The Carchive: The 1982 Subaru range

Subaru is a name that’s seen considerable peaks and troughs, profile-wise, in the UK. The peaks were undoubtedly while it was selling the world rally-winning Impreza WRX STi. The troughs? Well, somehow the WRX has rather fallen out of the limelight. Perhaps they’ll regain their mojo soon. Who knows.
Way back in 2013 we looked at the third-generation Subaru Leone, and a very popular instalment it was too, if the 26 resultant comments (all victim of the great IntenseDebate implosion of 2016) are any indication. Today we’re looking at its predecessor in this brochure from ’81. Welcome back to The Carchive.

You can click the images if you like, they get bigger and more legible if you do.

“In recent years, motoring has undergone enormous changes. While today’s motorists still demand lively acceleration, they also look for economy, comfort, safety and ease of handling in an automobile.”
Don’t they just.
See, Subaru had the answer back at the beginning of the ’80s. Even earlier. Fuji Heavy Industries’ Subaru division has been around since the 1500 trickled into production in 1954, and pledged allegiance to the boxer-four configuration with the 1965 1000. It was that model, too, that would introduce the world to the four-wheel drive Subaru we know and love today. But it was this car, the Leone, that popularized it.

“In any gear, a Subaru lets you change from front-wheel drive to four-wheel drive instantly when you encounter bad weather or poor road conditions”.
There’s a striking similarity between the Leone range and that of the pride of Kenosha. The AMC Spirit and Concorde also came over all four-wheel-drivey and morphed into the American Motors Eagle in 1980, at a time when Stateside Subaru sales were going great guns. And, like the Eagle range, the Subaru was available in four-door sedan and station wagon formats. But only one was available as a three-door hatchback. One that we’ve seen on screen in heavily modified, ‘rocket assisted form’.

“The sporty Subaru Hatchback 4WD combines the ease of handling of a city car with an advanced 4-wheel drive mechanism that allows the driver to travel cross country when he feels the need for adventure”
Yeas, we’ve seen what the four driven wheels can do on loose terrain, and that is to generally get in the way of Baja-type Beetles and Sand Rails. But then, perhaps it was Jackie Chan’s relative lack of soft-ground driving experience that let him down in Cannonball Run.
The Subaru range didn’t really have any rivals in the UK at the turn of the ’80s. No other range of compact family cars was routinely available with four wheel drive, although – to be honest – the demand wasn’t exactly strong for such machines. The British weather is typically mild; grey and erratic but usually free of extremes, and motorists weren’t exactly panicked by the prospect of winter. Subaru did find a specific audience, though.

“It’s also the perfect answer to your (other) automotive needs:  lots of utility space combined with the comfort and safety features of a luxury sedan. What more could anyone ask in a station wagon”
It seems that farmers loved what Subaru offered, and a great many suppliers of agricultural machinery began to stock Fuji’s wares. Many of them still cling onto their franchises, too, which kind of gives me a fuzzy feeling inside. It’s also fair to say that the current Subaru lineup retains its agricultural compatibility. Yeah, the WRX is still available (although everybody seems to have forgotten it), as is the BRZ. Yet, for whatever reason, they have barely any profile.
It’s a bit of a mystery. It’s like Subaru wants to keep the ownership of its products within an exclusive club. A secret society that stays under the radar and out of the spotlight. The near cult status that the rally-flavour Imprezas attained seems to have been a bit of a blip in actual sales terms. Yet it created a mystique.
I have a deep longing for a Subaru Legacy Spec-B, ever since I once took in part exchange during my previous life as a salesman, and something about it got under my skin very quickly. It wasn’t the power (the flat-six was lovely, but normally aspirated and 245bhp isn’t exactly apocalyptic), and it wasn’t really the handling. It was something else. There was a deep, mechanical togetherness to that car that I have seldom felt elsewhere. That was all. A noble, proper feel.
And it was really the Leone that got the ball rolling.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. I wouldn’t mind an SVX, either, but you mustn’t try running before you can toddle)

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26 responses to “The Carchive: The 1982 Subaru range”

  1. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I worked for a company that ran these, and the model before, as company cars for sales reps on our unsealed roads at the time. I discovered that with 4WD engaged on tarmac, that the cars actually hopped while turning.
    So that’s why you need a centre diff!

