Currently reading: Throwback Thursday 1987: The demise of AMC and the Eagle Premier
America's valiant underdog had been saved by Renault, but it resulted in disaster for both. It was a shame for the pair's new Premier, which showed real promise, only to fail under Chrysler's direction

The car was called the Premier, but really it signalled the ending.

This saloon, introduced in 1987, was the last car to be produced by American Motors (AMC), long the valiant underdog of the US motor industry — or, as Fortune magazine once put it, "a small company deft enough to exploit special market segments left untended by the giants".

AMC had been formed by a pair of smaller brands with the intention of competing with the 'big three': Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

Nash and Hudson had been big players before the war, but in 1954 they had to merge in order to compete; even together, they took only around 4% of the US's burgeoning new car market.

The two names were dropped in 1958, with AMC consolidating them into Rambler, the name taken from a compact model that had until then been sold as both a Nash and a Hudson. Compact cars quickly solidified as the company's focus.


AMC as a brand in its own right came about in 1966, with the renaming of the Rambler Ambassador to the AMC Ambassador. This was done because Rambler had an 'economy' image, while AMC had a desire to push its models upmarket.

The company continued to make steady progress, before expanding its portfolio with the acquisition of Kaiser Jeep in 1970 — a shrewd move.

This was a high point for AMC. The oil crisis pushed people into economy cars, the brand had individual, attractive models such as the AMX and Javelin sports cars, the Pacer wide-body hatchback and the before-its-time Eagle crossover, while the Jeep brand was turning a decent profit.

However, by 1978, AMC was struggling and no longer had sufficient funds to develop new models, so it sought a partner. It ended up in bed with Renault, which, while enormously popular in Europe, had only a minuscule market share in the US.

Renault pumped $150 million into AMC, in return for production and sales synergies.


Read our review

Car review

A wide range of engines, handsome looks, and a reasonable interior - but the Megane is missing something significant

Back to top

As The New York Times said at the time of the merger: "AMC was not going to be able to hack it alone. By the same token, Renault wasn't going to be able to set up the 1000 or so dealerships that it needed in order to expand in this country. It's logical and it's a case where one plus one could equal more than two."


Indeed, sales initially surged, reaching a peak in 1979. Yet it wasn't enough. AMC still couldn't keep up with the big three and in December 1980 its shareholders voted for the company to be taken over by Renault, following rejection for credit from the banks.

AMC was soon down to just one model of its own, the Eagle, while it focused on building Americanised versions of Renault cars: the Alliance, based on the 9, and the Encore, based on the 11.

However, Renault began to experience financial troubles of its own, in part due to its investment in a new, cutting-edge factory for AMC in Bramalea, Canada, resulting in lay-offs in France.

Some within Renault wanted it to ditch AMC, for they could not envisage it becoming profitable. The company's chairman, Georges Besse, disagreed. 

But in a bizarre twist of fate, Besse was later shot and killed by a communist terrorist group who had been angered by his sacking of those 60,000 or so Renault-associated workers.

Back to top

Renault 4

This put a new man in charge of the French firm. He swiftly decided to get out of the US and repair the damaged domestic business.

All this came just as AMC's 'saviour' was being primed for launch: the Premier. Development of this rival to the hugely successful Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable had begun in 1982 and was the reason for the construction of the Bramalea factory.

The Premier was based on the platform of the new Renault 25, with styling by Giugiaro (although it's fair to say it's far from the Italian firm's finest work). Engine options were AMC's 111bhp 2.5-litre inline four or Renault's woeful 150bhp 3.0-litre V6. The interior was designed by AMC, while the electronics came from Renault.

But Renault, of course, suddenly wanted out, and so in early 1987 it sold AMC to Chrysler — one of the companies that AMC had been in defiance of for so many years — for $1.5 billion. Chrysler renamed the division Jeep-Eagle, showing its motive for the purchase.


Back to top

It hastily created a new brand, Eagle, named after the popular AMC model. Its portfolio consisted of the Eagle (which was renamed the Wagon), the Medallion (an Americanised version of the Renault 21) and the new Premier. Soon after, rebadged Mitsubishis fleshed out the range.

The Chrysler takeover was so poorly timed that the first Premiers to roll out of the factory were adorned with Renault badges on the grille and wheels but Eagle nameplates on the bootlid. 

The Premier was an advanced car for its time and US journalists praised it highly; indeed, it was better than its Chrysler stablemates. Yet it sold poorly, even after it was sent to a second dealership network badged as a Dodge Monaco. It was eventually discontinued just five years after launching and Chrysler had to repay Renault millions following its failure to hit sales targets agreed in the original sale of AMC.

Unsurprisingly, the Eagle brand never really had any identity and proved a resounding failure. It was discontinued at the end of 1998, 10 years after it was launched.

Renault, meanwhile, has never again braved it Stateside.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
WallMeerkat 7 June 2018

Not the end of the story. The

Not the end of the story. The Premier platform served as the basis of the LH platform, the cab-forward 90s platform that "saved" Chrysler (or at least stay of execution) with the Concorde, LHS etc.

Superceded by the LX platform, components of which were shared with Mercedes E class. And with the SUV craze in full swing, it looks like the last Chrysler saloon, the 300, will be axed stateside by FCA. There ends the saloon lineage.

Beastie_Boy 7 June 2018

Interesting read, that...

I enjoy these throwback articles, please keep them coming.