Indestructible, affordable, capable 4WD
Bear in mind that when I bought this car, it had been parked for five years and a shed had collapsed on it. Yes, an entire shed. Evidently, I'm insane.
- Clutch slave cylinder (DOA)
- Starter (DOA)
- Radiator (DOA)
- Front brake pads (DOA)
- Leaking valve cover gasket
- Rotted freeze plug
- Rear shocks
- Inoperative 4WD
- Dead air-conditioning.
Much of this was due to either the age of the components (the battery had a date of manufacture in 1993) or neglect on the previous owner's behalf (front brakes were metal-on-metal, for example).
I bought this car to use as a general-purpose load hauler, and have not been disappointed so far. Given that it's 20 years old, the mechanical work I've had to do has been relatively minor.
The straight-six is nice and torquey, at least when coupled with the manual transmission (mine has the 4-speed). I've driven automatic Eagles before, and the slushbox really robs the engine of its power. However, it is a heavy car and thus by no means can be considered a rocketship. Let's just say it's usefully quick. Also, drivetrains are generally unburstable provided basic maintenance has been carried out.
Valve cover oil leaks are common due to AMC's idiotic weight-saving measure of using a plastic valve cover. Metal ones are available, but as this involves tapping and drilling the head I elected to just go for a new gasket and a ton of gasket sealant. Problem solved.
Fuel economy is decent, bearing in mind the era of poorly-engineered emissions systems this car was built in. I'm getting about 25mpg on the freeway at a constant 70-75mph, and about 16 or so around town. For comparison, my previous car was a 1985 Peugeot 505 with the 2-litre 4-cylinder gas engine, and returned only slightly better figures.
Interior: as tacky as any American manufacturer could be in the early '80s. Lots of bogus woodgrain and brushed nylon. The back seat is cramped, but with the rear seat folded down there's a pretty good amount of cargo area - roughly the same as with a compact pickup.
Handling and brakes are surprisingly decent for a vehicle of this thing's bulk. I wouldn't try throwing it around like I do with my Peugeot, but given the era this car comes from and AMC's lack of development funds, it's acceptable. The steering's over-assisted and a little vague around center, though.
The 4WD system on mine is inoperative. I haven't tackled it yet, but there are some obviously-disintegrated vaccum lines leading from some of its shift motors. Having driven Eagles with working 4WD in the past, though, I can say that it's highly-effective for most situations you're likely to get into, both on- and off-road. Though not as capable as, say, a late-'80s Cherokee, it's heavier-duty than Subaru's excellent, but heavily road-biased system.
Parts availability isn't too bad, but it's a mishmash of Ford, Chrysler, and GM bits with a little AMC thrown in for local flavour. Also, despite having the same manufacturer as and some mechanical similarities to the Cherokee, there are definite parts incompatibilities. However, 90% of what I need can be obtained at Pep Boys or other auto parts chains without much difficulty.
Summary: these are great cars if you just need something with a big engine and enough 4WD to get you through most situations, but it's no rock-crawler. Best car I've ever owned that came from under a collapsed shed.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 14th August, 2002