By on May 22, 2012

Every time I do a Junkyard Find with a Subaru (for example, the ’79 BRAT we saw yesterday), I mention the large numbers of other old Subarus to be found in the same yard. How many? Well, at the Denver U-Pull-&-Pay (where I found the BRAT), I decided to walk through the entire Imports section and get a photograph of every Subaru from the early 1990s or earlier.
Colorado is the most Subaru-centric place I’ve ever seen, by a big margin. Hell, even I have an Outback in my personal fleet, and I’ve never for a moment believed in the myth of Subaru reliability. With so many Subies on the street, it stands to reason that you’ll find tons of them awaiting digestion by The Crusher.
So, in addition to the BRAT and a certain early-90s Subaru that I’m saving for a later post, the count of two-decade-or-older Subarus at this yard stands at nine (though a couple of these Leones might have sneaked in from mid-90s territory, they’re based on the late-80s version).
This means that cheapskate owners of elderly Subarus are in good shape when they go parts shopping, with better selection of components than even the embarrassment-of-riches 1980s Tercels and Civics.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find, Denver Style: So Many Old Subarus!...”


  • avatar
    tonyola

    With the exception of the two-door hatchback with the bubble rear window, the post-1984 non-XT Subarus were a pretty dull-looking bunch of cars, weren’t they? A slightly clumsy variation of 1980s generic Japanese boxiness without the endearing quirks of previous designs. The older hatchback in this post is the only interesting one of the whole bunch.

    • 0 avatar
      wagonsonly

      My thoughts are exactly the reverse – yes, it’s a Japanese box, but thoughtfully (and not excessively) detailed. The ’85-’94 Leone series wagon is like a boxier Volvo 240, to my eye. As far as quirks and character, these cars offered it all – dual-range 4WD or AWD, manual transmission, locking center differential, turbo – all in one package. What’s an enthusiast not to like?

      In contrast I always thought the previous generation Leone was underdeveloped and pretty agricultural. Although I do have a couple (’83 GL sedan and ’83 Matrix3 GL convertible), I greatly prefer the earlier and later models. And, interestingly, that 2-door hatch may be newer than some of the wagons; the Gen II Leone hatchback was sold from ’80 to ’89, giving Subaru three hatchback body styles on the market in ’87 and ’88 (Justy and GL 3-door) and four in 1989 (GL 3-door, Justy 2-door, and Justy 4-door).

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        I was clearly referring to the styling. While the post-’84 Subes might have been better and more sophisticated cars in terms of engineering, they don’t have as much character in the looks department.

      • 0 avatar
        wagonsonly

        De gustibus non est disputandum. I think the ’87-’89 GL wagons are some of the sharpest cars ever to hit these shores – visually cleaner than the ’80-’84 wagon with just enough detailing to be interesting (like the recesses around the rear wheel arch or the profile kink on the hatch). The earlier cars have too much detailing and were pretty liberal in the use of chrome flashing, surface details, especially on the hood, and taillight textures. The hardtop of that era looks like someone tried to copy a Mercedes SL and then shrunk it – and the authorized dealer options, like the chrome-and-teak deck rack, didn’t do it any favors either.

        That said, I do have a great admiration for the pre-’80 cars – especially the GSR, the GF, and the early-’70s tailgate wagons. And you can’t beat a 360 or an FF-1 for endearing quirks and styling cues.

      • 0 avatar
        RedStapler

        If you want quirky from that era go find a XT6 or SVX.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Pic #10 – what is that odd vehicle on the right?

    • 0 avatar
      roger628

      Appears to be an Isuzu Trooper with a piece of bumper or something laying on top of IT’S bumper. Threw me for a loop too initially.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      Which pic?. Of the ones down, there’s a Camry and a Volvo 850 flanking the car.

      On the others there’s the above mentioned Trooper, a couple of early 90′s Corolla (blue) and another FWD SR5 or GTS (white).

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Wow, still see old Subies here in the Puget Sound area. In recent years, I’ve spotted several really old Subies, like someone may still be driving a bright yellow ’77 Subie FWD wagon though I’ve not spotted it in the past couple of years.

    In 2009, I was inspired by MM’s old DOTS posts on Jalopnik and did a variation of that idea around my apartment building one evening after work while heading to the grocery store and spotted 3 Subarus. One of them may well have been that ’77 wagon, but I saw an early 80′s wagon that was painted up art car style, an early Leone (post 84 square body) wagon and later that spring, spotted an early Brat parked south of where I live by just a few blocks that was kind of rough, but still appeared to still be drivable.

    I’m thankful that rust forgot this area as cars like these can easily last 20+ years, as long as the drivetrains hold out.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    On a per capita basis, probably more Subarus in New England. They are just all 10-15 years newer due to the rust. I sure don’t get the enduring popularity – they are not nice to drive particularly, swill gas, rust (even newer ones) and are bloody expensive to fix when they inevitably need it. The marketing myth of AWD is a strong one, I guess. My extended family was hugely into Subarus from about ’80-90, but the rust and the repairs means no one has bought one since.

