1988-92 Eagle Premier, 1990-92 Dodge Monaco, and 1988-89 Eagle Medallion
American Motors Corporation (AMC), while owned by Renault, noted that Grand Wagoneer buyers had the highest average income of any American-made car or truck — around $100,000 per year, in the 1980s. The Jeep Cherokee, a more modest vehicle with fewer creature comforts, enjoyed a buyer base with an average income of around $50,000, similar to the Cadillac Deville. As Dan Minick wrote:
Chrysler saw that the people who bought these vehicles didn’t have Chryslers or even Lincolns in the garage next to the Jeep. Volvo, Mercedes, Audi, etc were the garage roommates of the Cherokee and Grand Wagoneers. 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 to Volvo, Audi, etc. If Jeep is attracting those ’type’ of buyers, why can’t we do the same with a car line? That is what the Premier was supposed to do, and the Vision, and the 300M (which was originally going to be an Eagle).
AMC was, at the time, owned by Renault, which made a car in the appropriate size: the Renault 25. This provided AMC with the basic dimensions and architecture for the car they would develop internally, using parts and designs from Renault as needed, in the same way that had, in the past, built GM, Chrysler, and Ford components into Jeeps.
Thus, the engine was the “Douvrin” 90° V6 created and built by PRV, the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo joint venture; the multiple-point-injected 3-liter powerplant produced 150 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 171 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, more power than the 3.0 liter Mitsubishi V6 used by Chrysler at the time. ZF, a high-end transmission maker, provided a four-speed automatic transmission for the V6, at a time when Chrysler was still relying on three-speeds in every vehicle. With the V6, the Premier did 0-60 in a respectable, for the time, ten seconds flat, according to press releases of the time.
The electronics came from Renault and Bendix Europe (Renix), with a self-diagnosing radio, an exclusive for that time (thanks, Gaston Chouinard). The interior was created by AMC, working under Richard Teague; it had numerous unique features, some better than others. To go through the various vent modes, one had to use an up-down button, a non-ergonomic design. Most of the controls were in two pods, one on the right and one on the left; the latter included lights and wipers. More useful was the computer controlled climate system, which held off on blowing the heater fan until the heater core had warmed up.
The base model Eagle Premier (LX) did not use the European V6, but instead used AMC’s own, reliable and powerful 2.5 liter four-cylinder. It had electronic fuel injection with a single throttle-body injector, and produced 111 horsepower and 142 lb-ft of torque; it had a different (AR4) four-speed automatic. With that engine, the Premier did 0-60 in a respectable (for the time) 11.5 seconds.
Famed engineering chief Francois Castaing demanded a north-south engine configuration, while most front-wheel-drive cars used an east-west configuration; the north-south design was similar to that used by American rear-wheel-drive cars, and could have allowed for the Premier to be sold in rear wheel drive form.
The four-door, five- passenger front-wheel-drive Eagle Premier ended up being a cross between a sleek European road car and a spacious American sedan. Built in Bramalea (Ontario), it was the roomiest car in its class and quite aerodynamic — more so than the Ford Taurus, more so than any Chrysler Corporation product since 1971, with a drag coefficient of 0.31. The front suspension used MacPherson struts; the independent rear suspension was a unique AMC design by AMC chief suspension engineer Bob Batchelor which incorporated torsion bars. This design was a transverse-mount system, but Batchelor, who had come from Chrysler and had designed the M-body system, had learned from the problems with that suspension. Bob Sheaves wrote:
Chrysler developed longitudinal torsion bars into a high science, but the transverse bars of the M-body (when used in police service) had an annoying tendency to allow the front suspension to lose alignment whenever a curb was hit. The same engineer (Bob Batchelor) responsible for the M-body design corrected the problems on the [Eagle] Premier, in that the bars were “folded” together into a single, more compact design that was more rigid in bending and smoother riding, due to lower rate and greater travel.
The Premier was, for its size, the lightest car that Chrysler built at the time (shipping weight of 2999 lbs.), and the stiffest (torsionally), and the best riding (almost 8.7 inches of wheel travel vs. 4.5 for the K cars).
The interior of the LX featured standard six-passenger seating, with bench seats in both front and rear. The standard four-speed automatic transmissions were therefore operated using a column shifter. The ES models had seating for five, with buckets in front in place of the bench. These buckets seats were optional in the LX, and a console mounted gear shift was optional in both LX and ES.
The AMC-engineered, Renault-badged Premier was to join the Alliance and Encore in AMC showrooms, perhaps an odd choice given that AMC was more closely associated with Jeep, and had been the primary engineering force behind the car. A coupe (to be called Allure) and wagon were planned, along with a manual-transmission version. However, events were unfolding which would change AMC’s plans.
