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The Carchive: Subaru (Leone) 4WD Turbo

Chris Haining November 1, 2013 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 26 Comments


Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. With that in mind, welcome back to The Carchive, were we’re doing exactly the same thing today as ever before.

Not that long ago we visited the Buck Rogers On An Acid Trip Subaru XT coupe in all its pointy glory. Today we look at another Subaru that offered all the same mad technology in a family-friendly package.

The Subaru Leone Sedan of the early 1980’s was a very dull machine, to be honest. It never really won much acclaim in the motoring press of the time, never being ranked much differently to the Toyotas of the same market sector. This was a time where imported vehicles were still viewed with a certain degree of suspicion, even when pitched competitively against home-grown products that were, well, pretty crappy if viewed with any degree of rationality.


With fearsomely oriental styling that bowed to absolutely none of the trendy swoopy designs that were breaking out all over Europe, the second and third generation Leones, with 1.3, 1.6 or 1.8 litre normally aspirated engines, they were pretty forgettable, with only the offbeat flat-four engine sound and the option on some models of selectable four-wheel-drive giving them anything but a Specialist following.

Of course, Japanese cars of the mid ’80s being what they were, there was a certain schizophrenia at work among the product planners. Today’s brochure describes the absolute opposite to those prosaic 1.3 litre DLs.


“So advanced, other cars will only ever see them from behind”

The Turbos were a showcase of all everything Subaru knew about the car, in a car. We had, of course, a turbocharger. Four wheel drive too, and independent suspension and discs all round. But also electropneumatic adjustable ride height. The latter part, about only ever being seen from behind, might have been a bit of a stretch as the 136 available horsepower meant a top speed of 118mph. Perhaps they should have added “When on snow”.

“Even with for doors, the 4WD Turbo Sedan’s wedge-shaped body has superb aerodynamics”

Well, clearly the Europeans with their styled-by-the-wind jellymould shapes had been barking up entirely the wrong tree. Bodily, these full-house Leones varied only marginally from their prosaic farmers-friend entry level stablemates, so any aerodynamic advantage they may have had was inherited rather than developed specifically for the Turbo.


“The 4WD Turbos come equipped with everything a driver could want”

If properly equipped, the driver could stare at a mesmerizingly busy LCD dashboard, with a ride height display, engine revs represented graphically as well as numerically, and numerous retina-frying warning lights and symbols which shone brighter than an Akihabara night scene.

And apparently the driver wasn’t alone in having his needs addressed. The copywriters, obviously lacking a little imagination, trotted out almost exactly the same line on the next spread because:

“The 4WD Turbos come equipped with everything a passenger could want”


Certainly the driver wasn’t alone in enjoying ocular meltdown; the upholstery on the RX model was enough to confuse, disorientate and nauseate in roughly equal proportions. Yeah, I know that Porsche in the ’80s had the unequal chequers look down to a tee, but, jeez, the pattern even made it onto the seatbelts in the Subaru.

Unfortunately for those of us who would still like to sample one of these, the writers could have used that hackneyed phrase a third time:

“The 4WD Turbos come equipped with everything a tinworm could want”

Rust was an inevitable factor of 1980s Subaru ownership, in this country at least. The Fuji steel was every bit as appetizing to the metallic cancer as anything to have carried a British Leyland emblem, and there are very few remaining. It’ a shame; I’d dearly like to try one. In fact, the brochure urges me to.

“Compare them in terms of power, comfort, safety, and overall design to any other high-performance car in the world. And amaze yourself at just how advanced and thoroughly enjoyable the Subaru 4WD Turbos are”

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, all photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Subaru, or Fuji Heavy Industries, who have; I’d say gotten a little more boring since 1985…)

  • nanoop

    The wheels are pretty cool even today, I'd say. Two-fold symmetry is pretty rare (well, three-fold: it's still centro-symmetric).

    • Treating it as a two-dimensional object and discounting the valve stem and the text, it has two-fold rotational symmetry with two mirror planes. True, it is centrosymmetric, but none of these elements makes it three-fold.

      • nanoop

        Thank you for pointing this out, I wasn't aware that I was wrong on the internet!

