Rare Rides: The First-ever Crossover - a 1987 AMC Eagle Wagon

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Jul 12, 2018

    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 4x4'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.

    • 83AMCEagle 83AMCEagle on Jul 12, 2018

      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.

  • OzCop OzCop on Jul 13, 2018

    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...

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.