The history of American Motors Corporation (AMC) begins with the 1954 merger of Nash and Hudson and ends with its acquisition by Chrysler in March of 1987. Just a few months later, on this day in 1987, AMC Eagle production came to a close. The last AMC Eagle was not quite the end of the line for American Motors, but all in the industry knew it was drawing near. Lee Iacocca, the head of Chrysler at the time, had made it known that the AMC acquisition was primarily to secure the highly profitable Jeep brand. The 4×4 AMC Eagle, looked back upon as one of the first crossovers in an era before the term existed, didn’t make the cut despite its quality sales.
AMC Eagle History
First introduced for the 1980 model year, the AMC originally offered the Eagle as a 4×4 coupe, sedan, and station wagon. The following year a coach built convertible option could also be had. However, by 1984 shoppers were left with only sedan and wagon variants. At the time of its introduction and for most of its life, the Eagle was the only 4×4 passenger car available on the market. Based on the AMC Concord, the Eagle received a straight six engine and a full-time AWD system in its first years on the market.
The niche vehicle proved so popular that AMC halted Pacer production so it could meet demand. By the end of the 1980 model year 9,956 four-door sedans, 10,616 two-door sedans and 25,807 station wagons left the Kenosha, Wisconsin factory. Those 45,379 vehicles pushed total AMC sales to 199,613 vehicles that year, an 18% over 1979.
Over the next few years significant changes occurred to the Eagle lineup. A four cylinder and manual transmission became standard and midway through 1981 Select Drive became an option. This allowed drivers to select rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive functionality with the flip of a switch. When first introduced cars had to be stationary to use the feature, but in 1984 a shift on the fly option was introduced.
The Last Years of the AMC
In 1985 the AMC Eagle received some innovative touches, such as keyless entry and digital radio tuning. While the vehicle seemed to be a winner at the time, AMC took financial hit after financial hit. It’s primary owner, Renault, suffered huge losses in Europe, which trickled across the Atlantic. Following the assassination of Renault boss Georges Besse, the company became determined to unload the American automaker from its portfolio. Around the same time Chrysler had already struck a deal with AMC to assemble some of its vehicles. This led to immediate rumors that Chrysler would take over AMC. They were not wrong.
On March 9, 1987 Chrysler agreed to purchase all of Renaults shares of AMC, and the rest of its outstanding stock, for about $1.5 billion. Lee Iacocca made it known that the deal was geared primarily for three reasons, to acquireJeep, AMC’s new assembly plant in Canada, and AMC’s network of 1,300 dealerships nationwide. On March 10, 1987 and LA Times article quotes Lee A. Iacocca saying:
For Chrysler, the attractions are Jeep, the best-known automotive brand name in the world; a new… assembly plant at Bramalea, Canada, and a third distribution system giving us access to a larger market.
The End of AMC
Following Chrysler’s takeover, AMC Eagle production continued, but only briefly. For the 1988 model year, the name changed to Eagle Wagon, as, only the wagon variant was available. That year the car came with a host of standard equipment previously had by option only, such as air conditioning, an adjustable steering wheel and a rear window defroster. The last AMC Eagle Wagon rolled off the line at the AMC Brampton Assembly Plant in Brampton, Ontario on December 14, 1987. Only 2,306 wagons left the factory for 1988. Jeep Wrangler production was ramped up to replace the Eagle. On August 25, 1988, American Motors became the Jeep-Eagle Corporation, a division of Chrysler. AMC was no more, but a new Eagle lineup was launched. Chrysler produced Eagle brand automobiles through 1998.