By on August 18, 2021

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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21 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Eagle Premier Story, Part III...”

  • avatar

    I think the model for that ad was on her way to her guest shot on “Hunter” when the call from Eagle’s ad agency called.

    • 0 avatar

      I get a certain guest spot on “LA Law” vibe from her. 80’s power suits rule!!!

    • 0 avatar

      I recall that automotive writer, Jean Lindamood Jennings, from Automobile magazine managed to wrangle a job as a model at some big auto show during the Premiere’s premiere and then she wrote about it for the magazine. Eagle, Automobile magazine, Jean Lindamood Jennings, auto shows. Whatever happened to those?

      • 0 avatar

        ” Eagle, Automobile magazine, Jean Lindamood Jennings, auto shows. Whatever happened to those?”

        Eagle: dead and not missed.

        Automobile Magazine: Zombie mag, not missed.

        Lindamood: under her tenure at Automobile, began doing “pimpatorials”. The one below was for Jeep; as I recall, she did one a few years later for Lincoln. I have no idea what she’s up to now. Not missed.

        Car shows: missed greatly

  • avatar

    With this series more than the others, I have to question why some of the best “what ifs?” have back stories that read like mystery novels. You don’t read about political maneuvers, murder for hire, government interference, etc when Ford releases a new F-150 or Nissan with the new Z. Some of these cars have such interesting pasts and makes for a good read.

    Maybe I’ll wrap up the thought with the last part of this series, but I wonder if this would have been the car to keep the Eagle brand going. The Talon was popular at first, but by the time the Vision came along, Eagle was struggling. Maybe (and just maybe in a parallel universe) if they had a stronger backing if this Premier worked out, Eagle would have held on a while longer, kind of like Geo was with GM with the international models. Who knows?

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, I don’t think anyone involved with the development of the F150 got whacked by a terrorist group.

      Would the Premier have turned around AMC had Chrysler not bought them out? I doubt it. Clearly Chrysler’s aim in buying AMC was to get its’ hands on Jeep; they probably figured they’d give the Eagle stuff a go since they bought it along with the rest of AMC, but I think they were running out the string.

      • 0 avatar

        The Premier would’ve needed to have been far more of a home run to get non-Jeep-related traffic into an AMC showroom of the day. I know the Medallion was supposed to have come first but I was seeing Premiers “in the wild” well before Medallions.

        Because before that, all AMC offered carwise was the Alliance– which did not AT ALL have a stellar reputation– and the Eagle– 20 years before that sort of thing became a nationwide must-have.

        They’d have needed a Miata-level hit to have any hope of turning things around.

        As far as what Chrysler did with Eagle, that they immediately axed the Alliance and Eagle were noteworthy (loved C&D’s comment at the time that they were probably just uncomfortable at the thought of selling an Eagle Eagle.). The Premier and the plant obviously had value as the bones were used to birth the LH cars. Again, kids who weren’t around or aware at the time can’t envision the leap it was from “Everything K-car based” to something like the Intrepid or Concorde.

        • 0 avatar

          But wait! You missed the Encore and Fuego.
          1983 was an interesting model year since you still had LeCar, Alliance, 18i, Fuego, Eagle AWD, Spirit and Concord, and on the Jeep side the CJ-5, CJ-7, Scrambler, and ancient J-10 truck, Cherokee and Wagoneer.

    • 0 avatar

      The Talon and Vision were rebadged Chrysler/Mitsubishis, so by they time they arrived, Eagle was already effectively dead.

      • 0 avatar

        The Talon was part of the Diamond-Star trio, along with the Plymouth Laser and Mitsubishi Eclipse. It was, however, available with all-wheel drive like the Eclipse GSX while the Laser was not. So the Talon was the one to have.

        The Vision was Eagle’s LH car, available in the first generation from 1993-97, and was ready to go for a second, but Eagle was dropped and the model became the Chrysler 300M. It was designed with a shortened rear deck to fall under 5 meters for European consumption. The Concorde and LHS consequently had huge trunks by comparison, though the 300M’s wasn’t small by any means.

    • 0 avatar

      i miss having the GEO option, which would be the only way id ever buy “american” again. jimny vert!

    • 0 avatar

      The revival of the 300 name, on the LX platform, was originally intended be an Eagle. At the time, Chrysler had determined that Eagle would become their “import” brand and the upcoming “5 meter car” would be Eagle’s possible entry into the European market. The 5 meter car made it to market as the Chrysler 300 because the second generation LX cars were far along in development when Chrysler decided to pull the plug on the Eagle brand. The vehicle was quickly changed to be the 300 sold under the Chrysler brand.
      If any photos or design sketches exist of the Eagle version of the LX 5 meter car, they’ve never been made public as far as I can find. I’m sure they exist somewhere in Chrysler’s design studio archives.

      • 0 avatar

        LX is the rear/all-wheel drive car that succeeded the front-drive LH in 2005.

        There were two generations of LH cars, the 300M was intended to be the 2nd-generation Eagle Vision but was revised when the brand was dropped.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    Well, that will ruin your day. Funny that Mr. Besse lost his life but much more high profile and evil “capitalists” roam the Earth with impunity today. So are the far-left extremists just lazy and/or incompetent now or is there a Millennial joke in there somewhere?

  • avatar
    Michael S6

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

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

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