Chrysler makes its mark on the “Renault Premier”
With AMC’s low sales, and the inability of Renault to make staying in the United States worthwhile, the parent company started casting about for a buyer. AMC had signed an agreement with Chrysler to build its M-body cars in Kenosha, but sought buyers in Asia and Europe, as well as North America. When Chrysler bought AMC, many said it was just to acquire Jeep; but Chrysler might have had other reasons, including wanting to revitalize its own engineering and manufacturing processes. AMC moved quickly and could create a new car for much less money than the Big Three.
Chrysler engineering was revolutionized as Francois Castaing took over as Chrysler’s chief engineer; he quickly instituted AMC’s fast, efficient engineering processes, resulting in a complete renewal of Chrysler’s product line and massive profits from 1992 until Daimler took over financial reporting. Chrysler credited the changes to a small team of engineers who had visited Honda’s facilities, but most of the results were due to Francois Castaing’s standard modus operandi. One could argue that AMC’s engineering team would have been worth the purchase price, with or without Jeep. And Jeep was on a roll: the Grand Wagoneer was about to be supplanted by the presumably-cheaper-to-make Grand Cherokee.
Chrysler dropped the AMC and Renault brands and created a new brand (much as AMC had done with Hudson and Nash), Eagle, named after AMC’s compact 4x4, which finished its days as the Eagle Eagle. The Renault Premier was hastily rebadged to Eagle Premier before going on sale (just as the second-generation Eagle Vision would, at the last minute, become Chrysler 300M, and as the Plymouth PT Cruiser would become the Chrysler PT Cruiser).
Chrysler’s marketing people seemed unsure what to do with the new lines, and demolished AMC’s plans to make the Premier a high-end car that would share a garage with wealthy buyers’ Grand Wagoneers and Cherokees. As Dan Minick pointed out, Eagle was thrown together with:
- a legacy 4x4 AMC, the Eagle, in its ninth and final year;
- a low-end Mitsubishi (Summit), also sold as the Colt Wagon and Mitsubishi Mirage,
- the Renault R21 (Medallion), which had to be sold by Chrysler due to contract provisions with Renault, and, in later years,
- a rebadged, restyled Mitsubishi sports car already sold as a Plymouth (Laser / Talon)
Would buyers of prestige vehicles would want to buy a car that shared its nameplate in that motley crowd? The evidence shows they did not: AMC targeted 260,000 sales for the Premier, but only around 140,000 were sold during its full model run, from 1988 to a partial 1992, even after the Dodge Monaco variant was added.
Part of the problem was marketing, even outside of the Eagle fiasco. Dan Minick wrote: “Chrysler aimed the low line models against Taurus, and the ES and Limited against Acura and Volvo. Confusion reigned, and Eagle ended up competing against corresponding Chrysler and Dodge models.”
The Eagle Premier and Dodge Monaco
Sales started slowly. While the Premier, in LX and ES form, was meant to be a car-companion to Jeep, attracting affluent buyers, its stablemates defeated the purpose, and in its first year, only 45,546 Premiers were built. The four-cylinder weighed 2,858 pounds, the V6 2,960; this compared with the 1988 Eagle Eagle, which was much smaller inside and weighed 3,502 pounds. The starting price for the Premier was $13,104 — $14,079 with the V6.
While Eagle Premier was the roomiest car in its class, beating the Taurus, Sable, Lumina, Toyota Cressida, and Grand Prix, and was more aerodynamic than most cars, the critics seemed to only have eyes for the Taurus, despite the latter’s problems with transmissions, catalytic converters, and fires.
Bob Benoit wrote that the original model (1988) of the Premier had AMC build plates on the driver’s door, and even in 1989 the Premier an emissions decal under the hood that stated, “American Motors Corporation” and then in tiny letters, “Built by Chrysler.” All models still had radiator hoses with the AMC logo. [This might have been a result of the substantially lower than expected volumes, as pre-existing AMC parts were used.]
For 1989, Eagle added an ES Limited sedan, with an all white exterior (including grille and fascias); it had 15 inch aluminum wheels, leather covered seats, air conditioning, power windows, locks, mirrors, and seats, a better audio system, and the V6. The transmission was modified for 1989 to make downshifts smoother, the power steering was boosted, and the LX and ES models made some formerly optional equipment standard, including an electric rear window defogger and floor mats; the base dashboard without tachometer was dropped. Sales were similar, with 41,349 made. That was better than the new Eagle Summit, which managed just over 27,000 U.S. sales.
Chrysler bragged in its press materials that the 1988 Premier sales of 40,872 (the difference between production and sales might have been due to the use of U.S. sales figures vs overall production, or could have been an error) were almost 24% higher than sales of the Acura Legend during the same period. For the first five months of 1989, indeed, Premier sales were 33% higher than the prior year; then they fell.
