By on January 15, 2016

1983 AMC Eagle

At times, I’ll start a new week with a theme for my Digestible/Crapwagon pieces, such as last week’s “what could I legally import if I had money” saga. Other weeks, I’m lucky to stumble upon any interesting cars at all, so any imagined thread tying them together is absolute happenstance. Like this week’s “Obscure, from Detroit” theme. I never planned it, but it is what it is.

Today brings a car that’s perhaps the most deserving of any to wear the Crapwagon label. No rational enthusiast would ever take this particular car on as a project. Yet, I really want this, or something like it.

Like I said, no rational enthusiast would touch it.

Indeed, I’m drooling over a rusty 1983 AMC Eagle wagon. If I could find a good one, I’d be all over it, but there seems to be a shortage of Eagles on the market, I’m afraid. The success of this car likely spawned the Subaru Outback, after all.

Sadly, this rough example doesn’t wear the “wood” paneling that seemed to be on every Eagle I ever saw growing up, though the $500 parts car might be so equipped. And I’ve seen (and purchased) cars that are in worse shape than this. No undercarriage photos are included, but I can’t imagine that it’s too far gone.

Mechanically, this can’t be too bad to work on. The always-underfunded AMC had to pull from so many parts bins that most pieces should be readily available with research. The 258 ci six-cylinder engine is under the hood of so many Jeeps that any number of donor engines could be dropped into the Eagle with little work. The pioneering all-wheel-drive system might be tough to repair, but it otherwise looks like a great, easy project car.

The problem is there is no way one can get any money out of this. This is a $2,500 car that would take, at least, $5,000 of parts, paint, and labor, after which you’d have a car worth about $3,500. That said, had the Powerball numbers come my way, an Eagle would have been one of my first automotive purchases.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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48 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1983 AMC Eagle...”


  • avatar
    carveman

    Ive owned three of them. Loved them. More than a few feet of snow and weeks of subzero temperature are the norm where I live.

    ” Take the Eagle ” was the last thing said on many a morning.

  • avatar
    Beemernator

    The Eagle could have saved AMC, but sadly it was just too far ahead of its time.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Just watched an OLD Motorweek clip reviewing the SX/4 last night. At that point they weren’t doing a 0-60 test yet (there was a “500 feet” speed test, like that’s useful), and their braking test was conducted on a road that had some snow on it. The funniest thing were the mpg claims from the manufacturer. 35mpg highway!? The 2.5 4-cyl in their tester came from Pontiac – that’s the Iron Duke right?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcdRVWFwb1I

    And $2500 is too much for one in that condition. You can find them in better shape. Keep in mind they sold them through MY88, so you have some years to play with there. This one’s pretty base as well, with manual windows and plaid. I like the grandma’s-kitchen-style dome light they put in these.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      Yeah, I think they also used the Iron Duke. There’s probably a lot of engines that could be mounted to the thing. I’d grab an SX/4 myself off if I had a place to work on it, love to make one with a tighter suspension, better steering rack, and a higher output engine.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I actually saw a functioning SX/4 in a parking lot recently. It was weirdly beautiful as only a jacked up compact hatchback car could be, sort of like a Pinto on way too much steroids.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      ” This one’s pretty base as well, with ….plaid.”
      You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’d love to have one of these if i had money to burn, and plaid would definitely be on my want list.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    How were these seen at the time, from people who were adults already in the early 80’s?

    -A joke from a dying AMC?
    -A cool thing which was “alternative” like a Subaru in 1988 would’ve been?
    -Unreliable? Too costly?
    -Too compromised in a not-truck and not-car sort of way?

    And who were they after? Farmers or someone who had an IH previously?

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      They were after the same people who now buy a Subaru Legacy, someone who needs AWD but did not want to drive a truck. Remember back then most 4WD systems were part time.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Cool, costly and complex while not offering much more than an FWD wagon like the Reliant. I think FWD proliferation killed the concept for those only occasionally inconvenienced by snow.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You know related to your comment (and probably to the demise of the Eagle), I also watched this van comparison the other night. They mentioned more than once how having FWD was preferable.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tfKnDsB0YM

        And a few things stuck out:
        -In 85 the Toyota Van came with a giant sunroof and a fridge, which is amazing.
        -The first Astro had no driver foot room, which is very poor.
        -The Voyager was clearly the one to have at that time, leaps and bounds ahead on refinement and space.
        -None of these had over 110 HP, most of them with about 90, which sounds downright dangerous in a fully loaded van of 7 peeps and cargo.
        -The first F250 mirrors they put on the Aerostar looked terrible.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          Only watched a snippet of the video because work, but I’ll check it out later for some great nostalgia. Thanks!

