Friday, December 11, 2009

1983 AMC Eagle

I should have included this in last week's "Winter Beaters" Weekend Quickies post.

Before the Subaru Forester, the Audi Allroad, the Volvo XC and other station wagon based SUVs, there was this; the AMC Eagle. The Eagle was the first mass produced car to feature full time AWD.

It was a stroke of genius. AMC took the 4WD / AWD knowledge they had gained with the Jeep line and applied it to a car. AMC's central differential used a viscous fluid coupling to transfer the power to the axle with the greatest traction, on wet or dry pavement.

While the AWD system was incredibly advanced for a passenger car, the rest of the car, even when new, was a rolling antique. The body and interior design dated back to the early 1970s. The available engines during its run were AMCs 4.2 liter I6 (different from the 4.0 found later in the Jeep Cherokee), GMs 2.5 liter "Iron Duke" 4 cylinder and later AMCs own 2.5 liter 4. All were good, duarable engines, but old technology and provided neither great power nor great fuel economy.

For most of the 1970s, AMC received no love from automobile magazines. They might have written an article or two about a Jeep, but the passenger car line was either ignored or treated as a joke. That all changed in 1980 with the introduction of the Eagle. Not only did the magazines pay attention, they, for the most part, liked the car. Four Wheeler magazine was probably the most prophetic when they wrote, "For the average consumer, Eagle is the perfect blend of car and 4 x 4. The beginning of a new generation of cars...".

This is not a pretty car. The body looks neither tough nor elegant. The interior looks older than its 1970s origin.

An odd bit of trivia is that the Eagle was classified as a "light truck" by the DOT. That meant AMC did not have to meet the bumper standards set for cars. Instead of taking advantage of this and designing some nicer bumpers, AMC just used the ugly chrome bumpers found on the Hornet and Concorde but didn't mount them on 5 MPH shock absorbers. I'm not sure nicer bumpers would have helped the looks of this car, but it wouldn't have hurt it, either.

Like all AMC cars, nothing was screwed together very well when they were new, but they ran forever. AMC didn't make many changes over the years, so used parts for any year Eagle can still easily be found. AMC cars rusted no more or less than any 1980s car, which means they rusted badly.

The AMC Eagle sold well for the first 5 years they were available. AMC's introduction of the Jeep Cherokee probably did more to slow the sales of the Eagle than any competitor did. The Cherokee was around the same size as the Eagle, more modern and had the panache of the Jeep name. The last Eagles were assembled in December, 1987, and sold under the name "Eagle" (not AMC Eagle as Chrysler had bought AMC / Jeep and dropped the AMC name) in 1988.

If you're looking for a true winter beater, buy a used Cherokee. They're better in every way than the Eagle. If you're looking for something unique, something that stands out from the crowd and goes through snow and mud, the AMC Eagle might be a good choice.

This 1983 Eagle is located in Sandia Park, NM. It appears to be a nicely restored example. Find the listing for it here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my co-workers had an Eagle. Actually, he had 2 Eagles and then an SX4, the 4WD version built on the Gremlin replacement body. Why have 3 essentially duplicate cars? Because they broke down. Regularly, haphazardly and expensively. When the transmission went on the first car he found it cheaper to buy a "parts car" than to pay for a rebuild or replacement. Then he found the parts car exterior was actually in better shape and transferred some interior pieces over to it and drove it for probably dozens of days until it, too, broke down. Then someone offered him the SX4 for free. Once he brought that home he found it to be better than either of the Eagles. More seats-n-carpet switching. A dozen more days, then, out came the thumb again and the long slog home. The problems with his 3 cars were that they worked well enough at the outset to lull him into a sense of security to where he would drive much further away than he really wanted to walk back from. But they were fun while they lasted...