American Motors Corporation (AMC) introduced the Eagle in time for the 1980 model year. The car was essentially a Concord on stilts fitted with a permanent four-wheel drive system, a unique and revolutionary concept in the early 1980s. The only other tall four-wheel drive sedan in the United States was the Subaru Leone but it was exclusively offered with a part-time system.
The Eagle sat about three inches (roughly 7.5 centimeters) higher than the Concord and, being considered a light truck by the EPA, it was exempt from the ungainly 5-mph bumpers that were mandatory in the United States. AMC had financial issues so it didn’t have the budget to further differentiate the Eagle and the Concord from a visual standpoint.
Surprisingly successful, the Eagle gave AMC sales across the United States a much-needed boost. The automaker’s rear-wheel drive passenger cars were declining in popularity, Jeep had taken a heavy beating in the 1970s and the automaker’s infamous joint-venture with Renault was far from a success.
The Eagle’s popularity convinced AMC to expand the lineup. At its peak, the soft-roader was offered as a two- and four-door sedan, as a fastback coupe, as a station wagon, as a hatchback that traced its roots back to the Gremlin and even as a convertible. These off-shoots weren’t as popular as the company had hoped and they were gradually dropped. Only the four-door sedan and the wagon were offered from 1984 until production ended.
Early Eagles came with a 4.2-liter straight-six engine bolted to a three-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission and a four-cylinder engine were offered later in the production run, and a part-time four-wheel drive system called Select Drive was quickly made available to cater to buyers looking for better gas mileage.
Eagle production ended in 1988 and the AMC name was phased out shortly after, sending an important part of American auto history to the history books. The Eagle died without a true successor as the XJ Cherokee that was introduced in 1984 bridged the gap between Chrysler / AMC’s passenger cars and the full-size Grand Wagoneer.
The Eagle arguably created the crossover segment a quarter of century before it became popular. It wasn’t as capable as body-on-frame off-roaders like the CJ-7 and the Chevrolet Blazer but it was much more capable in inclement weather than standard sedans at the time, a middle ground that modern crossovers still fall into today.
Early Eagles are 35-years old but a look in the local classifieds reveals a running example can be purchased for about $1,000. Will the original crossover ever become sought-after by collectors, or will it forever be remembered as AMC’s swan swong?