Can we agree that this was America’s first crossover SUV?
American Motors Corporation (AMC) was not known for innovating much. That’s not a dig, but just how it was for America’s fourth-largest automaker. But one area where AMC might get some credit is for its lifted all-wheel-drive Hornet Eagle Wagon from the 1980s. It wasn’t as glorious as it sounds, but it was to be the first production crossover ever.
Was the AMC Eagle the first crossover?
While you might think the Subaru Outback is a smart way to turn a station wagon into an SUV, it’s been done before. In 1980, AMC took their modest Hornet station wagon, lifted the suspension, gave it a four-wheel-drive Jeep transaxle, and turned it into the AMC Eagle.
The company was on thin ice financially, so it had to make do with what it had while continuing to vomit new vehicles. Its Hornet lineup, which included a two- and four-door sedan and station wagon, already looked old-fashioned. And it should have, because it debuted in 1970. But AMC didn’t have the tooling budget to do much to spice up the Hornet lineup. Or did he?
The Eagle was the product of a cash-strapped AMC
In the mid-1970s, chief engineer Roy Lund began toying with converting a Jeep 4×4 drivetrain to a permanent all-wheel-drive system. Then the engineering department stabbed the unit into a Hornet sedan for testing. This despite the fact that the Hornet is a unibody architecture and not a body-on-frame.
AMC called its Hornet line of all-wheel-drive unicorns “Eagle,” and thus was born the first crossover SUV from an American automaker. And all for the relatively cheap price of $6.5 million for added production costs. It wasn’t an all-terrain animal, but for northern climates or mountain excursions, it certainly beat a sedan/truck/anything else.
What year did America’s first crossover debut?
The AMC Eagle was introduced in 1980. Without creating lines to buy it, over 45,000 found buyers in the first year. Keep in mind that the base price for a 1980 Jeep Wagoneer 4×4 was $9,732. The base price for an Eagle was $7,700. Many were willing to overlook the benefits of a Wagoneer for the practicality and price of an Eagle wagon or sedan.
All Eagles feature AMC’s ubiquitous 4.2-liter inline-six engine. In those days when emissions equipment was throttling, 112 hp was the best this old power plant could produce. Three-speed automatics were also standard, with a solid rear axle and independent front suspension. Many were built with the optional faux wood panels.
For 1981, AMC borrowed GM’s four-cylinder and hooked it up to a manual transmission. Part-time all-wheel drive also became an option, becoming standard in 1982. But new parent Renault had bigger plans, but not for the Eagle.
When Renault took a majority stake in AMC in the early 1980s, it did so to give its own range an integrated parts and dealership network, as well as marketing and administration. So the Eagle became a back row entity as it moved its own lines into AMC. Do you remember the Alliance? It was just a crappy Renault with AMC logos.
And that was AMC’s problem. His savior made rotten cars. The joy in Kenosha was therefore short-lived. In 1987, it was all over, as Chrysler came along, bought the company, and phased out anything not built with a Pentastar. 1988 was therefore the last year of production of the Eagle.
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