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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
What a fun find! This is one of those cars that I had zero interest in when they were new but would really like to own now. The ten year span of 1970-80 was another of those periods where everything completely changed, and this car was really showing its age.
I love that most owners of these now seem to be hard core fans who put them to use.
Right! And I think your last sentence is especially accurate, based on current pictures I’ve seen of these vehicles. My guess is that between this being an AMC, and the New Glarus Brewing Co. bumper-sticker, the owner might originally be from Wisconsin. (Kenosha, maybe?)
Mrs. JPC and I took the tour at New Glarus a couple of years ago when we were visiting in Madison, WI. Both the town and the brewery are cool places.
I love beer, but I would absolutely not put an alcohol related bumper sticker on my car; It’s an advertisement to be pulled over. Mind you, a brewery sticker is less of a sore thumb than the one I occasionally see on a 4-Runner that visits someone up the street from me regularly. His reads “Rowing gears and drinking beers”. You’re just asking for it with a sticker like that.
I know these are straight outta the 70s but I think they’ve aged well and still look good.
AMC has always felt like the Studebaker of the 1970s and 1980s as they knew how to keep plugging along.
Kudos the other owner for the continual improvement. These Eagles truly have aged quite well, especially for a basic design that came out a half-century ago.
Jason, I agree with you (and Jim Grey) that these have aged well. I never would have cross-shopped a Spirit hatchback (on which this Eagle was based) against a Mustang (like in those print ads from ’79 that asked, “Why horse around?”), but certainly against a Pinto or maybe even a base-model Monza.
Because the Eagle wasn’t raised high enough already….
I’m a bit scared about what the owner is asserting only “real women” do… at least if the owner is male.
AMC didn’t really have an all-new car since the Pacer. In the ’80s they mostly gave up on their cars and spent their scant funds on the XJ Cherokee and Wrangler. Time has proven that to be a smart move.
Didn’t realize LED sealed beam replacement headlamps had become a big thing, but apparently there are several companies making DOT and/or ECE approved lights that are street legal.
You know, it’s interesting you mention the “real women” part. I had assumed that the owner / driver was a woman, because I imagine that such a statement coming from a man might come across as chauvinistic.
I also have to say I love the Pacer. And the Matador coupe, both of which I mentioned in this essay. To your point, wisdom prevailed and AMC’s resources were spent on the XJ Cherokee and Wrangler. I’d like to think that AMC lives on, today, anytime I see a new Wrangler out on the streets of my neighborhood.
I recognized this Eagle from your previous post on it (wow, four years ago!) — great to see it again. And yes, Survival Mode has worked for it, so if this car can both survive and thrive, than we all can.
Your vision of the AMC Engineers’ back-office meeting is wonderful. Maybe that’s the image I’ve really harbored in the back of my mind whenever I’ve seen these cars, and is the real reason why I like them. It’s much more compelling imagery than of Dick Teague sketching a Gremlin out on an airplane barf bag.
And incidentally, I’m with you on being a change-resistant individual – I gave up my flip-phone, kicking and screaming in 2018. I’ve had my share of learning new technology over these past few weeks as well. The most amusing instance isn’t mine, but my wife’s… she’s an amateur musician and plays in a few concert bands, none of which of course will meet for the rest of this year. One of those bands is doing one of those virtual concerts, with each musician performing separately, so we had to record her part this weekend at home and submit it to the band director. It’s not as easy as it seems, and in fact was downright awkward. Fortunately we succeeded, and even had a good time doing it.
Eric, the concert sounds like quite the feat to have put together! Congratulations to you and your wife on that.
In my extended family, I’m still trying to figure out how to play Euchre using both Zoom (to read facial expressions) and an on-line card-playing platform. I’m fairly certain that the Houseparty app doesn’t include Euchre in its selection of card games. Another project for me!
Sure the car is cool…but I haven’t thought of Rough Riders in years. I loved those! They were (comparably) expensive-maybe $10 a piece?-and I had 2-a Dodge pickup (natch) and this one….
