Rare Rides: The Eagle Premier Story, Part III

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the eagle premier story part iii

We continue our coverage today of the Eagle Premier from over 30 years ago. Parts I and II detailed the inception of the AMC-Renault joint project, and the technical aspects of what was a pretty advanced (or quirky) family sedan.

The time had come to put this all-new AMC offering on sale, but Premier arrived alongside some very unfortunate historical circumstances.

As mentioned in Part II, by the time Premier was ready for production it was running behind schedule. The sedan was supposed to be on sale for 1986, but it didn’t enter production until September of 1987. The first Premiers were produced as 1988 models and constructed at a new plant located in Brampton, Ontario. Brampton Assembly built all Premiers and builds the 300, Charger, and Challenger today. At the time it was the most technologically advanced assembly plant in North America, and cost a fortune to build.

But this expenditure meant all was not well in AMC-Renault land. The (French) money spent on the new plant in Canada caused financial problems for Renault. In France, Renault closed several plants and laid off employees as it funneled money into AMC and North American operations. Renault executives were not happy about this spending, and Renault as an entity was up against a wall.

Though top brass at Renault were generally against the all-consuming investment in AMC, one man was not: Georges Besse. Besse became the chairman of Renault in January 1985 and saw a bright future for AMC as part of the state-owned Renault corporation. As Besse stood up for AMC, his eyes were on technologically advanced Brampton Assembly as a shining beacon of profitability when it fired up for the all-new Premier. He saw AMC’s fortunes elsewhere on the upswing too, as the company had recently introduced modernized engines like the 4.0-liter with fuel injection. AMC’s most valuable component – Jeep – was also seeing increases in sales as the Eighties popularized SUVs.

But a page turned in the AMC-Renault story on November 17, 1986, just 10 months before the Premier entered production. Besse, viewed as a successful capitalist, was assassinated outside his Paris residence by far-left extremists. He was targeted by an anarchist group founded in the late Seventies called Action Directe. Besse’s immediate successor, Raymond Lévy, saw to Besse’s initiatives in cutting costs (primarily in France) while advancing the plan of North American investment.

A year later at the end of 1987, the company was more stable than it had been in some time financially. The Premier was finally in production. Renault continued to sell the Medallion via its North American dealers and planned to bring over the sporty Alpine as a halo offering.

But there were more concerns than just the financials, and Monsieur Lévy had pressing decisions to make. More next time.

[Images: Chrysler]

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3 of 21 comments
  • Michael S6 Michael S6 on Aug 18, 2021

    Ahh, if it only had the corinthian leather option, then I would have bought one.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Aug 18, 2021

    I am intrigued by the fact that little, underfunded AMC had the three products that best transfer to today's market. The Eagle AWD station wagon, Jeep and the Grand Wagoneer luxury SUV. It demonstrates that being the first to the market is not always the key to success. And that even if you build a better mousetrap, unless you have the cash to invest in massive marketing and influencing of the consumer's mindset, they will not 'beat a path' to your product/doorway.

    • Msquare Msquare on Aug 20, 2021

      AMC had a better product line than Chrysler did. The Eagle was based on an obsolete platform, as was the Grand Wagoneer, but both still managed to fill their niches. They had just come out with the XJ Cherokee and the YJ Wrangler, the 4.0 liter straight six that transformed every vehicle it was installed in, and a new Grand Cherokee on the way. They also had Francois Castaing's engineering staff, which set to work on the Viper once Chrysler had taken them in. And of course, the Premier gave birth to the LH that basically turned the company around, only to be foolishly allowed to be taken over by Daimler-Benz. Chrysler could have easily survived on its own, as Mercedes proved by pillaging it. Chrysler didn't take over AMC, though. AMC took over Chrysler.

  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.
  • VoGhost I'm clearly in the minority here, but I think this is a smart move. Apple is getting very powerful, and has slowly been encroaching on the driving experience over the last decade. Companies like GM were on the verge of turning into mere hardware vendors to the Apple brand. "Is that a new car; what did you get?" "I don't remember. But it has the latest Apple OS, which is all I care about." Taking back the driving experience before it was too late might just be GM's smartest move in a while.