It's car, it's a Jeep -- no, it's the American Motors four-wheel-drive Eagle, a vehicle designed to take the motorist through almost anything the weather can toss, even in so rugged a climate as northern Minnesota or the Northeast.
But make no mistake: The Eagle is notm on off-the-road rig at all -- and the manufacturer makes a big point of the fact.
Simply, it is built high and tough, gives a good ride -- it has independent front suspension -- and is a whale of a lot of fun to drive.
That said, two of the negative features are economic: It's high priced and it has an appetite for gas. The wagon I'm now driving -- it also comes as a two- and four-door sedan -- has an out-the-door price of about $9,000, including $1, 500 in options, and gets no more than 15 or 16 miles to a gallon of gas. Nonetheless, it's sure to get you through deep snow, mud, and soft sand, over rain-slick highways, and even out of a rut if you're so unfortunate as to get into a few. And that's worth money to most people who drive.
The Eagle, derived from the Concord, is AMC's further expansion into the four-wheel-drive field, an area now commanded by the Jeep, which AMC bought from Kaiser Industries a decade ago.
The manufacturer expects to sell at least 55,000 Eagles this year.
"We're just now getting the dealers stocked with cars," says J. Paul Tippett, AMC president. In fact, demand has been so high that AMC phased out the innovative, albeit slow-selling Pacer two months ago and converted the line to Eagle.
"We're blazing a whole new trail in the market," says AMC marketing vice-president Thomas A. Staudt.
The company also will introduce another four-wheel-drive car, offspring of the Eagle and code-named the Eaglet, within the next six months, according to Gerald C. Meyers, AMC chairman. "Eagle interest has been so intense that we feel it's time to announce an expansion of the line," he told the annual meeting of stockholders earlier this month.
Clearly, AMC has plenty of expertise in the four-wheel-drive field, a strength which its global partner, French vehiclemaker Renault, wants to tap in the years ahead.
The manufacturer introduced the original Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive system on the Jeep in 1973, an engineering breakthrough at the time. The innovative full-time four-wheel-drive system, bought from Chrysler's New Process Gear division, explores new ground in craftsmanship.
The car also has independent front suspension, a "first" for a US-built four-wheel-drive configuration, which gives the Eagle a sound passenger-car ride , unlike the Jeep.
The only engine now on the market is AMC's workhorse 258-cubic-inch "6" with a floor-mounted three-speed automatic transmission. "We thought that was just about the best combination," say Roy C. Lunn, head of product engineering. Simply, the company wanted to avoid the complications of fielding too many engines and transmission at one time and opted for what it thought would attract the most buyers.
Ultimately, the Eagle will get other engine-transmission combinations, including a four-cylinder power plant built by Pontiac, which may be available in the next year.
It's also about to get a manual shift, reports Mr. Tippett.
Pickup with the "6" is sufficient but not spectacular. But who needs high-gas-consuming power at a traffic light these days, anyway?
Perhaps the biggest criticism I have of the car is its dull appearance for the money. Yet it has a tendency to grow on you. AMC never achieved a nice enough inside finish on the Pacer, either. And even the old sliced-off-rear-end Gremlin was dull. Yet the Eagle is quiet under way, its comfort can hardly be hit, and it goes when the going gets rough.
I object to the quartz clock directly in front of the driver. The continual winking of the chock i san annoyance. To my ten-age daughter's distress, she could(t see the clock from her side of the car. also, the top of the steering wheel cuts right throguh the speedometer if I sit up straight. the transmission hump up front is huge and gets in the way of my right leg. Of course, all of the four-wheel-drive gearing is bound to take up space.
Yet the car starts up fast, even with the temperature near zero -- and in a high northwest wind at that.
I was surprised at the plastic wheel covers. I guess you can't expect everything in a $9,000 car these days. It all depends on what the motorist wants for his money.
Clearly, the Eagle is a fascinating piece of machinery that explores new ground in four-wheel-drive expertise. IT's another example -- and a good solid one -- of AMC's policy of building and selling "transportation with a difference."