Retro Radwagon: 1986 AMC Eagle

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I’m always surprised the AMC Eagle hasn’t had more of a revival lately; it’s rad-era retro and 4wd to boot, both categories that have gotten a big shot in the arm price-wise over the last few years. Not that I mind, as I’ve had an eye out for one for a while now! They’re a bit tough to come by in general and well-preserved examples are few and far between. Thanks to our reader Miguel for sending us this nice looking 1986 AMC Eagle Wagon, which can be found for sale on Craigslist here in San Francisco for the asking price of $3500.

It seems every vehicle has their own “unicorn” parts that enthusiasts love to commiserate about having to hunt for; with Eagles, that part seems to be bumper end caps. This one is missing the front passenger side cap, but otherwise they all seem to be present and in good shape. The stance on this one looks nice, with none of the rear-end sag you often see. Paint looks nice overall, and it’s had a fair amount of recent work done with new plugs, battery, brakes, and a couple tires among other maintenance. Mileage is a modest 133k, which isn’t really anything to be concerned about on a 258 I6.

Interior looks… good probably? I know I harp on the quality of seller’s photos quite often but, come on people – at least roll down the window! It’s a shame too, because as well preserved as the exterior is I’m sure the inside would really help sell this nice little wagon. Sadly, requests to the seller for more photos went unanswered by the time this article was filed.

I’m actually a little surprised this has been up for sale so long; assuming the seller didn’t just forget to take it down, over a month is a long time to sell a clean Eagle, even for the $3500 OBO asking price. Being from Cali makes it even more surprising, as you can assume it’s largely rust free and would be worth a fly-and-drive for someone from the rust belt who’s been hunting for an Eagle unaffected by the tinworm. I’d be all over it myself but I’m holding out for one with wood! Anyone owned one of these unique SUV precursors? Tell us about it in the comments!

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  1. That AMC guy

    Wow, I had an ’86 Eagle wagon similar to this one, though mine had the fake wood on the sides and fabric seats.

    One thing to be aware of is that for reasons known only to former AMC product planners, the 1986 Eagles came with the NP128 transfer case which has an open differential. This means if you lose traction on one wheel your 4WD Eagle is going to sit there spinning that one wheel! (I found though that very rarely happened, and when it did rocking back and forth would get you going again.) Of course at this point you probably wouldn’t want to subject a nice Eagle to the rigors of hard winter use anyway.

    All other year Eagles came with a viscous coupling transfer case that would send power to the end of the vehicle that had the best traction.

    Another little thing is that if those are the factory wire wheel covers they actually come from Buick. AMC purchased them from GM and pasted their own logo in the center. When the AMC stickers come off, the Buick tri-shield emblem is underneath.

    The tinworm finally did mine in. These cars were heavily rustproofed at the factory but decades of winter service still takes its toll. Prospective Eagle buyers will want to check carefully under the plastic moldings which can conceal horrors lurking underneath.

    Like 10
    • mallthus

      The good news is that the NP228 tc will drop right in to replace its fully open brother. The bad news is that you’ll have to find a Wagoneer owner parting with it and then figure out how to actuate the locker (typically a vacuum system, but I’ve seen folks rig a more reliable mechanicical actuator).

      Like 0
  2. MIkeG

    Apparently she doesn’t have access to the car she’s selling?

    This would be a very cool retro car to drive, love it!

    Like 0

    My guess why an Eagle revival has not happened as of yet is because it’s never going to happen.

    Why? (1) Numbers. Although popular in snow belt areas this wasn’t a main stream vehicle. It is an American Motors. Production numbers although respectable for AMC still were low in comparison and in no way built the numbers that GM and Ford did.

    Most that were sold were to former AMC owners. In the 1980’s there was still brand loyalty with people which is to say if your parents drove GM by damned you did too. The few that did stray from the big three loved them. For good reason. Simply put there was never an American passenger car with 4X4 capabilities until then.

    Ingenious to take a 10 old car platform (Hornet Sportabout and sedan) add 4X4 and create a new market segment. These were famous for mail carriers and those that wanted to get through anything and did.

