By on August 20, 2021

The fifth entry in our Rare Rides series on the Eagle Premier brings us to 1988. The Premier was newly on sale after a delayed introduction, and the company building it was not the same company that spent years designing it.

Chrysler was in charge of the Premier’s fate.

After a hasty renaming from AMC to Jeep-Eagle following an early August 1987 merger completion, the Eagle brand was introduced to North America properly. The company’s initial lineup was quite a hodgepodge: The one-year-only Vista (new home for the Colt Vista) was joined by the Medallion, Premier, and the one-year Eagle Wagon, a final vestige of AMC. The old Vista and Eagle were immediately replaced in 1989 by the Summit and Vista Wagon, which were different wheelbases of the new generation Mitsubishi Expo. French, French-American, and Japanese cars were sold under one all-new brand. And Premier led the charge.

Premier was well-received by the automotive press, who lauded its exotic European origins and power, Italian shape, and high-tech Canadian assembly. It was undoubtedly the most advanced car in Chrysler’s passenger car lineup, which in 1988 consisted entirely of K-car derivatives and Mitsubishi Starion clones. Chrysler VP Bob Lutz was impressed with how good the Premier was too, especially given the limited resources of AMC-Renault at the time. He praised Premier among the “…impressive succession of new products” Chrysler obtained via its AMC purchase. Given the Premier was already on sale, it replaced an ongoing Iacocca project at Chrysler called Liberty Car. Liberty Car was supposed to be Chrysler’s direct response to Saturn’s development, and maybe we’ll learn about that at another time.

Though he praised Premier, Bob Lutz was not in charge of things at Chrysler, Iacocca was. And he’d purchased AMC to get access to Jeep branding and the new Grand Cherokee. So while the Premier was good, it was not one of his cars – the K-cars were. Iacocca had been in charge since initial K-car development, and this French-based Premier didn’t appeal like say an extended-K New Yorker or Imperial, or a halo vanity project like the TC by Maserati.

Additionally, the Premier used components not found on other AMC-Chrysler vehicles, a one-off in many ways that was expensive to produce at Brampton. Sadly, the orphan-like Premier wasn’t given much attention after its 1988 initial ad campaign. But Chrysler’s engineers didn’t leave it alone entirely, and it did end up having a larger impact on Chrysler’s future than you might expect. We’ll conclude this saga in our next installment.

[Images: Chrysler]

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30 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Eagle Premier Story, Part V...”


  • avatar
    Steve Cohn

    I bought the Eagle Premier back in ’88 and was generally impressed with the auto. Very smooth on trips & got 30 mpg on the highway. It seemed to be superior to the comparably priced big three sedans of the era.
    Then after a year and a half components of the engine computer malfunctioned. The dealer replaced the defective part, but the car never ran like it did before the problem surfaced. Mileage dropped to about 20 mpg highway & performance never normalized. I then sold it & bought the new Acura Legend which was a huge step up from the Premier.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      I owned an ’89 Premier ES. It had the best combination of ride and handling you could buy at that time. The front non-power bucket seats were the most comfortable I’ve owned to date. I kept it for 10 years and sold it at 175K miles still running great.

  • avatar
    1st_one

    I’m loving these write ups regarding this car and platform. I’m curious to see if you will write how this platform evolved into the Intrepid and then provided the bases for the current Charger and Challenger.

  • avatar
    tane94

    These cars fell in between the K-Car and cab forward eras at Chrysler and were unloved at the time and remain so today.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Another prime story showing why, while Lee Iacocca was the man Chrysler desperately needed in 1979, he’d become the man that Chrysler desperately needed to kick out the door in 1989. Having fully backed a nice piece of automotive competence (sorry, the K-car was competent, not brilliant) he absolutely refused to consider that it was past it’s time ten years later.

    I’m amazed he didn’t try to reverse engineer the Grand Cherokee onto a K-car platform. I wonder who had the thankless job of explaining it to him that it couldn’t happen.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      I recall reading that in a book about American Auto Industry called “Crash Course”. It describes how Lee and Chrysler were swimming in cash by the late 80s and although Lee’s ideas were revolutionary a decade later he was no longer suited to be the head of Chrysler in the 90s because his ideas were no longer aligned with new talent like Bob Lutz and the design dept in general.

      PS. He never tried to re-engineer the Grand Cherokee because he wanted the Jeep brand so much and knew he could take big advantage of the existing platform, design and powertrains developed from AMC. On top of that it was the SUV (along with the Cherokee) Chrysler needed.

