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Forgotten Marque: Chrysler Once Tried to Take On the Imports With Its Eagle Brand

Detroit’s dominance of the American car market was a thing of the past by the mid-1980s as Asian automakers lured mainstream consumers and European makes gnawed away at Cadillac and Lincoln.

Each of Detroit’s Big Three automakers had a different response to the foreign invasion. Ford acquired a stake in Mazda and beefed up reliance on its European operations for cars like the Escort, Contour and Focus. General Motors launched a new Geo division with rebadged Isuzus, Suzukis and even Toyotas, and the automaker also created the new Saturn division with its own unique products. And then there was Chrysler, fresh off its acquisition of American Motors Corporation. The automaker recycled the patriotic Eagle nameplate previously used on a tall, 4-wheel-drive (4WD) AMC wagon (think of it as the predecessor to the Subaru Outback), and created a new division.

Eagle never emerged as a serious contender, and it never actually had a model to call its own. Every Eagle was a rebadged something, most with ties to the import brands Chrysler sought to fight.

Eagle sedan

Eagle’s Bumpy Start

The first three cars were clear stopgaps inherited from Renault when Chrysler bought out its share in AMC. A brief run of AMC Eagle wagons was marketed without the AMC name until late 1987 when production ceased. Then the Eagle Medallion launched here in 1987 as a France-built Renault, and continued largely unchanged as an Eagle.

The larger Eagle Premier used Renault underpinnings but was far more in tune with American tastes. It lasted from 1988 to 1992 powered by either an AMC-soured 4-cylinder or a 3.0-liter V6 developed by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo. An unlikely pairing for sure. In 1990, the Premier started at around $15,500, skyrocketing to $20,000 for the leather-lined ES Limited. That was a mere 10% less than a contemporary Lexus ES 250.

Early 1990s Heyday, If You Can Call it That

Chrysler’s vision — literally — for Eagle came into better focus when the automaker turned to Japanese partner Mitsubishi. The Eagle Summit, a rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage also sold as the Dodge Colt and Plymouth Colt, arrived for 1989 first in sedan form and later as a 3-door hatchback and a coupe. The four cars had little to distinguish them, though the Mirage was slightly more expensive.

The far more interesting development came in 1990 when Chrysler and Mitsubishi launched their coupes: the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Plymouth Laser and, of course, the Eagle Talon. The cars were built in Illinois from almost entirely Mitsubishi parts and designs. Predictably, the Eclipse sold the best. The Laser didn’t make it to a second generation, though the Talon followed the Eclipse until Chrysler pulled the plug on Eagle. In TSi form, the Talon boasted turbocharged power with the option of all-wheel drive (AWD). Additionally, later Talons were among the first cars to have an auxiliary input jack on their radio faceplates — a carryover from Mitsubishi’s Japanese-market radios for consumers who favored MiniDisc players. Here’s a low-mile, unmodified Talon TSi AWD for just $6,500, though you’ll have to go to South Dakota to get it.

Eagle Vision 

The last Eagle to leave the nest was the Vision full-size sedan, which replaced the Premier and was the production version of a Lamborghini (yes, really) concept car. Chrysler debuted a slew of full-size sedans that used its new LH platform, an update of the Renault underpinnings the automaker inherited from AMC. The cars boasted a much-ballyhooed "cab forward" design with an enormous dash and a short hood.

Differentiation between the Vision and its Dodge Intrepid sibling was minimal, though the two had different front and rear bumper treatments. In 1994, the Vision started at about $19,800, while the Intrepid was about $2,000 less. Visions came with power windows and locks, a tape player and floor mats, all of which could be had for $900 on the Intrepid. There is little reason to wonder why the Dodge outsold and outlived the Eagle.

Discontinuation

Chrysler pared the Eagle lineup back to only the Talon for 1998 and then unceremoniously cut the cord in the fall of 1997. The last Eagle Talon rolled out of Normal, Illinois, not long after.

That final model year, the Talon could be had in base, ESi and TSi trim levels, with the same 140- and 210-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 engines found in the Eclipse. A Talon TSi with AWD ran about $21,250, which was about $4,500 less than the Eclipse GSX. Even though Eagle charged extra for air conditioning, leather seats and a number of other features, dealer discounts were certainly a lot larger toward the end. A Talon TSi would have been one of the better automotive bargains of the late 1990s.

Today, any used Eagle is a rare find, mostly because they were inexpensive cars new that sold in relatively low volumes. Fewer than half a dozen Eagles are currently on Autotrader, including this clean first-year Talon. Find an Eagle for sale

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