Project Car SOTU: An AMC Eagle with Provenance

front-dark-clean2-edited-lead.jpg [Editor’s Note – Say hello to Alan everyone. You’ll immediately be able to tell that he’s in the right place.] A red, white, and blue logo. An all-iron pushrod engine and four-wheel drive. Designed in Kenosha, Wisconsin (and built in Brampton, Ontario). Formerly the official vehicle of the National Ski Patrol. Its name is shared with this country’s national bird and the lunar module that carried Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the moon’s surface. It’s the Eagle, made by the American Motor Company. It’s overtly patriotic, but not quite to the point of being indistinguishable from parody. This particular Eagle is a little bit special. It previously belonged to Kurt Spitzner, who was once (and is now again) the Sports Car Club of America’s rally series director. He used it as a course sweep and support vehicle for a few major rally events. The main upgrade he made while he owned it was to install front springs from a V8-equipped AMC Javelin, to add ride height.

lead-edited.jpgEvidence that the Eagle was ahead of its time: modern crossovers and the entire Subaru lineup. 

Kurt sold it to a former co-worker of mine. Joe Gearin, an ad salesman for Grassroots Motorsports magazine, picked the car up in Colorado and drove it to Florida. He replaced the emissions-nightmare Carter 2-barrel carburetor with a simple Weber knockoff from Pierce Manifolds. He also made a few other minor upgrades. After running some SCCA rallycross events with the Eagle, Joe let the car sit for several years while he got distracted with other projects. Cars filled his driveway, a neighbor complained, and suddenly Joe was trying to unload his beloved machines to a fellow enthusiast at an easy price. I’ve always had a fascination with these cars (though never out of patriotic duty). It’s rare to ever see one on the road anymore. All I knew when I was a kid is that they were taller and had bigger tires than all the other cars on the road. When I learned it was an AMC, I liked that I had the same initials. I never knew that they were hodgepodges of parts-bin engineering; that they taught you the subtle differences between “durable” and “reliable”; that they were groundbreaking all-wheel-drive unibody passenger cars, but sales weren’t strong enough to prop up a dying automaker. I took ownership of this Eagle for a mere $500. There was “some kind of clutch problem” and one of the rear brakes was bound up. Roaches were living in one of the wheel centercaps. It was running when he parked it. The tentative goal is to race it in 24 Hours of LeMons, but realistically, there’s a long, long list of repairs to tackle before I start thinking about stripping the interior and paying someone to cage it.

under-hood-edited.jpg The AMC straight-6 engine is a torquey, slow-revving engine.  

“Ran when parked” wasn’t quite as ominous as it sounds. I met some friends with a tow dolly and a truck and left the beer back at my house as incentive. With jumper cables and a spray of starting fluid, the engine coughed to life. It’s definitely not yet making its full 114 horsepower and 210 pound-feet, but mere signs of life were enough. These 4.2-liter inline-6 engines (and their 4.0-liter successors, found in Jeeps through the early ’00s) are legendary. I wasn’t too put off by the complete lack of response in the clutch pedal. Sure, it’s supposedly an unobtainium part derived from Renault components, but this is America! Between eBay and RockAuto, everything is attainable. Right? [Images Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Alan Cesar]

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