69 SC/Rambler, though other color options could be chosen from a limited palate of the “Big Bad” colors.

It was a one-year-only model, with productions numbers ranging somewhere between 1,900 and 2,300 units. It had a 401 V8 under the hood, but compared to the Chevelle, Road Runner, Torino and other intermediate offerings, it trailed quite a bit in performance, and considerably in sales. For 1971, the “Rebel Machine” package would be dropped entirely and be reassigned to the Matador with the “Go-Machine” option.

The Go-Machine package was unique in that it was merely a combination of specific performance options that could be ordered å la carte, meaning if a person were so inclined they could order a four-door Matador sedan or wagon with the same set of “Go-Machine” options. The package itself was available with either the 360 V8 for $373 or for $461 with the 401-cubic-inch V8, featured a four-barrel carburetor, dual exhaust, the heavy-duty handling package, power front disc brakes, E60-15 Goodyear Polyglas raised-white letter tires, and 15×7-inch styled steel wheels along with a space saver spare.

Interestingly enough, a limited slip differential, which AMC called “Twin Grip,” was not a standard component of the Go-Machine package! In addition, unlike the ’70 Rebel Machine, the ’71 Matador Machine could come in any AMC factory color. There was no exterior badging of any kind unique to the Go-Machine package, and to the casual observer it simply looked like a Matador.

As stated earlier, the production run of Go-Machines has been stated to be anywhere from 50-to-70, with the majority being equipped with the larger 401. Most AMC experts agree today that perhaps only two verified Go-Machine cars still exist.

Today, it’s almost next to impossible to identify a true “Go-Machine” car as only a factory build sheet, dealer order, or window sticker could be tangible proof. AMC did not denote anything unique in the VIN of Matadors with the Go-Machine package, so it really is a matter of he-said, she-said.

If the car has the correct set of options appropriate for the Go-Machine package, but does not have the paperwork to back it up, there simply is no way to prove whether the car really is legit.

That being said, there is one clue that would give away a true “Go-Machine,” as the only way a 4-speed could be found in a Matador was with the Go-Machine package. We’ve seen some conflicting reports stating that all Go-Machines came equipped with 4-speeds, but other credible reports state just the opposite.

What we do know for sure is that the 4-speed option itself could only be purchased in a Matador if, and only if, it were equipped with the Go-Machine package. Again though, the only true way to know for sure whether you’ve got the Real McCoy is with the factory paperwork.

The ’71 Matador Machine that you see pictured here was restored by Brad Denning of Summit, New Jersey over seven years. We originally found evidence of it’s restoration at John Rosa’s AMC website, and as we dug in further realized that it’s been featured in other publications as well. It’s one of the rare documented cars in existence, but it did not start out as a red car, originally a black-on-silver hardtop car.

Denning bought it 1998 and slowly restored it as time allowed in the body shop he owns, Dobbs Auto Body. He completely disassembled the car, collected as many NOS components as he could and then proceeded with a complete rotisserie restoration.

As soon as the restoration was complete, he decided to sell it on eBay, but found that no-one was interested in paying his $25,000 reserve fee, which was not even close to what he had put in dollar wise for the restoration.

When Automotive Traveler contacted Denning, he explained, “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.”

“I was lucky enough to find one person that had a complete Ram Air/tach assembly from a ’70 Rebel Machine, 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.”

Denning’s choice to use a Ram Air assembly was purely a personal one only. For 1971, the Ram Air was not an available option on the Matador Go-Machine, so he grafted on one from a previous year. Denning did eventually sell the car to Fred Phillips in Calgary, Alberta.

Phillips is an AMC aficionado and has a collection that includes two AMC prototypes, the Vignale AMX I, the AMX II, and also a one of the two four-wheel-drive SC/Ramblers raced by actor James Garner! We’re glad that the Matador Go-Machine will be in good company with it’s rare AMC brethren. In fact, it may be the rarest of them all!


About the author

Robert Kibbe

Robert Kibbe is the owner of and host of the weekly Muscle Car Place podcast show. He's based in Ames, IA, is married with 3 kids, and still thinks the General Lee is cool.
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