Almost two years ago, regular Roadkill contributor Murilee Martin dreamed up Spec Land Yacht, a racing series that would require all competitors to drive enormous, underpowered American cars—ideally from about 1973 to 1983—racing against each other on cheap all-season tires. Since creating a new series is difficult, Murilee and this author decided to debut Spec Land Yacht as a sub-class within the 24 Hours of LeMons at the Decade of Disappointment 10th Anniversary Race at Gingerman Raceway. It was hard to meet all of the original requirements, but with four Spec Land Yacht entries—a Chrysler Cordoba, a Cadillac Eldorado, a Dodge Mirada, and an AMC Matador X—it was a solid start. And the winner was, of all things, Rusty Bucket Racers’ extra-janky Matador.
If you were around in the 1970s, you undoubtedly remember these cars, though you likely tried to forget about them. The Matador looks like a husky Ford Pinto caught, saucer-eyed, with its hand in the dwindling American Motors’ till. From the side, the proportions aren’t terrible, but the oversized round headlights and taillights stand out even compared to the round-peg-square-hold ’75 Chrysler Cordoba. It’s worth noting that the design generally found acclaim among the American motoring press, which speaks volumes about the depths of the Malaise Era, the dark period from which Spec Land Yacht draws.
Somehow, Rusty Bucket Racing found the absolute cruddiest remaining Matador in the world and decided to race it. This car was beyond rusty; most of it existed only in theory and like Schrödinger’s cat, would disappear if you merely looked at it. The left-front fender swung in the breeze even at low speed.
The trunk floor was well-ventilated and the only solid metal behind the wheel wells wisely bolstered the fuel cell.
The only things holding the entire car together were the bodged-together frame and the rollcage attached to it. That meant some generous chassis flex, as evidenced by the windshield cracking simply from riding on the trailer to the racetrack. That turned the first part of Rusty Bucket Racers’ weekend into a race to find a windshield replacement. It turns out there aren’t a whole lot of Matador windshields left and they weren’t sure if Lexan would even work with the chassis flex. The team opted instead to find some “dirt-track mesh,” the fine steel mesh that dirt-track cars use for windshields. While allowed by LeMons, it’s generally crappy to deal with and few teams elect to run it unless, like this, it’s a dire emergency.
Under the porous hood was the original AMC 360 cubic-inch V8 and it looked every bit the original engine. Numbers matching!
As crappy as it was, the Matador
ran well ran OK sputtered along for much of the weekend.
Because no real metrics were ever established for “winning” Spec Land Yacht and because the Matador so very much stands for everything representative of the
Golden Corroded-Brass Era of personal luxury coupes, Rusty Bucket Racers became the first-ever winners of Spec Land Yacht. They plan to update the trophy—currently the air-cleaner lid from Project Regretmobile’s sludge-encrusted Dodge 360 and a ’79 Chrysler Lebaron Town and Country diecast—and have it travel around to future races.
Congrats to the first Spec Land Yacht winners! You can see more rusty-crusty Matador photos in the gallery below. We’ll have more coverage from this race soon—including a full wrap-up—and more great LeMons stories right here on Roadkill.