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AMC Eagle

Eagle1_2 In last week's Jeep Wagoneer Car Lust, several commenters mentioned the AMC Eagle as another completely honest, totally rugged, wonderfully faithful vehicle. People, if you're looking for some appreciation for the Eagle, you've come to the right place.

Today, the AMC Eagle looks like an ungainly, unlovely, rolling anachronism, with indifferent build quality and a paucity of style and elegance. But what you have to remember is that, back when it was introduced in the early 1980s, the Eagle was an ungainly, unlovely, rolling anachronism with indifferent build quality and a paucity of style and elegance.

Eagle2 Well, okay, so it's always been a bit ugly, and it wasn't assembled by loving white-coated technicians in a hushed, spotless workshop. But I love the Eagle, and when it debuted, it was something of a revolutionary car. A tall wagon with plenty of storage space and all-wheel-drive traction, the Eagle was kind of a proto-crossover, or an Ur-Forester.

The Eagle's distinctive high ground clearance and all-wheel-drive traction meant it could go anywhere, and its tall wagon body could fit six adults and a ton of cargo. It was the original go-anywhere, do anything family car. It was one of the earliest cars to offer all-wheel-drive, well before Subaru made AWD de rigueur in its line. AWD didn't make the Eagle into anything remotely resembling a pocket Audi Quattro, but the Eagle was a cheerful, sturdy, utilitarian pal who would stick by you and do you right--even if it did throw an electrical problem at you from time to time.

Eagle3 One aunt and uncle of mine had an Eagle after previously owning several other AMC products (a Pacer, a Wagoneer, and at least one Renault/AMC Alliance). They and my three cousins were always a dizzying blur of activity, and they just beat on that car relentlessly. Big toothy chrome grin, fake woodgrain siding and all, it took them camping, carried cargo, and hauled more small children at a time than a clown car. In well over a decade of service, I doubt that poor Eagle ever had a day when it wasn't serving as a commuter car, a pickup truck, a minivan, a Bobcat tractor, and a Sherman tank. The Eagle took it in stride and was always ready for more.

Once, when I was a kid, our families went sledding on a steep hill in the mountains. This was a steep hill, more like a mountain, with at least a foot of loose snow powder on a base of ice. My uncle would sit at the bottom of the hill in the Eagle, idling and drinking his coffee. When we'd successfully sled down to the bottom of the hill, we'd pile in, cold, red, and gasping, and he'd drive us calmly up the hill. Not switchbacking up the hill, mind  you--he'd drive straight up the powdery slope to the top of the hill. The Eagle never even stumbled.

Eagle5 I'm reminded of the Pat McManus short story where he describes his first mountain car--it was devoid of such frills as doors, floorboards, seats, brakes, and emissions equipment, but it happily growled its way into landscape that would've made a mountain goat nauseus. In spirit, at least, McManus' mountain car was undoubtedly an Eagle. (By the way, I'm inordinately proud of the little AMC pun in the previous sentence.)

In the summer, to keep sweaty children cool and to prevent them from sticking permanently to the standard vinyl seats, my aunt and uncle would duct-tape vacuum cleaner hoses to the Eagle's dashboard air vents. They'd then stretch the nozzles back to us kids in the back seat so we could "shower" in the cool air. Ever since then, I've thought that was a fantastic idea.

I've always been extremely fond of Eagles, not least because just seeing one gives me the instinctive expectation that fun would follow soon after. I'd love to have an Eagle as a beater. It's extraordinarily useful, goes anywhere, and takes a beating without flinching, which makes it a valuable automotive buddy to have around.The Eagle was AMC's last major sales success, so it's not impossible to find one used. The tricky part is finding one in halfway decent shape.

The video below is actually two classic AMC ads stuck together; the first is for the Eagle wagon profiled here, and the second is for the sporty two-door Eagle SX/4. A few notes:

Eagle4- Hooray! Another moonscape!

- "Two-wheel drive luxury ..." What is that? The luxury of low traction?