    1. Troggy Avatar

      And did you know, that if one of the wheels is turning slightly faster or slower than the other three at speed for an extended period of time it burns out the centre diff and makes a godawful clunking sound whenever using even a little bit of steering lock? The space saver says maximum 80km/h for a reason it turns out.
      Ask me how I know this…

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Never change just one tyre for a new one. Always do a pair or all four?

        1. Troggy Avatar

          Usually I do, but the space saver spare is a significantly different diameter to the other three, and there were no repair options near where I was at the time.

          1. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            Ah yes.
            Hence the 80km/hr sticker.

          2. outback_ute Avatar

            That is standard for any spare tyre that is smaller than the originals.
            With Subarus (or other full-time awd cars) don’t even replace a pair of tyres because that will still cause excessive wear to the centre diff. Either do all four or a pair and have them shaved down to match the other two.

      2. LeaksOil Avatar

        if I recall correctly- my Forester owners manual says to pull a fuse related to the AWD system when installing the temp. spare,…for this reason?
        Dang, I should go back & read it again, been a few years,…

  2. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    “But only one was available as a three-door hatchback.”
    It seems someone has forgotten about the AMC Eagle SX/4.

    1. Fuhrman16 Avatar

      There was also the short lived Eagle Kammback, aka the four wheel drive Gremlin.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Both, curiously, very well suited for the North American driving conditions of today?

        1. JayP Avatar

          Hot Rod played an April Fools in saying AMC was back…
          The updated cars looked good.

      2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        Ah, dammit, You know I was thinking that the SX/4 was a coupe. And to think that I covered that range back in 2013:

    2. Zentropy Avatar

      I had an SX/4. And an Eagle wagon… and a Spirit GT, and… Let’s just say my family was into AMCs. The SX/4 was unstoppable in the winter!

  3. Alff Avatar

    I wonder if this poor bastard’s Subaru threw CE light in the middle of a 14 degree commute this afternoon , too.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    All of them have this “Asian baroque” utility look. I adore this seriousness. Some of these cars show up in central, mountaineous Norway surprisingly regularly, often “granny’s old Subaru”. Unfortunately, I still haven’t seen one that isn’t doomed by rot underneath.

  5. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    I remember these well, this was the generation that took Subaru from a niche brand for New Englanders and Oregonians into a more or less mainstream car. This was also the generation with the optional cyclops driving light under the grille emblem on the deluxe models. I still remember seeing it in a TV ad and looking for it on the street. I also once helped a college friend swap out the heater core in his circa 1980 4 door, which entailed foul language and a few cuss words. I think my VW Scirocco was much easier to work on.
    In the US Subarus are still strong sellers and Toyota’s influence has helped sell more Outbacks and Imprezas which make the $$. My view may be slightly distorted by living in Oregon where it’s effectively the official car to the point where a Realtor’s ad described the process of becoming a local as acquiring a wardrobe of brewery T-shirts and trucker hats and putting racks on the Subie. Personally I buck the trend and drive a Mazda, and my favorite Subaru is the 3rd gen Legacy GT wagon.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Wow. I had no idea about that Cyclops light.
      Want doesn’t begin to cover it.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        They’re easy to overlook when the cover is down. I frequently see one parked in the same spot on my way to work with its cover apparently permanently stuck in the up position, so I get a regular reminder of their existence.

    2. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
      dead_elvis, inc.

      I never knew that center light was an option. It seemed like the majority of these running around SE VT in the early/mid 1980s sported one, and I figured they all had it.

  6. nanoop Avatar


    1. nanoop Avatar

      That could’ve been…

      1. nanoop Avatar


        1. nanoop Avatar

          On the car, it’s in that sweet spot of childhood memories and the realization that those were just the cheap option for a 4WD in the 80ies.
          The farmers here had either a G-wagen (in the sense of “Gelände”, not “Glam”) or one of these. Station wagons were still a somewhat hard sell to families, mind you, so these were VERY utilitarian.
          Speaking of utilities, dropping off nanoop mk.2 at the kindergarten I saw the well-used matchbox version of a Holden SS-V ute, RHD. This will be my week!

  7. outback_ute Avatar

    I wonder where this brochure came from? LHD and metric dimensions indicate Canada.
    The Brumby/Brat was on sale in Australia and I assume the UK too? My grandfather owned a couple of those – yes he was a farmer!

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I was going to mention that. It’s actually a UK market brochure, yet the cars shown randomly flip between left and right hand drive.