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Project Car SOTU: 1984 AMC Eagle

Alan Cesar May 11, 2015 Project Car SOTU, Project Cars 6 Comments

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My AMC Eagle’s primer-gray hood has unceremoniously become a staging area for crap I need to shove into the attic. My access ladder is right above the Eagle’s engine bay, which means I usually sit on the top edge of the windshield as I pull the folding ladder down. Rusted fittings on its clutch master cylinder had me stuck as of my last update, but I lucked out. I also found a local shop that could accommodate my request for a custom-made brake line. Same day, even.

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In a previous post, I mentioned that I had removed my old clutch master cylinder and tracked down a rebuild kit, but was stuck on removing a stuck flare nut for the flex hose. Several applications of penetrating lubricant—which I’ve taken to calling PeePee Blaster because my friends and I are adults with mature senses of humor—a bit of cleaning, and a new pair of Vise-Grips that my wife got me for Secular End-of-Year Gift Giving Day got me past that challenge.

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The Vise-Grip’s effectiveness surprised me. I had, my entire life, been skeptical of how well a pair of locking pliers would work in any given situation. My success rate with them was uninspiring. Often, it would just result in me shaving another couple thousands of material off the head of a bolt that became increasingly more round. The fault, I now believe, was in the Vise-Grips that I was using. My prior experience had been limited to the set my dad had in his garage for decades.

It wasn’t until I had a new set of locking pliers of m own that I realized that the teeth in those jaws can dull over time. When I clamped down on the flare nut with these new Vise-Grips, it “bit in” more literally than I was accustomed to.

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This is just a long way of saying that if your Vise-Grips suck, sharpen those teeth with a triangle file.

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Finally cracking that flare nut loose meant I could use the clutch master that I had rebuilt, and not resort to adapting a Tilton single-circuit brake master. But I still needed a new hydraulic flex hose with flare nut fittings. I scoured parts store inventories and exhausted my Google-Fu with no success, so I crowdsourced a solution and asked friends on Facebook. One suggested buying off-the-shelf brake hose with AN fittings, and using brake line to AN adapters to get it to work in my application. I mulled spending $30 plus shipping on a braided stainless hose (absolute overkill) and a few adapters until another friend mentioned Central Hydraulics, a local shop that does everything from oil cooler line to high-pressure hose for excavators. I hopped on my bike and rode over there with the original line in hand.

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The guy at the counter looked it over, gave me a price: about $40. I like to support local business whenever I can, but I pressed further. “How long will it take?”

“Oh, I can have this ready for you this afternoon.”

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Sold. He even used a hand-bendable pipe for the top section, so I could make minor adjustments if necessary.

I picked up the new piece later that day, took it home, and began preparing to reassemble everything. That’s when I finally noticed that I could see light coming through in areas where I shouldn’t. The firewall had rusted through a little bit where the clutch master attaches. The clutch pedal doesn’t transmit a lot of force onto the firewall, but I don’t want to ever have to deal with this area of the car again. More work is required before I can finally reassemble these hydraulics and actually drive the car under its own power.

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The next step is to clean and repair the firewall, either with JB Weld or with the conventional metal arc variety. Fortunately, despite gas in the tank that’s probably half a decade old or more, a complete lack of a tuneup or carb adjustment, and really zero fuel or ignition maintenance in forever, this all-iron 258-cubic-inch inline-6 still starts up readily and will idle smoothly once it’s warmed up a little. I’m still impressed with its tractor-like durability.

[Photos Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Alan Cesar]

  • AMC Eagle = good. All the time.

  • William Robinson

    If they do not say “vise grip” do not buy them.. Most of the off brands (even some of better known brands) tell d to have loose jaws where each jaw has individual movement which make them less effective and much more dangerous. A hot headed buddy of mine almost lost three fingerz last weekend due too crap off brand grips. when he couldnt get then to release he used an open ended wrench to make them release, it took much less pressure than he was expecting which caused the grips to really violently flip the wrench and the grip into his hand.. He broke three knuckles and somthing like 80 stitches. Use real Vise Grips and think about what you are doing.

  • karonetwentyc

    Oh, God. An AMC Eagle wagon.

    The worst vehicle I ever owned was a 1982 AMC Eagle wagon. 242cid straight-6, 4-speed manual, and a rear axle taken from (IIRC) a Ford truck. Not only did the bolt pattern at the rear not match the one at the front, but the rear diff ratio was also not the same as the one at the opposite end of the car. I learned this latter fact after replacing every vacuum line in the 4WD system, engaging it, and jamming the drivetrain; in retrospect, I should have anticipated this.

    My advice: find a rusted-out XJ cherokee with a 4.0, AW4 automatic, and NP242 transfer case. Combine the 4.0 with the 242cid Eagle motor to make a 4.5 stroker (you’ll have a hell of a time mounting the front diff if you just change out the 242cid engine for the 4.0, assuming you want to keep 4WD, since you’ll lose the front diff mount cast into the 242’s block in a straight swap), and stick the NP242 and AW4 in there at the same time.

    It’s a lot of work and much of it isn’t straight plug-and-play, but the power and reliability increases (including elimination of the vacuum-shift 4WD system) will be well worth it. Fuel economy should also improve somewhere on the order of 20% provided you don’t go crazy with your right foot.

    That Eagle wagon really was the worst car I had ever owned until a Subaru Forester came along, but I still have a certain sneaking love for it. AMC Eagles are just some of the greatest automotive oddballs out there, period, and totally worthy of preservation.

    • Alan Cesar

      I’ve already got the vacuum system totally deleted. The rest is tempting if I keep this as a long-term project. I definitely have a similar love-hate relationship with this thing.

      • karonetwentyc

        I hear you. In all honesty, I’d say that the obvious answer to this is to just go find a nice XJ Cherokee and be done with it – but then you wouldn’t have an Eagle.

        Seriously, though, I wish you the best of luck with it and look forward to seeing how it progresses. Just remember that Eagles have a temperament that is entirely their own and completely different from any other AMC product, including the cars that they were based on.

        • Alan Cesar

          Exactly. I wouldn’t mind a Cherokee at all, but ever since my first visit to the U.S., when I saw these tall cars with big tires, I thought they looked super cool. But before too long, they all disappeared from the streets. When I got my chance to own one for $500, a six-cylinder with a 5-speed that came with rally tires, I couldn’t pass it up.

          Now that I’m up to my neck in necessary repairs, I’m not so sure it was a great idea. But once it’s moving, I’ll be able to drive it around a bit and finally say that I’ve owned and driven an AMC Eagle. I’ve always wanted to. Especially once I found out I had the same initials as the company.