By on December 13, 2011

You didn’t start seeing Subarus in large numbers in North America until the third-gen Leone showed up. Even so, most of these quarter-century-old veterans are gone now, even in regions they once dominated (e.g. New England, Colorado). I found this more-80s-than-Wang Chung example in a Denver self-service yard a few weeks back, and I had no choice but to document this soon-to-be-rare piece of Subaru history.
You want concentrated essence of 80s? Right here.
Japanese car designers really lost something when they decided to listen to American focus groups and killed off these Mars Base-style futuristic interiors.
When did fuel injection stop being special?

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32 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Subaru GL Wagon...”


  • avatar
    tmkreutzer

    I gotta agree about the interiors Japanese cars sported back in the 1980s. We need to get back to the future.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I had an ’87 GL, but it was carbureted and had a 3 speed automatic. Yes, a 3 speed auto, probably like the one pictured.

    Overall a great little car, but I wish I could have found one with a 5 speed manual, but the one I found was in mint condition when I bought it and served me well all the way through college.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I thought these were unkillable…

  • avatar
    NN

    my first car was a turd-brown 85 GL-10 2wd wagon with a 5-speed manual. $500 well spent. These were popular high school “surf wagons” in my area during the 90′s. Great first car

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    Wow! You could serve dinner for three on that front bumper!

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Interesting to see a first gen Q45 in the background!

  • avatar
    Ion

    Aww the spare tires gone. Its always funny to see my coworkers start to loosen the wing nuts. ” what are you doing?” ”checking the air cleaner.” ” air cleaner ?, that sir is a tire.”

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I used to drive a 1987 Subaru DL wagon. Or it could have been an 89′, Or a GL model. Time certainly puts a haze on these types of things.

    I bought the thing for $425 back in 2000 at the world famous Logandale Auto Auction. It was the only vehicle I bought during my entire time there.

    After the water pump was replaced the thing was perfect. Not a stain or tear in the interior. A silver exterior that miraculously evaded the ‘faded racing stripes’ that come from Southern heat and environmentally friendly paint. It was one heck of a deal back then.

    I used to drive it to the Emory/Decatur areas for the weekend hashing. The ‘Ballpienhammer’ was used as the official ‘beer car’ and for that capacity the Subaru was virtually ideal. Perfect for town driving. Perfect for hauling alcohol. Perfect in a world where 55 mph was nothing more than a distant reality.

    I eventually sold it to a stockbroker. The fellow came up to my place, asked if it was a good car, and paid me the $1800 asking price right then and there. No test drive. No haggling. He had a few teenagers with him that were recovering drug addicts and he was purchasing the vehicle for transporting those kids to various activities around the state.

    Strangely enough… that was not the cheapest Subaru I’ve ever bought. Not even in the Top 3.

    The cheapest were…

    1) 1993 Subaru Impreza (bought for $25 in 2002. Sold on Ebay for $1576. 174k miles and only primer on the exterior.)

    2) 1985 Subaru XT6: (bought for $110 at Carmax around 2005 or so. Sold for $800 at an impound sale where I was the auctioneer. 150k miles)

    3) 1991 Subaru DL/GL sedan: (Bought for $110 at Carmax a few years ago. $25 for a junkyard fuel pump. Sold for around $1500… or it could have been $1800… somewehre in that range. It had about 90k miles.)

    All inops. All could have possibly stood the test of time here in northwest Georgia. But boy were they badly matched for the highway rides.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    This one is missing the cyclops light in the grill for flash to pass. Was it dropped sometime before this? Buddy had one of these with the standard. Tough little car.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The cyclops light never made it to this generation.

      These cars were EVERYWHERE in Maine back then. But they all rusted out in less than 10 years, just like the previous generation. I had an ’82 GL sedan as my first car, in ’86.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Oh, those “peripheral control buttons” One of the most hated arrangements of the late 1980′s. Fortunately that design didn’t last long and by the early 1990′s, they were gone.

    I’m not a Subie-fan, but the only thing that has always interested me about these was the rear door glass.

    It seems Subaru specialized in frameless windows, and that’s a good thing. I especially liked the complicated mechanism they used, similar to the old GM 4-door pillarless hardtops to make the glass move back, rotate down at the rear and rotate forward and lower.

    The geometry involved was somewhat short of a Rube Goldberg solution, but pretty close and very effective and eliminated the need for a split glass to give a clean look. It cost much more to acheive that as well, and for that, I give Subaru many kudos.

    In the late 1970′s, my friend worked for Carter Carburetor and just on the cusp of EFI, Carter worked very hard to sell Subaru the latest carburetor technology and my buddy did all sorts of cross-country test drives as part of a team of researchers, under many conditions the feasibility of continuing with normally-aspirated technology. It ultimately failed, however, as soon as EFI became practical, game over for Carter by 1982.

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      How about all the control buttons Pontiac put on steering wheels back then?

      http://0.tqn.com/w/experts/Pontiac-Repair-828/2010/06/Steering-Wheel.jpg

      http://dempseybowling.com/posts/6000ste2.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Wow. Makes me feel better that I drove K-Cars back then!

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        I had that exact car. The steering wheel controls were the least of its problems. It worked great if you had long fingers or thumbs, also worked great at freaking people out by messing with the radio with out ever moving your hands from the wheel.