          But I must say: MIRRORS CAN’T BE TOO BIG! I loves mirrors like a vertical movie screen!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Even back then, they do a big comparison and have zero conclusion, other than the Astro -isn’t- in the top three.

            I don’t have a problem with big mirrors! I do have a problem with attaching them with the legs from a metal lawn chair.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “attaching them with the legs from a metal lawn chair.”

            Vivid :-D

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @Corey: Here in Canada these were quite respected and even aspirational vehicles.

      Mila Mulroney the tres chic wife of our then Prime Minister (’84 to ’93) drove one around Ottawa.

      They were also commonly found in the driveways of Millionaire Mile (particularly old money) communities in Ontario.

      Jim Kenzie the ‘dean’ of Ontario auto journalists for many years drove and wrote extensively about his Hornet and therefore was a supporter of the Eagle.

      As others have alluded to, it might be considered the vehicle that brought AWD/4wd to the attention of the general automotive consumer.

    • 0 avatar
      rokop

      I had an 84 Eagle Sedan that I bought with 11,000 miles in 1988. It was by far the best car I ever drove in the snow. It was better than my bother’s CJ-7 because it was very stable. When I moved back to Florida in 1994, the car was still essentially in showroom condition and there were tons of old dudes ready to pay top dollar for it. The only problem I ever had was carburetor issues. They were definitely big with non-conformist types (like me).

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    My mother had a liftback Eagle back in the 80’s, she was living in St.Thomas at the time. Why would anyone need AWD in the Caribbean you ask? Apparently there was a moss or algae that grew on certain roads that made them slippery when wet. She got the Eagle because there were times she could not get up her driveway, she would get to a point and then the car she had been driving (a Mazda GLC) would lose traction and start sliding backwards.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    I always liked the look of the Eagle, would love to have one.

    Every one I ever see is a project unfortunately .

    http://wenatchee.craigslist.org/cto/5355660466.html

  • avatar
    John

    Was an adult in the early ’80’s – they were seen as a real breakthrough in the snow belt. Unfortunately, they rusted really fast when exposed to road salt – holes when two or three years old. I think that was their undoing. They were bought by people who DIDN’T want an agricultural type vehicle, or truck – suburbanites who needed to get to work and pick up the kids at school when it snowed. Keep in mind, most cars back then were RWD, the worst possible configuration for snow. If AMC had rust proofed them better, they might well have saved the company.

  • avatar
    Joss

    There were better AWD Asian wagons. Civic, Sentra, Mitsu etc.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Not in 83.

      • 0 avatar
        pdieten

        Not in ’83 and not for many years afterwards either. People who grew up on the coasts might not realize this, but Japanese cars simply did not exist in the upper Midwest to speak of until the ’90s. I graduated from high school in Wisconsin in ’89; at the time there was no place to buy a Toyota, Nissan, or Honda other than perhaps a single small dealership for each in Milwaukee. Volkswagens could be had more easily. Other than that, EVERYONE drove domestic. And that meant that if you spent a lot of time driving in deep snow and wanted a car (rather than a truck), you bought an Eagle. My uncle had two sedans, an ’80 and an ’86. If it weren’t for the rust, they’d be good cars. But AMC never did get a handle on that.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      You could get a Subaru AWD wagon in ’83. Whether it’s better than the Eagle…depends.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Saw one of these just yesterday on the road. Obvious winter beater as the body was missing paint or in primer more often than not, but still appeared in good physical condition and appeared to be running well.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    I currently own an ’87 Eagle sedan which is the best car I’ve ever driven in the snow. It gets more attention on the street than my ’63 GT Hawk. But, as Chris Tonn accurately points out, they will always be a labor of love for the owner and will never recoup the cost of restoration. Regardless, they deserve to be preserved because of their uniqueness and as a reminder of AMC continually pulling rabbits out of their hat to survive.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Is this really an ’83 or has the front end been fixed after a crunch? The grille with horizontal bars looks like it came from a 1980 model. 1983 Eagles had a bold eggcrate grille.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    Unfortunarely AMC quality was rather poor. Although the Eagle was an interesting oddity ahead of it’s time, and looked pretty good, the poor quality of the brand persisted. Chrysler morphed it into the Eagle brand, and it wasn’t too long before even that was gone.
    Very cool for it’s time, however, I don’t think it’s worth restoration.

