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.
I like how they tout 0-60 in 13 seconds as “High Performance” LOL
I am simultaneously impressed and appalled.
Of the two, the diesel was higher revving engine.
395 pounds for the 258 sounds remarkably light. Multiple sources list 500 pounds for the 199 ci variant of this engine, and the iron Chrysler slant-six weighed 475 pounds.
What happened to the other six cars? I’d think that as expensive curiosities they would be likely to have lead easy lives and to have been parked rather than scrapped when they stopped being useful.
Agreed. it’s more like 483-500 lbs.
You answered your own question: “expensive curiosities” meaning expensive to keep running. Certainly not “valuable”. Hence they obviously were scrapped a long time ago. Why not?
Compare to 320 lbs. for the Buick/Olds/Rover/MG/Triumph/TVR/Morgan all aluminum 3.5 – 5.2L. V8 of 1951 – 2000+…
Expensive and terrible cars often have very high survival rates. Examples that spring to mind include DeLoreans, Bricklins, Jensen-Healeys, and all manner of neo classics. Maybe the American Turbo-Diesel Eagles actually worked well enough to get used up, or maybe people just save sports cars that don’t take up a lot of space while making a statement of past physical appeal.
If these had been short-lived wagons, I’d think that some of them would have been squirreled away by owners who didn’t want to admit their defeat and faulty judgement by scrapping a 40,000 mile car that cost as much as a Mercedes-Benz 300D. Many a windfall is now made on Bring A Trailer because someone didn’t want to take a quick loss on some oddball turkey when it refused to get its original owner to work when it was less than three years old.
Sorry, but none of those cars you mentioned are as prosaic as an Eagle wagon that some small outfit swapped in a turbo diesel. They had unique bodies/design.
Sure, it’s easy to say in retrospect that someone should have saved their Eagle diesel, but in 1988 or so when it needed repairs and maintenance, where were you going to go? To the nearest Motori MV dealer? Or to the junkyard?
This is not a DeLorean, by a huge margin. All the cars you named had mass-production engines/drive trains that could be readily repaired.
The Jensen-Healey, with its undeveloped Lotus 907 engine, might be an exception to being easy to repair. I’d say most of the ones I’ve looked at survived because they didn’t run long enough to wear out.
Although ironically, MV Motori motors are in modern Jeep’s today.
Too bad they couldn’t have found their way clear to incorporate this package directly on the line in some way. Made do a run of them time to time.
I have owned several of the inline 6 in gasoline engine variety, and have only ever heard of these diesels, but never seen one. The other rare bird in an Eagle is the fuel injected gas version, only made in ’88 cars the final year.
The great thing about the Eagle was the lightness and agility factor, along with durability and good torque. I imagine in a diesel version that agility went away if it weighed 400 more pounds on the nose. Did the diesel produce better torque ? I imagine so if like other diesels, but spending twice the price is crazy to think about
The other rare bird in an Eagle is the fuel injected gas version, only made in ’88 cars the final year.
The ’88 still had a Carter carburetor.
Another failed AMC expensive boondoggle…
AMC had essentially nothing to do with it. “Factory authorized” means that they approved of the third party conversion, and honored the warranty on non-conversion items, presumably. But I wouldn’t even bet on that. This was all a private undertaking by American Turbo-Diesel. Hence the big price tag.
I’m still left wondering what American Turbo-Diesel spent on the project (developing the engine mounts, actual cost of importing each engine, did the conversion have to be federalized?) Even at nearly a 50% markup I doubt there was a profit made.
Engine swaps are/were very common, as are fabbing up new mounts. Diesels required essentially little or no smog controls at the time, as they naturally had little or no CO or HC emissions, and NOX wasn’t yet barely regulated. It’s a major reason diesels were so popular at the time: no need for emission controls.
Its price was just about 100% more than the original Eagle Limited. That additional $9,000 equals $29k in today’s dollars. You think you couldn’t buy a diesel engine and have someone swap it into an Eagle for less than $29k? There was obviously a substantial profit margin in that price. But the price obviously turned off potential buyers. It was priced way to high.
Plus they could sell the gas engine, FWIW.
Someone needs to let David Tracy of Jalopnik know, this is a great project/article for him!
I have some memories of the great diesel epoch. I do remember the high gas prices, which prompted my father to trade-in his 79 Toronado for a “G”utlass Ciera. I also remember many noisy Olds diesels, and their clouds of exhaust.