        I have seen that tach read 7,000 rpm before thanks to a TH-125 not upshifting and me not paying attention to the tach while eyeballing the 18 wheeler coming up behind me while I was getting on the interstate. It did 60mph in 1st gear without a whimper. I’ve seen that speedo read 125mph, and 199kph (as high as it would go)

        I actually really loved that dash. I liked the car as well.

  • avatar
    imc

    Great post…brings back fond memories of the ’93 Loyale that my family had throughout the late 90′s. It was built like a tank and couldn’t be stopped by anything winter threw our way. I’ve blanked out the embarassment of the 2 speaker tape deck but always loved the push-button AWD selector on the gear shift…I felt like quite the man driving my mom’s AWD wagon to school. By 2002 it had finally rusted out enough that my dad traded it in….we live in Southern Ontario with plenty of salt every winter. Top speed was a heart-pounding 155km/hr. If anyone sold anything new remotely like this old beast….I’d buy it in a second. Awesome car.

  • avatar
    obbop

    For fun stand there with the hood agape and play “count the little hoses.”

    Back in “the day” it was a joy to observe the pure unadulterated joy of the visiting local mechanic (Concord, CA and environs) seeking a Subaru of the same vintage/type/etc whose vacuum hoses were completely or “close enough” intact, allowing the mechanic to stare at length and, often, make sketches.

    Being the wonderfully awesome folks we were we refrained from switching the those multitude of little hoses around and leave them that way to make life horrid for the mechanics who so often had no access to any schematics or diagrams etc covering ALL the hose routing.

    Honda had some of the most convoluted hose routing and sheer number of hoses.

    Of course, fuel injection greatly altered the hose problem and led to the demise of my beloved gulp valve.

    Interestingly, local “Subies” were apparently bought by the ‘Yuppie Crowd” infesting the “Lamorinda” area just east of where the “Great Oakland Fire” and the Caldecott Tunnel Disaster occurred.

    It was a semi-great time to scrape by in that area before the great influx of what I will leave unmentioned that appeared and economically devastated the citizen working-poor of an entire area.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Plenty of these still trundling around Vancouver BC. They’re usually parked outside a whole foods store/yoga studio, slathered in ‘Peace’, ‘Coexist’ or rainbow stickers, whilst sporting uber-trendy crocheted blanket seat covers.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Ah! The Warthog!

    Had a metallic blue ’88 GL Turbo wagon with 4 speed auto, air suspension, sunroof, the lot as a winter beater ’96 to ’98. Bought her for $3K, and had visions of it lasting until the WRX finally made it to our shores. Everything worked, every button and toggle switch. Soft, soft ride with epic roll and the ability to get a 32 inch TV in its box inside the back door, where an Explorer could not. Practical in its way.

    Only car I ever had where a (female) cop stopped me for “threatening” to break the speed limit due to the rapidity of my departure from a toll booth. Yup, low gear was good, and the rest were merely so-so.

    Sold her on when the special “turbo” $800 fuel pump died in ’98, and it was rusty. Got an Impreza.

  • avatar
    jwb65

    Murilee, Do you record the mileage on these cars? I bet it has over 300K.

  • avatar
    texan01

    I knew a girl that had a later 1990 version of this car. I tried to fix an oil leak on it, and discovered that it was next to impossible for me to do it, and I didn’t like her that much to really attempt it.

    It survived her long enough for her to get a Hyundai Tiburon, which she drove literally into the ground at 120,000 miles.

    It thrummed like a motorboat, and I saw zero appeal in it. I think it was even FWD.

  • avatar

    I loved these cars when I came of driving age in the late 80’s but could never afford one as prices remained stubbornly high.
    By the time I could afford one they were too old, too rusty, too many miles etc, etc.
    They’re a rare sight these days, at least in my neck of the woods

  • avatar
    Sketch

    If you want to see a dashboard with concentrated essence of the 80′s, go find a Subaru XT with a digital dash.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I still see this vintage Subie around here in Seattle but even rarer are the previous 2 generations of this car. For a long time, there was a bright yellow ’77 subie wagon still being driven around these parts and I think I saw it in the last year or two still parked somewhere on Capitol Hill here in Seattle.

    My BIL Bob once bought a 1985 Subie wagon with the electronic digital dash used in the late 1990′s, only to have it totaled out when someone ran into it within a year or two of ownership and went on to buy I think an ’86 Subie, this time with the conventional dash and that wagon lasted him, his daughters several years before it finally fell apart from many, many miles of driving. His older daughter Annie drove it while her younger sister Meg had the early 80′s Isuzu based LUV truck and eventually, it, too would get long in the tooth and was sold on after several years.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    This car looks far better than many still out there. Someone I knew had this same car w/5 spd but w/2wd probably because it was from the south. It had far more rust than this one but was still like an ox.

    Also these 80′s vintage still had timing chains.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I wonder why this car is not being used, it looks to be in pretty good shape, much better than some crap I see every day.

  • avatar
    rahamim

    i live in israel and am the proud owner of a 1990 dl station wagon with 380000 km (you do the conversion!). Here, we have the regular 4 cylinder v shape engine and no 4wd. these cars are indestructible and you see here so many still on the road – the 3rd generation was produced from 1985-1993 and you even still see the 2nd gen 1980-1992 ones as well as the 2nd gen type open back pickup truck model which often has a rear compartment with 2 vertical benches . there are also still plenty of spare parts because this car is so good!


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