Final Parking Space: 1982 AMC Eagle Wagon

Murilee Martin

All-wheel-drive cars are nothing special today, but the American Motors Corporation beat all the competition—even Audi and its Quattro system—into American showrooms with what we’d now call a crossover utility vehicle. That car was the AMC Eagle, and I’ve found an example in a Colorado Springs car graveyard.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon badge
Murilee Martin

American Motors bought Kaiser Jeep in 1970 and proceeded to sell plenty of rough-and-tough trucks with Jeep badges after that, many equipped with serious four-wheel-drive systems. The Eagle, however, was intended from the outset to be a car, built on a unibody platform and with power going to all four wheels without requiring the driver to make confusing decisions about how to operate intimidatingly military-style powertrain controls.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon side
Murilee Martin

So, the AMC Concord was lifted a bit and given a simple-to-use four-wheel-drive system not borrowed straight across from a Jeep. For the first model year of 1980, the Eagle was available in sedan, coupe, and wagon form.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon 4wheel drive
Murilee Martin

The Eagle’s drivetrain used a center viscous coupling between the front and rear axles, so that it could be driven on dry pavement in four-wheel-drive mode without trouble. There was no truck-style low-range gear selector, just an ordinary automatic transmission shifter (later on, manual transmissions were available in Eagles).

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon interior dash gauge
Murilee Martin

Subaru had been selling 4WD cars in the United States for years by the time the first Eagles appeared, but they had to be switched into front-wheel-drive mode for use on dry pavement; failure by the driver to do so would tear up the tires and maybe more expensive components. The Eagle could live in four-wheel-drive mode at all times with no damage (other than to fuel economy), and the driver could switch to rear-wheel drive with the “Select-Drive” dash control in 1981-and-later models.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon emblem hood
Murilee Martin

Also for 1981, the Eagle treatment was given to the smaller AMC Spirit, resulting in the Eagle Kammback sedan and the sporty Eagle SX/4. Eagle sales were good, though the rest of the American Motors line wasn’t faring quite as well.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon rear three quarter
Murilee Martin

AMC, too small to get the kind of U.S. government–backed loans that saved Chrysler in 1979, had had to turn to the French government and its car manufacturer, Renault, for help. This partnership brought over brilliant Renault engineers and useful technology, resulting in some interesting Franco-Kenosha products, but none of it was enough to keep AMC alive.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon rear badge
Murilee Martin

Lee Iacocca, recognizing the value of the Jeep brand, the already successful XJ Cherokee, the in-development Grand Cherokee, and the advanced Renault chassis technology in the Premier, had Chrysler buy American Motors in 1987. The Eagle stayed in production through the 1988 model year, with Chrysler paying it the honor of naming a new car division after it; this meant that the ’88s were, legally speaking, Eagle Eagles.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon engine
Murilee Martin

For 1982, two engines were available in the Eagle: the base GM Iron Duke 2.5-liter straight-four and AMC’s own 258-cubic-inch straight-six. This car has the 258, rated at 110 horsepower and 205 pound-feet.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon interior
Murilee Martin

In 1982, Eagle buyers could take the base four-speed manual or opt for a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. This car has the automatic.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon front
Murilee Martin

The Eagle was very popular in snowy Colorado, and I still see quite a few on the streets of Denver. Eagles also show up regularly in the local car graveyards, and I have documented more than a dozen in such places.

1982 AMC Eagle Wagon rear
Murilee Martin

This one is rust-free and the interior isn’t so bad, so mechanical woes likely sent it here. Just days after I shot these photographs, I spotted a clean ’86 Eagle sedan at another yard north of Denver. These cars are still in the mainstream in the Centennial State!

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Comments

    I’ve never seen one of these in Mississippi but I’ve always liked them. The first time I ever saw one in the wild was on a recent trip to Stateline, NV. It was a pretty decent looking daily driver.

    In the 1980s these Eagles were everywhere in the snow climate cities. Great looking cars that served a purpose. Still see them every now & then, even at car shows.

    These have always been on my target of opportunity list… but I never knew that they did not have a proper shiftable transfer case.

    These cars were very common in Chicagoland as a kid. They did not last, the salt rusted them to death. You could have had an iron duke 4 on this car? Ugghh, good thing it had a straight six option.

    I had one of these when it was about 5 years old, it had about 100k miles on it and needed work. Our nick name for the car was the Beagle! I loved it and feel it was the precursor to the SUV!

    These were very popular in the snow belt, plowing through weather that stopped normal cars. I still like them today.

    Our Eagle was a sweetheart. And TOUGH! My husband was rear-ended in it by a compact car traveling at speed. It got its hitch pushed in a tad, but the other car was totaled. The Eagle was built like a tank!

    I worked for a car lot in the 80’s and remember them having an Eagle. I think it was this car used vacuum some how that had something to do with the 4-wheel drive, but beings that was around 40 years ago, I might be wrong. But one thing I definately remember clearly is that it was blue and I thought it was a cool car.

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