It would be nice to save this piece of unusual auto history, of course any investment will likely not be recovered. Still, one would never see another one at any car show – guaranteed!
True Nash DNA. Inline 6 with 7 main bearings. Of course it would have been even more Nashy with two spark plugs per cylinder instead of none, but can’t have everything.
True Nash DNA. Inline 6 with 7 main bearings.
Can you name one new post-1960 six cylinder that didn’t have 7 main bearings?
To me “Nash DNA” is splined rear axles that strip out of the hubs… LOL!
The Triump Spitfire 1500cc 4 cylinder that also came in ’75 & up MG Midgets has only 3 main bearings and is good for about 25,000 miles… Owner’s manual should be read as it says to replace rod bearing at every 25K miles… lube suspension at every 1K miles… they forgot to mention valve springs break at 25K and drop the valves into the engine… Tranny also pukes at 25K…
Chrysler Slant Six had 4 mains.
BTW- great article, I love reading about obscure vehicles from the 70’s and 80’s I had no idea existed.
I said “new post-1960 six cylinder”. The slant six and Falcon six were both designed before 1960. That’s precisely why I used that date..
O.K., I’ll buy that. Didn’t the small Ford 6’s eventually get 7 mains?
Don’t think the smallest Six even had counterweighted crankshaft… it was for low RPMs only…
The Rover OHC six in the SD1, from 1977. I believe the sixes outsold the famous V8, so conservatively, there must have been circa 150,000 sold.
Also, from ’63-’65, BMC Australia sold a 2.4 litre six based on the B-series (that powers every MGB you see), and it had four mains. It failed because it was fitted to the uncompetitive ’59-ish Farina body: why not just buy a Holden? I appreciate this one’s a bit of an obscurity, but still..
Weren’t most British 6’s just upgrades of 1940’s Standard 4’s and 6’s?
The Vanguard then Triumph six, yes, but the Rover one was new in ’77.
But still not much chop, it seems, with valve and head gasket issues.
The (Rover) engine was loosely based on the older Triumph I6 (which it was intended to replace), and shares some internal components with that and the Dolomite Sprint engines. Both the capacity variants use an 81 mm (3.19 in) bore, with a 76 mm (2.99 in) or 84 mm (3.31 in) stroke giving 2.4 or 2.6 L (2,350 or 2,597 cc) capacity respectively.
And wiki is inaccurate. Started out with BL pressure to use the triumph block, but that was abandoned. Just a few bolts in common by the end. New!
You win!! Congratulations.
Leave it to the Brits to design a new six with four main bearings in the 1970s. Of course it can be done, with wide enough bearings and a stout crank. But why be so determinedly anachronistic?
Now how is it that we got from that one random comment to this?
Actually, what WAS the question again?
Just – wow. I have never heard of these, and had never even considered that such a thing was possible.
It is hard to imagine that the engine could not be resurrected – it does not appear that the engine was a unicorn, but a production engine (albeit one from another continent). However, I suppose this car presents one of those problems where the two circles on the Venn diagram do not intersect – people interested in European diesels and people interested in AMC Eagles.
I’m guessing the copy writers were moonlighting from their other jobs as late-night TV-ad pitchmen. Accuracy was merely a suggestion…
“Outcorners Trans Am in soft sand, out-accelerates Mustang Turbo in loose dirt, and outbrakes MGB on dry pavement.”
“First diesel with 92 mm bore instead of 88 mm bore”
“Virtually eliminates need for maintenance or repairs”
“Electric Doors and Windows”
“Outcorners Trans Am in soft sand, out-accelerates Mustang Turbo in loose dirt, and outbrakes MGB on dry pavement.”
LOL !!! … Those were pretty low targets to beat…
That’s only the beginning!
Those kvetching about the price when new should recall: how does it compare with buying a new MB 300TDT and converting it to AWD?
Because that is about the only thing that directly would compare to this. A Volvo 245d had about half the power and wouldn’t be any easier to convert than the Benz, which, btw, stickered over 30k in the early 80s.
I’m sure it was comparison-shopped with the stock 300TD. I’m also sure no potential buyers considered converting one to AWD.
