I’m not sure I could call myself an AMC aficionado if I had never owned an Eagle. As a kid in the 90’s I was always fascinated by them; they were just so unique. I wouldn’t say that they were a common sight, but were certainly seen way more often than any Hornet, Gremlin, Matador or Ambassador combined. After my Toyota Pickup met an early demise, I was tasked with finding a practical, reliable vehicle to serve as its replacement delivering the mail. Yup; I found a way to rationalize buying a 23-year-old, weird-looking, obsolete station wagon upon which 600 households depended to get their mail.
Would you believe I bought this thing for $500? Granted, these are the pics taken after I had done more work to it then I had planned. It was in decent condition when purchased, its rust confined mostly to the rocker panels (like almost every AMC), and had only 180 000 kms. Like the great majority of AMC Eagles, it was powered by the venerable 258 6 cylinder backed by a Torqueflite automatic.
As has been a recurring theme in my COAL series, this car found me and just begged to be given some attention. A chef roommate of mine used to talk glowingly of the AMC Eagle his server friend used to drive back in their partying days at the ski resort in Lake Louise, AB. Turns out the friend, who now lived in Calgary, still had the Eagle, but had parked it due to a broken transmission mount and bought something newer to replace it. It was occupying his only parking spot at his apartment and he was reluctantly forced to sell it. His reluctance was due to the fact that his father had bought it new and they had both loved and cared for this wagon. After a phone call, I agreed to buy it sight unseen, and he agreed to sell it to me provided I fix her up, hence the low price.As this car was a Saskatchewan-registered car sold in Alberta to a BC resident, it would have to undergo an out-of-province inspection. I had to replace the windshield, brake pads and linings, and a few other small items. The transmission mount was found to be fine, and I never experienced any of the scary shaking the past owner had warned me about. I performed the usual full tune-up and I was on the road in one of my favourite childhood vehicles.
Since this was an old car, I was not naive enough to expect it to be completely trouble free. Given my lengthy history with beaters up to that point, I figured my mechanical and organizational skills had evolved to the point where any work/improvements that would need to be done to the Eagle could happen on the weekends. The Eagle would be needed daily Monday through Friday without exception.The Eagle did really well for the first few months. Its size was perfect for the job, the rear hatch allowed very easy access to the mail, and permitted me to play some tunes while sticking the mail in the boxes. It wasn’t fast, but kept up on the highway, and rode far smoother than I thought it would. Gas mileage was actually pretty decent too; I averaged in the 17 mpg range. Compared to what I was used to, this was a high end luxury car.
Since I was used to Gremlins and Hornets upon which the Eagle was obviously based, the interior was a revelation in comfort. While it’s not exactly fair to compare an older stripper Hornet to an Eagle, I’m going to anyway.
Hornet: church pew seats, thin cardboard door panels, cheap plastic dashboard, ugly steering wheel, and most importantly, lots of road noise and rattles.
Eagle: comfortable bucket seats, thick padded door panels, less-cheap plastic dashboard with console shifter, decent tilt steering wheel and little road noise or rattles. The only persistent rattle I remember on the Eagle was from the same cheap plastic shelf below the dashboard that it shared with the Hornet.
For a guy who wasn’t even used to power steering, this car was a big leap forward into modernity. I know that says more about me than the car . This was the first car I owned with cruise control (it even worked), a sunroof (it leaked), a roof rack, and of course four-wheel drive.
I remember the first time I flipped the select drive switch to 4wd while trying to climb an icy hill. The car spun out just the same as it had in 2wd. What the hell? A crawl under the car confirmed that the switch wasn’t activating the little motor that pushed the lever on the transfer case. A 9/16″ wrench on the bolt however would push the lever every time. Not the most convenient way to engage 4wd, but the vacuum hose mess that controlled the motor on the transfer case never had a problem going from 4wd to 2wd.
Like pretty much all 258s that came from the factory in the 80’s with a plastic valve cover, mine leaked. It was quickly replaced with the aluminum one you see above, which cured it of its leaky ways. Soon, other issues reared their heads. The radiator was badly corroded and the heater produced little heat. Replacement parts were found but they weren’t exactly cheap. Work was done in time over the weekends, but the fear of not getting the car fixed in time was starting to stress me out.
