Eagle: the brand, the cars

eagle logoHudson and Nash, caught in the crossfire of a GM-Ford sales war, merged to become American Motors Corporation, hoping for economies of scale. They fought for years against long odds, but eventually Renault bought a controlling share in an attempt to sell French cars in the US; then Renault sold out to Chrysler Corporation in 1987.

Chrysler dropped the AMC name, replacing it with Eagle (after a heavy 4x4 compact car) in 1988. The last actual AMC Eagle was made in 1987, as a 1988 model; there were no Eagle Eagles.

The brand lasted for just ten years, starting out as a motley collection of AMCs and ending as one of many American “import killer” brands.

amc eagle SX/4 Sport 258

One reason for keeping AMC was that Chrysler had agreed to sell Renaults; another was the new AMC Premier, renamed to Eagle Premier in mid-1988. Built in Bramalea, Ontario, it was the roomiest car in its class and quite aerodynamic. With an advanced suspension and a European multiple-point-injected V-6 hooked up to a four-speed automatic, it was reportedly quite nice to drive; but the PRV engine was a source of reliability complaints and the car never caught on.

1990 Eagle Premier

Since Eagle was being positioned as a premium brand, the sporty, American-made Mitsubishi Eclipse was altered enough to sell as the Eagle Talon, with some success in its early years.

eagle talon TSi

Sales were slow, partly because Eagle dealers were selling odds and ends: leftover AMCs, the Renault/AMC hybrid, Mitsubishis, an LH (each depending on the year). Mainly, Eagle was a sideshow. The Premier was selling poorly enough to get a rebadged version, the Dodge Monaco, which was also a slow seller. Eventually, in October 1997, Chrysler announced it would end the Eagle name and franchise in 1998.

The Eagle car strategy

In the late 1980s, the Grand Wagoneer’s buyers had the highest average income of any American vehicle, while Cherokee held a spot equal to Cadillac Deville buyers (median income around $50,000 — over $100,000 in 2016 dollars). Buyers didn’t have Chryslers or even Lincolns; Volvo, Mercedes, Audi, and other premium imports were Jeep’s garage roommates. Chrysler said, why can't we provide a car that those people would consider buying while they're at the Jeep dealer instead of losing those sales? If Jeep is attracting those buyers, why can’t we do the same with a car line?

1986 Grand Wagoneer at the St. Regis Hotel

That is what the Premier was supposed to do, and the Vision, and the 300M (which was originally going to be an Eagle). Eagle was supposed to try and capture import buyers.

The Eagle Summit (a rebadged Mitsubishi Colt/Mirage) was a stopgap intended to give Alliance/Encore owners somewhere to go for a few years. The Eagle Medallion, made in France, had to be sold for a couple of years, due to agreements with Renault; sales were so low it ended up being sold as the Dodge Monaco as well.

Outsiders were likely unsure of what the Premier’s mission was. Chrysler aimed the low line models against Taurus, and the ES and Limited against Acura and Volvo. Perhaps it would have been better to abandon volume for profit, selling it against higher-end models and simply dropping the cheap Summit.

The LH Eagle Vision replaced the Premier in 1993. The sportiest of the Chrysler LH series, it had the 3.5 liter V6 engine and a high end interior.

Eagle Vision

Eagle ended up competing against Chrysler and Dodge instead of imports. In the 1990s, leaders decided to eventually dual Jeep-Eagle with Chrysler-Plymouth, with the long-term goal of phasing out both Eagle and, eventually, Plymouth. Chrysler-Jeep would become the “upper-crust” division with Dodge handling the mainstream.

As for the cars: the Mitsubishis Summit was dropped, the Talon moved to Dodge (Avnger), and the Vision was hurriedly changed to the Chrysler 300M — reportedly some cars had to have the nameplates switched at the factory, but that may hav been apocryphal.

Overall, Eagle now appears to have been a stopgap, but when first launched, it must have been seen as a savior by some in the corporation, a necessary respones to Americans’ love of imports. Neither one thing nor the other, though, Eagle not only straddled national borders, but also price classes, and that is likely what killed it. Mercedes would lose a good deal of its attraction if it started with cheap subcompacts (which is why Smart is a separate brand), and ended with a good but decidedly mainstream sedan. Eagle, chasing both premium and low-end buyers of import cars with a mix of Japanese, French, and North American cars, was likely doomed from the start.

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