I have been on an AMC-era Renault brochure-buying kick for the last 2 weeks. Almost each passing day has seen a new package in my mailbox with brochures showing LeCars, 18i’s, Fuegos, Sportwagons, Alliances, Encores, and GTA’s in full glossy color. But the brochure that’s meant the most to me has been AMC’s last... for the 1988 Renault Medallion.
The 1988 Renault Medallion was star-crossed from the beginning. And someday, I will write a larger story about how this critical, and critically-acclaimed new car for American Motors was unjustly set up to fail and fade into total obscurity in the American market. There is a dearth of information available online or in published books telling the story of the final year of American Motors, the buyout by Chrysler, and the beginnings of its Jeep/Eagle Division successor. Misconceptions have rushed into the narrative in place of that available information. I hope to correct some of them before too long.
For now, I’ll say that the 1988 Medallion was launched by American Motors on March 1, 1987 as an early 1988 model. Just 8 days later, on March 9, Renault and Chrysler announced that Chrysler would buy Renault out of their 46.4% stake in AMC. Most of the brass and employees at American Motors were caught completely by surprise. This brochure was made months after the 1987 AMC Eagle, Renault Alliance, Renault GTA, and Jeep line brochures were created by AMC. It was made months before Chrysler printed the ‘88 Eagle Wagon brochure supplemental, as well as the new ‘88 Eagle Premier and ‘88 Jeep brochures. It was, therefore, AMC’s last.
AMC was clearly excited about their new D-segment car. The last poor-selling 18i sedans were imported from France in 1983, and AMC made their last aging Concords that same year. So AMC had no mainstream 4-door sedan larger than the Escort-sized Alliance to sell from 1984 to the middle of 1987. The 4x4 Eagle sedan sold in the low 4 digits annually in that period, and was such a unique product that it did not compete in the massive mainstream sedan segment, at all.
Alliance sales started out strong as memories of the 1979-82 energy crises still fueled small car sales. By 1985 however, gas was cheap and small car sales suffered as buyers moved back up the size scale. The Toyota Camry got its start at this exact time. The Accord became the best-selling car in America in this period. And Ford fought back with the Taurus in this era, as well. AMC’s lack of any offering in this class left the already vulnerable company as a sitting duck, with tons of missed sales, especially from former Alliance buyers who were now ready to trade up.
Renault had launched their version of the Medallion, the 21, in Europe in the middle of 1986. But due in part to Renault’s difficult financial situation in Europe, and the fact that Renault decided to export the Medallion to the US rather than let AMC build it in their giant, new, yet idle Bramalea plant in Ontario, the American version wasn’t ready for sale until March 1, 1987.
The motoring press first laid their hands on preproduction Medallions in the late fall of 1986, and all declared the car to be AMC’s last hope of survival. Critics also praised it for its confident handling, smooth ride, willing power, low price, excellent value, sleek styling, and high apparent quality.
The AMC version differed from the European version mainly through the use of a different front fascia, headlights, grille, bumpers, taillight lenses, side trim, and other minor trim pieces. Its 4-wheel independent suspension and standard 5-speed manual transmission put it technologically ahead of class rivals like the Pontiac Grand Am, Ford Tempo, and Dodge Lancer, and right in line with what the Accord, Camry, and Stanza offered buyers in this class. The Medallion also received the Renault 21's top mill as standard, a 103hp 2.2L SOHC SMPI inline-4 making 124lb-ft of torque. This made the Medallion class-leading in standard power, as well as in interior and cargo room. The Medallion wagon added 5.9" of wheelbase over its sedan counterpart, and offered a forward-facing 3rd seat. Cargo area on the wagon even surpassed that of the GM A-body wagons and the Taurus/Sable wagons a size/price class above. As, again, did the Medallion wagon’s standard power. Standard rear shoulder belts on all models put the 1988 Medallion ahead of the competition on occupant safety, as well.
AMC even got Academy Award-winning actor George C. Scott to pitch the Medallion on TV. And AMC backed the Medallion’s quality up by offering the best new-car warranty in the business at the time: a 6 year, 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.
But success would not be forthcoming. The Medallion was on sale just 8 days before the Chrysler buyout of Renault stock in AMC was announced. Already slow sales of Alliances, GTA’s, AMC Eagles, and what few Medallions had moved in that first week, tapered down to a trickle as customers were put off by the uncertainty of whether or not Chrysler would support AMC’s existing lineup once the buyout was complete. In terms of warranty coverage, financing, and dealer support, buyers needn’t have worried, as Chrysler quickly committed to backing AMC’s full product line and even extended their own financing options and standard warranties to the 1987 AMC/Renault line as the sale of stock went through.
Regardless, less than 25,000 1988 Medallions are believed to have been sold in the model’s 18 month-long inaugural model year. And prospective buyers did have reason to worry about resale value. Although Chrysler continued the importation of Maubege, France-made Medallions through the 1989 model year, this time badged as Eagles, the new company utterly failed to market the 1989 Medallion in any meaningful way. Especially compared to the Premier. As a result, sales only worsened, and Chrysler pulled the plug on the Medallion after only its second model year on the market. This ensured that resale values collapsed and factory support would dry up overnight.
But AMC knew none of this would happen when they created and printed this, their last, brochure for their last new product launch. The care they took to describe the car in such technical detail, and the soft, golden light with which they captured the Medallion’s smooth lines, showed the pride and hope they had in their new Camry and Corsica-fighter. With the all-new Premier set to debut just 6 months after the Medallion, they had every reason to hold out hope.
As a lifelong lover of all things American Motors, this Medallion brochure captures exactly how I wish to remember AMC. Always fighting back. Always hopeful. Always taking pride in their innovative, if under-appreciated work.