    The survival rate is low. They were heavily rustproofed but eventually got to critical areas like the frame rail where the steering box mounts to and the rocker panels.

    That AMC Guy, Thought I knew it all..Buick hubcaps? Didn’t know that. They look much better on an AMC

    I had a 1980 Eagle Automatic 4X4 system. Throw it in drive and it would go. With the exception of the ground clearance it would go anywhere a Jeep or truck would go and ride better getting there. The above vehicle is a buy

    Like 3
    • That AMC Guy

      I’ve seen it myself on Eagles with wire wheel covers and the center stickers peeling off. Actually I don’t know whether AMC bought these direct from GM or maybe got them on the cheap as overstock from a GM supplier.

      I have read that the Eagle was something of a skunk works type project by Roy Lunn and a few engineers that was done without top management involvement. When AMC chairman Gerry Meyers first saw it, his reaction was “What the hell is this?”

      AMC at that point was desperate for new product so they took a chance and put the Eagle into production. Unlike the expensive flops Matador Coupe and Pacer, the Eagle was developed for chump change and was successful by AMC standards, even outliving the company for a short time.

      I definitely don’t know it all. I’ve owned quite a few AMC products over the last 50+ years, even had stock in the Company, and still regularly run across details I didn’t know before.

      Like 6
      • Jett

        The AMC Eagle didn’t “outlive” the company at all. Chrysler bought AMC lock, stock and barrel in 1987, and folded all but the Jeep division up in 1988. Eagle then became a separate division of Chrysler, selling rebadged Renault sedans called the Medallion and Premier—totally different cars with no similarities to the AMC Eagle whatsoever.

        Like 4
      • That AMC guy

        A small number of 1988 model year Eagle wagons were built and sold after the acquisition by Chrysler. They were simply badged as “Eagles” with no reference to AMC.

        Like 3
  4. irocrobb

    I had a 1985 just like this one with cloth interior as a winter car.It sure went threw oil and was hard on gas. I do not think I ever got stuck in snow with it. The body stood up real well. I do not miss it though and rarely see one now

    Like 1
  5. Lroy

    AMC’s gift that keeps on giving. The fact this passes CA smog says it all, this one pamperd car. Surprised this is still available, these are exceptional and do what they were ment to do really well. This is one of the best I’ve seen and I have watched these for years.

    Like 4
  6. Jimmy

    When I lived in the country all thru the 90’s my mail lady drove a maroon one just like this one. She never missed a day on her route. If this one wasn’t all the way out on the west coast I might have been tempted to make a offer.

    Like 2
  7. LAB3

    Had one of these for awhile, definitely a go anywhere kind of car. My biggest gripe with it was the plastic valve cover and the horribly designed way it was held on, never could get it to seal and they tended to warp.

    Like 1
    • That AMC Guy

      The cure for that is an aftermarket aluminum cover, meant for Jeeps but just as happy on an Eagle 258.

      Like 6
  8. Miguel

    On this one I am surprised companies like AMC and Fiat weren’t required to use the third brake light every other car on the road was in 1986.

    I had the sedan version of this in the same colors.

    It was such a nice driving car and luxurious feeling, I am sorry I sold it, but that is what I was doing at the time.

    I don’t think the price is out of line on this one.

    Like 2
    • That AMC guy

      The Eagle was government classified as a light utility vehicle. At the time this permitted it to be sold without certain features required of regular passenger cars such as the 3rd brake light.

      Like 6
      • Miguel

        That is kind of odd. Was it the 4WD that had them classify it like that?

        The car was clearly a station wagon.

        I see Wikipedia says the Fiat 124 Spider ended during the 1985 model year, but when I was working at the Chevy store, we had a 1986 model that had no CHMSL. This was in 1987 so the car was almost brand new.

        I was in charge of recording the VINs for the used car manager and it was VIN’d as a 1986 model.

        Like 0
      • That AMC Guy

        Not sure what the reason was. The Eagle also lacked 5 mph bumpers and was held to EPA emission standards for light trucks rather than cars. (Emissions sticker for 1980 Eagle attached.)