- I love that both ads are built around a set of fingers moving the cheesy chrome 2WD/4WD switch back and forth. I get what they're going for, but it's not exactly your typical commercial approach.

- "You are about to leave the world of ordinary sports cars ..." Well, if you're talking about the Eagle SX/4, that's certainly true. I love the Eagle, but I think it's safe to say it in no way resembles a sports car.

- Along those lines, I think it's really amusing that in the SX/4 "sports machine" ad, the switch-flipper (ostensibly the driver) is wearing what I think is supposed to be stringback driving gloves. I can just imagine a sports car purist dumping their Bugeye Sprite for an AMC Eagle and pulling on the stringback driving gloves in anticipation of a sporting romp.

All of the photos here come from Flickr users; the woodie wagon is from user Triborough, and gorgeous winter photos are from user pierre m. Those interested in learning more about the Eagle, or chatting with Eagle die-hards, should check out AMC Eagle Nest.

--Chris H.

Comments

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Ah, fond memories of the AMC Eagle my parents rented at Logan Airport to take us up to Provincetown in 1984.

Ok - so I'm not an Eagle lover. But I respect them. A friend of mine who was, and is, a complete motor head had one as his daily driver and family car. That allowed his IROC Camero and Audi A4 to remain pristine driving machines. He swore by it and it made huge sense in New England winters. I was impressed by the concept but I found the experience of being a passenger less than ideal... I think it was the fact that american cars of that era just had so much internal bulk relative to their total volumetric envelope... that trend seems to have moved towards greater extremes and this internal bulk now appears to be a standard in the design of automotive interiors.

The thing I love most about this article is the reference to duct tape and vacuum cleaner hoses to augment the "climate control" of cars. Drivers of air cooled german cars are well aware of the challenges of staying warm - kind of the polar opposite of the situation here. In my years of driving through Boston winters in my 72 VW Type III Squareback I invested a lot of time trying to engineer new and augment the existing heating system. For a while I had a series of what looked like little battery operated hair driers stationed around the interior of the car. They drew power from the cigarette lighter socket. These were incredibly noisy and did almost nothing. Eventually they all either caught fire or arced out and exploded. I carried an ice scraper to scrape the inside of the windows as my breath would condense and freeze on the windscreen. I tried using a mask to warm my face. The mask had a hose built into it to funnel my breath directly to the outside of the car - again to avoid having the windows completely fog and freeze. I looked a little like a cosmonaut from the late 1960's.

I looked into clear plastic films with heater wires embedded in them that could be stuck to the windows. At one point I considered installing a kerosene heater in the back of the car. But that just seemed a little too dangerous. Now living in the friendly and sunny climes of SoCal the air coolers seem like a happy option. I know that all I have to contend with is cooling during the summer months. And duck tape and vacuum cleaner hoses sound not so bad.

Chris, you've done it again. I think we're somehow related, because I've also always loved these little cars. I too wouldn't mind owning one that wasn't rusted into oblivion, and I always notice how 'purposeful' they look when I see them. That's the big difference between them and a lot of newer vehicles. Newer vehicles might be faster, or be more extreme, or more luxurious, but the Eagle really is what most people ACTUALLY need in the winter. Ground clearance, AWD, and relatively small size. I think it's a great car, and if I have to stay in this midwestern hellhole, I'd definitely consider getting one.

I am one of the adults who spent lots of time in the back of the AMC eagle going on countless adventures! I had forgotten about the custom AC that my dad rigged up. That was pretty clever, and did work very well. I remember that we used to fight like crazy in the back of that car!!! Not only was it the family ride, but it was my first car. I have to say that I have never had a car handle like that one did in the snow. I also drove a ford bronco two for awhile and then went to a VW bug which wasn't so great in the snow at all. Now I have a Subaru Forester that ROCKS!! It reminds me so much of the Eagle. It handles almost exactly as the Eagle did. God rest its soul.

Did anyone notice the fuel milage claims in the comercials? Twenty years later and that kind of mileage is almost impossible to find!No computers, little to no emissions equipment,I love it....

