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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.