By on July 11, 2018

The Rare Rides series has dabbled in AMC previously, cataloging some of the fun ideas generated by the good people of Kenosha, Wisconsin. We’ve featured the luxury targa Concord Sundancer, the unrealized Van, a baroque Matador Barcelona, and the Renault-by-AMC Alliance GTA. But none of those represents the AMC brand quite as well as today’s Rare Ride. It’s a pre-CUV crossover. A luxurious Subaru Outback, before there was such a thing.

It’s of course an Eagle 4×4 wagon, looking Limited in black over tan.

Introduced for the 1980 model year, AMC’s Eagle was a complete range of vehicles. Body styles included four different two-doors: coupe, liftback, hatchback, and convertible. There were also two four-door models: sedan and wagon. As usual, AMC was all about saving cash, and the Eagle lineup was no exception: most models were, underneath, variants of the Concord that debuted back in 1978.

The exceptions were the smaller SX/4 and Kammback models. These models were two liftbacks based on the Spirit — a car which rode on a revised 1970 Gremlin platform.

Underneath all Eagles was rear-wheel drive, or optional four-wheel drive. Ahead of their time, AMC offered four-wheel drive on most of its passenger cars in the 1980s. Unlike other contemporary manufacturers that mandated a manual transmission with their four-wheel drive vehicles, AMC offered an optional three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.

Customers who were shifting-inclined could have either a four- or five-speed manual in their various Eagles. Speaking of various, engine choices were either an AMC inline-four, GM’s Iron Duke, a turbodiesel unit from VM Motori, or the 4.2-liter inline six present in today’s example.

At the time, Eagles were the only American-produced passenger cars equipped with four-wheel drive. Providing the comfort of a standard road car, but the capability of a four-wheel drive utility, AMC didn’t have a catchy marketing acronym to use in its advertising.

Was it a cross-purpose vehicle, a CPV? Yes. Subaru was playing a similar game on a smaller scale, but the simple, agricultural GL wagon did not have the refinement, ride height, size, or luxury desired by middle-market America. At the other end of the scale, AMC’s Jeep brand already offered the larger and more luxurious Grand Wagoneer for the well-heeled utility customer. Eagle soared down the middle of the canyon (road) toward suburbia with its various offerings.

Though the Eagle found a customer base, it was not enough to save the usually-ailing AMC brand. The company and its attractive Jeep properties were ready to be swallowed up by Chrysler. In fact, the last few months of Eagle production, Q4 of 1987, took place under Chrysler management at the Brampton, Ontario plant.

Today’s Rare Ride is the top-trim Limited model from 1987. Lovely in solid black and without a hint of exterior wood tone, this one’s done 130,000 miles. Currently listed on eBay, bidding has sat around $5,100 for a day or so as of writing. That amount is still under the reserve, but they don’t come up in this condition very often.

[Images: seller]

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76 Comments on “Rare Rides: The First-ever Crossover – a 1987 AMC Eagle Wagon...”


  • avatar
    VW4motion

    First Outback. Very nice find.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I wanted one of these so bad when they first came out. I thought they were the best of all worlds, but kind of pricey. By the time I could afford it the Jeep Cherokee was introduced and I got that instead

  • avatar
    geozinger

    To be honest, this was a last gasp kind of effort to keep their cars relevant and assembly lines open. All of AMC’s domestic cars were based on the 1970 Hornet after about 1978. The Gremlin was based on the Hornet as was the Concord, etc. They had no other choice, as the link up with Renault was really just getting started.

    And again, to be honest these were pretty outdated cars by the time they were released in 1980. The original cars were on the small side and somewhat cramped if you were over 5’8″-5″10″. The addition of 4WD stuff didn’t help with the roominess issue (IIRC, they modified the transmission hump), nor did it help with the fuel mileage. But they were fantastic in the snow.