        Like 1
  9. Justin

    I had an 83 back in 2008.. couldn’t get it to pass emissions, pulled the head to swap a 4.0.head on, and found .030 pistons. Installed EFI and 5 speed.from a 95 Cherokee, 96 Grand transfer case and daily drove it for a few years. Snow could be deeper than rocker panels and it plowed right through it. It had great mileage and power, and people struck up conversation with me about it in random places almost daily. They’re unique, non-sequitor to the classic car community; you can drive an Eagle every day of the year, without the need to polish it with a diaper on rainy days, one of my favorite things about it. For having lots of sidewall on the tires, it handled surprisingly well, and would grip the road very firmly under power in a turn, making it a lot of fun in the mountains. These cars were cobbled together with parts from the Big 3, ehich makes finding many OEM replace parts easy, as nearly everything shares a part number with another brand.

    In the American of the era, the Eagle was the only car that came with 5 body styles, 4 of which were common-the 5th was the Sundancer convertible, an extremely rare special order (if memory serves me right). It was the only car that came with the combination of true AWD, available 5 speed manual, inline 6, decent towing capacity, nearly all the electric bells and whistles of flagship estate cars (including keyless entry) plus leather in Limited trim, and an array of dealer accessories, including ski clips for the roof rack. At just over 3,000lbs curb weight, it was also one of the lighter cars around. I have heard their design for the car’s independent front suspension was later passed on to GM.

    I just recently committed to another Eagle, which saw pavement 25 years ago. I can’t wait to start working on it.

    Like 1
  10. Jett

    It may not have the CHMSL, but if you look at an Eagle versus say, a Mustang or Buick sedan, the taillights would be sitting considerably higher. Maybe they allowed them to cut that corner due to that detail? I don’t believe trucks were required to have them until after ‘88, whereas other companies began putting them on in 1986.

    Like 2
    • Miguel

      Jett, trucks weren’t required to have them until much later, but if you look at a 1986 Fiat roadster, it didn’t have the CHMSL either.

      I don’t think the placement of the tail lights had anything to do with it as the C in CHMSL stands for Central.

      Like 1
  11. Jim

    I had a Black 1982 SX4 and a Gray 1980 Wagon.

    Like 0
  12. Guggie

    My Parents had one of these and it was a great car , good on gas and went everywhere in the winter snow

    Like 1
  13. Chuck

    I had an ’84 Eagle wagon, wood grain & cloth interior. I live in Michigan, and that SUV (?) would go just about anywhere you pointed it! It had the Shift-on-the-fly transfer case, and the 4X4 system never gave me any troubles at all!
    The only problem (and it was a fatal one) was that the fuel filter was right over the exhaust manifold. In time, the rubber hoses that connected the filter to the gas line,became brittle from all the heat, and would split and break, spraying gas all over the engine. Mine died with an engine fire, at 150K+. My wife had a 2X4 Suburban at the time, and it would get stuck real easy in the snow. I’d push her out with the Eagle every time, and she’d get so mad because “that little car” could move that big vehicle around with no problems!
    On the open highway, it got 27+MPG, and was the most comfortable vehicle that I’ve ever rode in or owned! It was way ahead of its time in the 80’s!

    Like 1
  14. stillrunners

    There were a few around these parts that just wouldn’t give up…..still see a couple…

    Like 0
  15. HoA Howard AMember

    Last of the great AMC’s. We too, had letter carriers that used these ( I bet some still do) in rural areas of Wisconsin. They come up from time to time in Colorado. I don’t think there was a big enough market, and were typically, “up north” cars. Old folks loved them, they were comfy, and always got them home in the worst weather.

    Like 0
  16. JohnH

    We had a 1980 (my wife and myself both came from Rambler/AMC families) that we bought as a 3- or 4-year-old. Great cars — wasn’t much that a Pennsylvania winter could throw at them that stopped them — and they had reasonable for the time power and good road comfort. We were hit from behind by a driver who didn’t notice that none of the traffic in front of him was moving but it barely scratched the back bumper. I was thrown forward and then when the shoulder belt stopped me, tossed back into the seat breaking a bunch of welds in the seat back. Our local shop had it back on the road in a few days.

    The only big repair was a front wheel hub, which I was told was much more expensive on those earlier Eagles.

    Like 0

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