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click image for more pics of the Eagle Premier

By the early 1980s, American Motors Corporation was on the ropes. Its car line was seriously geriatric – the Eagle, Concord, and Spirit models were derivatives of the Hornet developed in the Bronze Age. AMC had turned to Renault for an infusion of cash in return for an entré into the US market for the French brand. The Renault Alliance, Encore and Medallion were US versions of the French automaker's vehicles distributed by AMC/Jeep dealers, laying the groundwork for the Renault 25-derived Premier. Originally badged Renault Premier, and part of the AMC portfolio, the car became the Eagle Premier following Renault's desperate sale of its AMC stake to Chrysler. AMC had an established brand and operation, a brand new plant in Bramalea, Ontario, as well as the money-making Jeep division, which is what Chrysler really wanted. It's ironic that 20 years later, the Jeep brand is reprising its role as a jewel within a struggling automaker. It's also ironic that while Chrysler acquired AMC for the Jeep brand, the Premier ended up supporting the '90s renaissance at Auburn Hills.

After the Chrysler merger, the Renault Premier became the flagship of the Eagle brand. While the Renault 25 gave some of its DNA, the Premier's floorpan and body are unique – only the doors are shared between the two cars. While analyzing who was buying Jeep vehicles, it was discovered that the Grand Wagoneer was sitting in wealthy people's garages, while the Cherokee was also holding court with more expensive euro iron. The Premier was an effort to give those Jeep buyers a car from an American nameplate, rather than turning to imports. Eagle's intent was to leverage the Premier's euro roots and capture the hearts of buyers looking at brands like Audi, Mercedes, Saab and Volvo. The exterior styling, while perhaps not pulse-racing, was a handsome effort by Giorgetto Giugiaro's ItalDesign. What better way to catch the attention of Europhiles than have your car shaped by one of the leading automotive designers?

The Premier's lines are clean, with suggestions of Audi, and if you squint, there's a passing resemblance to the Alfa 164. The testament to any design effort is how it holds up over time. While the Premier definitely looks like a product of its time, it's not mired in period gimmicks. The front and rear overhangs are larger than current fashion, and the edges are '80s-crisp. There's even some cladding on the ES models, while the entry-level Premiers escaped with none. We're not talking Grand-Am level bodyside abuse, though. Our concern with cladding is what kind of rusty surprises hide behind it. Road salt and guck trapped behind the plastic have a field day with metal, even with galvanized panels. The interior design was the work of AMC's Dick Teague and team. It's nowhere near as timeless as the exterior, but it's a solid effort, and again in keeping with the times. The spaciousness inside more than makes up for any quaint period detailing in the cabin; the Premier offered more interior room than anything else in its class, as well as a large trunk.

Chrysler had just about milked all it could out of the K-Car architecture that pulled the company back from the brink in the early '80s. The platform had been nipped, tucked, sliced, diced and julienned, and by the late '80s it had definitely run its course. The Premier, on the other hand, was quite flexibly engineered, and superior to anything in the Chrysler stable. The structure was stiff and light, always a good starting point. The longitudinal placement of the drivetrain was a carryover from the Renault 25, with the 3.0 liter PRV V6 hanging out forward of the axle. The longitudinal placement eradicated the front-to-back driveline lash that plagues all transverse-engined cars, making for a more refined car. Out back, instead of the beam axle found in Chrysler's other vehicles, the Premier was sporting an independent torsion bar rear suspension.

With a curb weight of 3,000 pounds, the 150-horsepower V6 offered good performance for the day. The Premier also had a 3-speed automatic transaxle with overdrive, something no other Chrysler yet had. The suspension design and rigid unit-body also allowed a superior ride/handling balance to the Chrysler sedans. Since the engine was used in many different cars from Peugot, Renault and Volvo (as well as niche cars like DeLoreans), there's lots of performance concoctions you can whip up. There were even factory-turbocharged PRVs from Renault. Hide one of those setups under the hood of a Premier, and you can have heaps of fun.

Despite being well received as one of the best driving domestic cars on the road (and a screaming bargain during its last couple years), the Premier is rumored to have been called "sales-proof" by Lee Iacocca. For some reason, Chrysler was not able to move the targeted 260,000. Production came to a halt in 1992 after just under 140,000 Premiers and Dodge Monacos had been born from the Bramalea plant. Some of the sales problem falls to teething pains – the first couple years of production had issues with electrical systems, brakes, transmisions, and cooling systems. Post-1990 cars were well-sorted affiars, and they also gained 4-wheel disc brakes and stainless exhausts. The real creampuff Premiers are the 91-92 models - those last couple years saw continued upgrades, as well as high content levels as production was closing out.

The real validation of the efforts of AMC came when Chrysler needed to re-engineer its own line of mid-size sedans. Chrysler had picked up a lot of talent from AMC that was used to working creatively with scant resources, and we can't help but think that those AMC people fueled Chrysler's ability to bring concept cars to production so quickly through the '90s. AMC had implemented a team approach to developing cars, a lot like the renegade Taurus team that Lew Veraldi assembled at Ford. Chrysler benefitted from AMC's development chops, as well as their ability to anticipate trends and expertise at nimbly steering such a large entity as an auto manufacturer.