      The Premier was not and Lee had that segment covered with plenty of K-platform derived cars.

      Not so much with the Premier which was a mismatch of American and (mostly) French parts.

      The book is well worth a read. I got it for less than $10 on Ebay, hard cover and all

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Bagging on Iaccoca? You kidding?

      1) I think you’re ignoring a little item called “Jeep” that Iacocca also bought along with this design. If not for Jeep, the whole company would have gone t*ts up a long, long time ago.
      2) Yes, Chrysler rode the K-car platform too long, but you also ignore that the LH cars, which were came out in 1992 and were huge sellers, were developed on Iacocca’s watch. Given that Iacocca retired in 1992, and the Neon entered production the year after, I’m giving him credit for that car as well.

      • 0 avatar
        StudeDude

        Iacocca was past his prime. The LH cars may have been developed under his watch, but Bob Lutz and Francois Castaing were the leaders who did the real work. And don’t forget that he picked the wrong Bob (Eaton) to lead the company. It should have been Lutz and Iacocca later admitted as much. Too much ego involved.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    It’s an interesting car, born an orphan, with a unique and twisted story.

    But did the story really need to be dragged out into 6 parts?

  • avatar
    Crashdaddy430

    Liberty car? Chrysler’s answer to newly developed Saturn? This is a story worthy of song. Seriously, should be a documentary directed by Peter Jackson. That’s some automotive trivia I haven’t ran across before would love to learn about it.

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      i think i follow and have followed the industry pretty well and i dont even know what a liberty car is. ALLPAR should have a deep dive on it, no?

    • 0 avatar
      C5 is Alive

      Chrysler stood up a research department called “Liberty” in the late 1980s for new technologies and such, but to my knowledge never came close to actually developing a complete car.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      Personally, I never heard about Liberty Car. Now I’m intrigued.
      I tried to look into it but information seems to be scarce.

      The most I could find was on an Allpar article but no pictures to speak of: https://www.allpar.com/threads/the-chrysler-liberty-team-2004.237227/

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-03-24-fi-30370-story.html

      “At an analysts meeting in Detroit, Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca said the Liberty project is not a response to Saturn because it existed first.”

      “Under wraps for about two years, the car may not be in production until 1990, some two years later than Saturn. But for now Chrysler is way ahead of GM, Iacocca said.”

      “Chrysler already has in place some of the sophisticated manufacturing processes, whereas GM has not even broken ground for its $3.5-billion manufacturing complex, Iacocca said.”

      “He said the car will be plastic-bodied, have a three- or four-cylinder engine, and incorporate 12 microprocessors to control all functions.”

      ““Saturn and Liberty are fascinating in the respect that they may finally offer the masses a well-made car at an affordable price,” said industry analyst Arvid Jouppi.”

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I actually enjoyed these series a lot.
    Interesting reading. Reminds me somewhat of Bertel Schmitt’s inside stories.

    The inside story of a particular model is not always neat and tidy. There are so many competing forces at play.
    And I must add, egos.

    • 0 avatar
      C5 is Alive

      I’ve enjoyed these articles as well, though earlier installments have been quite repetitive in places. A decent editor could surely parse this story down to well south of Corey’s 2,000 words without losing anything important.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    All I know about Liberty is that Iacocca’s Chrysler cut a promo deal with the people refurbishing the Statue of Liberty. Iacocca’s intent was to burnish Chrysler’s image by being a funder of the restoration, then cash in with a series of price-leader cars called “Liberty”—as in Horizon Liberty, Reliant Liberty, etc.

    At that point things fell apart, because he couldn’t get the necessary approvals from the necessary people to use the L word on a car. They brought out the price leaders anyway but substituted the word “America,” sold a lot of minivans in particular that way, and that was pretty much the end of it.

    • 0 avatar
      C5 is Alive

      I don’t recall any “America”-branded Chrysler minivan variants. The badge was used solely for stripped-down versions of outgoing platforms – first the K- and L-Cars as you describe, and later the P-Cars.

      • 0 avatar
        AJR

        I don’t recall the “America” series either on the minivans, but I definitely remember the Aries/Reliant America, Shadow/Sundance America, and the Omni/Horizon America. They were definitely cheap cars, and I feel that they weakened the brand image of both Dodge and Plymouth – although sales were brisk for the “America” series. Short-term gain, but at long-term expense of the brands’ image.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    IIRC, these were sold under Chrysler partly to amortize the tooling and new factory, and partly because there was a contracted requirement to purchase X number of PRV engines. It also gave them time to design the LH replacements loosely based on these cars. When the engines ran out, they were done and tooling up for the LH cars commenced.