The Eagle Premier buyers were apparently similar in income to the Jeep Cherokee buyers: ES buyers were, on average, 45 years old, with an average income of over $55,000; half were college-educated and over 70% of Premier sales were to non-Chrysler customers at that point.
In 1990, the Eagle Premier lost its unpopular four-cylinder engine, and moved the shifter from the column to the floor; four-wheel power disc brakes were added, and blackout trim, and stainless steel exhausts were made standard. Options added for the model year were a CD player and new wheels. The ES came with 15 inch wheels and P205/60R15 performance tires standard, and the ES / ES Limited’s suspension was made more responsive. The electrical system was greatly revised, with Chrysler parts substituted for troublesome European pieces; this new system existed in only cars made between July 1990 and December 1991. Minor sheet metal changes led to the removal of the Design Giugiaro badges; the nameplates were revised at the same time, and two new colors were added. Inside, shoulder belts were added two the two outer rear seat positions.
The 1990 model year also saw the Mitsubishi-made Eagle Talon join the lineup, supplementing the Mitsubishi-made Eagle Summit. Despite extra showroom traffic for the Talon, or perhaps because of it, Premier production plummeted down to a mere 14,243. One could blame the addition of the Dodge Monaco (see below), but even combined, the two failed to reach the Premier’s 1989 sales.
For 1991, Eagle provided automatic temperature control and air conditioning on all models, along with dual remote control mirrors, cruise control, and tilt wheel; antilock brakes became standard in ES Limited, optional in lesser models. A distributorless ignition system was added, perhaps as an experiment on a slow-selling vehicle (á la Spirit R/T). The Limited got a new grille and taillamps. Changes were made to transmission and engine cooling, the engine computer, fuel pump and tank, front and rear suspensions (to reduce harshness), and driveline shafts; considerable soundproofing was added. Yet sales continued to fall, with 11,634 made.
The 1992 model was largely to use up leftover parts. The grille and tail lamps were carryovers from the 1991 Limited. Some cars were sold fully equipped for $11,000, a bargain even in those days (list price was $15,716 for LX and $20,212 for ES Limited). Production ceased in December of 1992 as the Bramalea plant was converted to LH production, thus ending production of the last AMC-designed car. Premier production was just 4,730. At that, it managed to beat the Summit sedan, albeit not the Summit hatch. The Eagle Talon, despite grabbing headlines, only hit production of 27,945 units.
The Premier itself was not totally discontinued; its design was adapted into the LH, which took over the factory which had been built for the Premier. The legacy of that car that carries through to today is the rear disc brake design that was put directly into the Viper and the North-South orientation of the engine carried over into the LH models and the new LH replacements (Concorde, Intrepid, LHS, and 300M).
Eventually, due to slow sales of the Premier, Chrysler added a Dodge version, the Monaco. This also languished, however, despite — or perhaps because of — the recognizable name. Perhaps selling a Chrysler version with a new name would have helped; or perhaps customers simply rejected the car itself.
In 1990, Dodge brought out the Monaco in LE and ES trim; the Monaco had a curved-crosshair grille, similar to the Dodge Spirit of the same year. Standard features included reclining bucket seats, a center console, rear window defroster, stereo, and stainless steel exhaust, with ES adding a cassette player, air conditioning, four wheel disc brakes, leather-wrapped wheel, two-tone paint, 205/70R14 tires, and a touring suspension with a rear sway bar. Despite the clear advantages over the Dodge Dynasty, which moved nearly 95,000 units, just 7,153 Dodge Monacos were made.
For 1991, Dodge Monaco got the same changes as Eagle Premier, plus blackout treatment in the front and rear fascias. Production rose somewhat, to 12,436 cars; this was just over 10% of the Dynasty’s sales, despite critical acclaim for the Monaco and scorn for the Dynasty. The two cars were similarly priced, and were similar in size and weight, but the Monaco was larger inside in every dimension except rear headroom; the Premier/Monaco’s trunk was larger by half a cubic foot, and the V6 had the same torque as the base Dynasty engine, but with 9 extra horsepower in a similar-weight body. Chrysler’s new 3.3 liter V6 was available in the Dynasty; it still had a little less horsepower than the PRV six, but boasted more torque.
In its final year, just 1,960 Dodge Monacos were produced; that was 2% of Dynasty sales. The Viper notified people that a new era was coming, and just in time, as traditional K-architecture Dodges, Plymouths, and Chryslers were falling in sales and repute, and Chrysler was facing hard economic times. The Monaco and Premier may not have been big seller, but the methods used to engineer them and some of their design characteristics would be the basis for a new generation of cars that would make Chrysler the hot brand for a few happy years.
