The History Of Eagle

The AMC Eagle was an all-wheel drive passenger car produced by American Motors Corporation (AMC). Introduced in August 1979 (as a 1980 model), the coupe, sedan, and wagon were based on the AMC Concord. AMC Spirit-based models joined the line in 1981. Production of the Eagle continued until December 14, 1987, and continued on the market until early 1988.

The Eagle, revolutionary when it debuted, came about when Jeep's chief engineer, Roy Lunn, joined an AMC Concord body with a Jeep-like 4-wheel-drive driveline. Such a vehicle was a logical step for AMC, according to then-AMC CEO Gerald C. Meyers, as a second energy crisis had hit in 1979, and sales of AMC's highly profitable truck-based Jeep line, which was not famous for good fuel mileage, plummeted, leaving AMC in a precarious financial position. Because of this, the Eagle provided a low-cost way of bridging the gap between AMC's solid and economical, but aging, passenger car line and its well-regarded, but decidedly off-road-focused, Jeep line, as the Eagle used the existing Concord (and later, Spirit) automobile platform.

A first in mass production passenger cars, the early AMC Eagles came with a true full-time automatic system that operated only in permanent all-wheel drive. The AMC Eagle's central differential was single-speed (no low range option) and used a thick viscous fluid coupling for quiet and smooth transfer of power to the axle with the greatest traction, on wet or dry pavement. Similar vehicles -- Subaru Loyale (1983 and a year later in the U.S.) and much later the Toyota Tercel SR5 Wagon (1983) -- only had part-time four-wheel drive systems that could not be engaged on dry pavement. The Eagle was also years ahead of Subaru's simplistic, part-time front-drive/ 4WD system, due to Roy Lunn's creativity and Jeep's experience producing 4WD vehicles. Another feature was AMC Eagle's independent front suspension that was accomplished by mounting the front differential to the engine block with universal joints and half shafts to the front drive wheels.

As the first mass-produced American passenger car with 4-wheel-drive of any type (much less with a system as advanced as the Eagle's was), automotive industry analysts were taken by surprise at the fact that AMC, a company most had deemed past its ability to produce competitive vehicles, turned the best of what they had into a revolutionary, novel, and all-around competent vehicle. In doing so, the small American manufacturer was seen as having cleverly pioneered a new market segment - one that would grow wildly over the next 25 years and beyond, as evinced by Four Wheeler magazine's conclusion in 1980 that the new AMC Eagle was, indeed, "The beginning of a new generation of cars." Indeed, the Eagle's basic concept - that of a station wagon with AWD, raised ground clearance, full range of power options and automatic transmissions, as well as rough-road capability - has inspired vehicles like the Subaru Outback and Forester lines, the Audi Allroad, the Volvo XC range, and many others.


Based on the AMC Concord, the 1980 AMC Eagle was available as a four-door sedan and station wagon, as well as a coupe. The Eagle came base and upscale Limited trims, both of which carried the same features as the Concord DL and Limited, respectively. A Sports package was available only on the 2-door and wagon models featuring in addition to "Sport" emblems the following items: Durham Plaid fabric seat trim, leather wrapped sport steering wheel, P195/ 75R15 Tiempo steel belted radial tires, sport fog lamps, halogen highbeam headlamps, dual black remote mirrors, 4X4 sport graphics, black bumpers with nerf strips, black lower body moldings, blackout grille, taillamp paint treatment, side tape stripes, and black moldings on the windshield, rear window, door frames, and B-pillar.

The drivetrain consisted of one engine, the AMC 4.2L I6, in conjunction with a three-speed automatic transmission (a version of Chrysler's A998), and Dana 30 and 35 differentials. All 1980 Eagles came standard with a permanent 4-wheel-drive system that employed a New Process 119 transfer case, which had a viscous fluid coupling that allowed the 4-wheel-drive system to operate on wet or dry pavement without causing undue suspension and drivetrain wear. Optional trailer towing packages were available for handling trailers weighing up to 3,500lb (1,600kg) that included a weight distributing (equalizing) tow hitch, 7-connector wiring harness, wiring, auxiliary transmission oil cooler, 3.54 axle ratio, and required the optional heavy-duty battery and automatic load leveling air shocks.

The 1980 Eagle's appearance differed from the Concord's in that the bodies were raised 3inches (76.2mm) further off their suspension to afford better ground clearance. To fill in the increased visual space between the tires and wheel wells, AMC used durable Kraton (polymer) plastic wheelarch flares that flowed into rocker panel extensions. The grille was similar to the 1980 Concord's, but with the horizontal bars spaced slightly further apart, and the Eagle graphic mounted to the driver's side-center. Because coupes and sedans carried Concord DL equipment as standard, they also carried the Concord DL coupe and sedan roof treatments, featuring vinyl coverings, and opera windows. However, bumpers were pulled closer to the body than those seen on Concords, due to the Eagle having been classified by the EPA as a light truck, and was therefore exempt from passenger car regulations that required front and rear bumpers that could sustain a 5mph (8km) impact with no damage. However, as seen on the Concord, black plastic end caps were featured on 1980 Eagle bumpers. Production was: 9,956 2-door sedans, 10,616 4-door sedans, and 25,807 station wagons totaling 46,379.

