Rare Rides: The Eagle Premier Story, Part I

Today’s Rare Ride combined Italian design and French running gear in a full-size sedan marketed under an all-new brand: Eagle.

It’s time for the Eagle Premier story.

As mentioned above, the Premier was a multinational sort of car. Developed by AMC while Renault was a major stakeholder, the Premier was created in the relatively brief time span which gave us cars like the Renault Alliance built in Wisconsin, and the French-built Renault Medallion that was later rebranded an Eagle.

The Premier was to take the flagship position in the AMC-Renault North American lineup, and it spent several years in development. Renault bought into AMC in 1979, and the pair started work on a new front-drive sedan in 1982. With code name X-58, the jointly-developed sedan was slated to enter production in 1986.

AMC hadn’t fielded a larger car for quite some time, as the brand’s last entry in the full-size space was the Ambassador 1974. AMC hadn’t even offered a true midsize car since the Matador lineup of 1978. Big stakes, but as expected AMC was not exactly flush in the wallet region, so some cost-saving measures occurred right at the start of the X-58 project.

AMC’s all-new car would in fact use an existing platform, from the full-size Renault 25. The 25 entered production in 1982 and was the largest passenger car produced by Renault. The 25 was sold in Europe’s executive luxury car space above the 21 family car (Medallion). A modern monocoque chassis, the 25 was a much more advanced platform than anything AMC had in production at the time. The 25 chassis would be lightly reworked for American use and featured an independent suspension straight from the Medallion.

Early in development, design work began on the X-58 and its sister car the X-59. The X-59 had a planned introduction two years after the sedan, in 1988. A midsize two-door coupe, X-59 was intended to be more sporty and exciting than its sedan sibling. AMC called their favorite long-time designer, Dick Teague, and asked him to work up designs for both the X-58 and X-59. Teague drew sleek aerodynamic shapes and included hidden headlamps on the coupe. AMC went as far as a full-size mockup of the X-59, which adopted the name Allure at some point and wore Renault branding. Even after the launch of the sedan the media believed a coupe was coming to production, given statements made in the Premier’s MotorWeek review.

In the end the X-59 never saw production, and Teague’s X-58 sedan design was scrapped in favor of a three-box shape created by Giorgetto Guigiaro at Italdesign. Given the influence Renault had over the end product and the pervasive feeling among domestic car makers in the early Eighties that “The desirable customers want European-type cars!”, the design choice was not surprising.

With that call, the platform and exterior design were cemented. In Part II we’ll dive deeper into the hugely successful car that was Premier.

[Images: Chrysler]

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