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The Anti-Audi: 1983 AMC Eagle SX/4

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Lately,  my brother and I have been circulating photos amongst ourselves of early 80s AMC vehicles, like this 1983 SX/4 here on eBay. With four-wheel drive and a hatchback body sitting on top of a jacked up suspension, there’s very little else like it on the road. Throw in the fender flares and beefy tires and you have an intimidating and capable project car with dirt-cheap upkeep, plus the ability to take it on-road or off with features like selectable 2WD / 4WD modes.
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Combine that with a downright enticing interior and you have quite a recipe for a project car equally at home at Cars and Coffee as it would be on the rally circuit. Of course, if you choose the latter, those couch-like bucket seats are coming out along with the lazy and expensive automatic transmission unit. Fortunately, the auto is currently slipping so it’s worth swapping out for three pedals no matter what. This particular SX/4 does have the new-for-1980 Select Drive option for switching between drive modes, a nod towards achieving some level of efficiency.

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While GM’s four-cylinder Iron Duke was standard, the SX/4 (and other Eagle variants) could also be equipped with the powerful 258 CI AMC inline-six. Even to this day, Jeep’s six-cylinders have an excellent reputation for reliability. Taken as a whole, this SX/4 is optioned quite well and has more than a few desirable features in an already rare car – but there are rust issues. There are the beginnings of rot-through at the junction between the frame and left fender well, but the seller claims given the high attrition rate of AMC products due to corrosion (they were designed for the snowbelt, after all) that this SX/4 is one of the more solid ones out there.

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Like the Kammback and Liftback models, the SX/4 is part of an unusual lineup of vehicles from when AMC was making a go at bringing reliable, affordable 4WD to the masses. I think of them as a poor man’s Audi, with better reliability and far more interesting to look at. There have been isolated instances of AMC products tearing it up on a rally stage, so you could certainly use this for competition once the rust and transmission repairs are complete – but it would also make for a fine winter vehicle. What would you do: race or restore?


  1. Avatar photo Chris in Nashville

    I have loved these since I got hit by one riding my bike home from school in the 3rd grade…

    If it had been a stick shift, I would likely been bidding but I am saddled with automatics in modern life, will not buy a project aka fun car with one.

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  2. Avatar photo Andrew Minney

    I’m sorry but I don’t find this AMC interesting at all. It looks disproportionate, like someone chopped a section out of it.
    Personally I find cars of the 80s were products of manufacturers trying to copy the best of the opposition and not really succeeding. I do like many AMC products but not this. The Germans and the Japanese frightened both US and other European car makers un-necessarily and the result is the awful tuff we have today. The decline began mid 70s and it isn’t getting better. I like US and most European stuff around this period as they still were creating something worth looking at.

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  3. Avatar photo AMC STEVE

    This SX-4 has a lot of potential. It’s missing the rear spoiler but has all the other bits. These are tough as nails cars and they real are just jeeps with a car body.
    That six will run forever in this little tank
    Awesome find

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    • Avatar photo Jeff Staff

      I know of at least two in salvage yards that have the missing bits you’ll need!

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    • Avatar photo Dominic

      Not all came with the spoiler. Doesn’t look like this one had one, there are badges where it would normally sit.

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  4. Avatar photo RayT

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe AMC didn’t include a center differential in the Eagle setup, so the AWD was good only for off-road use. Not exactly an Audi competitor.

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    • Avatar photo Mark

      Hey Ray T, you sound like an Audi lover. I believe these cars did have a center diff, as most of AMC’S later t cases were based on the Quadratrac, just scaled to size for use. Basically that is what Audio did, when they copied the Borg Warner design.

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    • Avatar photo Jeff Staff

      Ray, the Audi commentary was slightly tongue-in-cheek. Regardless, I’d rock the AMC any day of the week versus a warmed-over and more expensive VW. Despite being a fan of German cars, Audi does nothing for me.

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  5. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    I had a friend that bought one of these new, and while the concept was good, mechanically, it was a POS. It went through the snow ok, but not very well off-road, and a tow strap was a must have, as it got stuck very easily. It was a 5 speed, and within a year, the transmission began to howl and jump out of gear. It sat at the dealer for months, waiting on parts ( supposedly) and when he finally got it back, it lasted about 2 months and it began to howl again. I’d hope the automatic was better, and the wagon was a good car ( letter carriers used them for years), but this model was a problem ( I heard of other SX-4 owners complain about transmission problems too) Not the best 4×4 around, and not very popular, so I guess it’s kind of cool to see one show up years later.

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  6. Avatar photo JW

    I like the wagon version much better than this one, it just looks FUNKY IMO.

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  7. Avatar photo JH

    Boy this brings back memories. Had a friend in highschool (it was the early 80s) who’s parents bought one of the four-door versions new. My friend, along with two others, picked me up and we went “off-roading” at the local half-developed industrial park. We were having a blast until we got not one but two flat tires. Of course there was only one spare.

    My friend probably only had his driver’s license three or four months and with the rest of us all younger and not even having our permits yet he figured his only option was to call his father. He knew he was in deep and sent us all walking. Looking back, we probably should have stayed to support him. I don’t think we saw him in school the whole next week. Afterwards, we never spoke of that night again.

    Just seems wrong to remember it fondly but we sure had a great time before the tires gave way.

    I’m actually hooked on Barnfinds just for the memories it digs up.

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    • Avatar photo Jeff Staff

      Memories are at least 75% of the fun, aren’t they? Eye candy only stirs the soul to a point.

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    • Avatar photo Ed Williams

      Well, I’d almost forgotten about those AMC 4×4’s and remember there was a 4-door version.

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  8. Avatar photo Dominic

    This is a rare piece. 83 was the final year of these. Those plastic bumper ends go for about $600. Seems well optioned, it’s got A/C and the seats are pleather, not cloth.

    The subframe will need attention. They always do. But that factory Ziebart does well for the body panels.

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  9. Avatar photo Philip

    When I worked for Chrysler for 20 years we saw these quite a bit. They were sturdy and capable. The 4 cylinder cars were weak and did break, but the big 6 with the auto or manual were double tough and surprisingly free of rust for the most part. AMC was early into.the domestic SUV crossover, and did give Subaru a run for the money. The big six just doesn’t quit, actually the driveline overall is highly serviceable and upgradable. As long as the body’s and frames don’t rust these last forever and go about anywhere. Certainly they are far more capable by n far than the all plastic crossover all wheel drive garbage sold today at a fraction of the cost.. I’ve seen these with 35’s on them extensively modified, and brother the can go about anywhere thru anything, mostly because they are nearly as wide as they are long, which helps off-road or in the soup.

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