For detailed information and specifications see: 1980 AMC Data Book and AMC's Flipchart featuring the 1980 AMC Eagle.


Changes to the standard (Series 30) Eagle lineup for 1981 were notable. The GM 2.5L Iron Duke I4 became standard equipment, as the 4.2L I6 became optional. All Eagles took on a new plastic eggcrate-style grille divided into 24 squares at the front. The Eagle name moved to the grille header bar. Bumpers were updated so that their end caps flowed smoothly into the Kraton plastic wheelarches and rocker panel trim. The Sport package, carried over from 1980 on all three body styles, used the Spirit's hood and grille header bar trim starting in 1981.

Two smaller subcompact models, the AMC Eagle Kammback, based on the AMC Spirit sedan (nee Gremlin), and the sporty Eagle SX/ 4, based on the Spirit liftback, debuted as "Eagle Series 50" models. The Kammback and SX/ 4 came standard with GM's 2.5L "Iron Duke" 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed manual transmission, and power steering. The Series 50 Eagles reflected the styling updates that the larger Series 30 models showed for 1981. The SX/ 4 model was available with a Sport package, as well.

At the beginning of the model year, all Eagles carried over the new-for-1980 permanent all-wheel drive system with viscous fluid coupling, which protected the suspension or driveline components from wear during dry weather use. A "Select Drive" option, which allowed the Eagle to run in 2-wheel-drive (RWD) mode and be switched to 4-wheel-drive via a dashboard switch, was offered as a fuel economy measure at midyear. Select Drive required the vehicle to be stationary when switching between 2-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-drive. Production was: 5,603 Kammbacks, 17,340 Liftbacks, 2,378 2-door sedans, 1,737 4-door sedans, and 10,371 station wagons totaling 37,429.


New low-drag disc brakes were featured, as standard equipment. A 5-speed manual transmission joined the options list. The optional automatic transmission received wider gear ratios for better fuel economy. All received as standard equipment the Select Drive system that could be changed between all-wheel drive and two-wheel drive for a potential increase in fuel economy. The Series 30 sedan was no longer available with the Sport package.

Even with the choice of two wheelbase versions and five body styles, the most popular model was the wagon with 20,899 built out of total Eagle production of 37,923 for the model year. Other production was: 520 Kammbacks, 10,445 Liftbacks, 1,968 2-door sedans, and 4,091 4-door sedans.


Few changes were seen for 1983. The Series 50 Eagle Kammback and Series 30 Eagle coupe were both dropped from the line, due to slow sales. The Series 30 Eagle sedan lost its Limited trim line, leaving only the base model in the Eagle sedan line. The Series 50 SX/ 4 and Series 30 wagon continued basically unchanged. All were measures to save production costs by pruning the slow-selling models from the line, thereby streamlining their processes by reducing production variations, and therefore, complexity.

Starting in February 1983, the AMC 2.5L I4 theoretically replaced the GM Iron Duke 2.5 under Eagle hoods, as the standard engine, though the installation rate is unknown. Production was: 2,259 Liftbacks, 3,093 4-door sedans, and 12,378 station wagons totaling 17,730.


Few changes greeted the now 5 season-old AMC Eagle lineup. The Series 50 SX/ 4 was dropped for 1984. This left only the base Series 30 Eagle sedan and wagon, and a Limited wagon to carry the torch for both the Eagle line and the AMC brand. Now that the SX/ 4 was gone, only the wagon carried the Sport option package. Production was: 4,241 4-door sedans and 21,294 station wagons totaling 25,535.

All Eagle models were now built in AMC's plant in Brampton, Ontario, Canada as the Kenosha plant was used for the Renault Alliance/ Encore models.


The Eagle went in for detail, but notable changes for 1985. Exterior styling was slightly revised as all models used the "power bulge" hood, seen previously on the 1981-83 Eagle Series 50 models. The grille header bar and hood ornament/ trim strip were deleted in the process. "Shift-on-the-Fly" capability was added to the Select Drive 4-wheel-drive system as standard equipment. A new key-fob-activated infrared remote keyless system with power locks was newly available as an option. Radios with digital tuning were also introduced. Production was: 2,655 4-door sedans and 13,535 station wagons totaling 16,190.

