Project Subaru Justy: Itty Bitty Wheels and Tires

My Justy’s previous owner sold the car to me with a brand-new set of tires mounted on alloy wheels. He said he had spent a good amount of time finding wheels that were the right size and period-correct. It was clear the man loved the car and was interested in taking good care of it, but that also meant the Justy rolled with balloons on the same sort of wheels I’ve seen on dozens of Pontiac Grand Ams.

The previous owner also gave me the Justy’s original steel wheels with decent tires (Bridgestone Potenza RE92, 165/65R13). These were, thankfully, not the base 12-inchers. It’s nigh impossible to find 12-inch tires anywhere; 13s are hard to find in anything except Wal-Mart specials.

That’s why I received this Justy with 14-inch American Racing AR24 wheels wearing China-made Aeolus Precision Ace tires in a 175/65R14. This, he said, is as large a tire as you can reasonably fit in a Justy without too much rubbing. He did this to counter the car’s low final drive ratio, which makes it a chore to drive at interstate-highway speeds. It’s loud. Bigger tires help bring that down a bit.
Still, the big tires rubbed the rear fenders quite a bit, especially over bumps. It was starting to chew away at the car’s OEM plastic fender flares and dig into the tires themselves. I had been thinking about mounting up the stock wheels when I remembered what my friend Tom had in his garage.
It was another set of American Racing AR24 wheels, but painted, and fitted with sticky (but old) Yokohama Advan A048 tires, sized 185/60R13. It doesn’t get any better than this for a Justy. Since the tires had been collecting dust forever and won’t fit many other cars, he gave them to me for a hearty handshake. The wheel swap also afforded me a chance to look over the car’s undercarriage and suspension.
True to it being a Florida car, it’s remarkably rust-free underneath. The only real rust on the car is underneath the battery tray. The seller had the whole front end redone, with new axles, brakes and bearings. He couldn’t find replacement sway bar bushings, so he had someone fabricate a new set out of Delrin.
This Justy is indeed really clean underneath. A notable fact about the rear suspension: Most small cars use a simple, cheap, and space-efficient twist-beam rear suspension. It’s possible to make this semi-independent design work with an AWD system, but Subaru instead fitted the Justy with true independent rear suspension that includes a sway bar.
I don’t mean to oversell it. It’s still very much a small, cheaply made car. But for what it is, there are several remarkable details that make the Justy unique and better than its peers. There are also details that make it much, much worse—but I’ll get to that in another post.
One final note: The keys for the Justy were very worn out. My local key shop was able to create a copy of the key with all the ridges, exactly as it looked when new.
Photos Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Alan Cesar.

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  1. dukeisduke Avatar

    It's a shame you can't find decent tires in a 12 or 13 inch rim diameter. Think of all the cars out there that run 13s, anyway.
    Update: I did find Michelin Defenders (at Discount Tire) in the 175/70-13 size, but I wouldn't call them performance tires, even if they do have a 90,000 mile tread life warranty. I also got some hits at the Tire Rack – Kumho and General for street tires, and several options for autocross/racing tires ($$$).

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      175/70R13 is stock fitment for early '90s Civics, Escorts, Tercels, and probably lots of other compacts from the era. Plenty of those cars still around, so still demand for that size. But none available in the Justy's original 165/65R13. There is one option at Tire Rack for the 12-inch wheel, 145SR12, at $55 each. Of course, I don't have 12-inch wheels.

    2. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Interesting. So, this is a thing that exists: Find all tires by wheel diameter.

      1. Felis_Concolor Avatar

        Eliminating the trailer and off-road tires from that list, it's now official; there are more studded snow tires available for 700C bicycle wheel users than there are tires of any type available for automobiles rolling on 13" wheels.

        1. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

          Sad news for anybody wanting to run a Scirocco on stock alloys. When I had Sciroccos in the late 80smy local discount tire place could get Michelin MXVs at college student prices, although my spare was East German.

      2. dukeisduke Avatar

        Yeah, I thought that was pretty cool. Easier than looking on Discount Tire's site.

  2. 1977chevytruck Avatar

    Just for fun, I ran "Justy" through my local classifieds site, to see how many were around. None popped up, but this ad did, and I found it quite funny, considering the topic of this article.
    Wanted: Need aftermarket rims for a Subaru Justy
    <img src="$_20.JPG&quot; width="600">
    12 or 13 inch rims wanted, no steelies please, trying to find something better looking. Email or text with offers, thanks for your time!