Rob, the SVX guy wrote: "Newer vehicles might be faster, or be more extreme, or more luxurious, but the Eagle really is what most people ACTUALLY need in the winter."

I think that "Rob, the SVX guy" is dead on here. This is completely true for the winter and snow, but honestly I think it is true well beyond the practicalities of a particular season. The Eagle is a completely practical car and perfect for the average driver and family - it is an honest car that does some really great things. I guess the only thing that would be missing would be air bags for the family. Newer, faster, more extreme, or more luxurious? Who actually needs those things in a family car. When did luxury replace honesty and practicality. I'd pick an Eagle over any oversized overstuffed SUV.

I am the proud aunt of Chris that used that Eagle to the extreme! It was BY FAR the best car we have ever purchased, gave us 200,000 miles of family fun and NEVER left us on the side of the road. Our two older children used it as the going to school car and is in their high school yearbook numerous times, constantly being decorated up in the school colors, wooden trim and all...thanks for the memories...

Bravo! I never owned one, but I've always wanted one. I had an AMC Hornet for several years that was similar: you could beat the crap out of them and they'd still keep going. My Hornet got me through many Wisconsin winters with nary an accident; I can imagine how well an Eagle would have done.

I still see a few up here in Seattle, and the weather's such that they're not really rusted out. If I didn't have a Mustang I love, I'd probably go find one and buy it.

Carol Waider makes a good (if unintentional) retort to Rob the SVX guy's assertion that there are no cars like that out there anymore by bringing up the Subaru Forester.

Off the top of my head, I can tell you that both the "real time" AWD Honda CRV and Toyota Rav4 are the same sort of basic, honest car that gets 'er done without much flash. The Rav4's V6 gets great mileage and can tow 3500 pounds! The 4cyl Rav4 may tow less, but still had plenty of power to go up steep grades (I review it on my blog). I'm sure it's plenty safe in snow with the AWD version. My 2001 CRV did great going over Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana mountain passes in winter (although it complained really loudly going up the mountain flanks). And both Cute-utes are most likely far more reliable than the Eagle ever was.

I do miss the Eagle, and miss AMC. But if you want a good snow car that can haul a family but still be small enough for every-day driving, the options are out there.

This is so cute, it makes me nostalgic for YOUR childhood: "My aunt and uncle would duct-tape vacuum cleaner hoses to the Eagle's dashboard air vents. They'd then stretch the nozzles back to us kids in the back seat so we could "shower" in the cool air. "

The Eagle was quite popular in snowy central PA. You can still see them up there, which is a testament to their durability. There was nothing else like them.

When I was a kid (in the 80s), I remember thinking how ugly the Eagle was. I had one a "Hot Wheels" Eagle, and it was the car that no one wanted to play with.

Then about 5 years ago after I bought my first new vehicle, I started noticing Eagles that were still on the road and began to realize that the Eagle was everything I needed in a car. You see... I live quite a few miles out of town in a house I built in the woods. The commute is long but the driveway is rough and have good ground clearance and 4WD can make or break a bad weather day.

Since then, the Eagle styling has grown on me... maybe that means I'm getting old ... or maybe that means I'm getting a sophisticated taste. :)

I just stumbled across this wonderful AMC Eagle tale. I am the co-owner of the previously mentioned AMC Eagle Nest (approaching 1300 members) and I enjoyed reading your story and the comments from your readers. Thanks for the great job. I think you would fit right in at the Nest. We are not afraid of pointing out the car's weaknesses along with its strengths. Most of our members build on the strengths and work out the weaknesses with a little red neck engineering and some modern parts.

Thanks, Doug - Eagle's Nest is great fun. Thanks for continuing to hold the Eagle torch; the Eagle is a unique and special car.

You are welcome. Not to push membership (shameless plug) but are you a member? Yup, we try to have some fun along the way.

I am another member of the AMC Eagle nest and am one of the younger ones at 25...I have loved the Eagle since I was a child, and it is the first car I ever bought, which was a very consious decision on my part....I refused to buy anything else, and kept looking until I found ANY Eagle.