    My brother had an Eagle Sedan for about 17 years in Northwest Pennsylvania. He was just outside of the Lake Erie snowbelt, but drove a lot of rural roads. Since it was as simple as an anvil, it was as durable as one. There were some interior things that broke on the car, but other than typical old car issues with adjustments and leaky parts, the thing ran fine. It finally rusted to the point where he could not get it past Pennsylvania’s inspection, at least without throwing a ton of money into it. After 17 years, it was time for a new car.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Yes, I remember rust being a huge issue with these

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        On the earlier versions of these cars, rust was an issue. I don’t recalling it being much worse than anyone else, about average. Somewhere around 1980 AMC really got their sh!t together WRT rustproofing. Those cars were much better than their immediate predecessors. My brother’s Eagle was better than a lot of cars. Pennsylvania allows no perforation of the body panels, but you were allowed to repair it. His car finally got to the point where even backyard rust repairs (with Bondo!) were just too much trouble to deal with. The car was 17 years old, even as much as a skinflint as he was, it was time for another car…

  • avatar
    bunkie

    “…a car which rode on a revised 1970 Gremlin platform.”

    You have it backward. AMC developed the Hornet first and when faced with the need to answer the Pinto and Vega, engineered the Gremlin by shortening the Hornet (and doing so at an incredibly impressive development cost of only a few million dollars).

    I may be one of the few people here who actually owned a Hornet wagon which, aside from the grill and fancy gingerbread, looks *exactly* like this one.

    It was, hands down, the most expensive car I ever owned. Between the broken drivers seat and the stiff clutch, it aggravated my herniated disc so badly that I was spending hundreds of dollars per month on Chiropractic visits. And then there were the repair costs. I got smart, ditched the visits to the bask-snapper (which weren’t helping), had a salvage company pick up the Hornet and bought a new Mustang GT. My back (and life) got a whole lot better.

    • 0 avatar
      jimble

      The Gremlin actually came out a few months before the Pinto and Vega, but of course AMC knew Ford and GM were working on subcompacts and that’s why they rushed the Gremlin into production and introduced it on April 1, 1970.

      I used to drive some Hornets and Gremlins that my company had as delivery cars and I found the driving position very awkward. I think it was the placement of the pedals that was too high. Even without a bad back and broken seat I think I would have been hurting after very many miles in one of them.

      • 0 avatar

        Buy/Drive/Burn: Hornet/Pinto/Vega?

        That worth doing?

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          Chevy Vega…people used to stuff big engines into those things. Bent frames and broken windows weren’t uncommon.

        • 0 avatar
          "scarey"

          Buy Hornet/ burn Vega/ Pinto ? guess which one happens when you rearend one/

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Drive – Pinto. People have stuffed big engines, small turbo engines, and everything between them into Pintos and thanks to the Mustang II, they are up to the challenge structurally and can be made to handle reasonably.

          Buy – The AMC. None of these are especially good purchases, but in bone stock form, if I had to live with one, I like the AMC. Plus I can tell all the Subaru owners I was the first to have an “Outback”

          Burn – Vega. This car in my book is the low water mark for the US Auto industry. I cannot think of a worse vehicle we have ever cranked out.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        The ads for the Gremlin were quite memorable. “Where’s the rest of your car”

        A friend of mine owned a 74 Gremlin with the 3 speed on the floor. The driving position was awkward, too much steering column towards the driver, though the tilt wheel might be better. Also a bit much to handle in the winter, some rear weight helped.

    • 0 avatar

      So it was Hornet & Gremlin -> Eagle. Same platform at least, and came out at the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yup the Gremmy was a chopped off Hornet and when they didn’t have any money to make a new car they tweaked them a bit and renamed them Concord and Spirit. Then as a last ditch effort they strapped a driven front axle under them and called those Eagles which were sold alongside their donors under their old names.

        It wasn’t until Chrysler took over that they wiped out the AMC name and moved Eagle up to a full brand, not just a sub-brand.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        The Spirit was someplace in there, and Eagle became the 4WD variant.

    • 0 avatar
      gasser

      The Gremlin…..the WORST car I ever drove….and I’m 71.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Say what you want about AMC, but those guys did some funky, innovative stuff. Necessity breeds creativity, I guess.