Thanks for that memory. I spent hours in the dirt with my Rough Riders
LT Dan, now that you mention it, I think you’re right – those Rough Rider cars were expensive, if I recall correctly! That’s probably why I never had any (hahaha!), but I’m sure I saw plenty of commercials for them during after-school / Saturday morning cartoons.
What an excellent piece of writing this is.
One of the best things I have read during the current unpleasantness, with just the right balance. Of course, being a car person, like presumably the rest of the readers, the AMC history helps and provides needed perspective.
Keep up the good work.
PS: I have printed and framed your picture of the white 88 Lincoln sedan taken in front of a liquor store in Detroit on Feb. 19, 2017. I once had an identical car. This photo is a work of art.
That’s awesome, Brandes – I’m so pleased. And thank you so much. One of the best rewards I experience as a contributor to CC is when someone makes a personal connection with I car I’ve written about.
You pretty much sum up the current “existence” for lots of people quite succinctly and with humanity. Things will be different going forward which may well be a very good thing from a societal perspective, not purely economic.
In any case, yes I too like many commenters have come around on the (any) Eagle, and nowadays the browner, the better! I kind of wish I’d have opportunities to “review” cars like these and many other ones we feature here. Literally live with it for a week or so and document everything about it and the experience.
And finally New Glarus IS excellent, while we don’t have distribution out here, my Ft. Wayne friends gifted me a large bottle of a Strawberry-Rhubarb Sour a few years ago, it was mighty delicious and will make NG a definite stop the next time I’m in Wisconsin (right after the Mars Cheese Palace, of course)
Jim, I think a regular or semi-regular “CC Road Test” would be a fantastic idea if some parameters could be set! Brilliant.
And Wisconsin has it all. Maybe 14 years ago, I had eaten at one of those legendary supper clubs / steak restaurants that state is known for, and it was one of the most enjoyable, old-school dining experiences of my adult life.
I don’t get to Wisconsin as often as I should (I like it there!), but if you’re headed to the Mars Cheese Palace, go a couple of exits further south and try out the Brat Stop on Wisconsin 50 and Interstate 94. It’s an experience!
Also, try the Stone Arch Inn up in Neenah. Excellent food and beer there.
I think I just figured out my next roadtrip! Brat Stop? Yeah, I am all in on that! Thank you. Neenah reminds me of my old printing industry days, lots of well-known paper industry names up in those parts, I fondly remember going to Brainerd, MN for a tour of the Potlatch plant and a few days in the state, I was apparently the largest volume buyer of Potlatch McCoy when it was first released.
Another well-written essay musing on the impacts of COVID-19. To stretch the analogy even further, AMC was a high-risk patient in the late 1970s, perhaps with immune deficiencies and multiple other health problems. In its desperation to avoid imminent death, it signs up for the trials of a new experimental drug that may or may not work. In the end, the injection of four-wheel drive briefly restores some vitality, but the patient’s other, preexisting problems prove to be insurmountable.
When AMC introduced the Spirit with this hatchback body, I immediately wondered why the original Gremlin did not look like this. Even though the sloping rear roofline compromises headroom, the lack of leg room in the rear seat all but eliminated the possibility of carrying rear seat passengers anyway.
William, I do think your metaphor is an apt one. The Renault-transfusion did, indeed, work for a while.
As far as the Gremlin’s looks, I seem to recall having read something to the effect that Chief Designer Teague insisted on the Gremlin’s unusual look under the assumption that it would have slipped under the radar, otherwise.
I honestly don’t think the early, small-bumper Gremlins are bad-looking cars. It’s just that compared to the looks of the also-subcompact Vega (which was an absolute knockout), there was no contest in the looks department.
Things were looking brighter for AMC at the time. As they managed to make the cover of Motor Trend two months in a row.
I thought Renault’s offerings from the early ’80s were exceptionally good-looking cars. Both the sedan and wagon on the cover to the left look good to me. I also still think the Fuego coupe is / was a knockout.