I ended up getting an 82 Eagle SX/4 Sport in really rough shape, and it spent the first 6 months of its time with me in a garage...every time I took it out something would break and it would end up going straight back in there again....not because it was a bad car but that it had been used and abused for 25 years with little maintenance and had never been off the road.

Since then I have loved my Eagle enough to spend another $19,000 on it, repairing and replacing and rebuilting virtually everything on it, stripping the rust and painting it and putting all the extra money I scrounge up into it...not because it needed it as after a few little things it ran great for me...but because I wanted to return it back to its former glory, and make it the head turner I know it should be.

And if you click my URL link and check my cardomain page, I think youll agree that it does just that.

I too am a member of AMC Eaglenest, and highly enjoy having both an Eagle SX/4 and an Eagle Kammback with which to climb our abundant urban inclines. We've never missed work due to weather (not even ice.. although we were the only one who made it in). I have not tallied the amounts spent on these cars yet, and honestly.. the cost will not matter as what you get in return is priceless. And in todays society.. I'm betting that if I had been driving a late model car, I would never have had all the informative, friendly, inspirational, and just all around refreshing conversations with multitudes of people (in parking lots/at gas pumps/grocery stores) whose approach was brought on simply by the presence of my Eagle.
I enjoyed the stories, as well as your article. While there are quite a few in the Seattle area, we are sadly losing some of them. One i know of needs a motor (the rest of the car was gorgeous) but the little lad knew nothing of replacing engines (and i have no room for another car). Positive words may help in keeping more of these cars alive, and I sincerely appreciate that cause.

Looks like a small Eaglenest reunion here.
AMC Eagles were sold in limted numbers in Europe as well.
In Switzerland JH Keller was a very active AMC dealer, because he believed in the concept of a luxury 4WD. I became interested in the Eagle because the holding company director was always driving one although he had Jaguars and Ferraris as well. I asked him if I could buy it, but he gave me a look that made me stop asking further questions. Two years ago I imported a nice Eagle Wagon from Switzerland.

Love the Eagle. My friend in high school had the Eagle "coupe" version, which gave him trouble from time to time but was extremely useful when it was running for him.

I learned to drive in an Eagle wagon and loved that car. In fact, it was one of the most useful, rugged vehicles I've ever driven--and I think my dad would have kept it going forever if it hadn't been t-boned in a parking lot one night.

My dad loved cars and owned quite a few that I would love, for nostalgia's sake, to own now, but the Eagle may have been my favorite. It never stumbled (or even slipped) in bad Colorado snow storms, was surprisingly reliable, and the ugliness sort of grows on you.

I've looked for one since--I'd love to have it for Denver winters and for its utilitarian bent--but I haven't found one that hasn't been beaten to hell by its owners. My fear is that every year that goes by brings me a little farther from the goal of owning an Eagle.

Cheers to the Eagle Nest folks who are keeping the cars alive and well. You're doing God's work, I tell you.

I love the Eagle. The way it looks, the way it drives. If anyone knows of one anywhere in the country that is for sale let me know.

HOLA AMIGOS DE AMC AGUILAS ESTOS CARROS SON MUY LINDOS Y DAMACIADO FINOS SON UNOS MACHOS PARA EL TRABAJO YO TENGO UNA STATION WAGON MODEL 1982

My Eagle is my best friend- a word to the wise though- if you can find one,purchase another for parts, it will save you from heartache!

Oh yeah- I wanted to do a shout out to the AMC Eagle Nest also-You Eaglers have saved me a lot of heartache!

My family had a 1985 Eagle Wagon - exactly like the woody/blue shown at the top of the post. It was the nicest car we had, so I drove it to the prom. My folks eventually sold it to a guy down the street - it's still there, if a bit worse for wear. I tired to get my driver's license in that car - epic fail, I "came into contact" with a parked car while trying to parallel park. Needless to say, I drove a Chrysler "K" car from a driving school for my successful attempt.

Ah, memories....

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