    Nice find.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I would not call this a crossover, no matter what you think; this is a proper wagon and being a 4×4 actually makes it appealing. Today’s crossovers flat lack the two-box look that made this a proper wagon while my ’02 Saturn Vue, a supposed crossover by today’s standards, was classed as an SUW–Sports-Utility Wagon–by my insurance company back when I purchased it brand new (ordered, not dealer stock.)

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My grandmother in Chicago, may she RIP, had one of these in coupe form. Black with gold pinstripes, if my memory serves me correctly Last seen in 1986 so ??. Same interior too. My perennially poor uncle took it over after her death… no idea how long it lasted under his care.

  • avatar
    jimble

    Fortunately for AMC, the original 1970 Hornet was a nice, clean design that aged well and was easily adaptable — from the basic 2- and 4-door sedans they derived the Gremlin, Sportabout (wagon), hatchback, two different body styles of the Spirit, and the various Concords and Eagles, all the while barely changing much of the original sheet metal. I can’t think of many designs from the early 70’s that would have held up so well for so long.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Agreed, the Hornet had nice lines. Not sexy, but clean and well proportioned for what it was. I remember looking at Eagles at the LA Autoshow in the early 80s. Really liked the concept and they looked pretty good compared to contemporary sedans and wagons. Too bad the crappy engines + early 70s platform + AWD made for pretty anemic performance.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        I think my initial post may have been too harsh on the Hornet and it’s successors. For a lot of people, these were great cars. Just rather long in the tooth by 1980.

        Of all of the variations of the Hornet that came to be, I think my favorite is still the hatchback. With a six or the V8 it was a lively driver that could be fairly utilitarian when needed.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          AMC was broke and limped along 10 years longer then they should have because of off-the-wall stuff like this. That, and I hear the drugs in Kenosha were AWESOME back then ;-)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    This vehicle during its time had ‘cachet up the ying yang’. The then Prime Minister’s wife, the ever trendy Mila Mulroney famously drove one. You may have noticed her grandchildren as the train bearers for Meghan Markle during her wedding.

    Due to Mila’s ownership pretty much every ‘lady who lunched’ wanted one.

    Another example of AMC’s designers/engineers making chicken salad out of chicken dung.

    And Jim Kenzie, the Toronto Star’s long serving auto journalist raved for many years (decades?) about his love affair with his Hornet.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    A truly hideous pos in the AMC tradition. The Javelin was an anomaly, AMC styling is rivaled only by Subaru.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Of all the cars in my collection, my ’87 Eagle 4dr sedan gets the most comments, more so than my GT Hawk. It has a bulletproof drive train, the only weak spot being the electronic feedback carb. It is unstoppable in the snow and is extremely maneuverable in regular driving.

    Corey—the last model year for the Eagle was actually 1988, which were the last units built by Chrysler.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Good thing I’m not in charge…putting whitewalls and fake wire hubcaps on ANYTHING should land a person in jail for the weekend. On this particular car…being beaten with a rubber hose packed with sand isn’t out of line.

    Id take any AMC Eagle variant over any modern crossover–granted, the SX/4 would be the holy grail but this would do nicely. A small lift, some BFG A/T’s wrapped around slot mags and a Magnum 360 transplanted under the hood…dream car.

  • avatar
    2manycars

    The factory wire wheel covers on these are actually Buick wheel covers. When the pasted-on AMC logo peels off you’ll find the Buick crest underneath.

    First crossover? Hard to say. If the definition of that is a 4WD station wagon I’d have to say that the 1949 Willys/Jeep wagon would be a contender.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willys_Jeep_Station_Wagon

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I never knew they offered the turbodiesel from VM Motori in the Eagle. AMC did offer the Renault 2.1 turbodiesel in the 83-85 XJ Cherokee/Wagoneer.

    The 77-79 Gremlin/Concord came standard with the Audi/Porsche 924 2.0-4.

    One of my great automobile regrets was passing up a deal on a black 81 Eagle SX4. The leaking transfer case made me wary.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Nowadays a SX4 that could be had cheap due to a leaking transfer case would be considered a killer find. It is quite easy to fit the 2 speed Cherokee Transfer case though while you are at it stick the injected 4.0 too.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        There is a nice fuel injection kit available (J.C. Whitney) for the AMC 232/258-6. Fairly popular among CJ-5,7 YJ Wrangler and SJ Cherokee owners.

