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)