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Several times I've done nationwide searches using just the term "Justy" on Craigslist. Each time I've come up with between 20 and 30 results. In the entire United States.
      The highest concentrations seem to be in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

      1. 1977chevytruck Avatar

        Just did the same thing on Kijiji for all of Canada and came up with 3, of which 1 is road worthy.
        You'd think there'd be more, considering our climate, but I guessed that's what killed them.

        1. Alan Cesar Avatar
          Alan Cesar

          Mostly it's a poor engine/oil pump design what killed them. But I'll get to that in one of these updates.

      2. danleym Avatar

        6 months ago I was looking for a fuel efficient car that wasn't a Prius, and hopefully was a bit different. I looked for Justys, found 3 in driving distance (I live in Colorado). 2 were too beat up for me to consider, and the third which looked pristine was sold before I called. I ended up with a TDI Jetta, which has been fun, but I do wish I could have ended up with that Justy.

        1. Alan Cesar Avatar
          Alan Cesar

          Smart choice on the Jetta.

  3. marmer01 Avatar

    I remember the last time I bought 14's for my daughter's Camry about a year ago. The local Goodyear shop said they couldn't remember the last time they sold 14 inch tires.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Definitely do not envy you Mini owners.

      1. JayP2112 Avatar

        For the longest time, every Mini I saw was running Yokohama A008s… which may have been the only tire that small.
        I guess these days Coker is selling 10" tires.

        1. Alan Cesar Avatar
          Alan Cesar

          Yokohama still sells the A008, available on Tire Rack, but they're a little pricier than those at Coker Tire.

        2. mdharrell Avatar

          They're also the only place I've found that carries DOT-numbered 8" tires for my KV.

          1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

            Yeah, but those aren't wheels. They're castors.

          2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

            Yes, I don't suppose many people bother putting tyres on furniture castors these days.

          3. mdharrell Avatar

            There's surprisingly little call for FMVSS-rated wheelbarrows, too, so my choices are limited.

          4. Vairship Avatar

            I found some fire proof Firestones for you on Etsy: <img src="; width=600>
            They might smoke a little if you do a burnout…

        3. Madoc Avatar

          I'm running Kumhos from Tire Rack. 145/80-10s.

    2. Roader Avatar

      He did this to counter the car’s high final drive ratio, which makes it a chore to drive at interstate-highway speeds.

      Low final drive=higher RPM. Delrin is your friend., although it has a high coefficient of thermal expansion. Those bushings might clunk at low temps.

      1. Alan Cesar Avatar
        Alan Cesar

        Thank you. I had my head on backwards when I wrote that. I fixed the article.

  4. Lokki Avatar

    FWIW – be a bit cautious with your old tires in the rain.learned this the hard way on my wife's car – the tires were about six years old with only about 20K miles on them. They lose wet effectiveness when they age, it seems. They were fine in the dry but she managed to spin the car one day in the rain.

    1. frankthecat Avatar

      Exactly how my 5 year old snow tires were on my 900. Fine on dry pavement and snow, but rain? Disastrous. Sliding sideways and backward into the ditch on the oncoming side of the road disastrous.

    2. Preludacris Avatar

      I hope she wasn't hurt! I had a similar learning moment. No spin, but a sickening sudden realization that I am understeering aross the yellow line. I hadn't thought I was driving hard at all, and was really lucky there was no oncoming traffic. When I got home and looked at the tires, I found they had tread left but were about six years old.

  5. Felis_Concolor Avatar

    Though it often requires having an original key to perform the operation, if you can bring in a factory lock cylinder to a locksmith, they can decipher the numeric code on the cylinder and cut you a perfect replacement.
    In my case, the fresh key worked in the rear lock box cylinder, which my original worn out key could not.

  6. RedRex Avatar

    When I bought my 02 WRX a few years ago, it came with the OEM Bridgestone Potenza RE92A in 205/55R16. Absolutely dreadful tires in every respect.

  7. anonymic79 Avatar

    Low rear tire pressure on Justys makes for interesting cornering and inadvertent u-turns during spirited driving, btw. I always kept mine a bit higher than specified, but when they got away from me and one would drop to about 25psi in the rear, the car would let me know in the most exciting ways. Luckily no accidents occurred.