Project AMC Eagle wrap-up: "Universal" was an exact fit; I sold it anyway

20150701_185711 This AMC Eagle’s unobtainable clutch master cylinder has plagued me since I bought the project two years ago. After enough screwing around with rebuild kits and new hoses, I finally capitulated and followed the advice of a LeMons racer I met last year: It’s a simple hydraulic system. Just adapt a Tilton or a Wilwood master cylinder and move on.
That advice was better than I could’ve imagined, but it still didn’t solve the problem.  Since there’s no room for a reservoir on top of the clutch master, I searched Wilwood and Tilton for viable remote-reservoir single-circuit master cylinders. When I saw the Wilwood described as “Girling style,” a light went on. The rebuilt slave cylinder I had recently installed was a Girling. An available diameter was 0.7 inches, exactly the same as the one I was replacing. It even looked remarkably similar.
I took some measurements and was pleasantly surprised to discover that Wilwood item 260-6088 would be a bolt-in perfect replacement for my unobtainium Eagle clutch master. Same overall length; same or slightly longer stroke; same bolt centers; same body diameter; similar inlet and outlet positions. So I ordered one, and a few different adapters to make it all work. 20150702_085410 The similarities continued once I had it in my hand. I expected to cut and thread the rod coming from the pedal, but I was able to just remove the threaded one from the Wilwood and replace it with the OEM piece. Perfect.
An advantage of the Wilwood over OEM was its aluminum body. It weighs 13 ounces, exactly half that of the original cast-iron master. 20150702_111034 I then spent most of a morning visiting auto parts stores, a hydraulics shop, and finally a speed shop until I got the proper solution to make my adapter work. The guy at Action Performance in Daytona Beach said a simple crush washer would provide the seal I needed. DSC02294 I drilled out the mounting holes slightly (my bolts were just a bit larger in diameter) installed it, plumbed it, and invited some friends over for beers and a bit of clutch bleeding. DSC02293 We bled the thing as well as we could, using all the tricks previously suggested by friends who are BMC and BMW owners. I started the car.
Then I failed again to put it in gear without forcing it, which caused a hearty crunch and stalled the engine. Despite all my efforts, I still didn’t have a functioning clutch.
We spent the rest of the night thrashing, and using a borrowed home colonoscopy kit snake camera, we checked the fork for play, looked into the bell housing, and tried to see if the clutch was disengaging or not. DSC02265 It wasn’t. There was a lot of slop in the fork movement. Without removing the fork to see if it was bent, we instead tried to cram something on top of the pivot ball to take up the slack. Soon, I accidentally knocked the pivot ball out of place, and we tried to remedy that by cramming even bigger things in there, including the tracking ball from an old computer mouse (my friend is a bit of a hoarder) and a large fishing weight. Compare them in the photo above.
When even that failed to disengage the clutch, we tried attaching a ratchet strap to the clutch fork and pulling back on it. When the range of motion ran out, the clutch still wasn’t fully disengaged. DSC02264 It was at this point, after two years of very little progress, after finding unobtainium parts and still failing, after a lot of stress, little to no satisfaction, and the dwindling of available time, that I decided the struggle needed to be over. I don’t need to torture my friends or myself with the prospect of pulling that transfer case out again.
It’s time I recognize that I’m not the right shepherd right now to lead this lost lamb back to roadworthiness. Maybe a new fork is all it needs; maybe not.11215783_10102826718789989_3501870060300961230_n I put the Eagle up for sale, and found a buyer within a week. He’s a Fox-body Mustang aficionado (“It’s freaking me out how much that shifter feels like a Mustang,” he said. It’s no coincidence: they both use a T5.), a surfer and a service tech. He’s confident he can get the Eagle going again and plans to use it as a surf wagon. I look forward to seeing it on the road. I may provide the occasional update as I receive news from him.
In the meantime, I’ve got a garage floor to clean of oil, transmission and brake fluid. Then, I’ll move my Subaru Justy project to the middle and start tearing the engine down to see the cause of its terrible compression numbers. One distinct advantage the Justy has over the Eagle: I can push it around my garage by myself.
[Photos copyright 2015 Alan Cesar/Hooniverse]

About Alan

I'm a giant nerd and lifelong iconoclast who happens to like cars, especially terrible ones. I've built many low-budget race cars, driven in many Lemons races, worked at a Real Deal Print Car Magazine, and gave up that lifestyle in the interest of life balance. I also wear khakis and ride bicycles, though rarely at the same time.

0 Comments

    1. That dude has had so much plastic surgery he doesn’t look like Kenny Rogers anymore.

  1. I had to make a similar decision about my Rabbit convertible in 2013. I was attempting to use it as a DD, and it just wasn’t DD-reliable yet. I was starting grad school, and wouldn’t have time to keep tinkering with it.
    It was a fun car when it ran, and the buyer emailed me a few months after buying it and told me that the wiring harness near the fuse panel was one big melted mess — it’s a miracle it ever ran in that state.
    I have since looked ever-more-longingly at hatchbacks-turned-convertibles, including the later Cabrio and Mini Convertible. Either would be a hoot to own again. Realistically, I’d sooner get a big 60’s land barge convertible so the whole family can ride along.

  2. Fully understandable decision – that’s a lot of work for immeasurable progress.
    I like your garage though. Spacious!

    1. Thanks! Definitely a big selling point for this house. There are a lot of houses in Florida with no garage at all, or a 1 car garage. Finding a deep 2 car garage was like striking gold.

      1. Too friendly climate for people to bother building a garage? And here I thought Florida is the state for car people, and people with a lot of time on their hands – both speaks for big garages.

        1. Yeah, a lot of people will even convert the garage into a room and put a wall where the garage door used to be. Sometimes they’ll add some kind of car port over the driveway, but a lot of times it’ll just be a driveway that ends abruptly into a wall.

    1. Good Gawd, Man; do you really need three fridges!!! Or is that where the solid-rocket fuel is kept??

        1. Oui, Oui…I see it now. Large driver’s compartment with an insulated tonneau
          cover and smaller engine compartment with excellent noise reduction. And of
          course the swoopy Art Moderne body styling…….

  3. With all authority I have as a stranger on the interweaves, I do approve solely due to the fact that you have another project car. It speaks for you as a writer that I got the impression the car was actually doing progress…

  4. Bench bleeding your master cylinder will save you all the beer one of your friends can consume. It cuts an install like this down by one pal; you may only need to convince two instead of three friends to come over and step on the pedal 100 times.

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