Eagle SX/4 Wheels
1983 AMC Eagle SX/4

Fact: If 15-year-old boys could afford cars, there would likely still be an American Motors. For those of you not in the know, the American Motors Corporation (AMC) wrapped up business operations in 1988, this after a failed dalliance with French automaker Renault, and the sale of the Jeep brand to Chrysler. (You can learn more about the history of AMC from Joe Ligo, producer of the documentary The Last Independent Automaker, on this episode of the Car Stuff Podcast.)

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1983 AMC Eagle SX/4


But, on the way out, AMC cranked out one of the coolest American cars ever built—this providing you find stickers, spoilers, and advanced technology cool—and the effort came close to saving the company.

Full confession: This author found the AMC Eagle SX/4—and the entire AMC Eagle lineup—extremely cool. Like bikini car wash cool (again, I was 15 when the Eagles started rolling out.) And would have gladly donated a healthy limb to science if it meant I could have one.

Eagle SX/4 Ad

Red SX/4
1983 AMC Eagle SX/4 Ad

Eagle Lineup

The Eagle lineup, which consisted of a compact sedan and wagon (these were just dubbed “Eagle”) and the subcompact SX/4 and Kammback (photo below), was based on existing AMC products (the Concord and Spirit respectively), but featured novel, and wholly practical AWD drivetrains, a thing unheard of at the time. Dubbed “Quadra-Trac,” the AMC AWD system was cable of determining which wheels were enjoying the most traction, and directing torque to that corner of the car. Cool stuff, and predictive of high-tech systems such as Audi’s quattro (the Q is supposed to be lower case), which was introduced in the U.S. on select versions of the German maker’s cars beginning in 1983.

But unlike contemporary Subaru products—all of which, save for the BRZ sports coupe, are equipped with AWD), AMC made a very big deal of the feature, in its ads, and in designing the cars.

All Eagle models sat higher off the ground than the cars they were based on, and featured great looking wheels and specific accent trim. The SX/4 models took things further, with a rear spoiler, rocker-panel graphics, and cool available grille-mounted rally headlamps. The look was sporty, flashy, and exactly what a guy recovering from puberty would want from a set of wheels.

Sadly, once you got past the looks, the Eagle lineup was kind of dull. While truly capable off-road—and Eagles really were spectacular in the snow—these flamboyant AMCs were disappointingly pudgy and underpowered. While a contemporary Toyota Corola, which offered similar cabin space, came in at under 2000 pounds, the SX/4 tipped the scales at troubling 3100 pounds.

Unfortunately, nothing available under the hood could help any of the Eagles move along at anything but a snails pace. Most were equipped with AMC’s own 4.2-liter inline six. Though stout and reliable, the big six was behind the times in terms of fuel-delivery—it was still carbureted—cranking out just 100 horsepower. Even sadder, manual-transmission models could be equipped with a 2.5-liter 4-cyilder engine that was simply not up to the task.

As the Eagle SX/4 was cool looking, and capable off-road, but lackluster on-pavement, AMC made some pretty bold claims for the car in its ads—and those claims came off as kind of silly.

Eagle SX/4 Commercial


While an Eagle SX/4 could never out accelerate a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, the copywriters claimed the AWD AMC…

…out corners (a) Trans Am in loose sand.

…out accelerates Mustang Turbo in loose dirt.


…outbraked MGB on dry pavement.

If that last claim is true, that’s on MGB.

Eagle SX/4 and Kammback

The ad also claims that the SX/4 returned better fuel economy than either of the three vehicles listed above. As contemporary tests by the editors of Consumer Guide saw just 15-17 mpg in real-world driving, we sort of doubt the claim.

While disappointing as a sporty car, the Eagle SX/4 looked cool, and would make owners instant heroes in the event of a significant snowfall. While Eagle sedans and wagons are relatively easy to find, having been offered between 1980 and 1988, the SX/4 and Kammback were produced only between 1981 and 1983. This makes them especially scarce.

It’s a shame AMC couldn’t figure out a way to market its Eagle cars as classy, capable alternatives to its Jeep products. We all know how important the Jeep brand became to Chrysler. Sort of shame there was no synergy there to exploit. It’s also a shame that more 15-year-old boys didn’t buy cars.

1983 Eagle Kammback
1983 Eagle Kammback

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1983 AMC Eagle SX/4 Pictures

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Review Flashback! 1980 AMC Eagle

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