Other Readers’ Reports
Christophe Masset clarified that the Eagle Medallion (Renault 21) was built in the Renault plant of Maubeuge, France, and that is the reason why “imported for Eagle” badges were on their backs.
Bob Benoit wrote (in the mid-1990s):
The body was a fresh design by Design Guliaro of Italy. The interior was AMC designed with the exception of the turn signal flipper which was Renault. The engine is a 3.0 liter Peugeot/Renault/ Volvo (PRV) design also found in the DeLorean.
The North/South orientation of the engine is a strong preference of Francois Castaing (head of the Premier Design Team) who came to Chrysler with the AMC acquisition. He became Chief Engineer for Chrysler and greatly influenced the LH design thus the North South orientation of the LH engines. Did you know that Viper used the rear disc brake system right out of the Premier?
Originally AMC was to build three models on the Premier platform, a station wagon, a two door sport coupe called the Allure, and a four door sedan. It is interesting to note that the Eagle Vision did not sell in higher volumes than the Premier. I am the proud owner of a 1989 Premier Limited and it is by far the best of 11 cars that I have owned.
Finally, Francis Gerard Fay wrote:
The Eagle Premier was derived from the R25. I have owned an Eagle Premier since 1989 and also have driven a Renault 25. I have many photos of both cars. Mr. Benoit is correct in that the Eagle was re-styled by Guliaro and Dick Teague did the interior of the Premier for AMC but the basic car is Renault derived.
The car was originally to be marketed in the USA by AMC as a Renault. In October 1987, I saw my first Premier in Massachusetts at the Chrysler Zone office and it sported a Renault diamond emblem on the grill.
The factory that was built to manufacture these cars was built over a period of years. The car was being developed in concert with the factory’s development. Chrysler’s acquisition of AMC came just prior to the car’s introduction, thus the change of badging and labels was rushed but the car’s production was not.
Troubleshooting and Repairs
The transmissions seems to be a sore spot.
If the seat belt light comes on when the ignition is off, mchamber suggested removing the chime module (under the dash, against the fire-wall, near the parking brake) wiping the male contacts with a wire brush. Unfortunately, the locking tab is against the firewall and force must be used to pull the module from the female connector.
Andre Beaulieu wrote (on Usenet): When your car cranks and does not start, open the hood, look straight at the firewall: there’s some sort of a black box, attached dead center, high on the firewall. All the injector wires run to it. Jiggle the box for about 3 seconds, close the hood, go back in your car, and your engine will start! Don’t bother to reinforce, open and clean and grease that box, it does not change anything.
Gaston Chouinard listed some recalls: in 1988, the catalytic muffler and oxygen sensor; some models need front rotor replacement due to the possibility of separation from the hub wheel; the “Prestone canister cap;” and the master cylinder. These recalls do not necessarily affect every vehicle made; check with NHTSA.
Larry wrote: “The Premier has the alternator mounted in the lower part of the engine, front left, which could lead to the premature demise of the alternator. To deflect road splash from the alternator, there is a plastic shield under the alternator in the 1991 models (possibly on earlier ones as well). If your car does not have such a shield, one should be installed, even if makeshift.”
Eagle Premier and Dodge Monaco specifications and comparisons
|Front/Rear Track||57.6||58.1 / 57.1||63|
|Overall Height||55.7||53.3 (1988)
|Legroom (F/R)||41.9 / 38.9||43.8 / 39.4||41.8 / 40.2|
|Shoulder Room (F/R)||56.4 / 55.9||57.8 / 56.9||59.4 / 57.7|
|Hip Room (F/R)||51.2 / 51.7||54.8 / 53.9||55.9 / 55.9|
|Headroom (F/R)||38.3 / 37.8||38.5 / 37.5||38.7 / 38.0|
|Cargo volume||16.5 cubic feet||17.0 cubic feet||15.6 cubic feet|
|Weight (1991 V6 / 2006 V6)||3,066||2,983 - 3,060||3,700 - 4,000|
|0-60||Unknown||10 seconds||10.5 sec (2.7)
8.5 sec (3.5)
|Gas mileage (EPA)||20/26 (3.0 l)||22/30 (I-4)
|Power/Torque||3.0: 141 hp / 171 lb-ft
3.3: 147 hp / 183 lb-ft
|2.5: 111 hp / 142 lb-ft
3.0: 150 hp / 171 lb-ft
|Towing||1,000 lb||EPA Interior Space||122.1 cubic feet|
|Wheel travel||8.7 inches||V6 compression||9.3:1|
|Bore x stroke||3.66 x 2.87||V6 engine size||3.0 liters / 180 cid|
|Front suspension||MacPherson struts, plastic ball joints, 1.02" stabilizer bar|
|Rear suspension||Torsion-bar based; trailing arms with .94" stabilizer bar.|
|EPA vehicle class||Large car|