  • avatar

    All the Eagles were 4×4, it wasn’t an option. The type of transfer case did change over the years. Great cars, I’ve owned several of them. They are the slowest modern car I’ve ever driven, but with low RPM torque and 2.35 gears available they are hard to get stuck.

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    Man, I remember the day that my mom came home with one of those. I can’t remember if it was the wagon or if it was the hatch version though, but it was a cool car, especially with the snow tires on it for winter. She traded in he Montego that wasn’t all that good on rural gravel roads in the winter.

    But after two days there was a shimmy in the front when driving and when she would hit the brakes. So we take it to the dealership for service. Mind you, this was in the early ’80’s, so not only were dealership service departments less than desirable places for anyone to wait in, let alone a single mother and her three children and the attitude was that women don’t know anything about cars and should be in the kitchen, taking care of the children. So we were sitting there, and the manager walks up and starts talking in a really condescending tone about how there are a lot of moving parts on the front suspension of a 4wheel drive vehicle and all. So my mother stood up, looked the guy square in the eyes and started asking if is was the hub, half shaft, CV joint, brake caliper, brake rotor, tire out of round, and a bunch of other things that may or may not have been the issue. The guy looked at me in utter surprise and then back at her and in a sheepish voice told us that the mechanic didn’t put in the cotter pin that holds the castle nut in place.

    Of course she went ballistic and started ranting about how that could have killed all of us had it completely came off. The manager then further explained that the castle nut had actually unscrewed and was sitting in the cap, just waiting to be replaced.

    Replaced was the only word she heard at that point, and then went to the sales manager and demanded that we receive a completely different vehicle, but a completely different and competent mechanic actually perform the pre-delivery inspection and make sure that he followed the guidelines set by the manufacturer. She continued to say that if that doesn’t happen that she will gladly return the vehicle to the exact location she bought it from, the show room floor.

    The manager understood what had happened and that it would be in his best interest, and simply asked her one question; “What color would you prefer?”
    So an hour later, we left in a shiny silver AMC Eagle with only 3 miles on it and a completely different mechanics check list.

    Needless to say, there were also a lot of problems with that one as well, and a few years later it was traded in for a Toyota Tercell Wagon 4×4. Yes, it had an actual transfer case with shift on the fly action. Man, can I tell you some stories about the wild rides in that car…

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    I remember seeing a few lifted, riding on 33’s, up to 44’s.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Delusional by Corey Lewis.
    First ever crossover is Russian LADA NIVA, circa 1970

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      The second gen Chevy Niva has an available manual transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        I always wondered what Chevy was thinking putting their badge on the 2nd gen Niva. I think they are neat cars but hoo jeez is the quality bad. Whatever qualms we might have with GM cars here in the US with their crappy Chinese subassemblies and components, Russian cars just put everything in perspective. Howling transmissions and rear ends within a few thousand kilometers of purchase, leaking transfer cases that pop out of gear, fast wearing balljoints, poor cooling systems, etc, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Niva didn’t come out until ’77, and I’d say by anyone’s definition is an SUV. A uniquely configured one at the time no doubt (full time 4wd, independent front suspension, unibody), but I wouldn’t call it a crossover at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “First crossover” ultimately depends on how one defines the term, tis a vague one.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s easy to define.

        -Car based vehicle, not truck
        -Has 4×4 or AWD
        -Is generally wagon in shape
        -Additional ride height over standard vehicle upon which it is based

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          It is, but some people think it needs to have a unique body or something.

          If you add “Features extra tacky trim” I’d agree with your terms, the Eagle had wood trim, and the majority of other CUVs feature plastic skirts.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      So, by your definition, the XJ Jeep Cherokee was a crossover and not an SUV?