    I always thought they were plain but awkward-looking.

  • avatar
    AJR

    I remember the Eagle Premier and its later twin the Dodge Monaco. We were a Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth dealer at the time, but since we didn’t have Jeep-Eagle, we didn’t get to experience the Premier. It wasn’t a bad looking car when it came out, but I never had the thought that it would be a successful car. It was “just there” and that was it. I wasn’t particularly impressed by its looks or performance potential, but one thing that I did like was the graphic equalizer display for the radio.

    We were able to get a couple Dodge Monacos when the Dodge twin was brought out, but it was NOT a sales success by any means. We had no trouble selling Spirits, Acclaims, Dynastys etc…, but the Monaco was a hard sell. I think we dealer-traded one and turned the other one into a loaner until it finally sold after a year. From my perspective, the Premier/Monaco were flops and weren’t necessary for the dealer body.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Although not dealing with the Eagle Premiere, the part of your history involving the Eagle Vista sounded strange to me. Apparently, the Vista nameplate was only used in Canada, and not the U.S. From what I can piece together from the dubious source of Wikipedia, there were 2 separate Eagle Vista models, similar to how there were 2 separate Eagle Summit models.

    There seems to have been a line of rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage/Dodge Colt/Plymouth Colt subcompact cars sold as 2 and 4-door sedans sold from 1988 through 1992. Supposedly they were sold alongside the 1989 through 1992 Eagle Summit. I can’t determine if there was any differences between them. Starting in 1993 they were only sold as Summit sedans.

    Then there was a second model, the 1989-91 Eagle Vista Wagon, which was a version of the Mitsubishi model sold in the U.S. as the Dodge Colt Vista and Plymouth Colt Vista. Starting in 1992 it was replaced by the shorter-wheelbase Eagle Summit Wagon, which was also sold in the U.S. as the Plymouth Colt Vista and the Mitsubishi Expo LRV.

    I also see that there was a Canada-only 1991-1992 Eagle 2000GTX, which was a badge-engineered Mitsubishi Galant sedan and something of a replacement for the Eagle Medallion.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      I actually test drove the Eagle Vista and Dodge Colt (Mitsubishi Chariot/Space Wagon) wagons while cross shopping. Other vehicles tested were the Toyota Tallboy wagon, the Nissan Multi and later the Axxess, the Honda ‘wagovan’ Realtime AWD (which was my first purchase), Dodge Caravan (our 2nd purchase) and for some reason the Isuzu Trooper.

      The Eagle/Dodge was, if my memory is correct, available with AWD and 7 passenger seating. However the memory is now a little murky and I would

      • 0 avatar
        Johnster

        This is a confusing history. There was the original first generation Mitsubishi Chariot/Space Wagon which was sold as the 1984-91 Plymouth Colt Vista and Dodge Colt Vista (and as the 1989-91 Eagle Vista in Canada). It had 4 conventional doors, 3 rows of seats seating 7, and was never sold under the Mitsubishi name in the U.S.

        The second generation Mitsubishi Chariot/Space Wagon was only sold in the U.S. as the 1992-96 Mitsubishi Expo. It also had 4 conventional doors and 3 rows of seats seating 7.

        However, there was shorter wheelbase version of the second-generation Mitsubishi Chariot/Space Wagon know as the Mitsubishi RVR. The Mitsubishi RVR was sold in the U.S. as the 1992-96 Mitsubishi Expo LRV, Plymouth Colt Vista, and as the Eagle Summit Wagon. (As far as I know there was not a Dodge Colt Vista version of it sold in the U.S.) The rebadged RVRs only had 3 doors and 2 rows of seats seating 5. The single rear door was on the passenger side of the car and slid on rails, like a minivan door.

        All of these vehicles, the ones that were rebadged first and second generation Mitsubishi Chariot/Space Wagons and the ones that were rebadged Mitsubishi RVRs were available with optional all-wheel drive.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Corey, these write-ups are fascinating, and bring back a lot of memories. The Premier always made me think it was a car stretched to the absolute limits of its platform, because of the massive overhangs. Made me think of a parade float. Front overhangs haven’t gotten smaller in the passing years, but designers have been better able to disguise them.

    I had an Expo LRV, drove the hell out of it for 3 years. Didn’t use much gas, could haul lots of stuff, and was a suprisingly comfortable highway cruiser. I actually miss that little car/van when I read mention of it. Would like to see a write-up on them at some point.

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