The Good Oil: Eagle versus Outback
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We give Subaru big ups this week for creating the modern “crossover” genre. The Outback really set a template for this type of vehicle and more importantly, it’s been in production for 26 years and six generations.
But popularising a genre doesn’t necessarily mean it was the very first. Enter the frankly awesome AMC Eagle of 1979.
American Motors Corporation (AMC) was an important player in its day (founded 1954) and specialised in small cars. In 1970 it acquired Jeep, with the idea that the two brands would slot together nicely.
Quite literally, in the case of the Eagle. It paired a raised AMC Concord body with a highly capable Jeep-derived AWD system to produce the perfect “lifestyle” vehicle for the time: the US was hit hard by the oil crisis in the mid-late 1970s and sales of large Jeep vehicles had suffered.
The Eagle was the first full-time AWD family car in the world (even the Subarus of the time were only part-time 4WD). Even better, it was also eventually offered in two-door and convertible guises. Great. Weird, but great.
The car was a work of parts-bin genius, but the company was often in financial trouble.
Around the time the Eagle was launched, Renault was acquiring an interest in AMC that eventually grew to 46 per cent. Then, in 1987 Chrysler bought the company – mostly because it wanted the forthcoming all-new Grand Cherokee (launched in 1992 and the catalyst for Jeep as we know it today).
After the buyout, the jumble of AMC-Renault models were rebranded as “Eagle”, but the crossover wagon was dropped at the end of 1988. Nobody was freaking out about oil prices any more and American SUV buyers just went back to their Jeeps.