Automotive History: 1980 Eagle Turbo-Diesel – Seven Were Built, One Still Survives, Not Running

The Great American Diesel Boom saw diesels go into a wide variety of cars and trucks, but I’d never heard of one in the Eagle. Sure enough: if you were willing to pay twice the price(!) of a loaded Eagle Limited, you could have been one of seven lucky buyers to end up with a “factory authorized” American Eagle Turbo-Diesel.

And one survives, but only barely.

Here’s what went into making one: an Italian VM Motori HR-692-HTA inline six, with 3.59 L (219 ci) and making a healthy 150 hp, compared to the 4.2 L gas six’s 110 hp. This is one in a family of VM diesels that were more commonly seen in their four cylinder version, powering later European diesel versions of the Dodge Caravan, numerous Alfa Romeos, and various Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee and the Jeep Liberty, among others.

The Eagles were shipped to American Turbo-Diesel’s shop in San Fernando, CA, where the transplant took place. That involved fabricating a new cross member and engine mounts, among other things. The VM diesel weighed some 200lbs more than the gas six, and the final conversion weighed over 400lbs more, although I’m at a loss to explain exactly why.

That dulled its performance, so it was only a shade faster to 60 than the gasser. Fuel economy was 20 mpg, compared to 16 for the stock version. At that rate, it would take quite a few trips around the globe to recoup the almost 100% premium for the diesel engine. No wonder only seven were sold. Or actually, one wonder how seven were ever sold.

And here’s the sole survivor, sitting forlornly at The Rambler Ranch in Colorado, along with some other 50 (gas) Eagles. Someone bought it in 2010, intending to fix the engine and get it running, but gave up after a couple of years and donated it to the Rambler Ranch. Looks like its sinking back into the earth, from where it sprang.