    • 0 avatar

      It wasn’t really poor quality, but outdated. The 258 was about as bullet proof as you could get, and continued with Chrysler in the 4.0 until this century and dated back to the mid 60s. If you read “10 worst cars” you always see the Gremlin or Pacer, but they were both reliable cars, just being written by folks who had a poor perception. I’ve own several AMCs well over 150k, including four Eagles.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    i recall them being small, expensive and unnecessary. why would anyone need 4wd in the city. if you want 4wd get some form of a jeep.

    the comments that the eagle foreshadowed the rise of the 4wd and awd systems on non-truck vehicles are all true. way ahead of its time but under appreciated.

    the first 4wd that seemed rational to me (other than a pickup framed vehicle) was a toyota all-trac or the somewhat similar honda civic wagon with 4wd. why those seemed reasonable and not the eagle probably had more to do with amc vs perceived quality than anything else.

    i once knew a fellow who was constantly in and out of work. his family of 4 had times of good and bad depending on their employment situation. he always drove new amcs. when i asked him one day why he drove new when used was cheaper he replied that no, he had a better monthly payment with new bc of lower interest rates from the manufacturer compared to banks. apparently amc financial payed less attention to his credit rating than banks did.

    consequently maintenance occasionally suffered, which im sure did not help longevity. i wonder how many other amcs suffered a similar fate? i wonder if their reputation in my eyes is totally deserved?

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I love the white wagon wheels, so very 80s.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I love these too mostly because it would be so easy to drop a fuel injected Jeep I6 under the hood. Of course you could do that to a Concorde wagon as well but then you wouldn’t have a Jeep Cherokee wearing a station wagon costume.

  • avatar

    Even though I was likely 12 at the time the commercials debuted, I still get mad when I hear (in my head) Paul Hogan tout the Outback as “The worlds first sport-utility wagon”. WHAT ABOUT THE EAGLE PAUL

  • avatar

    Eagles remain my favorite car of all time. I’ve been 10 years without one but enough parts in storage to put one back together that was missing a few pieces. They are about the slowest car I ever owned, but they were little tractors in snow and mud.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    I see about two of these pre – Outbacks in the Salt Lake City area a week. Some are the hatchbacks and some are the wagon variations. A couple I’ve seen do not look drivable. But, they just keep on chugging down the road. That old straight six Gremlin engine is hard to destroy.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    It is quite impressive how 20 years later every automaker had to make their own AMC Eagle CUV thing. Just replace the wood with plastic.

    Heck, their wagons still have the Eagles strange slanted rear-roof windows.

    In a cheap move by AMC, they were ahead of their time.

  • avatar
    callmeishmael

    I remember the Eagle quite well. It was advertised here in SoCal and I couldn’t help wondering why the hell anyone here would need one more than once every ten years at most.

    At the time, American Motors already was on death watch and anything that had 4WD (AWD wasn’t a thing yet) was a Jeep or a truck. The industry hadn’t bothered to sell America on full time AWD yet either.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Some of us SoCal-ians like to ski, and aren’t crazy about chaining up. My cousin had an 83 Subie 4×4 wagon, I was so peeved when she sold it without letting me have first crack at it.

  • avatar
    red60r

    My sister-in-law had one that spontaneously combusted in front of their house. Cause undetermined. Replaced by Volvo XC-70. (Car, not house. Geez…)

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    So many firsts with amc, first suv with the jeep cj. First luxury suv with the wagoneer and grand wagoneers. First on demand 4×4 with Quadra drive. They started the suv craze with the cherokee and hit a grand slam with the grand cherokee. And last but not least, first crossover 4×4. They were 20 years ahead of everyone else. They truly deserved a better fate then whatwas afforded them.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Suto beat me to the comment that Paul Hogan’s Subaru Outback commercial, “world’s first sport-utility wagon” was simply dishonest.

    I’ve always had a lot of respect for the Eagle, and once drove an Eagle sedan up a snowy ski hill road. People were amazed to see what looked like an ordinary sedan doing what demanded 4wd.

    Besides the other liabilities listed, these were also pretty cramped inside for the weight and cost of the cars.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    The Denver Police department had a number of Eagle 4WD sedans in service for years after they went out of production. It was always funny to see one of these in Police livery since they couldn’t outrun anything. Too bad they didn’t offer the 304 V-8 out of the CJ in these – I’m sure it would fit as they offered the 304 briefly in the AMC Spirit.

  • avatar
    LXbuilder

    I always envisioned having one of these with a set of BFG all terrains, and a off road light bar on the roof. Not sure why exactly, but it might come from day dreaming on the line as a young autoworker, and trying to think of how to make the cars I built look “cool” enough for a 21yr old to actually own.

    https://www.facebook.com/thecrustyautoworker/?ref=bookmarks

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