Featured Vehicles / Hot Rod Power Tour

An Off-Road Sports Car—Behold the 4-Wheel Drive 1983 AMC Eagle SX/4

AMC was leading the crossover SUV charge long before anyone else. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

One of the reasons we like…no…love AMC is that the company often made cars that you simply couldn’t find in any other automaker’s lineup. Take this neato SX/4 for example.

Sure, pretty much every dealership had compact cars in their respective showrooms—but how many of ’em had frickin’ four-wheel drive?

Remember, Subaru was still relatively new to the scene back in the early 1980s.

So when we spotted this delightfully modded 1983 SX/4 at the 2021 Hot Rod Power Tour, we dang-near tripped over ourselves to get a closer look.

The SX/4 got a fastback body, along with a rear spoiler. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

What is an AMC Eagle SX/4?

The AMC Eagle SX/4 was a sporty, four-wheel drive fastback variant of the AMC Eagle passenger car that, itself, evolved out of the AMC Concord.

(Image/Michael, Creative Commons)

What’s most fascinating about SX/4s (and the other AMC Eagles) is that they feature a selectable four-wheel drive system that allowed you to jump between 2WD and 4WD via a dash-mounted switch—no locking hubs or cumbersome transfer case lever needed.

Interestingly, SX/4s relied on the trusty 2.5L Iron Duke sourced from General Motors or the AMC 258 I6 for propulsion. Power could be sent through an optional five-speed manual too.

If you look on the dash, right near the turn signal stalk, you’ll see the small lever for the AMC’s “Select Drive” 2WD/4WD system. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Reviews at the time were favorable but alas, the proverbial writing was already on the wall for AMC in the early 1980s. Falling sales and the decaying relationship with Renault meant the cash-strapped company had to focus on higher-volume cars. The SX/4 was axed after a short, three-year production run stemming from 1980 to 1983.

Exploring this Particular AMC Eagle SX/4

While we couldn’t track down this SX/4’s owner, we can tell it’s wearing new satin paint. It also features other slick custom touches like carbon fiber-look fender flares and what we assume are bumpers with a carbon fiber-type vinyl wrap. The hood pins aren’t stock either, so perhaps it means there’s something more than an Iron Duke or AMC six under the hood?

We’re not familiar enough with AMC SX/4s to decide whether this one’s been lifted or not. If you know, tell us in the comments section below. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

It’s obviously running aftermarket wheels and we think it’s got a subtle aftermarket suspension lift to accommodate the larger tires. Inside appears mostly stock, save for hole in the gauge panel for a tachometer and a supplemental triple gauge pod on the console, and aftermarket radio head unit.

Party rally car, part Mad Max. All AMC and all awesome.

This particular SX/4 also carries the “Sport” package, denoting things like a blackout grille and body moldings, and a fancier interior. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Why Four-Wheel Drive?

Before we wrap up, we hear this question a lot: What was AMC’s fascination with AWD all about? And why didn’t the company succeed at it? Especially after Subaru’s pretty much been able to build its entire brand on the idea of an all-wheel drive commuter car with an outdoorsy image.

AMC wasn’t shy when telling people about its four-wheel and all-wheel drive wizardry. The AMC logo on the indicator lens is a nice touch too. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Well, for starters, remember that AMC also owned Jeep, so it had plenty of familiarity with four-wheel drive systems—and perhaps more importantly, the customers that bought them.

And AMC also knew that many consumers faced a similar conundrum: If you wanted four-wheel/all-wheel drive in the 1970s, you often had to commit to a large, heavy SUV or truck, which was particularly vexing as the United States was on the tail end of a gas crisis.

The presence of the original literature hints at a car that’s been well cared for. Good luck with that warranty coverage though. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

So AMC saw an opening in the market for an affordable, efficient all-wheel drive vehicle that had more car-like amenities and driving dynamics. What began in the 1970s as an AMC Hornet test mule evolved into an AMC Concord outfitted with Jeep-sourced four-wheel drive, ultimately spawning an entire lineup of AWD AMC Eagle vehicles. In addition to the SX/4, there was a more traditional AMC Eagle coupe and sedan, along with a wagon.

A rare gem from the final days of AMC. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Sadly, for all the reasons alluded to above, by the time AMC figured out how to market its 4WD cars, the company was already in dire financial straights.

Yet Chrysler knew the 4WD Eagle cars had growing customer appeal—and the company eagerly gobbled up the R&D data that AMC had compiled over its decade-long drivetrain and chassis experimentation. So it’s fair to say that AMC contributed to the popularity (and versatility) of modern SUVs and crossovers.

Like AMC? You might enjoy this: AMC’s Rebel Machine Showed That Kenosha Could Bring the Muscle Car Fight to Detroit’s Big Three

Oh one more thing, while researching this car, we stumbled across this awesome period review of the SX/4 from the folks at MotorWeek. Check it out:

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3 Comments

  1. Travis Gillum says:

    One proud father after seeing this article. Thanks for the write up. It’s my 17 year old son, Trevor Gillum’s car. He chose the SX4 as a project for his first vehicle. We found two 1983 models and over a year built what you see here in our garage at home. It’s vinyl wrapped, has a 4.7L stroker (4.0 with 4.2 crank), NV3550 5 speed, 3.54 gears FiTech fuel injection and. 2” lift. The four wheel drive and all options are functional, including AC and rear wiper. It’s his daily driver, so we wanted to make tasteful updates for more modern reliability and looks, but still be true to what these cars were. We learned a lot about these unique vehicles throughout the process and my son gained invaluable experience and pride from this adventure.

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