Subaru claims to have the “first sport utility wagon,” but the AMC Eagle pre-dated it by 17 years.
The AMC Eagle is a compact four-wheel drive passenger car manufactured by American Motors Corporation from 1980 to 1988.
Introduced in August 1979 for the 1980 model year, the coupe, sedan, and station wagon body styles were based on the AMC Concord.
While the Eagle started out with an NP203 transfer case, based on Jensen FF technology, the car soon moved to a state of the art, 42-disc New Process Gear NP119 transfer case. Both transferred power to the wheels with the most traction. The full time four wheel drive system, dubbed “Quadra-Trac,” was co-developed by AMC/Jeep and Chrysler’s New Process Gear.
Power went through the rear driveshaft and was sent to the left using a Morse Hy-Vo chain to the front of the car. Differential action was aided by a velocity-sensitive viscous coupling, which also limited slip. The silicone-based fluid in the coupling had high shear and heat resistance, keeping its viscosity through a wide temperature range (starting at 40°F below zero and going over 400°F). The system provided some anti-skid protection, by the way it worked to equalize driveshaft speeds — whether or not the car was moving under power.
Bob Sheaves wrote that the NPG119 was created to solve issues that cropped up on the NPG203, and was the first modern style (low drag, low fuel milage penalty) transfer case.
The big advance of the NPG119 was the Dow Corning silicone fluid, which had a high shear force. The NPG203 (and the later 242) used a conventional differential with a manual locking feature to control the speed difference between the front and rear outputs of the transfer case.
The AMC Eagle was rooted in the 1978 AMC Concord, itself an upmarket version of the compact AMC Hornet. Concord sold as a sedan, hatch, and wagon, with a four-cylinder, two straight sixes, and a 304 V8. The car was an immediate hit (for AMC), with 121,293 cars sold in its first year, easily beating every other AMC car combined. The 4x4 version of the Concord was given a completely new name — Eagle — and a three-inch lift, with minor sheet metal and trim changes, and standard 15-inch wheels (Concord used 14s). Buyers could choose between two or four door sedans, or a four door wagon. It used recirculating ball steering rather than the trendy rack and pinion, and front disc brakes with rear drums.
The AMC Eagle was only sold with the 258 straight six (4.2) with a Carter two-barrel carburetor, coupled to a Chrysler 998 TorqueFlite (or “Torque Command”) transmission controlled by a T-handle floor shifter.
The standard final drive ratio was 3.08:1, with an optional 3.54:1 ratio mandatory with the high altitude and medium trailer towing packages. P195/75R15 radials were standard, along with power steering and brakes.
The Eagle used an independent front suspension for better cornering and tire wear, one of the first 4x4 cars to use an independent front suspension (the 1964 Jeep Wagoneer was the first). The car was unit-body, so the differential and axle tube were attached to the engine rather than the body. The basic design of the front suspension was similar to Concord, with higher spring rates. Buyers could get an optional heavy duty suspension, with a heavier front roll bar (going from 0.94” to 1.06” diameter), a 0.63” rear roll bar, upgraded front shocks, and thicker rear leaf springs. A Delco automatic load leveling system was optional, using air shocks and an electronic height sensor. The transfer case and front end had skid plates.
For 1980, trim lines were standard, Limited, and Sport; Limited added leather or fabric seats, thicker carpeting, AM radio, woodgrain tilt-steering wheel, power locks, locking storage (wagon), rear passenger straps, lighting, visibility, and convenience groups, protection group, front parcel shelf, cloth sun visors, and various trim pieces. Sport (two door and wagon only) added fabric seats, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, high-beam halogens, fog lights, dual remote mirrors, black sidewall radials, opera window insert, blackout exterior and interior treatments, and pinstripe delete. Interesting options included factory rustproofing, a CB or cassette stereo (four speakers), tachometer, rear defogger, wagon rear wiper/washer, moon roof, cruise, tilt wheel, and fog lamps.
