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Firing Order: That Time I Bought an AMC Eagle

Posted in Features on December 27, 2018
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Photographers: Readers

Over the years I’ve owned some unusual four-wheel-drive vehicles. I don’t go looking for ’em, but for some reason they find me. An example is the ’84 AMC Eagle wagon I purchased in the early ’90s to address the needs of my growing family (and my extremely limited budget).

Here’s a photo of my Eagle on a backroad along the Mississippi River. It wasn’t Rubicon-ready, but unlike the majority of 4WD crossovers today, the Eagle had decent ground clearance, so it could be pointed down rough roads without fear of shedding low-hanging components.

The Eagle was based on the AMC Concord/Hornet platform, which had a long history of production. It’s said that the idea of fitting the car with a four-wheel-drive system came from Roy Lunn, the chief design engineer for AMC Jeep. Turns out, it was a very good idea. The Eagle was very successful for AMC, at least for the first few years. In 1980, Four Wheeler noted that the Eagle was “the beginning of a new generation of cars.” Among its many unusual traits is that it was equipped with IFS. My Eagle was fitted with the carbureted 258ci I-6, automatic transmission, and shift-on-the-fly single-speed 4WD. Fun fact: It’s said that the four-wheel-drive system added 300 pounds to the weight of the vehicle. Another fun fact: A handful of ’80 Eagle wagons were fitted with 3.6L turbodiesel engines via factory-authorized conversions. According to a sales brochure, the engine made 150 hp and 224.2 lb-ft of torque. The brochure also noted the turbodiesel-equipped Eagle returned 24-35 mpg with overdrive, which gave the wagon a range of 1,500 miles when matched with the larger fuel tank.

Four Wheeler reader Rich Comer sent this photo of his ’83 Eagle. He won it in a $5 raffle and it’s his daily driver.

A 4WD car was very unusual in the ’80s. I recall fielding questions about the Eagle from curious onlookers. Its increased height (3 inches) is one item that made it stand out visually. Daily drivability was similar to any other car, but in inclement weather the Eagle soared. When 4WD was engaged it was surefooted on ice and snow, and it was a snowdrift-bashing, crazy thing. And there wasn’t a bunch of low-hanging fragile stuff protruding from the front end of the vehicle, so deep drifts on rural one-lane-roads could be attacked without fear of seeing some large, expensive plastic pieces in the rearview mirror. And during mild off-roading, the Eagle did surprisingly well thanks to decent approach and departure angles and acceptable ground clearance.

This Eagle was at a mud event in Missouri, and many props are in order for the owner who apparently said, “Heck ya, I’ll wheel that Eagle.”

I was reminded of my Eagle when I saw one in a restaurant parking lot the other day in Florida. But that’s not the first time. I also saw one at a mud event in Missouri recently, and a reader recently sent in a photo of his.

I can’t help but wonder how the Eagle would fare in a head-to-head off-road shootout when pitted against modern car-based 4WDs and even some 4WD SUVs.

Have you owned an unusual 4WD like an AMC Eagle? Or did you build an oddball 4WD rig using a truck chassis and a car body? If so, email the address below and tell us about it, and please include a high-res photo!

—Ken Brubaker

ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com

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