Subaru and Audi (correctly) get the credit for actually developing car-based AWD, with a viscous or similarly-flexible center-differential, in raised-suspension unitized body/frame vehicles, to its present widespread potential. But American Motors (which, at the time, had just joined with France's Renault) is generally given the credit for first conceiving the idea and putting vehicles with it into production. The first AWD AMC Eagle Wagon/Sedan debuted in the fall of 1979, and the smaller hatchback 1982 Eagle SX-4. a year or two later. While the new full-time AWD system and its viscous-fluid center differential, of course, was revolutionary and ahead of its time (which went on, of course, to be the spiritual grandfather of millions of car-based AWD vehicles today produced every year), the basic bodies and interiors of the Eagle and SX-4 were nothing special......just taken from previous AMC vehicles that traced heir way back to the 1970 Hornet and Gremlin. And overall build-quality and fit/finish, always an AMC weak point, was nothing to write home about in these vehicles, either. But, at the time, short of a Jeep, Land Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser, part-time 4WD pickup, or one of the Big Three domestic SUVs like the Blazer/Bronco/Ramcharger, it was the best way to get around in the white stuff and for mild off-roading. It basically combined at least some SUV/truck utility and all-weather traction with a reasonable amount of passenger-car comfort.
Here, Motorweek's John Davis, who I've casually known for some years (but not really as a close friend or associate), reviews and test-drives a 1982 Eagle SX-4.
haha what an ugly beast....pretty good video, it made me laff!
John is a nice guy, and, in my experience, very easy to talk to. I've always liked him. He doesn't get full of himself like some auto journalists do.
How did you find the car ugly? The awkward-looking high stance? Wheels and tires, of course, were smaller in those days, making vehicles like this appear to look higher than they actually were, and have large gaps in the wheelwells. Those gaps, though, while panned by a lot of enthusiasts, do make for easy cleaning with a hose if and when you get a lot of packed snow up in them in the winter. The height off the ground also allows for easy cleaning underneath, with a hose, to get salt, sand, and mud off.
but I thought Subaru started it all in 1972......and Audi followed in ...1980...?
Yes and No. As I understand it, AMC actually developed true car-based AWD, with the center-differential that contained the viscous fluid. This, unlike earlier systems, allowed torque to be vectored to, and power to be fed to, to all four wheels at once while they were rotating at at different speeds. This allowed use on any surface, dry or wet, under any conditions. Earlier 4WD/AWD systems were either not as sophisticated or had to be shifted in and out of manually (sometimes by actually getting out of the vehicle and manually locking the front hubs), and could not be used on a dry paved surface, so the driver had to continually monitor the system based on what he or she was actually driving on. But, as you note (and I made clear in my first sentence on the post) Subaru and Audi DO deserve credit for continually advancing and developing their Symmetrical and Quattro systems.....and for integrating them into truly mass-produced cars. The Eagles, though innovative, had a rather poor reputation for build-quality (what American-designed car back then didn't?), never really sold in large numbers, and were technologically ahead of their time. Subaru, for example, was eventually to have some five different car-based AWD systems (all symmetrical) based on the specific engine/transmission combination.
I remember seeing a Toyota Camry All-trac at the Toronto Autoshow years ago. It was a Gen2 model and had a much smaller (shallower) trunk because to fit the rear differential, they had to move the gas tank under the trunk floor.
There is actually a 4WD car that came before both the Subaru Leone and the AMC Eagle. It was the 1966 to 1971 British Jensen FF, a stretched variant of the Jensen Interceptor.
According to Wikepedia, the FF "was the first non all-terrain production car equipped with 4WD and an anti-lock braking system — the Dunlop Maxaret mechanical system used hitherto only on aircraft, trucks, and racing cars".