The LH cars are directly descended from the Eagle Premier, and they were built in Premier's Bramalea plant, one of the newest and most modern in North America. Look under the hood of an LH, and what do you see? Gee whiz, a longitudinal powertrain! Francois Castaing came over to Chrysler from AMC, and he suggested using the Premier as a starting point for the new LH cars. There's not really any interchangeability between the two platforms, but the suspension geometry and packaging of the Premier was aped in the LH cars. The LH drivetrain and suspension mules were also Premiers. The original design proved to be very flexible, at one point offering a development platform that could be AWD, RWD or FWD.

While on the surface, the Eagle Premier may seem like just another ho-hum four door from a forgettable brand, it leaves its own legacy, as well as being the last car with direct roots at American Motors Corporation. The Premier and its Bramalea plant helped keep Chrysler relevant through the 1990s, and the "nothing special" stewardship of the Premier cars ensures that they're inexpensive to buy now. Perhaps it's hard for others to get fired up about an automotive stepchild, but we'd love a '92 Premier Limited. It's one of the best American cars of the last 20 years, able to hold it's own against luxury european marques, and being a caretaker of the last AMC car (Jeeps aren't cars!) would be a responsibility we'd relish.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      It was great to see these postings. RI have three Eagle Premiers with the hopes of getting two of them running this summer!
      • 8 Years Ago
      #19 - The Premier used a stretched version of the Renault 21's platform, but with some components from the Renault 25 (such as the doors).

      A largely-unmodified Renault 21 was also sold in the US as the Eagle Medallion for a very short time at the end of the 80s.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Eagle Talon really wasn't an Eagle. It was a rebadged Mitsubishi Eclipse. And that was back before they messed up the Eclipse.
      • 8 Years Ago
      A nice article, thank you. Some people will slam this car, but it was a nice job, and it's bittersweet to be reminded that AMC parted this world just as it had developed some really good product. This car was light years more sophisticated than much of the big-3 competition at the time. Those nose job on the earlier versions was better than the pics above. If I recall, some late models (incl. Monaco) were offered with a 2.5 4-cyl that Jeep had developed, which I think was derived from the venerable AMC 6 but with two cylinders chopped off. I read rumors somewhere that a coupe and other body styles had been prototyped.
      • 8 Years Ago
      THANK YOU!! Nobody seems to remember that these cars were without a doubt the pre-cursor to the '93 thru '97 LH cars. I've been selling Chrysler products since 1994, and I've had countless arguements with co-workers and the like about the significance these underdog cars were in Chryler's early nineties resurgence. These cars seemed to come in two distinct ways: Tight, reliable conveyances that customers just loved, or total pieces of s*#t that people couldn't wait to unload ('88 to '90 models).
      I had a '91, a Dodge Monaco, that I put 126,000 relatively painless miles on - even with over a 100k, it loved cruising 85 to 90, still returning 27 miles to the gallon. The packaging of the LH, from the said longitudal engine mounting to the vast interior space is directly descendant from the Premier - Chrysler was so wise not to attempt birthing the LH from the K platform. You might still remember that in 1988 the Premier also made its debut alongside the glorified K-car based Dodge Dynasty and Chrysler New Yorker. While these cars ultimately did O.K. for Chrysler, from a dynamic and engineering standpoint they were vastly inferior to the Premier (can you imagine what a K-based Intrepid/Concorde/Vision would have been like?). In reality, the Premier never had a chance - Iacocca hated them, for starters, but ultimately the Eagle brand in general was never taken seriously - because of the Dynasty/New Yorker, they would not be badged as a Dodge or Chrysler, so they created a brand that was more like a sewer run-off from the brands that mattered. Giv'em the Medallions, Premiers, Summits, and any other bastardized product that needed quiet disposal.
      The Jeep/Eagle brand could have morphed into a great combo for Chrysler - Trailrated SUVs badged Jeep, AWD Subaru fighters badged Eagle. The problem seemed to be that the Eagle brand's primary purpose for Chrysler was to quietly dispose of the much unloved Premier. It's puzzling that Chrysler took the Premier/Monaco, vastly superior to anything in their stables at the time, and cut the umbilical cord to watch them whither and die. Sewer run-off...
      • 8 Years Ago
      I always thought this was strangely attractive, like a fat girl with a pretty face. Too bad it was never RWD.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Wow, that brings back some memories. We got the Dodge version, the Monaco. Actually the car rode great. It was quiet and had good power. I wasn't too crazy about the wiper switch/pod that moved up and down with the steering wheel. We probably sold about 4 Monacos. There were a couple of them that developed oil leaks. The mechanics did not like working on the oil leak because they were very difficult to fix and warranty time only paid about a quarter of the actual time it took to repair them.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I bought one of these for my wife to replace the Festiva I totaled. It's the only time I ever made an offer on a car, and the dealer came with an even lower offer! Anyway, it wasn't a bad car at all. My favorite part was the electronic turn signal.
      • 8 Years Ago
      there is a good links about the Premier at http://home.earthlink.net/~drdorroh/index_files/Page261.htm
      there was also a planned and unfortunately cancelled, 2-door version called the Allure as well as a wagon, a missed opportunity for Chrysler...what if the 2-door version and wagon wasn't cancelled and received the green light?
      • 8 Years Ago
      #3. Take the article in the spirit in which it was intended. Don't just respond based on the title of the article. They're not predicting the car will post a record sale price at barrett-jackson, its just a nostalgia piece. Keep posting articles like these Autoblog. I'd like to hear what you have to say about the plymouth sundance/dodge shadow pair one day.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I agree that this car was a big step in the right direction,even with its faults. European style with American size and price.
      • 8 Years Ago
      So Autoblog, this reminds me... is there going to be a return of the Reader Ride of the Day?
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