  • avatar
    MarkMyWords

    While it is true that all Eagles were 4WD vehicles, the 1980 debut model was the only one to feature full-time 4WD with no selectable 2WD option. I have a 1980 black on black in similar condition to the 87 shown here. Also, in response to those saying that Eagles were not true “crossovers,” I beg to disagree. These vehicles were not marketed by AMC as wagons, but as a form of SUV. The luxury of a car with the off-road allure and ruggedness of a Jeep was the point here. And that, I submit, IS the definition of a crossover in the vehicular realm!

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I agree, and glad to hear you have one in good shape. They’re neat vehicles, for sure. I could do without the white walls and wire wheel covers, otherwise I like it.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    This would definitely be part of my AMC “trifecta”…along with a Gucci Hornet wagon and a Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer.

    MY grandfather was an AMC devotee, and I have fond memories of his cars. On the other hand, my dad’s 75 Gremlin was a POS from day one…

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I had the chance to look at one of these a few weeks ago, they’re not bad cars if a bit cramped inside due to the kinda low-ish roof. Didnt these have plastic manifolds or something dumb? The carbs arent great either.

    Also, if anyone sees one with a tool where the hood release should be, thats common. AMCs had terrible hood releases back then. Surprisingly this one seems to have a factory piece.

    An interesting interior feature were the turbine-air vents not unlike you’d find in some Scions and Audis, you used a small joystick to direct airflow.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Funny how much less weird this Eagle looks today than it did in the ’80s. Really ahead of its time.

  • avatar
    83AMCEagle

    A few corrections for your article:

    – Body styles over the years included:

    2 Door Coupe (1980-1982)
    4 door sedan (1980-1987)
    4 door wagon (1980-1988)
    2 door Hatchback AKA SX4 (1981-1983)
    2 door liftback AKA Kammback (1981-1982)

    AMC did not produce a convertible. In 1981 and 1982, a convertible version of the 2 door Eagle was built by the Griffith Company of Ft Lauderdale. The Eagle’s 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 conversions were approved by AMC with the cars ordered through select AMC dealers in the customer’s selection of options and exterior colors. The conversion cost approximately $3,000 and the dealer’s list price was $3,750.

    – Four Wheel Drive was NOT an option on the Eagle, it was standard. All Eagles were four wheel drive. AMC Did not offer four wheel in most of its cars in the 1980s, only in the Eagle line. The Concords and Spirits were 2 wheel drive only and thier other cars during this period were Renualt cars, again, not four wheel drive

    – The Turbo-Diesel was a third party installed engine via American Turbo-Diesel Inc. Very few were produced with the Diesel, 7 to 9 are the rumors floating around today. It was a $9000.00 addition to the price of the Eagle

    – After 1984 all Eagles were produced in the Brampton, Ontario plant. The Kenosha Plant, where they were made prior to 84. was retooled to build the Renault Alliance and Encore models.

    A lot of misinformation out there concerning these cars. Myself and many other Eagle owners, are here to ensure thats corrected. BTW, thats a beautiful car in the photos.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I was under the impression that these Eagles had no low range, but had front, rear and centre limited slip differentials. This allowed them to be driven on dry pavement while also acting as a traction control system.

    They were very capable. I once drive a 4-door sedan version with summer tires, up a steep snow-covered logging road. The road had already defeated a number of cars, including the crude 4×4’s of the day. People watching were astonished that a normal-appearing sedan just breezed up the road.

    Every time I saw a Hogan advertising a Subaru as “the world’s first sport utility wagon”, I wondered how Subaru could say that with a straight face.

    • 0 avatar
      83AMCEagle

      What allowed them to drive on dry pavement with 4 wheel drive was the Viscous Coupling in the transfer case. 80 through 81 were all wheel drive (NP119 transfer case), 81 through 88 were selectable between 2 and 4 wheel drive (NP129 transfer case). 86’s had a NP128 transfer case that had a Open Differential.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    I liked these wagons…could not afford one for myself, but as fleet officer for our police department, I ordered half dozen of these for our canine officers…they had their issues, most any police vehicle had issues. Guys loved them for their 4 WD drive train and ease of entry and release of canines…I also ordered 10 sedans for our detective bureau at the time…again, they served well in that capacity…

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