The light duty trailer towing package was only good for 2,000 pound trailers, and included a bumper-mounted hitch, harness, and wiring kit; the medium duty package was for trailers up to 3,500 lb and included an equalizing hitch, harness, wiring kit, auxiliary transmission fluid cooler, and 3.54 axle ratio, and required the optional heavier duty shocks and load-leveling air shocks. One year later, in 1979, AMC Eagle sales were much lower — 34,041. The honeymoon seemed over, partly because AMC itself introduced competing cars.
For 1981, AMC launched the Eagle SX/4 and Kammback, 4x4 versions of the AMC Spirit (which itself was a revised AMC Gremlin with larger rear quarter windows). Smaller than the normal Eagles, the SX/4 weighed in at 3,033 lb — around 230 lb less — and got better mileage with the automatic. The Spirit-based Eagles were “series 50,” and their high trim version was called DL; the Concord-based Eagles were “series 30,” and their high trim version remained Limited. (Sport was also optional for both.)
A four cylinder 2.5 liter GM engine was the base engine; it bore no resemblance to the later AMC 2.5 four-cylinder. With a two barrel GM/Rochester carburetor, it was good for 82 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. Buyers could get a four speed manual, five speed manual, or automatic (four-cylinder automatic wasn’t available on the larger Eagles). For 1982, a new five-speed manual was available, supplementing the four-speed. Griffith made a limited number of Eagle and Concord “Sundancer” convertibles, with fixed targa band, removable T-tops, and droppable canvas rear top.
For 1982, the year Renault bought 49% of AMC’s stock, Eagles could be switched from four wheel drive to rear wheel drive with “Select Drive.” This was a less sophisticated system; drivers had to stop the car to shift, but did not have to leave the car. It retained the controlled-slip differential, and provided somewhat higher gas mileage in rear wheel drive mode. One largely forgotten part of AMC history was the use of a computer for the electronic feedback carburetor which could provide mechanics with diagnostic information, on six cylinder Eagles. Sales hit 37,797 cars. AMC has a whole sold fewer than 100,000 new cars in the United States, with a market share of 2%, echoed in Canada. Gene and Gary Henderson raced an Eagle SX/4 (née Spirit) in the SCCA Pro Rally.
For 1983, AMC made a 2.73:1 ratio standard with the six cylinder and manual transmission (or six cylinder and automatic in high altitudes), and a 2.35:1 ratio with the six cylinder automatic. The standard ratio for four-cylinders was still 3.54. AMC boosted compression to 9.2:1, and used a knock sensor to retard timing if fuel wasn’t up to the task. Eagle was the official car of the National Ski Patrol.
Slower selling Eagles (the larger two door and Limited four-door) were dropped. Midyear, AMC’s new 2.5 liter engine, just one cubic inch smaller in displacement but much more powerful, replaced the GM engine. Eagles still sold poorly by normal standards, well for AMC, with 31,604 leaving the showrooms. That was double the sales of Concord and over four times that of Spirit. At the end of the year, with the AMC-built Renault Alliance selling well, AMC dropped the Concord, Spirit, and Eagle SX/4, which now accounted for only around 10% of Eagle production.
For 1984, the only true AMC car was the Eagle, in four-door sedan and wagon bodystyles; the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) launched this year and became one of the most popular sport utility vehicles of all time. AMC had a single model, the Eagle. The Renault Alliance and similar Encore hatchback were responsible for nearly all AMC car sales. Eagle went to a single production facility. Eagle’s sales were just 23,137.
For 1985, manual-4x4 buyers could shift into and out of four wheel drive at will, without stopping the car; the four cylinder was no longer sold with four wheel drive. The alternator went from 42 to 56 amps, and hoods swapped a “scoop effect” for their old hood ornaments along with four-speaker radios. Still, sales fell to 15,362 for 1985, then down to 9,020 in 1986.
In 1987, Chrysler Corporation bought AMC, and renamed the carline to Eagle, creating the Eagle Premier and — yes — the Eagle Eagle (a naming theme repeated by the Ferrari La Ferrari). Only sold as a six-cylinder wagon now, it still had the two-barrel 4.2 setup with a five-speed manual or optional TorqueFlite automatic. The wagon weighed in a 3,425 pounds, close to its original weight. The last AMC Eagle was made in 1987. The car ended its life with a base price of just under $13,000, and just afterwards, an entire brand was named after it.