American Motors Corporation and their majority stockholder Renault, began development of the Project X58 car, an intermediate
sized car to compete in the North American market based on the Renault 25 platform. Styling for the car was submitted by the
AMC Michigan design team, a California-based design group, and the world renowned ItalDesign group in Turin Italy led by Giorgetto
Giugiaro. In the end, the exterior style of Giugiaro won with the interior being styled by AMC in-house team. With this new
design came the need for a new modern factory, which Renault and AMC built in Bramalea, Canada to produce this new series.
Original project plans called for the introduction of the car in 1988, with a 2-door version in 1989, and finally a wagon
in late 1990. The new car was called the Renault Premier, the first Renault exclusive to North America and to have its world
debut at the North American Auto Show in Detroit. The upcoming 2-door version was to be named the Renault Allure. AMC also
looked to this platform as the base for the next generation of 4WD Eagles.
Unknown to most anyone
in 1986, Lee Iacocca gave the ’green-light’ for Chrysler to start talks with Renault regarding the purchase AMC.
After several months of up and down negotiations, and the tragic assassination of Renault’s CEO by an extreme anti-capitalist
group, Chrysler and Renault came to terms and Chrysler enacted a hostile takeover of AMC by purchasing Renault’s majority
stock shares at $4.50 per share ($1.1 billion). Chrysler saw AMC as a bargain, with an established dealer network, the profitable
Jeep brand, and a fully operational new factory producing the ‘Premier’ which would emerge as Chrysler’s
most modern sedan entry into the competitive intermediate market. With the stroke of a pen (and lots of money) American Motors
became the Jeep/Eagle Division of Chrysler in 1987. For 10 short years, Chrysler tried to establish the Eagle brand in the
marketplace. But with limited sales success, lack of advertising budget, and too many cross-branded models, the Eagle line
ended in 1998. Here is a chronological listing of vehicles sold under the Eagle brand.
AMC Eagle Wagon-1988
(original AMC Eagle wagon, built in Canada)
thru 1992 (AMC/Renault design, built in Canada)
thru 1989 (Renault 21 rebadged, built in France)
thru 1992 (Mitsubishi Colt rebadged, made in Japan, sold only in Canada)
Eagle Summit-1989 thru
1996 (Mitsubishi Mirage rebadged, made in Japan)
thru 1998 (Mitsubishi Eclipse rebadged, made in US)
thru 1993 (Mitsubishi Galant rebadged, made in Japan, sold only in Canada)
thru 1997 (Chrysler LH series, made in Canada)
The Premier is a beautiful
original design from Giorgetto Giugiaro (visit www.italdesign.it), one of the world’s pre-eminent auto designers. Today,
almost 20 years since its original design, the Premier looks fresh, sharp, and modern. Compared to the Taurus, and other cars
of this era, the Premier design has stood the test of time. The Premier was available as both an LX model and an ES model.
Original plans also included a DL model featuring the 2.5 liter AMC engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. However, the
DL model was dropped by Chrysler in late 1987. The LX model came standard with the proven AMC 2.5 liter 4 cylinder matched
with a brand new Renault/VW/Audi electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission. The ES model featured another proven
engine, the 3.0 liter PRV (a joint venture between Peugeot, Renault, and Volvo) with a German-built ZF Industries 4-speed
mechanical automatic transmission as standard as well as a performance tuned suspension and unique lower body side cladding.
The PRV 3.0 liter aluminum alloy V-6 was available in the LX as an option. Very few of the LX models were produced with the
AMC 2.5 liter engine, most came to the dealers with the optional V-6 and finding a good example today of a 4-cylinder Premier
is almost impossible. In development, some 4-cylinder prototypes were fitted with manual transmissions (called the DL model),
however this model never made it into production. The Premier boasted the largest interior room in its class, and despite
its boxy shape, had a super low drag coefficient of only 0.31. With a completely new factory in Bramalea, Canada, the Premier
was being built in the most modern factory in North America. The modular design of the Premier allowed for all major systems
to be replaced quickly if a defect was found. The Premier features over 8 on-board computers controlling everything from the
engine, lamps, audio systems, speed control, and more. It was truly ahead of its time in technology, especially for a car
developed by little independent AMC.
172 of the new Renault
Premier’s sold in 1987, some even rebadged at the dealer level with the new Eagle logo. During 1988, the Eagle Premier
emerged as a solid entry into the crowded marketplace and as Consumer Reports stated in their reviews, “...the best
car Chrysler has to offer isn’t even a Chrysler!”. For 1988, the Premier debuted with sales over 50,000 units
for its first full year. Like so many AMC (and Renault) cars, sales began to drop almost immediately. Early transmission and
electrical problems clouded Premier’s long term reliability, despite most of the problems result of the dealer network’s
service department’s lack of training on how to fix the cars when they broke down. Not to say there weren’t some real
‘new model’ reliability issues (electrical system, brakes, cooling system) to address, most of these were fixed
in the 1991 mid-year update and addressed in service bulletins or recalls. The design technology of the Premier was way ahead
of the competition at the time, with modular assembly, multiple on-board computers, and the uncommon north-south layout of
the engine bay.