    • 0 avatar
      FuzzyPlushroom

      This is certainly true. I’d be interested to see what percentage of cars registered to (for example) Montpelier residents are Subarus; my visit there last summer suggested a figure of approximately one-fifth.

      • 0 avatar
        wagonsonly

        I recall reading an article, probably in Subaru’s Drive magazine, that suggested the most popular brand in Vermont was Subaru with one out of every seven new cars sold there a Subie. That was a few years ago now, though.

        As for NH, when I was in college up there, I saw more than a few in Keene and Nashua/Manchester, but the communities between them – Jaffrey, Peterborough, Milford – seemed more populated with pickup trucks, Saabs, Volvos, and VWs.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        Definitely true for the little town of Hancock, NH. I would hazard a guess that half of the driveways contain a Subaru, most of which are Legacy wagons and pre-’08 Foresters.

    • 0 avatar
      Ltd783

      I agree. I think Vermont and New Hampshire are definitely highest per capita. There are some areas where Subaru’s are over 50% of the cars you see. That being said, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest are a close second. Any particularly mountainous or recreational area of any state is going to see more Subaru’s it seems (Tahoe, CA; Taos NM; Park City UT, Yellowstone, MT etc…)

    • 0 avatar
      fozone

      I can’t speak to Colorado or the PNW, but here in Vermont, the AWD is useful. 50% of the roads here are unpaved — either compacted dirt or gravel. Even in dry conditions, this is where AWD makes a big difference. And in mud season or winter, forget it — these roads turn to slop, and again, AWD makes them much less challenging for the average driver to navigate.

      I do question the usefulness and efficacy in places with roads that are more friendly.

      • 0 avatar
        salhany

        They’re so popular here in Maine they’re practically the state bird. And for good reason. My wife is on her second and they’ve served us very well.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        I’d venture to say that the 50% figure is too high. As a native Vermonter, I have only owned ONE Subaru with AWD and that was my ’89 GL-10 Turbo. I loved that car.

        Otherwise, I can hack it pretty well with the crapboxes I’ve driven. It takes patience to navigate a slick and/or muddy road. Most people do not have that patience, hence the need for AWD.

        I can’t say that I’d drive another Subaru again unless the gas mileage increases. Hell, I’d prefer to buy another GL-10 Turbo!

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I heard a rumor that Subaru brought dealer parts back then to throw them out, could that explain the pricey repairs?

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Kohalmi

      Yup, here in NH they’re all over the place. There’s dealers in every sizeable town too. I don’t completely get it though. Is AWD really that important? One time I saw a Subaru with studded snow tires. Are people really that paranoid about driving in snow? Twelve years with my rear-drive 3 series and it’s gotten me through some horrendous blizzards with 4 snow tires, of course. And Subarus rust out quicker than most, guzzle gas and you usually have to buy 4 tires at a time because of the AWD system.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        “Are people really that paranoid about driving in snow?”

        Yes, they really are that scared. They’ll do 20 in a 55 if there is so much as a snowflake. It’s not just in the snow, either. For whatever reason, many Subaru drivers seem to be scared of driving, period. Take a drive through the northern Monadnock region and nine times out of ten you’ll get stuck behind a Subaru going vastly under the speed limit. I dunno, maybe it’s to get better mileage, but no matter what the conditions, slow is how they go.

        Oh, and nothing can beat a Mazda for rust. :)

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        I doubt they’re scared until they inevitably end up in a ditch. In fact, a majority of the vehicles I see in ditches during the winter are SUVs and/or vehicles with AWD.

        AWD gives ordinary drivers TOO MUCH CONFIDENCE, which causes them to go 85 in a snowstorm without a second though.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      For a wagon-like vehicle that doesn’t cost $45K new, need a stepladder to get into, a spotter to safely put it in reverse, or a crane to put a canoe on the roof, there aren’t a lot of choices besides Subaru on the U.S. market.

      Despite disappointing gas mileage and reliability on our current one, we’ll probably buy a second.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        Gas mileage on Subies is better than it used to be, and Subaru claims to have eliminated (or at least greatly reduced the chance of) head gasket failure on their newest engines.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    This is interesting! Here in MA I don’t see those old square Subarus any more. I saw plenty 10 years ago but I think they’ve rusted into oblivion by now. I do see first gen Imprezas here and there and even a occasional first gen Legacy but most Subarus are newer.

    Back in ’98 I bought a very rare ’89 Subaru RX coupe. It was a fun car but was quite rusty despite being garaged and was quite unreliable. This was before the internet so I couldn’t do much research. It left me stranded at one point (timing belts) and I sold it after 1 year of ownership and 8500 miles. I said to myself I’ll never buy a Subaru again.