The standard powertrain was now the previously optional 5-speed manual, with the wide-ratio 3-speed automatic still available as a popular option. The AMC 4.2L I6 became standard, as well, in lieu of the 2.5L AMC I4, as the four-cylinder engine was installed in only 147 1984 Eagles.


AMC introduced the open differential Model 128 transfer case. The automatic transmission no longer had a lockup torque converter. Eagle sales would drop beneath the 10,000 annual unit mark for the first time for 1986 (and would slide further for its remaining two seasons on the market), as the car was aging due to its 7-season life atop a platform that debuted for 1970. Production was: 1,274 4-door sedans and 6.943 station wagons totaling 8,217.


Though AMC debuted its new fuel-injected 4.0L I6 engine for 1987, the new engine did not make it under the venerable Eagle's hood. The 4.2L I6 remained the sole engine available in the 8-season-old Eagle sedan and wagon. No major changes were seen on the 1987 Eagle, as American Motors turned its attention to the debut of the imported Renault Medallion. The buyout of the company by Chrysler Corporation took effect officially in August 1987. Less than 5,000 Eagles left AMC's Brampton, Ontario, Canada facility for the model year. Production was: 323 4-door sedans, and 4,223 station wagons totaling 4,546.


The sedan and Limited wagon were dropped after the 1987 model year, leaving the base wagon as the only available Eagle in 1988, its final season. Chrysler purchased American Motors in August 1987. The car's name was officially changed from AMC Eagle to Eagle Wagon; however, all of the AMC badges, build sheets, and door plaques were carried over. The VIN was no different under the new Chrysler ownership, other than the digit for the year. Although the paperwork that came with the 1988 Eagles continued to indicate that American Motors Canada, Ltd. built them, the company as named ceased to exist, as it became a subsidiary of Chrysler in the buyout, as did all AMC properties. The final car rolled out of the plant in Brampton, Ontario on December 14, 1987. Total production was 2,306 units.

Standard equipment in 1988 that was previously optional included air conditioning system, rear window defroster, halogen headlamps, AM/ FM stereo radio, light group (glove box, dome, and engine lights), tilt steering wheel. The following remained optional equipment for the 1988 production: power windows, power seats, power mirrors, radio with cassette player, cruise control, rear window wiper, wood grain side panels, floor mats, headlamp warning buzzer, and intermittent wipers.

During 1981 and 1982, a Sundancer conversion convertible was available. The Eagle's monocoque body was reinforced and a steel targa roll bar was welded to the door pillars for passenger compartment protection. The front portion of the roof was a removable lightweight fiberglass hatch, while the rear section of polyvinyl material and the back window folded down and had a boot cover when in the down position. The cars were ordered through any AMC dealer. The conversion was by the Griffith Company that was headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Though the AMC Eagle was gone after 1988, the Eagle brand, as part of the newly-formed Jeep-Eagle division of the Chrysler Corporation, would soldier on, fielding a combination of Renault-based vehicles (Eagle Medallion and Eagle Premier), re-trimmed Mitsubishis (Eagle Summit, Eagle Summit Wagon, Eagle Talon, Eagle 2000GTX (Canada only), and Eagle Vista (Canada only)), and one Chrysler-designed vehicle (Eagle Vision). Total AMC production was 196,255 units.

After the AMC-based 4-wheel-drive Eagle wagon was dropped, Chrysler would continue the concept loosely in spirit by offering all-wheel-drive optionally on the Mitsubishi-based 1990-98 Eagle Talon, the Canadian-market 1989-91 Eagle Vista wagon, and 1992-96 Eagle Summit Wagon.

The brand became too much of a disharmonious mish-mash of vehicles from different companies, sporting different characters, and never really attained much brand equity or recognition. People commonly made the mistake of calling them "Jeep Eagles", as they were doubtless confused by the brand being sold alongside Jeep and "Jeep Eagle dealership" being a common phrase used in period commercials. Due to the lack of recognition, sales never met expectations, and Chrysler quietly killed the Eagle brand after the 1998 model year.

The Eagle model name 'SX4' has recently been re-used by Suzuki on a new model for the 2008 model year. Four wheel drive is optional.

Owners of the advanced design AMC Eagle are not the typical old car collectors of historic vehicles for purposes of nostalgia, status, pleasure, or even investment, but rather keep the cars because they work extremely well.

The Eagle has the advantage of numerous shared parts and components with other Jeep and AMC models. There are many active AMC car clubs and specialized vendors for service and reproduction parts. Collector interest in AMC products is now increasing, but Eagles seldom show up at collector car auctions. While surviving Eagles are no longer depreciating, they do not seem to be appreciating rapidly – except for the 1980-84 Sundancer convertible. In the Pacific Northwest United States, Canada, & Alaska, AMC Eagles are still abundant & in service 20+ years after production ceased.

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