It is interesting to
note, the 1988 and 1989 model year Premiers had decals under the hood stating they were ‘Manufactured by American Motors’
with tiny print underneath saying ‘a division of Chrysler Motors’. Later models just said ‘Manufactured
by Chrysler Motors’. Obviously, the early models are considered more collectable by AMC fans since they are the last
passenger car with clear AMC identification.
In late 1989, Chrysler
launched the ES Limited, a striking high-end version of the Premier with monochromatic paint themes in your choice of black,
white, red, and silver; with unique alloy wheels, and virtually every option as standard equipment. While visually awesome,
the ES Limited didn’t offer any real performance upgrade over the ES, a major shortcoming to potential buyers and the
automotive press. Had Chrysler had the foresight to equip the ES Limited with more horsepower and/or a manual transmission,
this model might have been better received. Total sales for the LX, ES, and new ES Limited were barely topped 30,000 units
for the 1989 model year. Motorized shoulder belts became standard in 1989 for both front passengers and were a clumsy, ill-working
system required by the Federal government. Canadian models kept standard 3-point front belts thru 1992.
The interior of the
Premier was one of its strongest assets. With the largest interior in its class, the Premier could handle up to 6 passengers
comfortably in the LX versions, 5 passengers in the LX and ES versions with the center console. Headroom and legroom in the
Premier was simply incredible for a car this size.
With sales still lagging
and a need to utilize their new Bramalea factory, Chrysler decided to clone the Premier for Dodge dealers and badge it as
the ‘Dodge Monaco’ for debut in the 1990 model year. There were also prototypes of elongated Premiers to be sold
as a Chrysler being discussed. Despite a few cosmetic grill changes and exterior paint colors, the two were identical. Sales
of the Monaco never took off. Dodge dealers had too many other choices (Dynasty, Fifth Avenue) to offer and cars in general
weren’t selling anyway (the only hot products Chrysler had in the early 90’s were Jeep and the Caravan). For the
total 1990 model year, just above 21,000 buyers drove home a new Premier/Monaco. Again, many owners were having major problems
with their cars during the warranty period (the infamous Chrysler 7/70 was standard on all Premier/Monaco power trains) and
lack of dealer and manufacturer support was rampant. Several recalls had been issued and many dealers were asked to buy the
cars back from customers. Some important improvements in 1990 were the switch to 4-wheel disc brakes, a stainless steel exhaust
system, and now all models had the PRV V-6 engine.
Media reviews were
mixed on the Premier. Just about everyone loved the room, comfort, and handling. Simply put, the Premier was one of the best
driving sedans on the road, receiving high marks from the motoring press and buyers. However, just about everyone had comments
about the Premier’s unfortunate little quirks, like the turn signal lever, motorized seat belts, noisy engine, and brawny
transmission. As for looks, the Premier was a home-run, reflecting both Audi and Mercedes. It gave buyers an alternative to
the melted Velveeta look so common with other domestic cars of the day and the press generally gave high marks for the overall
way Premier presented itself.
To improve on the quality
of the cars, Chrysler made some much needed improvements to the Premier and Monaco for mid-year introduction in 1991. Early-built
91 models have a VIN# of MH7 while late-built models have a vin# of MH8. This important yet virtually unnoticed in the press
update yielded the most reliable rendition of the Premier by replacing many of the Renault based components with more available
and reliable Chrysler parts. One the outside, the Premier Limited received a stylish new front grill and rear tail lamp assemblies,
thus losing the ’design by Giugiaro’ badges. The biggest changes however, were on the inside. The transmission
valve body was reworked to smooth shifting, the electrical system was completely overhauled (with all powertrain components
now controlled by a SBEC II Chrysler controlled instead of the previous years Renix (Renault/Bendix) system), and the cooling
system was improved with smoother coolant flow and twin fans on the radiator. The engine remained the 3.0 PRV but now featured
distributorless ignition, revised rocker arm assemblies and updated cylinder head gaskets. In spite of the efforts of both
Chrysler and Renault to make these improvements, sales continued their downward spiral as people just weren’t buying
the Premier (or Monaco). For the 1991 model year, sales dropped to below 19,000 units. It was clear the days were numbered
for the both of these cars. In spite of the lack of sales success of these cars, the technology and design of the Premier
gave Chrysler the edge it needed to rekindle its sales in the mid to late 90’s.
