But before 1980, there weren’t nearly as many of them as today. There weren’t any at all – at least, not in mass-produced form. Enter American Motors Corporation’s Eagle 4x4 – a raised passenger car with a four-wheel-drive system. At the moment, AMC was the owner of Jeep, which translated into profound experience with, expertise in, and accessibility of full-traction systems.
AMC had shelved the idea in 1972 because of Jeep’s noisy and crudely shaky Quadra-Drive technology. A few years later, following the energy crisis of 1973, the idea was brought back from the archives. Armed with a new transfer case that offered far better performance and silent operation, the Eagle was penned.
The Eagle flew until 1988, with the station wagon and the four-door sedan having the longest-lasting production runs. The big money maker was the all-purpose wagon, with over 113,000 assembled in a nine-year single-generation iteration.
On the other hand, the four-door family sedan grossed only a quarter of the best-sellers, with 27,501 vehicles. None of the car’s yearly production figures managed to jump over the 10,000 milestone, with the inaugural year being the most spectacular.
Following the debut year’s promising sales figures – 46,379 – AMC introduced three more body styles for 1981 – the sporty SX/4, the Kammback, and the Sundancer. Unfortunately, the energy crunch came back with a vengeance, and buyers dropped their allegiance to American Motors. Sales nosedived some 10,000 units compared to 1980, and the trend continued for 1982.
For 1983, the corporation reduced its Eagle offer to three body styles – the workhorse station wagon, the two-door hatchback SX/4, and the fluctuating four-door sedan. One of the latter is presented in the attached video – and a surprisingly well-preserved survivor, if we take the owner’s word for it.
The car has AMC’s trusted 4.2-liter straight-six and the aforementioned four-wheel ‘Select Drive’ system. A diagram in the gallery shows how the transfer case worked, but from a driver’s standpoint, it was a one-button-switch deal. On the left-hand side of the dashboard sits the 2WD-4WD selector. Simply flip it from left to right – with the car stationary – and drive over snow, mud, rocks, and whatnot.
AMC used this biased traction feature as marketing bait, stating their Eagle as a full-time four-wheel drive with an option for a two-wheel-drive economy mode. Officially, the Eagle could snatch a 32-mpg highway high water (or gasoline?) mark when equipped with the smaller engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. That would be about 7.5 liters per 100 km, while the automatic was the least pocket-caring version, with a 28 mpg score (8.4 l/100 km).
To be fair, the inline-six runs unbelievably smooth and quiet – hear it in the video – for a car designed to conquer the seven Ws (again, find the explanation in the gallery). It was an all-terrain, all-time, all-budget-friendly All-American car.
Car nerds who witnessed firsthand the first coming of the four-wheel-drive Eagle remember some of the quirks of the AMC Eagle – like the plastic valve cover and timing chain cover. The example featured in this article has a day-two metal cover over the straight-six’s valves – a cheap, common practice due to the availability of matching AMC parts.
That’s 112 PS and 285 Nm. By 1983 standards, that was a serious performance from a family car with a transfer case between the engine and rear axle. Which, by the way, was a 2.35:1 or a 3.08:1 choice for the six-cylinder three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, to refer to our hero’s case. Other powertrain options were 2.5-liter (151 cubic-inch) four-cylinder and four- and five-speed manuals, backed by 3.54 or 2.73 rears.
Since this car is an orphan, seeing it on the street is a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, all the more so regarding a survivor in excellent condition. Odd, trend-setting, half-breed, poor man’s Jeep, called what have you. The AMC Eagle is a sight to behold, standing tall above its generation’s other makes and models.