AMC Eagle: the original crossover?

Major Waffle 70s cars 80s cars
PetrolBlog is off to test the all-new Volvo S60 Cross Country. So naturally it's time to salute the AMC Eagle - the original American crossover.

Today, I'll be testing the all-new Volvo S60 Cross Country, claimed by some, to be the world's first crossover saloon. Only it isn't, because that accolade probably belongs to the mighty AMC Eagle. And the AMC Eagle is quite possibly the most PetrolBloggy American car of all-time.

And yet it barely warrants a mention this side of the Atlantic. Quite frankly, this has to change.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I've read an awful lot about the AMC Eagle and now I want to own one. Badly. Seriously, this thing was way ahead of its time in the late 1970s. Part car, part truck and part 4x4. It confused the hell out of many Americans.

Indeed, in the MotorWeek review of 1982, the presenter declared the Eagle SX/4 to be "designed by committee", before claiming it wasn't really a car at all. It was built to "fill a special niche in the marketplace", something the Germans have become postmasters at. No, not postmasters, pass masters.

Put aside seven minutes of your time. This is rather enjoyable.

American Motors didn't do things by half. A whole flock of Eagles were made available to the American public, including - at launch - a two-door coupé, a four-door saloon and all-American station wagon. They were designed to fill the gap between the affordable all-wheel drive Subaru Leone AWD and authentic but expensive SUVs.

It was a sizeable gap, almost as large as that between the Eagle's tyres and wheel arches. These jacked-up Eagles sat three inches higher than the AMC Concord upon which they were based. All came with 15-inch wheels and a Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive system. Crucially, they came with switchable two- or four-wheel drive.

Sure, the AMC Eagle looked a little ungainly, bordering on plain weird, but that's no reason to dismiss it. In fact, AMC should be applauded for making the Eagle so affordable. This wasn't some super-expensive 4x4 reserved for the upper reaches of American society. An entry-level Eagle would have cost the equivalent of £12,000 in today's money, about the price of a good supermini.

In Europe, we're a little obsessed with 'firsts' and pioneering all-wheel drive vehicles. The original Land Rover, original Range Rover, Audi quattro, Jensen Interceptor...all landmark vehicles. But why no mention of the AMC Eagle? It was the first American-produced four-wheel drive passenger car, but it doesn't seem to get any credit. Come on, it took the Interceptor's Ferguson Formula (FF) system to a huge audience.

The AMC Eagle Estate

The AMC Eagle deserves to be held up amongst the greats of the 20th century. A car not afraid to venture into unknown territory. Quite literally in some cases. No surprise to discover it sold in excess of 120,000 units in the first year.

Who cares what it looks like when it has the ability to climb (almost) every mountain and ford (almost every ford)? As Popular Science put it, the AMC Eagle was a proper mountain goat. And mountain goats don't care about their appearance.

It also deserves respect for wearing its wood panels with pride, along with being the official car of the American National Ski Patrol. You can't imagine the American National Ski Patrol (or the Canadian Ski Patrol for that matter) choosing a car that would run away in terror at the sight of a few centimetres of snow. AMC Eagle: the original Snow Patrol car.

AMC Eagle Wagon Canadian Ski

View one of the original TV adverts and say you're not tempted.

People of Britain, PetrolBlog puts it to you that the AMC Eagle deserves as much respect as the Matra-Simca Rancho. But unlike the Rancho, the Eagle was a proper unsung hero of dirt tracks, steep inclines and wet roads. The original crossover? Depends on your definition and some will claim the Subaru Leone got there first. But for its switchable two- or four-wheel drive system, multiple body styles and lofty ride height, it gets the vote of PB.

PetrolBlog salutes the Eagle. God bless America.

Photos © AMC