Sometimes, what makes something interesting is its absence. The Headless Horseman, for example, would just be another boring colonial equestrian if he was equipped with a conventional neck-topper. It’s the same with the short-lived marque Eagle: it’s notable because I believe its one of the only car brands never to really sell any cars that were actually their cars.
I mean, sure, they sold cars that were Eagles, with the Eagle badge, but those cars were all other cars, from other places. And while captive imports and badge engineering exists everywhere, Eagle was sort of the master, with an entire lineup of re-badged cars, cars that hailed from Mitsubishi, AMC, Renault, and Chrysler.
They sold cars from three continents, all under one name!
The Eagle concept was started by Chrysler, who wanted a new nameplate with exciting new thinking to compete with GM’s new-thinking marque, Saturn. Not much came of these initial Eagle plans, at least not until 1987 when Chrysler bought out AMC, which they wanted mostly for Jeep.
Everyone knew what to do with Jeep. That part was easy. Then as now, it’s an immensely popular, strong-selling brand. What was harder was to figure out what to do with AMC, and all the newer cars that AMC had been developing in conjunction with their partner, Renault.
What they decided to do was to create a whole new brand to sell these cars, and they named it after the last totally-AMC designed car then sold: the AMC Eagle, a 4x4 passenger car that was the replacement for the AMC Hornet. The car was way ahead of its time; we’d call it a crossover today.
The XJ Cherokee is probably the most famous and successful of the AMC/Renault joint designs, but AMC was working on others. One of those others was based on the Renault 25 and was called the Eagle Premier. Thanks to an agreement with Renault, Chrysler couldn’t just shelve the whole thing and try and sell more Jeeps—they had to give the Renault a go, at least for a little while.
Because Jeep Grand Wagoneer buyers were surprisingly well-to-do, they wanted the Premier to compete with Acura and Volvo, which it never really did. The Premier had the same PRV V6 as the DeLorean but nobody really thought about that back then, and the car was distressingly boring-looking, especially for a partially-French car. Chrysler also sold it as a Dodge Monaco, I guess because they thought the idea of brand and sales cannibalism was sort of hot in a sort of kinky taboo way.
They sold another Renault, too, the Medallion, which was basically a re-badged and slightly tweaked Renault 21. This was a car that the kids would call “not remotely interesting at all,” but it did have a “rather commodious trunk.”
Along with the Renaults, Eagle also sold some Mitsubishis, specifically the Mirage (as the Summit, in Canada as the Vista, because “Summit” is basically the C-word to a Canadian), and, more excitingly, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, sold as the Eagle Talon.
For some reason, Canada also got an extra re-badged Mitsubishi, the 2000GTX, which was a re-badged Galant.
The Talon was Eagle’s halo car, and actually managed to outsell Chrysler’s other re-badge of the Eclipse, the Plymouth Laser. So, that’s something, I guess?
The last car introduced as an Eagle was the Eagle Vision, one of Chrysler’s original LH-platform cars, which were advertised as their ‘cab-forward’ cars. The design of Chrysler’s cab-forward cars was actually teased with Eagle’s concept car, the Eagle Optima.
I’ll admit, as I read back over this, I’m a little baffled why I decided to write about Eagle. It may be because of my fascination with failure, and things that just never really managed to work. Eagle was a very strange thing, when you think about it: a bunch of cars from other manufacturers all re-badged into one artificial family.
Sure, all the companies involved had relationships with Chrysler, but the idea of just taking a batch of cars from a number of companies and turning that into a whole distinct marque I don’t think had ever really been tried before, or, for that matter, since.
It was a brand based on a badge, and that’s pretty much it. I can imagine that Eagle dealership’s parts inventories were a nightmare, and training service people on four different car brands doesn’t sound like a picnic, either.
Why was there Eagle? What did it mean? What can we learn? There has to be some lesson here. There has to be.