Curbside Classic: 1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 – Ready For Anything


1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 / Series 50, lead shot, square crop

There’s a part of me that realizes that the current, extended shelter-in-place order in my state of Illinois, while necessary and sometimes boredom inducing, has also been really good for me.  I am very much a creature of habit and routine, and while my 2020 had been going reasonably well before having been instructed to leave my dwelling a minimum of times and only when necessary, I was used to doing pretty much the same things at the same times, every day, throughout the week.

My alarm would be set for a certain time on Monday through Friday.  I’d have the same thing for breakfast, leave the house, board my train, log onto my work computer, etc. each morning like a well-tuned machine – one with very little variation during the week in anticipation of a lot more fun and freedom on weekends.  COVID-19 has changed all of that, and not necessarily in ways that are uniformly bad.

1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 / Series 50, picture 2

For example, it has been over a month since I have woken up in the morning to the sound of my alarm clock.  My gym is still closed, so I’ve had to find other ways to exercise in the morning.  I’ve had to learn new technology and ways of getting things done, as I have acclimated really well to working from home.  I’ve also learned how to make and accept personal video calls.  The latter may not seem that big of a deal, but I’m a change-resistant individual who owned and used a flip-phone as recently as 2014.

1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 / Series 50, picture 3

Almost of equal importance, this entire experience has made me realize that with access to so many things I had previously considered “musts” being limited or cut off entirely, the humble blessing of my very life continues.  Some things are simply not as essential as I had previously believed, and I’m okay right now in their absence.  I’m more than okay, and I feel like I will continue to be okay, even without those things.  There’s also a real sense of adventure that has surfaced as I try to make the most of my time here in my condo, especially on weekends without the (now really welcomed) distraction of my job to keep me busy throughout the day.

1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 / Series 50, picture 4

I had previously written about our featured car just over four years ago.  At that time, it was the first AMC Eagle SX/4 / Series 50 I had seen probably in twenty years.  I had marveled at how the car’s short overall length, big tires and raised height made the car resemble a life-size version of Matchbox’s “Rough Riders” series of toy cars.  Just over a year later, there had been a number of noteworthy (and awesome) additions to this rugged, 4X4 hatchback.  There are the LED headlights, the Yakima RocketBox roof-mounted storage unit, and perhaps my favorite detail of all: the Wisconsin-based New Glarus Brewing Co. bumper sticker that announces to the world that its owner has the best taste in beer.  (Spotted Cow, anyone?)

1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 / Series 50, picture 5

At the time of this model’s development, one could say that little AMC was in survival mode.  The “hail Mary” pass that was the Eagle ended up being the last homegrown design sold in the United States with the patriotic, geometric, tri-color AMC badge affixed to it.  Depending on how one looks at it, American Motors was either not prepared for changing market conditions and the ultimate failure of the expensive-to-develop Pacer and Matador coupe, or (conversely) ready for anything.  Regardless of whether you like it or not, this athletic-looking, black Eaglet looks almost like it’s ready for the Apocalypse, and I’m sure that nobody, including the trickle of AMC-buying faithful, anticipated anything like it when this model first hit the showrooms.

1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 brochure photo

1981 AMC Eagle SX/4 brochure photo is courtesy of


I know I could research this car’s development (which has already been done at CC), but for the purposes of this essay, I’d prefer to keep it as I imagine it in my head (or perhaps have read before): There are a bunch of AMC engineers sitting in a dimly-lit room with a few dangling light fixtures, each sporting variations of the damn-the-torpedoes facial expressions of Peter Finch’s Howard Beale character in the movie “Network”.  “Gentlemen, let’s go for it.  Let’s make this Eagle-Jeep concoction a reality.  What have we got to lose?”  And by doing so, they unwittingly created a machine that presaged an explosion of the mainstream popularity of this type of vehicle that would become reality decades later: the Crossover Utility Vehicle.  No resources?  No problem.  And the sportiest of them all would be based on a restyled Gremlin.

Making do with less was pretty much the AMC story throughout the last fifteen years or so of its existence before being absorbed into Chrysler Corporation.  When I think of how many times the odds were stacked against this bold, little automaker from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and how they just kept coming up with new attempts to do things in a novel way (admittedly with varying degrees of success), it puts being quarantined in my comfortable, little condo into perspective.  I have been reminded over the past six weeks since the formal announcement of this recent pandemic that problem solving often comes in many different forms – which American Motors had demonstrated admirably, over and over again.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, March 3, 2017.