If we are honest with ourselves, much of what we do is in the nature of reaction to the forces swirling around us, rather than the result of thoughtful planning. In 1987, Chrysler swallowed AMC/Jeep and in the process, created a new brand – the Eagle. The 1993 Vision would become the last new vehicle designated as an Eagle. In 20-20 hindsight, this turned out to be, well, not eagle vision.
When Chrysler bought AMC, it did so to get Jeep. But there was a catch – AMC/Renault had spent a fortune developing the Premier and was under an obligation to buy 260,000 V6 engines from Renault over five years. So, the car had to stay, or else Chrysler would be liable to pay some nasty penalties.
Some thoughtful planning might have figured a way to incorporate the AMC/Renault cars into the Chrysler lineup. But then there was the easy way: just keep the Premier (and the other inherited cars) in the existing AMC/Jeep dealer channel. But the AMC cars would at least need a new name. So, Chrysler resurrected the DeSoto nameplate, and assigned all of the AMC legacy cars to the brand. Kidding. Actually, they did NOT call the cars DeSotos. Instead, they created the Eagle brand (the cars, not the condensed milk). But Eagle or DeSoto, it didn’t really matter.
In fairness to those who gave birth to Eagle, we should remember that DeSoto was born under similar circumstances. Walter Chrysler had tried to buy the Dodge Brothers company. When he failed, he cooked up his own mid-priced car, which became the DeSoto. But before the first DeSoto was built, the Dodge Brothers’ widows changed their minds and Chrysler had both Dodge and DeSoto on his hands. Walter Chrysler (a first-rate auto executive) decided to roll with both. The triumph of reaction over planning is not just a modern phenomenon.
Thus began the Eagle automobile – a collection of misfit orphans. In addition to the Premier, Chrysler continued to offer the Medallion (a Renault), the Eagle wagon (the ancient AMC 4wd version) and the Summit (a Mitsubishi). The plan going forward seemed to be to make Eagle something appealing to the high-income demographic of Jeep customers. But curiously, Chrysler morphed the brand from misfit orphans to a collection of badge-engineered cars that would have made anyone at Mercury or Oldsmobile proud. The Vision was the last (and maybe the best) of them.
The 1993 LH cars were revolutionary in the industry for their large size, their cab-forward architecture, and their forward-thinking engineering and style. Based upon the unloved AMC/Eagle Premier, the platform became one of Chrysler’s best sellers in the 1990s.
Sandwiched between the Dodge Intrepid and the Chrysler Concorde, was this car: the Eagle Vision. Like the DeSotos of yore, the car was virtually identical to its platform-mates and squeezed into the Oldsmobile-sized hole between Dodge and Chrysler. The idea was that the Vision would appeal to a more upscale, euro-centric crowd than the NASCAR-loving neanderthals in the Dodge showrooms and the AARP members shopping the Concordes.
Actually, the Vision sold steadily and reasonably well – about one hundred thousand units per year. But at some point, someone at Chrysler decided to do a little thinking and planning, and wondered just why the DeSoto – er- I mean – Eagle was really necessary. Whether it was the planned Daimler merger or just simple analysis, Jeeps were folded into Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships (some of which were converted from Jeep-Eagle franchises) and the Eagle joined DeSoto in the Chrysler Museum of Dead Brands.
A couple of confessions are in order here. First, every time I see one of these (a rarer and rarer occurrence), I want to pronounce it as a single word, like “television”. This is because when my oldest son (at about age 3) first learned about the existence of this car, that is what he called it – an EAGLEvision. I have never been able to shake it.
Second (and more reasonably) I have always considered the Vision to be the best looking of all of the first generation LH cars. The Intrepid was fine until you got to the strange taillights that were too small and too high, and I never cared for the black C-pillar treatment. The Chrysler had that strange grille designed to trick senior citizens into thinking that this was a suitable replacement for their old Newports. The Vision was the whole package – attractive from front to rear. And it never, ever came with a column shifter.
But as nice as the car was, the whole naming thing was just strange. Eagle Vision? I guess this would make their owners Visionairies, which would not be a bad thing. There was also the Eagle Talon. Chrysler never gave us the super-high gas mileage one (the Eagle Feather) or the convertible (Bald Eagle). It is also unfortunate that Chrysler ditched the old Nash/AMC Weather Eye climate system, because it could have been called Eagle Eye. Owners could call their garage the Eagle’s Lodge – but I suppose there would need to be a bar, or at least a keg of beer out there. Enough with the Eagle puns? Awwww – I was just getting started. Maybe this is a task best left to the CC readership. But I digress.
The whole Eagle era (another possible car name?) disappeared quickly, and did not leave much of an imprint on our automotive memories. The Vision was killed at the end of the 1997 models and was forgotten pretty quickly. At least DeSoto left us with some memorable Fireflites and Adventurers, but the brand was around longer, too. I suppose the Mopar faithful were happy to let the DeSoto rest in peace, but it seems to me that the DeSoto and Eagle legacies are about the same.
A car can be a big success if it is 1) a good car and 2) it has a reason to exist. In its day, the Vision nailed the first criterion. Although the first generation LH cars did not age all that gracefully, they were groundbreaking and compelling cars when new. But was there a worthwhile market segment for this car? This, unfortunately, was a box that remained unchecked with the Vision. This car (and the whole Eagle experiment) showed that in his ability to read the market, Lee Iacocca and the rest of his team did not always soar with the Eagles. But they did leave us with a really cool logo, as well the best of the early LH cars.