By on June 28, 2011

Remember the mid-mounted “passing light” Subaru installed in some of its Late Malaise Era cars? I had forgotten all about this oddball option until I ran across this ’82 in a Denver wrecking yard.

The driver hit a switch on the turn-signal stalk and the Subaru grille emblem flipped up to expose the Cyclops-style middle headlight. Subaru buyers didn’t see the point, and most of them skipped this option.

The resemblance to the early Honda Accord is quite strong from this angle.

There was once a time, back in the Dark Ages, when four-wheel-drive had to be selected with a lever in Subaru cars. Why, that’s like something you’d have to do in an AMC Eagle (though the Eagle used a dash switch instead of a floor lever).

The boxer engine design has served Subaru well for more than four decades now. Lots of these EAs going to The Crusher these days.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1982 Subaru GL “Third Eye”...”

  • avatar

    This is funny. I have been in several drawn out conversations with Subie people about this wierd light and they always swear it never exisited, saying I was crazy.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Just how slow would traffic have to be before that Subaru would need an extra option for alerting other drivers that they were passing?

  • avatar

    My first car was an ’82 Subaru GL 4dr sedan, in that same color! “Shiny Maroon”, I think they called it. A Hand-me-down from the folks in ’86. My folks also had an ’80 hatch in lemon yellow, sadly niether of them 4wd, and niether had the third light.

    I beat the crap out of that poor car and it just begged for more. One thing missing in that engine bay shot is the spare tire – with that flat engine they mounted it above and behind it.

    This generation if Subaru was WILDLY successful in Maine – they were absolutely everywhere in the ’80s. There had to be 10+ in my extended family. Unfortunately these things also rusted at a rate FIAT would have been proud of – the ’80 needed extensive welding before its 3rd birthday, and the ’82 had the suspension collapse through the rotted out trunk floor by the time it was eight. After the rust nobody in my family even looked at another for about 20 years.

    • 0 avatar

      They were extremely successful here in the Northwest too. I still see some going about their business with a large chunks of various body panels missing due to rust. It’s a good thing that they stopped putting salt on the roads years ago or there wouldn’t be any of them left.

  • avatar

    Neat find. I’m surprised you found one that appears to be rust free. Any of this vintage Subaru in New England (and they were all over the place) have long since been recycled or simply rusted to nothing. Probably way too late but this belongs in a museum or some weird old guy’s car collection.

  • avatar

    I never knew about this odd option! And I pride myself on knowing about stuff like this. Oh well, there is always something to learn. Speaking of which, what does that cluster of stars in the Subaru logo mean, if anything? I had a Japanese economics teacher tell us that Subaru means “bird”, which I found odd. Yet, if you recall the early QC sticker on the side windows of Subarus of that era, the image was a bird with long outstretched wings (Kind of like the WLIR radio station logo of “party in the park” for those who may relate). But the stars?

    • 0 avatar

      The Subaru logo is derived from the Pleiades (or 7 sisters) constellation.

      • 0 avatar

        Iirc the word Subaru is the Japanese name for the constellation. I learned that when I was thinking of buying a very nice SVX a local dealer had.

        I’ve never seen the third light on a Subaru, and there are a lot of them around here. Come to think of it, a co-worker who worked in Germany for a couple of years came back with one of these cars. We used to razz him about it: “Jawohl, das schøne Subaru”…

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    DSWILLY: I can give you another data point: I had one of these! Wow, nostalgia rush. What a solidly-built little car. Clutch blew out one day, didn’t slow it down much at all, I just speed-match shifted. Anyway, my “third eye” had its cover pop-riveted shut, maybe because in whatever state of the USA it first landed this additional headlight was illegal or whatever. I opened it up, so that now I could turn the light on and off, but the cover was permanently open. I never used it much but I have to say when I did it often had unpredictable effects on the cars ahead. “Driving along…dum dee dum… two headlights in my rearview mirror… no problem-o… what? THREE headlights?… what the heck is that… better pull into the right lane…wow…” Basically, it often was useful to spook a slow driver ahead of me to move out of the passing lane. Not that there were many cars slower than this one. Thanks again for the nostalgia trip TTAC! Great Little Car (not to confuse it with the also-charming Mazda GLC!)

  • avatar
    Sam P

    This is awesome. A friend of mine just bought a rust-free 1982 GL 4WD hatch for $75 (complete with a microwave oven sitting in the back seat) and is currently restoring it. And he found the passing light under the emblem as well, which I had no idea existed on those cars.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    I had an 83 GL 4WD wagon. I must admit that I have no idea whether a third eye resided under the grille’s logo. That would have been weirdly cool.

    In most ways I really liked that Subaru. ItalDesign styling, great fuel economy for a 4WD, and a bit more upscale features than the other small wagons of the time. Alas, not the most reliable; haven’t owned a Subaru since.

  • avatar

    I had an 83 4WD wagon. Yellow. It was the unofficial car of Colorado. It was expensive. It wasn’t that great. It wasn’t good enough for me to ever consider another Subaru again.

    It had the weird little light. It had the weird orange dash glow. It had the weird dash nipples flaring above the steering wheel for headlights on one nipple to something else on the other. It had the weird narrow seating and high window sills coupled with the flat door panels and high dashboard. It had the weird boxer engine. It had the weird spare tire placement.

    It was front heavy, rusty, unreliable and utterly weird little car.

  • avatar

    The only car my parents ever bought new: a 1981 Subaru GL 4-door wagon, FWD. I have to say I don’t believe it had the cyclops headlight though. They drove it every day for 13 years before deciding not to move it across the country again. Mom tried to teach me how to drive stick for 10 minutes before we parted with the car. I was a little too short and way too young, and after 10 engine stalls she gave up.

