Project Subaru Justy: Bad Omens and Junkyard Luck

Put the car in gear to pull away from the stoplight. Slowly let up on the clutch. A moment that feels almost like forward motion is followed by grinding. Feel that gut sink. Try again with same results. Open the window, then the door. Step out. Reach in and turn the wheel. Put a shoulder to the door frame.
Push the car off the road and onto gravel. Call a friend who hopefully has a tow rope, and while waiting, try to imagine the best and worst-case scenarios for what might be broken. Then consider the possible solutions when dealing with an abandonware car purchased for $1,300.

That was one of my commutes home in the Justy not two months into my ownership. Thankfully, this was on a Thursday, so I only had to bike to work for one day. It’s not a long ride, but I live in Florida and rain is always a possibility.
When the weekend came, I jacked the car up and quickly discovered the problem, as you can see in the video above. It was, thankfully, a stripped hub rather than a broken differential or some other potential disaster.
Justy hubs bolt on to the rotor. Once the axle nut and four bolts are loose, it pops right off with little persuasion. The hard part for this job would be finding a replacement. New ones are available for around $150. A few people on the Subaru Justy forum had used ones for sale; I could’ve waited half a week and received one of theirs for about $20.
Right before logging in to Paypal, I decided I would, with a gut full of desperate futility, check the inventory list at my local junkyard. Huzzah! Not one, but two Justys! How lucky could one man be? I rushed there to verify their existence.
There was a red and a grey one, both second-generation cars, both front wheel drive. Red had fuel injection and a 5-speed, Grey had a carburetor and CVT transmission. No matter, the hubs are all the same. It was then I realized I’d have to remove lug nuts and an axle nut from a car that was suspended in the air.
I asked a gentleman passing by if he could help by stepping on the brakes. He spoke little English, but was very polite and agreed. Unfortunately, these cars are left with the brake reservoir cap off and the system was filled with water. Brake pressure was nearly nil, no matter how much he pumped that pedal. We tried the other car and were met with only marginally better brake pressure, but it was enough to crack the lug nuts loose.
After this success, the man went on his way and I figured out the right way to complete this job alone. A wrench through the wheel spokes, propped against the brake caliper, would hold the wheel in one position and allow me to loosen the lug nuts on the other car.
Likewise, to loosen the axle nut, I could slip an open-end wrench into the vanes on the vented brake disc and again turn it against the caliper to hold the brake as I wrenched it loose. The hub cost $10, so I grabbed a spare — I suspected both of these Justys would be crushed before long, and I didn’t want to end up in the same bind again.
While there, I nabbed a few odds and ends from inside each car. A new sun visor clip replaced the broken one on my car, but not for long. It broke three days later. Cheap, 20-year-old plastics are brittle and don’t flex well in cold weather. Replacing it was futile.
I nabbed a new dome light, too. The plastics in my Justy couldn’t handle both heat, age, and a metal tab rotating on the pivot. It had crumbled apart. This replacement, thankfully, has worked just fine.
Upon returning home, I removed the brake caliper and rotor from my car and used a file to clean up the slight damage to the car’s axle splines. Unlike many other front-drive cars, a press or a special tool is required to push the axle stub out from the wheel bearing.
I took this opportunity to also buy a few cans of engine degreaser at my local parts store. The transmission was filthy and I wanted to find out where all that oil was leaking from. (It was the distributor.) I also finally broke loose the clutch adjustment nut, which had been vexing me for some time. I adjusted the clutch engagement point closer to the floor and drove away satisfied with my weekend’s accomplishments.
Photos Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Alan Cesar.

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  1. stigshift Avatar

    I used to take great pleasure in buying a thoroughly used car very cheaply, and going to the junkyard soon thereafter. Being able to fix ten small things made one huge improvement. Glad you lucked out. I had a '68 Coupe deVille back int the '80s that needed a hood and trunklid, due to Florida rust, which would eat the away at the lips of each. Found a color-matched trunklid- with the uber-rare Positrac jacking instruction sticker, which my car did have, and a different color hood on the same day. Had to change the hood in the parking lot to get both home!

  2. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    you found two Justys in a junkyard? i don't think i've seen two Justys in my entire life.

    1. JayP2112 Avatar

      I believe I saw one this week.
      Or it was a dream after eating a mushroom.
      Hard to tell these days.

  3. JayP2112 Avatar

    Did you snag the cargo rack too?

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I went back for the rack a week later, but on closer inspection it was rusted straight through. It was also attached with locks, and several people had already made attempts at picking/drilling/hammering the locks to no avail. The whole thing was boogered and useless.

  4. Hatchtopia Avatar

    Driving a newer Ford Escape, I fortunately haven't had the *need* to go to the junkyard yet, but took a couple of excursions to find fun stuff that I could upgrade my base model with. Got the broken visor mount replaced, a much nicer Mazda version of the roof rack, the much nicer version of the Mazda cargo floor (I'm seeing a pattern already) and a spare window switch and motor as mine is very occasionally balky. Have to say, even those minor things were very satisfying.

  5. seat safety switch Avatar
    seat safety switch

    Really glad all that worked out. I very rarely see a Justy in the yards (saw one 4-door last time) but it's good to know that they have at least one part that's easy enough to grab to keep more on the road in the future. Something this weird in the Subaru catalogue deserves to be preserved while we still can.

  6. skitter Avatar

    "A wrench through the wheel spokes, propped against the brake caliper, would hold the wheel in one position and allow me to loosen the lug nuts on the other car."
    This is why I get excited whenever the junkyard is selling lug wrenches for some ridiculously cheap price. I go for the ones that also have a prybar on the end.

  7. LEROOOY Avatar

    Alan, how much does your Justy weigh?

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I haven't put it on scales, but according to the title, the car weighs in at a surprisingly heavy 2050 pounds. Specs online seem to roughly confirm this.

  8. joshuman Avatar

    I'm reading these Justy updates with happiness. My Mom bought a new 2nd gen 4WD four door with the manual. "It's fuel injected!" she used to say. I took my driving test in that car. I got up to the things teenagers do in that car. I, sadly, totaled it in the late 1990s on a patch of slushy highway 2 near Skykomish. Going 50 MPH backwards in the wrong lane after a 180 degree hydroplane wasn't fun. The Justy was though even if it didn't say "Fun Justy" on the side.

  9. anonymic79 Avatar

    I just thought of a few points of maintenance for your Justy, go back and get the clutch cable out of that junker, and get the torque spec on the rear hub nuts and retorque them to spec+10lbft. I had one of those rear tires come off my 4wd for a walkabout at 70mph once. It was a TSB back in the day that they weren't done up properly at the factory.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Clutch cable was already bodged and crappy on the junkyard one, worse shape than mine. I'll check that rear hub torque though, thanks.

  10. Roderick Ramírez Avatar
    Roderick Ramírez

    Hi! Do you know any place online that has new hubs for sale?