The cars we loved.
It was not too long after Chrysler’s purchase of AMC that it found itself in the middle of trouble once again. AMC’s old partner Renault was going belly up and Chrysler had its share of labor troubles, making the prized possession that was Jeep seem like it might not have been worth the trouble. The ghosts of old Renault agreements would haunt Chrysler for a few years in the form of troublesome Renault drivetrains which it was obligated to purchase.
AMC’s Eagle branded cars were a melting pot of various Renault models that were intended modernize and fill gaps in AMC’s car line. Turns out it would be a gap that Chrysler had too and Renault sourced products seemed like a good fix at the time. Besides, there’s only so much you can do with the K-Car chassis. AMC/Renault had just brushed off a new plant in Ontario Canada that would build the Eagle Premier, a version of Renault’s Giugiaro designed 21 sedan.
The agreement Chrysler made with Renault must have stipulated that Chrysler purchase a huge number of powertrains, as the company saw that the limited Eagle chain could not possibly move enough cars. The only way it would meet the quota was to sell a version of the Premier under the Dodge name. The Monaco name was pulled out of retirement to become the top full-sized Dodge sedan. The last Monaco from 1978 was a traditional big rear wheel drive sedan in the American tradition. The brand engineered 1990 model was big, but had front wheel drive and came with only a 150 hp 3.0L V6. The only difference between the Eagle and the Dodge was in wheels and the front grille treatment and subtle tail light differences. The Eagle was positioned slightly more upscale and could be had with colored keyed alloy wheels in the “Pontiac meets Japanese view of European styling kind of way”.
The Monaco still had the look of a sports sedan, by Dodge standards, but it like the Premier had futuristic cab forward proportions that made them stand out from just about everything else in the market. Even the dash layout was unusual as it combined old and new world ergonomics. Most of the automotive press found the layout and controls confusing, if not frustrating. In contrast to the old float boat Monaco’s of the past, the new car was not cheap. In its position as a premium car, it was far more expensive than the Dynasty. Due to limited trim options, Monaco buyers could not moderate their costs like they could with the Dynasty. Like the Premier, the Monaco’s 150 hp engine was mated to a four speed automatic – that was the only choice across the line.
For all the Monaco’s distinctiveness, the problem was that Dodge did not need another large car when the Dynasty was serving them so well. The trusty (and much cheaper) Dynasty had baroque styling was more in line with what Chrysler had been selling a decade before. It did have three engines to choose from, making it budget friendly. Next to the new Monaco, the Dynasty was crude and old-fashioned, but it worked. To make matters worse, serious mechanical issues along with electrical failures sparked an all-out abandonment by the public of anything with Renault’s fingerprints on it. The Monaco was supposed to be an opportunity for Dodge buyers to step up to a more modern executive sedan with Euro performance, but instead it made them cling to what they knew – the Dynasty.
Not that the Dynasty was a bad car. In the end it would look like old reliable next to the mechanically troublesome Premier/Monaco pair. Buyers continued buying the Dynasty, eventually forcing dealers to the heavily discount the Monaco in an attempt to clear the lots. Even the Premier outsold the Monaco, despite the advantage of a huge Dodge dealer network.