I totally agree. The reviews were generally excellent for the Renaults. And they were well received in the Popular Mechanics Owners Report. However, they also had serious reliability issues, including numerous underhood fires.
The Fuego still looks great inside and out.
Thank you so much for posting the link to that article. It is great to read that the Fuego, when brand new, was a car its first owners really liked despite its lack of power. (The Florida plumber said that “parts took too long to get”.)
I had also forgotten what works of art the front bucket seats were, with the Renault diamond incorporated into the seatback. I would want those as recliners in my living room.
For us old/retired folks, life hasn’t changed all that much.:) And we’re actually encouraged to go out and walk, and we do that with a vengeance. But it will this summer when I have to attend to rental turnovers and maintenance and such.
I’ve come to love these; just shows one can have the lifted 4×4 big truck look without the big truck.
Paul, I know you’ll be taking every precaution when you start tending to your rentals. As for walking, I can’t wait to start exploring my neighborhood again now that spring is in full swing. As long as I wear a mask and distance myself from others, a solitary neighborhood walk may be just what I need.
The wife’s uncle had one of these in wagon form and I always like its slightly jacked up, athletic stance. Not so good was it’s cheap, plasticky interior and the 12 mpg from it’s slow, 258 six.
Have never enjoyed any offerings from New Galus, but one of the greatest business developments in recent years has been the rise of craft breweries. IPA’s are nectars from the Gods.
Wellll…no. Where the headlamps should be there are trinkets with rows of LEDs. They are not headlamps. Oh, they’re sold as headlamps, fraudulently promoted as headlamps, fit in place of headlamps, but woe unto whoever tries to drive at night by them (and to all those unfortunate enough to be sharing road space at the time of the attempt).
There’s a list of actual, real LED headlamps in that size, but those things aren’t on it.
Interesting find, and my first thought on seeing the profile and the rear three quarter was “2 door Rover SD1″…..as JPC said, every model has its fans and advocates….
Roger, I think this has to be one of the few times I’ve ever heard the looks of an Eagle hatchback (or related Spirit hatch) compared to those of a Rover SD1.
The thing is, though, from a rear three-quarter view, I can see exactly what you’re saying. The similar angle of the slope of the hatch, the upturn at the trailing edge of the rear quarter window, the horizontal, slatted taillamps. I had to look a few times, but I do get it.
And I agree with you and JPC. That’s what this site is about.
At the time they were first put in production, I thought the AMC four wheel drive cars were a clever idea. The cars were dated in styling, interior appointments, and power trains were pretty out dated by this time. I think that the biggest failings was the very poor fuel economy, but every contemporary vehicle was pretty similar. In the last ten or fifteen years there are a lot of more efficient alternatives available. However for true fans and enthusiasts it’s hard to beat these Eagles.
When I had the opportunity to buy my 1987 Eagle sedan in 2005, I couldn’t pass it up. When we had the double blizzard in 2010, the car was Ready For Anything. I need to get it out of storage and back on the road this summer.
Yours is a beautiful example. Looking at the closeup shot of it, I just remembered that I really liked that wheel design. Looks great in a dark color.
I’ve mentioned this before, but my one brother had an Eagle Sedan for 17 years and some 300K miles. It had to be one of the toughest built cars I think I’ve ever witnessed. By the time the engine expired in 2003, the car was tired. Everything was completely worn out.
I like this little SX/4, I really admire what they did to it. If I had the time/space/money, I’d like to think I could do something similar…
I remember seeing an AMC Eagle for the first time in about 1979 or 80. I immediately loved the look of it. Yeah, it was a warmed over Hornet— Concord, but it was jacked up to a 1940’s Era height. After decades of longer, lower, and wider, this car broke that mold. It was a trend setter.
I love the look of this Eagle. I remember as a kid seeing many stories on the local news about the troubles at AMC in Kenosha. Even I could tell that the company was circling the drain. As an adult I have developed a new respect for and interest in AMC.