Stupid little parts started breaking. First the driver’s door handle, then a rear hatch hinge, than a heater cable. Ever try and close a hatch with strong struts and only one hinge? It’s quite a wrestling match. The inability to get in the driver door or rear hatch really hampered my work. The door handle was removed so I could yank the rod through the hole in the door, and I avoided the rear hatch by using the rear doors while I sourced parts. An Eagle was found in a junkyard 500 kms away and the parts were mailed to me, but again it wasn’t cheap.
One night I was fiddling with the carburetor for some reason and dropped the tiny needle valve that sat where the fuel line enters the carb. I combed every inch of the gravel where I dropped it but it couldn’t be found. What an incredibly stupid way to disable a car. I had to borrow my roommate’s minivan for work while trying to find a way to buy this needle valve. I went to every shop and parts store around to no avail. It was then that I decided I would have to find a parts car.
Fortunately, one was quickly found only 50 kms away, I paid the guy $200 and grabbed the stupid needle valve immediately. I installed it in my car, rented a u-haul dolly and drove back to pick up the car. I really wish I had pics of me hauling my hatchback Eagle with my wagon Eagle.After a few more months of problem free motoring I felt it was time to address the deficiencies in the suspension. The car wasn’t tall enough; it needed more ground clearance. That’s not true, but the rear springs were starting to sag so I figured the time was right for a mild suspension lift and rebuild. The plan was to do the rear end over one weekend and the front over another, and it mostly worked. New springs were installed in the rear with more arch and extra leaves as well, and was completed over the weekend. It gave me about a 2″ lift over stock.
The front end proved far more involved. I went with a coil spring spacer to give me a 1 1/2″ lift, but it was an epic battle getting those springs in and out. Compressing coil springs always makes me nervous, but add the confined area and really long springs with the spacer, and I was ready to duck at any time. While I had everything apart I swapped in polyurethane bushings and replaced any other components that were looking ugly. All in all, it took longer than a weekend but my roommate was again kind enough to let me borrow her lovely Dodge Caravan.
Now that I had the room, it was time to up-size the rims to some Grand Cherokee aluminum rims I had found in the online classifieds. Yeah, they rubbed a bit; 235/75R15 was just too big. Also, my suspension mods made my car ride far more Jeep-like. This was to be expected, but it was still harsher than I expected.
Fast forward a few more months, and a strange intermittent problem began haunting the wagon. It would start then die immediately, at random times. Since I started and stopped the car probably about 50 times a day, this was very problematic. At first I figured it was a fuel delivery issue and replaced the fuel hoses, filter and eventually the fuel pump. The problem went away, but returned a few weeks later. As the carb was getting fuel and the motor had good compression I turned my attention towards the ignition. It was still getting spark but I figured it was too weak to keep the engine running. One by one I replaced the ignition components but the intermittent problem became permanent.
Now I was borrowing various friends vehicles daily and focused all my energies on fixing this stupid problem. I’m a pretty laid back guy but I was really starting to get
stressed angry. I was convinced it was an ignition issue and had gone through the wiring harness looking for shorts and even temporarily borrowed the ignition box off my friend’s ’87 TJ to make sure my replacement wasn’t broken. I was at my wit’s end; I gave myself a deadline of Friday to fix it or I would buy a new vehicle.
Friday came and went without a remedy and I threw my hands up in the air and went to the city and did the unthinkable; I committed to buy a new vehicle. It was game over for the Eagle. Ironically, the mystery was solved the following day. The ignition switch at the firewall was broken and somehow only allowed 4 volts to reach the coil. The switch from the parts car was swapped in and the Eagle was fixed!
The Eagle was sold a few weeks later for $1800, to another guy who always wanted one. When you factor in the amount I spent on parts, I figure I lost some money on the deal but at least the proceeds went towards the down payment on my one and only new vehicle that I’ll detail in a couple weeks. Do I regret hastily giving up on the Eagle? No; it was time I finally got a new vehicle. I do miss it though, and I’d certainly buy another one if it found me.