    They must’ve done something right though because at the end of 2004 I found myself looking at a used ’02 WRX. It didn’t happen then, I bought an apartment instead. In retrospect the WRX would’ve been a much better investment. Long story short, after two Hondas back-to-back (Accord, Integra) I ended up with a ’12 WRX. It is just so awesome. If it proves itself reliable and Subaru keeps making them 4/5 door, pretty sure the next car will be another Subaru. It’s like they have a magnet somewhere which just keeps bringing me back.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    This is interesting! Here in MA I don’t see those old square Subarus any more. I saw plenty 10 years ago but I think they’ve rusted into oblivion by now. I do see first gen Imprezas here and there and even a occasional first gen Legacy but most Subarus are newer.

    Back in ’98 I bought a rare black ’89 Subaru RX coupe. It was a fun car but was quite rusty despite being garaged and quite unreliable. This was before the internet times so I couldn’t do much research. It left me stranded once and I had to invest $600 in repairs (timing belts, cats) so I sold it after 1 year of ownership and 8500 miles. I said to myself I’ll never buy a Subaru again.

    They must’ve done something right though because at the end of 2004 I found myself looking at a used ’02 WRX. It didn’t happen then, I bought an apartment instead. In retrospect the WRX would’ve been a much better investment. Long story short, after two Hondas back-to-back (Accord, Integra) I ended up with a ’12 WRX. It is just so awesome, I sometimes have an urge to hug it. If it proves itself reliable and Subaru keeps making them 4/5 door, pretty sure the next car will be another Subaru. It’s like they have a magnet somewhere which just keeps bringing me back.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    We had a Loyale wagon growing up, black with grey vinyl trimmed cloth interior, and fairly basic – I believe the automatic transmission was the only option my parents sprung for. It was hot as hell in the summer, since they never replaced the a/c compressor after my mom rear ended a cement mixer and the whole front end had to be rebuilt. The air conditioning didn’t work for most of the time they had the car.

    I learned to drive in it, then they traded it in as soon as I got my license because they wanted something “safer” in the family fleet. Those old Subarus really did feel like tin boxes with the doors being about an inch and a half thick.

    Actually, its amazing that in the late 1980s/early 1990s, a small, basic, FWD station wagon like that could be regarded as practical family transportation for three kids, but that was back when mom was still refusing to drive a minivan and before the SUV boom really picked up.

    Still remember the idiosyncracies like the spare tire mounted under the hood and the sort of ticking sound the engine made. Not to mention the seams on the seats that started splitting when the car was a year old, and the buttons on the dash that would spring right off when you pushed them, but the car was rock solid reliable for 10 years.

    I haven’t seen another one like it in years, Subarus of this vintage all rusted away at about the same time in the Northeast and it doesn’t seem like many people in other parts of the country thought them worth saving. I would still like to have one someday, purely for nostalgic reasons.

  • avatar
    AlienProbe

    My cousin had one of those white wagons. It had the old white painted Subaru “Wagon Wheels” which constantly leaked air because the decaying paint would disrupt the seal from the tire to the rim. (Shame on you Subaru).

    It also had the digital dash. To this day, I still think that digital dash was insanely awesome for such a plain looking wagon.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    When I was first introduced to my wife, she pulled up in a blue ’86 GL wagon that she’d bought new years earlier, just like the ’85-’86 blue one pictured here (other than no roof rack on her car). Stick shift, FWD, manual steering, but it did have a/c as well as the niceties that came with GL trim. Unfortunately it required premium fuel, but other than a clutch replacement, it was a sturdy beast that lasted 13 years (until engine cradle rust was discovered).

    The success of this generation laid the groundwork for the first Legacy sedans and wagons in 1989-90, which in turn begat the Outback. I’ve always thought of the Legacy (and not the Impreza) as the direct descendant of the DL/GL line, probably because of their similarly styled and proportioned, and similarly usefully shaped, wagon bodies.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Druther have a lowly, oft-maligned Ford Escape. They’re everywhere. Disclosure:Ford fanboi, traded a Ranger XLT 4wd extneded cab for my Escape. Less mullet, more cowbell!

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Druther have a lowly, oft-maligned Ford Escape. They’re everywhere. Disclosure:Ford fanboi, traded a Ranger XLT 4wd extended cab for my Escape. Less mullet, more cowbell!

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    There’s a sizable Subaru graveyard around 15 miles east of Madison, Wisconsin. It’s located on US Hwy 12 in Cambridge, on the Dane/Jefferson county line. I believe Subaru of America shot video there for a Forester commercial a few years ago. Not sure if I can post links to a few sample photos here, but I’ll give it a try:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/madison_guy/1601058419/sizes/o/
    http://www.pbase.com/gallon/image/92670716/large
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/madison_guy/2124498200/sizes/o/in/set-72157600055037568/

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    It’s a shame there was never a Brat version of the 85-91 Loyale wagon.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I know a guy who has basically a XT with a wagon body, which I didn’t know existed.

    I assume the 1987 GL Turbo AWD is just a wagon XT…


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