1992 was the last year
for the Premier/Monaco. All models now featured the new front grill and rear lamp design found on the 1991 Limited. A few
new paint colors were offered, but no additional changes were made in 1992 as the models were kept on just to fulfill Chrysler’s
5-year contract with Renault and to use up the remaining parts from the slow selling 91 year model. Total production for 1992
was only 6865 units combined. The focus now was on revamping the Bramalea factory to produce the upcoming LH series (Intrepid/Concorde/Vision),
which was heavily based on the design technology of the Premier.
Many of the concepts
and design features of the Premier helped pave the way for the enormous success Chrysler had seen in the 90’s with many
of their popular vehicles. History has shown us that the talent brought over from American Motors into the Chrysler team truly
helped pave the way for the success Chrysler saw in the 90’s. The LH series of vehicles (Vision, Concorde, Intrepid)
were built in the same Bramalea factory and share a multitude of design similarities, especially the north-south layout of
the engine bay. If you look at the cars from below, the two cars are virtually identical in layout and design. It’s
interesting to note the rear disc brake calipers of the Premier made their way into the Dodge Viper! The entire team of AMC
designers and engineers breathed new life into the Chrysler organization, and the Premier was clearly the design platform
new products would emerge from.
Commentary….a missed opportunity for Chrysler
purchased American Motors, they had a chance to really shine with a new line of cars under the Eagle badge. Unfortunately
Chrysler really didn’t need another line of cars competing with their Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler brands, they really
only wanted Jeep. The result was an apparent lack of support at the top from day one for the entire Eagle project.
Their first mistake was canceling the 2-door version (the Allure). For nothing but image reasons, the Allure
could have been a potent contender in the market, especially if Chrysler had worked with Renault in bringing turbo powered
engines into the lineup. What about importing the powerhouse Renault Alpine under the Eagle badge? It sure would’ve
been a better investment than the ill-fated Chrysler-Masarati venture. And the Eagle Medallion? We all know the Medallion
(Renault 21) had a really poor introduction into the market, but it was a solid entry, especially the wagon version. It just
didn’t have the support it needed from the company bringing it into the USA. Original AMC plans called for the Renault
21 to underpin the new series of 4WD Eagles as well as a new Alliance AWD.
Mistake was rebadging other Chrysler/Mitsubishi products as ‘Eagles’ and trying to sell them as unique ‘high-end’
or ‘sport’ versions of what anyone could buy at their Dodge, Plymouth, or Mitsubishi dealer for thousands less
than the Eagle variant. It was a management mistake to have offered the Talon rebadged as a Plymouth Laser. There should have
been only 1, and it should have been the Talon. The Talon, Summit and later Vision were great cars, but when Chrysler started
marketing the same models under their Plymouth and Dodge brands, the Eagle identity quickly faded. It’s clear the unique
identity of Eagle should have been kept to models you couldn’t find at other Chrysler outlets.
And then there’s
the AMC factor.....why didn’t Chrysler keep their promise to the AMC shareholders and continue the AMC marquee? It could
have emerged as a nice mix, AMC branded cars would be the higher volume, lower priced models, with Eagle representing a high-end
product. (similar to the Nissan/Infiniti, Toyota/Lexus scenarios). Perhaps the biggest mistake was to not continue the AMC
Eagle 4x4 concept, as this true Eagle was a great niche product, selling in small numbers but consistently since 1980. The
Premier would have yielded itself very nicely to a 4wd design and would have given Chrysler another image building niche product
for the marketplace, plus AMC had already invested in the development of these next generation 4WD vehicles.
In summary, the Eagle
brand was a package of missed opportunities for Chrysler.
The Eagle Premier outsold the later Eagle Vision (but the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde sold like hotcakes)
The Premier had parts with the AMC name and/or logo all the way till 1992.
The Dodge Monaco was available in colors you couldn’t get on a Premier.
Some 89 and 90 model Premier’s had digital instrumentation & gauges, but nothing about this is in any sales literature.
(b/w drawings can be found in some service manuals) *if you own a Premier with this digital package, please send pictures!
We’ll add them to this website! Dealer videos from 1988 clearly showed this digital instrument package as an option.
AMC had high hopes
on the new Premier. It was the largest product launch in AMC history overshadowed
by the hostile takeover by Chrysler. These initial press releases were aimed at showing the public just how important and
how special the Premier was for the future of AMC. The emphasis was on the designer and the new assembly plant. It was an
attempt to show the automotive world and consumers that AMC was dedicated to modern styling and improved manufacturing processes
with their new car.
With the introduction
in 1988 for the Premier, 1989 for the 2-door version Allure, and a 4-door wagon in 1990, AMC & Renault seemed to have
a strong line-up in the works. As history has shown us, the Premier was a mere blip on the sales charts, a hidden gem of a
car born from the controversial marriage of Renault and American Motors, forced to be raised by Chrysler, and kept alive by
the consumers who bought them, enjoy them, hate them, but ultimately respect them as one of the most unique cars built in
Edited by Derek Dorroh—June 19, 2008