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Seeking the Summit

Looking at the last gasp of AMC's lineup, the Eagle Summit.
Eagle Summit 1991

What I have to say here may cause the break-up of my marriage, but I can’t help myself: I want to buy an Eagle Summit. And I’m hoping you’ll keep an eye out for me, even though my wife will probably throw me out if I buy one.

Like many intense desires, there’s not a lot of logic to this one. I’ve never owned an Eagle Summit and, in fact, I’ve never even driven one. The only connection I can think of is that I’m an American Motors enthusiast at heart and the Eagle brand was sort of the last gasp for AMC cars. The main appeal to me, however, is the chance to own a rarely seen make of car in a body style that once defined the entry-level car segment: the three-door hatchback.

Hatching the Eagle Summit

The Eagle brand name had its start in the 1980 model year when American Motors introduced its Eagle line of four-wheel-drive automobiles. Built on the existing Concord and Spirit platforms, the Eagles offered better traction than any other car on the road and sold fairly well, despite styling that was a bit old-fashioned by the time they debuted. The series remained in production through the 1988 model year by which point AMC no longer existed, having been swallowed up by Chrysler Corp. In a move that made little sense, Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca killed off the AMC brand along with the AMC-based Eagles, replacing them with a line of badge-engineered products designed, Chrysler said, to compete with hot-selling import cars. Eagle was the new over-arching brand name.

By late 1988, the Eagle line-up included the Eagle Medallion (which were rebadged Renault sedans and wagons) and the Eagle Premier (formerly the Renault Premier), both front-wheel-drive models. They were joined that fall by the new Eagle Summit series, which replaced the discontinued Renault Alliance. The Summit was a handsome subcompact four-door sedan produced for Chrysler by Japan’s Mitsubishi. Boasting front-wheel drive, three trim versions were offered: D/L, LX and LX with the DOHC Package. Despite their subcompact dimensions, the Summits were roomy, stylish and comfortable.

The range was expanded to four models for 1990: base, D/L, LX, and ES. Then, in 1991, Chrysler went looking to field a lower-priced entry-level model and introduced the subject of today’s column: the Eagle Summit three-door hatchback. That year’s Summit was offered in just two trim levels: base and ES. Power was supplied by a fairly sophisticated 1.5-liter overhead-cam, inline four-cylinder engine with three valves per cylinder for better breathing, and electronic multipoint fuel injection for excellent response and fuel efficiency. This 92-hp mill was hooked to a four-speed manual transmission on the base Summit three-door, or a five-speed manual on the ES version. A three-speed automatic was optional on both three-door models. (Meanwhile, four-door models offered a more desirable four-speed automatic overdrive transmission as an option).

Despite riding a relatively short 93.9-in. wheelbase, the Summit three-door models provided a good ride and excellent handling. The front suspension featured MacPherson struts with negative offset and anti-dive geometry and offset coil springs and shock absorbers. The rear suspension was comprised of a three-link torsion axle and trailing arms with coil springs and shocks. Steering was via rack and pinion, with power-assist optional on the ES. Base models received smallish P155/80R13 blackwall tires while the ES was given P175/70R13 blackwall tires. The base car had 13 x 4-1/2-in. argent styled road wheels while the ES had half-inch-wider black wheels with wheel covers. ES buyers could get optional cast-aluminum wheels — at extra cost, of course. Power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes were standard on all models.

To my eyes, the Summit’s styling is one of its big selling points. The Summit three-door ES has the appearance and style of the sporty hatchbacks one sees a great deal of in Europe. The look is clean, tight and a little aggressive. Utilizing the sedan’s front-end sheet metal, the Summit three-door boasts large rear side windows for excellent visibility, adding a feeling of greater interior roominess. Little details such as the blackout “B” and “C” pillars add much to its “low priced but sporty” persona. The base car also has black bumper covers, while the more desirable ES has them in body-color. Likewise, the ES has a wide protective body-color side molding that the base car lacks.

Inside is a similar story. Reclining bucket seats up front and a split folding rear seat were upholstered in vinyl on the base model and cloth on the ES. A console and full carpeting was standard on all models, and ES models also had a rear cargo cover.

Being a Mitsubishi product, the Summit was a decent, reliable car. Mitsubishi was building some really excellent automobiles at the time and the Summit is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a Mitsubishi Mirage. It’s also the same as a Dodge Colt or Plymouth Colt of the same era; badge engineering was rampant at Chrysler at the time, and there are only some minor differences between the four makes. Buyers weren’t supposed to notice.

Almost landing an Eagle

I recently learned of a really nice Eagle Summit for sale and it was everything I wanted: a clean three-door with low miles that needed nothing. I moved as fast as I could, but by the time I was able to contact the seller, the car had been sold. To my surprise, the seller also had a very decent Dodge Colt to sell. I looked at it, but for some reason it just didn’t do anything for me. I wanted the Eagle badge to be on it. It’s funny how the mind works; I know a Dodge Colt and an Eagle Summit are the same car, but I want the Eagle and nothing else will do.

So what am I looking for? An Eagle Summit three-door in excellent condition (these are not the sort of cars one wants to spend a lot of money on restoring). An ES model is preferred, and air conditioning would be most welcome. Stick or automatic — either is acceptable — though I’d prefer the automatic so my daughter can drive it when she visits. Finding a three-door won’t be easy; they were offered only in 1991 and 1992 and apparently didn’t sell all that well. So, it may be a long search for me.

Regarding my domestic situation, I currently have more cars than I have garage space for and my wife has told me in no uncertain terms that I am not to bring home another car. To keep peace in our house, I crossed my heart and promised her I wouldn’t, and I certainly intend to keep my promise. When and if I buy the Summit of my dreams, I’ll park it at a nearby storage facility rather than bring it home. And who knows? I may even forget to mention that I bought it.

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