A realistic comparison would’ve been based on TCO vs. a stock Eagle, assuming the VM and 258 maintenance costs would be roughly equal (they almost certainly weren’t) and 1980 fuel prices would hold (they didn’t, but that’s 20/20 hindsight nobody in 1980 had). Even with those assumptions it’d take a lot to amortize the conversion cost.
It does appear to be a nicely designed engine, removable wet cylinder liners is something you rarely see in engines used if light duty vehicles.
The ad though appears to have been written for an April Fools joke.
The only thing that’s cutting edge on this is what?
Individual heads=optimum engine performance?
Ricardo Comet V pre-combustion chambers?
Where in heavens name did they find all this technology?
How did they manage to put all this technology in such a perfect package?
It has an exclusive 92mm bore size!
They forgot to mention the block was cast from Old World iron, not some low quality taconite from the New World.
Was this the secret engine that Ferrari had developed for the Indy 500?
To think someone actually thought this was a good idea.
Perfect stablemate to a Winnebago LeSharo motorhome.
In early 2000’s, turbo diesel 4 banger was offered across the Jeep line up in USA for about a year and a half(always available in Europe)… at low speeds it felt almost like a Hemi under the hood… tach was redlined at 4,000 RPMs, but I noticed it would charge right up to 4500 or more…
One stat really caught my attention. A larger gas tank option for up to 1,500 miles range. At the ridiculously optimist 35 mpg that’s a 43 gallon tank with 300 pounds of diesel. Even if you lived in the middle of nowhere Montana that’s just nuts! I give Subaru a ton of credit for embracing this design and owning the market niche since they started.
The overdrive mentioned on that short list of options would probably be the better investment. Though that tank reminded me that Ram has show off a concept truck with a huge fuel tank aimed at the hotshot contract hauler market.
… “One stat really caught my attention. A larger gas tank option for up to 1,500 miles range. At the ridiculously optimist 35 mpg that’s a 43 gallon tank”
Gasoline cars get 35 MPG nowadays… my ’77 Pontiac Astre Formula Safari Station Wagon is Govt. rated 28 MPG City and 34 MPG Hiway… Great for 1970’s…
1960’s Corvettes offered a 36 gallon gas tank option…
While the comments overwhelmingly consider this pretty nutty, one has to remember what it was like back in 1980. Gas prices were at an adjusted historical high (but diesel prices were not), and gas mileage was a paramount consideration. There were a few rudimentary EVs (really just golf cars with plastic car bodies), as well as some truly lame, purpose-built small V8s out of Detroit.
So, someone saw an opportunity to stuff a diesel into an Eagle wagon, charge a boatload for it, and rake in the dough. Maybe if they’d have been a little more realistic on the asking price, they’d have been able to build and sell more than just over a half dozen.
I was teetering on the fence about one of these, until I carefully read the ad. The “exclusive design to operate with a.. [sic] exhaust-drive turbocharger” piqued my interest, I’ll admit, as did the precombustion chamber design that “improves combustion efficiency and lower [sic] emission levels”.
And really, what American in 1980 wouldn’t be seriously turned on by “Exclusive 92mm bore instead of the usual 88mm bore”? That alone was exciting enough for me to disregard such trifling concerns as Americans not knowing a millimetre from a millipede if either were to drop out of a tree and bite them, or what might’ve been meant by “usual” here. For the matter of that, now I think about it, weren’t the marketers worried about severe penalties that surely would’ve attached to flaunting their departure from what surely must have been strictly enforced laws, regulations, DIN standards, and other kinds of rules specifying that 88mm is the Usual Bore?
But if I’m honest, it was the MAXIMUM EXHAUST BACK PRESSURE ALLOWABLE: 40 in of water, the MINIMUM FUEL LINE DIAMETER: 5/16″ I.D., the INTAKE AIR SYSTEM REQUIREMENT, the MINIMUM EXHAUST PIPE DIAMETER, and the MINIMUM BATTERY REQUIREMENTS what done it. I was sold. Had to have one. No—two. Had to have two.
Alas, all seven had already been sold.
Oh, the Usual Bore is easily identified any car show one cares to attend (and thus easily avoided, I must say).
Talk about a boat anchor – this is a essentially marine engine!
Still the AMC 4wd wagon is itself an interesting (and to me, good-looking) little bus, and if this dismal was repaired, it was be an exclusively interesting interesting car.
There was also a 3 cylinder version of this engine in the Alfa 33 1.8td.