        • It's okay. That's why I'm here.

  • Sjalabais

    These cars where everywhere in the mountains here two decades ago, I have been told. Every once in a while, one of them pops up in some remote high altitude community, rusted out and very cheap. That alone makes me think: "Aah, nice". But I have to admit, I also get all warm and mushy once I hear the Twin Peaks title song. Imho the soundtrack for this brochure.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Sounds good, but I'll give you One Peak, tops.

      • Sjalabais

        Now I'm out of balance.

  • Van_Sarockin

    "their prosaic farmers-friend entry level stablemate"? I'm sorry, but this generation of Subarus have precious little in common with sheep.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      They're good at climbing hills, and they drop dead after about a decade.

      Beyond that, perhaps they were popular in Wales? I have no idea.

  • bean digglesworth

    Way back a teacher of mine had light blue a turbo Leone wagon, supposedly with 240hp. I occasionally got a ride home in that car, and most intersections were taken sideways. He also had a Sierra with a Taunus/Cologne V6.. that went sideways too.

    • Sjalabais

      I dreamt of such a teacher once. Unfortunately, she was not real.

      • Van_Sarockin

        We had a teacher at my grade school who drove an orange 240Z. She was pretty hott, too. Every now and then, she'd accessorize by wearing a pair of loaded bandoleros. Those were different times.

        • Sjalabais

          What's your planet again?

  • Josh

    Would have been a better article if the pics were right side up.

    • Aha! This has been mentioned before but I've been in denial because they show OK on my screen. Are you using an iThing?

      Can we have a straw poll, please? Are the pics inverted on Apple devices but OK on everything else? That's my fear.

      • Sjalabais

        All well on Android with Opera 16.

      • Manic_King

        All well on normal Chrome/W7 view, though when I right-click "open photo in new tab" they will be upside down…..

        Generally, sometimes I'd love to read some old sales pitch but for that Your photos are usually too small, can you upload bigger versions and resize them for in-post use so everyone who wants to read can open in new tab and do so? That upside down problems needs to be taken care of before that, though….

        FF 23.0.1 has no such problems

        • I did consider having a click-to-enbiggen facility, I'll figure out how to do it. The invertions are, I think, due to something odd built into my phone camera (Galaxy Note). I'll go back to the SLR from now.

        • David42

          Same problem on chrome in windows XP. And usually upside down on my iPhone even in the post itself. And it's only Carchive, not other hooniverse stuff.

        • Same results (good in post, upside down in a new tab) in Chrome on Linux Mint 15.

          All is good in FF.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Redusernab is not bound by the laws of physics.

  • humblejanitor

    I once owned a '89 Subaru GL-10 Turbo. It's pretty much this same car. I had the digital dash, power everything and adjustable ride height.

    • Sjalabais

      And now we're all waiting for the verdict. Brah or blah?

  • tonyola

    I knew a guy who had a brown '85 Turbo wagon, complete with the zoom-zoom brown/orange digital dash. I rode in it a few times, and I recall that the flat fours weren't exactly the smoothest things around, especially compared to Honda fours.

  • CEMaine

    Ahh the days when Subaru did not have models. Just coupe, wagon and sedan.

    Why can't they make turbo engined cars without an inverted snow shovel on the hood anymore?

  • I had an '88 wagon version of this car. Well, OK, not AWD. Or turbo. It was a stick, though. :-/

    It belonged to a woman in church who was about to junk it because it was 10 years old, rather worn and always overheating. I was delivering newspapers every morning and beating the crap out of my daily driver doing so, so I offered her the junkyard price. She just gave it to me. After adding a gallon of coolant, it ran just fine. I did need to add coolant fairly regularly, but it wasn't worth actually fixing so I didn't. Coolant was cheap.

    I schlepped papers in it for a year or so until it threw a timing belt. I replaced it and kept at it for a few more months and it threw another. At least that is what I think it did, I was done with the paper route so I gave it to a charity auction place. It was leaking quite a surprising number of fluids in the timing cover which I think led to early failure.

    It was tough, roomy and cheap. Everything a good beater should be.



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