  • avatar

    Headed back to CU-Boulder at from Thanksgiving break in 1987 on I-70 EB just inside the CO border, a mid-to-late-80’s Subaru 5-door wagon changed lanes directly in front of the Bronco I was riding in. Upon seeing the 18-wheeler in her rearview mirror, the driver was startled, and then abruptly changed back into our lane. All of this at over 65 mph. This led to another overcorrection and the remaining accident was straight out of Hollywood: The Subie rolled no less than 5 times and at least twice end-over-end. It finally came to rest, upright, in the median. My roommates and I (expecting the worst) along with the long-haul trucker whose presence startled the Subie driver, rushed to the driver and her passenger. Aside from numerous (but minor) cuts from the shattered glass and broken lower legs, because both occupants were buckled in, injuries were survivable — even minor, given the speed and severity. We used our sleeping bags to stabilize both occupants until the EMS arrived almost 30 minutes later (again, between Limon and Burlington, CO.)

    The robust structure of the Subie wagon left an impression on me. Except for dings and scratches, a glass company could’ve shown up and installed new windows without a problem. Witnessing this accident — and the robust Subie safety cage — is probably (subliminally) why I’ve had two Subies since then…

  • avatar

    Early Accord? I thought it was an Escort at first. Even the color is right.

  • avatar

    What was the purpose of that 3rd headlight?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the purpose was to look cool and unique in commercials and make people who just spent a decade driving cars with bogus ornamental trim and fake features crazy with lust for a car so authentic that it actually had features hidden beneath the surface instead of stamped steel wheels hidden beneath wire hubcaps, a sheetmetal roof hidden under a padded cloth top with landau bars that were just stampings, and fake guages in the dashboard that were just dummy lights. I know it made me crazy with desire for a Subaru Brat with the feature, but I was 10 years old.

  • avatar

    Perfect example of the kookiness of 80s Subarus. Like ’em or not, these things certainly came with more personality than almost anything you can buy new today… unfortunately, they also came with an innate ability to rust, which probably pissed off those who bought the 4WD model in the snow states.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought my ’82 4WD GL Hatchback new and it lasted until 1989 when I went to an Isuzu Trooper. Shortly before the end the CV joints up front failed so I had a shop cut them off and just road around with the transfer case in 4Hi. Would have fixed them but the rust was horrific and I knew its days were numbered. Was a tough little car that only lacked ground clearance but I managed to ‘froad it none the less.

  • avatar

    According to the 1981 Subaru owners manual I am holding in my hand, that Passing Light was only on 4WD GL models only…why was the lamp only available on the slowest models?????

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the way it was on my ’82 GL Hatchback. The GL was also the only model that had a transfer case with 4Lo. The 4WD DLs only had 4Hi.

      I’m not sure it was a “driving” light, but more of an “offroad” light. The “cyclops” worked with the low beams but when you put the high beams on it cut out just like fog lights are required to do.

  • avatar

    My dad had one of 89, if I recall. White. The last of the hatchbacks like this one. It was push button 4wd, though, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t have the third headlight.

    These cars were rare in southern Virginia. They would succumb to time long before rust. There were GL sedans, Loyales, a few XTs in my hometown, but from what I recall there was only one 4wd GL hatchback. Once or twice we saw a camo painted one and mused about the demise of that hatchback, and once we were in Lynchburg and swear we saw it. I think there might be another one running around my hometown now of about an 86 vintage.

    It was a good, solid, little car from what I can remember. At the time, our driveway was at nearly a 45 degree angle and that car would zip right up it in the snow. Of course, an ice storm once resulted in my father sliding backwards down the driveway and our street. But, then again, it wasn’t in 4wd drive at the time…and not many cars can handle the ice well.

    I was about a year old when he bought it and about six when he sold it. He has often mused that he wished he still had it so I could drive it. Honestly, I would drive the hell out of it, too. He traded it for a 2wd Loyale. Nice, reliable little car. Just not fun and distinctive like the GL.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked at a Subaru dealer in 1989. We still had a couple GL 4wd hatchbacks in our new inventory, although I’m not sure if they were ’88s or ’89s. It wasn’t uncommon for our new stock to have a birthday on the lot, requiring a 2nd VA state inspection with only a dozen or so miles on the odometer. Subaru had an interesting model lineup at the time. We had the tiny Justy, the new Legacy that made the others seem basic and dated, the Loyale, and the GL Hatchbacks that had been part of the model family superseded by the Loyale. I think the Loyale was only having its name changed from GL and DL because the Legacy had kicked off a move to name cars for US sale. The end result was that some Subarus seemed remarkable dated compared to others that were on sale at the same time.

  • avatar

    That nose would look great hanging on a garage wall!

  • avatar

    wow the impressive interior thrilled me.

  • avatar

    I’m a year and a half late to this dance, but I believe the “cyclops light” was only an option in 1982. I’m thinking it was outlawed. You should have grabbed it – they trade for good money, if only due to the rarity.

  • avatar

    If that flip up emblem with headlight is still present/operational I think it would be a great accessory to the Murilee Martin junkyard boombox.

  • avatar

    “The driver hit a switch on the turn-signal stalk and the Subaru grille emblem flipped up to expose the Cyclops-style middle headlight.”

    My ’82 GL 4WD Hatchback had a “barrel” push on/off switch on the dash to the left of the steering wheel to activate the “cyclops.” The center light only worked with low beams. When you put the high beams on “cyclops” went to sleep.

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