The Eagle Premier Story, Part III


We continue our coverage today of the Eagle Premier from over 30 years ago. Parts I and II detailed the inception of the AMC-Renault joint project, and the technical aspects of what was a pretty advanced (or quirky) family sedan.

The time had come to put this all-new AMC offering on sale, but Premier arrived alongside some very unfortunate historical circumstances.

As mentioned in Part II, by the time Premier was ready for production it was running behind schedule. The sedan was supposed to be on sale for 1986, but it didn’t enter production until September of 1987. The first Premiers were produced as 1988 models and constructed at a new plant located in Brampton, Ontario. Brampton Assembly built all Premiers and builds the 300, Charger, and Challenger today. At the time it was the most technologically advanced assembly plant in North America, and cost a fortune to build.

But this expenditure meant all was not well in AMC-Renault land. The (French) money spent on the new plant in Canada caused financial problems for Renault. In France, Renault closed several plants and laid off employees as it funneled money into AMC and North American operations. Renault executives were not happy about this spending, and Renault as an entity was up against a wall.

Though top brass at Renault were generally against the all-consuming investment in AMC, one man was not: Georges Besse. Besse became the chairman of Renault in January 1985 and saw a bright future for AMC as part of the state-owned Renault corporation. As Besse stood up for AMC, his eyes were on technologically advanced Brampton Assembly as a shining beacon of profitability when it fired up for the all-new Premier. He saw AMC’s fortunes elsewhere on the upswing too, as the company had recently introduced modernized engines like the 4.0-liter with fuel injection. AMC’s most valuable component – Jeep – was also seeing increases in sales as the Eighties popularized SUVs.

But a page turned in the AMC-Renault story on November 17, 1986, just 10 months before the Premier entered production. Besse, viewed as a successful capitalist, was assassinated outside his Paris residence by far-left extremists. He was targeted by an anarchist group founded in the late Seventies called Action Directe. Besse’s immediate successor, Raymond Lévy, saw to Besse’s initiatives in cutting costs (primarily in France) while advancing the plan of North American investment.

A year later at the end of 1987, the company was more stable than it had been in some time financially. The Premier was finally in production. Renault continued to sell the Medallion via its North American dealers and planned to bring over the sporty Alpine as a halo offering.

But there were more concerns than just the financials, and Monsieur Lévy had pressing decisions to make. More next time.

[Images: Chrysler]

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