The AMC Eagle Is the Original Crossover Hipster-Mobile

The crossovers have taken over the auto industry. Every marque not only has multiple examples of this style car but sells them by the bucket-full. Larger carrying capacity, better fuel economy than a full-blown SUV, often AWD, and a smaller footprint, allow crossovers to drive more car-like than truck-like. Few people will argue the position that crossovers are super cool vehicles. Practical? Sure. But cool? Not so much. The AMC Eagle was uncool before it was cool to be uncool. It shot for crossover status before that existed in America. And for all its efforts, went down in a glorious blaze of obscurity.

The AMC Eagle was born from desperate times

AMC was most notably the parent company behind Jeep. But, AMC made some other really cool cars over the years, like the Rambler, Marlin, AMX, Gremlin, and the Javelin. The muscle cars and heavy, tail-finned cruisers of the ‘50s and ‘60s weren’t paying the bills at AMC.

The gas shortage of the mid-’70s certainly didn’t help the sale of the CJ Jeeps, which were essentially heavy squares on wheels (not the best combo for fuel economy). In a last-ditch effort to save the company, AMC snagged some of the cooler 4×4 parts from the Jeeps and threw them in a small station wagon. Thus took flight the AMC Eagle 4×4. 

A four-door, 4×4 wagon with tall suspension. Seem familiar? 

The AMC Eagle officially dropped in 1980, ready to save the American Motor Company. Although the AMC Eagle came as a four-door sedan, four-door wagon, and a coupe, the wagon was undoubtedly the standout, according to Silodrome

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All versions of the mighty little Eagle were set up with a beefy 4.2-liter straight-six cylinder. The least cool part of the AMC is the three-speed auto transmission, but the coolest part is the Dana 30 differential up front and a Dana 35 differential in the rear. There’s the Jeep starting to shine through. 

The AMC Eagle was before its time, but still very ‘70s

Although the Eagle was certainly blazing a new trail for the American automotive industry, it still had some very timely aspects. For instance, AC was an optional extra, as well as a rear window defroster, halogen headlamps, an AM/FM stereo, and an adjustable steering wheel. The AMC Eagle came standard with power steering, front disc brakes, and rear drums, according to Silodrome. 

AMC Eagle with AMC President Bill Pickett ,1979
AMC Eagle with AMC President Bill Pickett, 1979 | Getty Images

The real reason the Eagle matters

Let’s be honest; none of that other stuff matters. What’s important is the AMC Eagle’s 4×4 system. Silodrome explains, “This was an almost unheard of feature on regular passenger cars at the time. The drivetrain comprised of a live axle rear end on leaf springs, the front end had independent suspension, and an offset differential that sent power to the front wheels.”

The Eagle has a center differential that acts almost like a limited-slip diff, sending power equally to both front and rear diffs depending on the conditions. AMC raised the suspension 3-inches to allow for beefier tires and better ground clearance. 

The mighty AMC Eagle

The Eagle sold so well that it knocked the AMC Pacer out of production. This was an unquestionably worthwhile trade. The Eagle ran from 1979 to 1987, after Chrysler acquired AMC and pulled the plug on the 4×4 bird, according to Silodrome. 

The AMC Eagle has fallen away from the hearts of the American public, but this car laid the groundwork for all crossovers and AWD wagons to come. We owe a great deal to the AMC Eagle. I, for one, tip my hat to the late, great King of the Aviary crossovers.