By on July 1, 2012

Junked AMC Eagles are plentiful in Denver-area self-service wrecking yards, but nowhere near as common as the cars that took AMC’s four-wheel-drive-car concept and ran with it: Subarus. I see incredible quantities of Subarus around here, but one thing I don’t see often is a non-wagon Subaru Legacy. Even rarer in these parts is the front-wheel-drive Legacy sedan. That makes this ’91 a noteworthy Junkyard Find, at least by Denver standards.
Just 70 more miles and it would have made 200,000! The prime suspect: head gasket.
You could still buy seriously weird Subarus in the early 1990s (e.g., the final XT and first SVX), but the Legacy was de-weirdifying at a rapid clip.
You’ll find on in every car, kid. You’ll see.

Touring Bruce. You figure it out.

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24 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Subaru Legacy L Sedan...”

  • avatar

    I wonder if Subaru would have survived the Legacy launch had the internet been in effect in 1989. The first Legacies delivered all had their engines fail in short order. We had replacement engines in crates stacked to the ceiling at the Subaru dealership where I worked that summer. I’d like to think that our mechanics got good at swapping the engines without creating new problems, but I doubt it.

  • avatar

    Does it make me weird that these are my favorite Subarus? After 1999, the Legacy got all isolated; the 2005-2009 version was awesome but had no backseat room and the 1995-1998 had a gloomy interior. That leaves the original 1989-1994 as the only one without such problems, plus it was available with a turbo AWD sedan with a rear LSD. Also, certain versions had air suspension to go along with the weirdness and the motors were still loud and intrusive in that “fun” way.

    The original versions also had rather French-y suspension and steering tuning, with soft springs and a slow ratio, but grippy handling and good road feel. They also had that classically Japanese hardtop and chrome look, yet they weren’t agricultural like the earlier Loyale/GL/DL. In fact, with all that glass area, those straight lines and Legend-inspired fender flares, I find them quite handsome indeed. Great visibility, too.

    First generation Imprezas share this platform and also ranks high as my second favorite Subies of all time.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always loved their styling, but living in New Hampshire means that from a practical standpoint, if I don’t want to feel guilty about driving in the winter, I need to find a second- or third-generation car. A shame, really – as with many Japanese cars of the period, rust is their greatest flaw.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      “yet they weren’t agricultural like the earlier Loyale/GL/DL”

      Are we talking about cars here or tractors? The roughest cars or 4x4s I’ve sat still felt very different from farm equipment.

      I see a couple of old vintage Subarus down here, and there’s one usually in our parking lot. Despite making me laugh every time the guy starts it, because being old school is a bit noisy, the thing still looks like a car.

      Is it me needing new glasses?

      Or is the use of the word “agricultural” to describe a rough car just male bovine excrement?

      • 0 avatar

        I think it is used as a word to describe cars that weren’t exactly smooth idling or running once started or there abouts.

        It may also mean that to some extent, crudeness was still evident in earlier models.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Are we to assume that Subaru has gotten better and more durable since?

  • avatar

    Head gaskets were not an issue with the 2.2 engine. I’m not sure what CJinSD is referring to, but the 2.2 liter, was the most bullet proof engine that Subaru has ever produced.

    The 2.2 was the basis for the current 2.5 liter engine, (as of last year) which did suffer from head gasket issues, mostly from the spacing between the bored out cylinders being too small and an overall poor head gasket design in general.

    Hopefully the new crop of FB family engines with timing chains will be more reliable than the EJ25 engines.

  • avatar

    Looks like a couple of lesbians drove it until the wheels fell off.

  • avatar

    I owned the ’93 version of this. Sedan, FWD, boring styling. It was blue on blue, just as blue interiors were ending its popularity. For my wife it was her first “new” car. We bought it because living in Houston at the time, Subarus were a tough sell. There was something like $3,000 cash on the hood, and the dealers were about giving the car away. We hated the GM offerings, no fan of the Contour, and Camcords were over sticker. I seem to remember we came close to buying a Mazda but the dealer wouldn’t budge.

    Unlike this one – which lasted for almost 200K miles it was the second worst car I’ve ever owned. They were recalled for safety defects in the brakes. My wife had brought the car in three times prior to the recall complaining about the brakes – her final visit dismissed as being a woman and not knowing what she was talking about. Last time we went to that dealer and started driving almost 50 miles RT for service. The engine leaked puddles of oil in the garage by 30K miles. And the HVAC never worked right.

    When the fan stopped blowing and the dealer investigated, it was discovered the entire HVAC system, ducts everything was installed completely wrong at the factory. Subaru called out a factory rep, who approved the non-warranty repairs (thank God) and they had to about gut the entire dashboard to repair everything. The factory rep told us he was amazed the system worked at all, let alone for 43K miles.

    We were done after that. Traded it in and never looked back. I know Subaru quality is the stuff of legend, and I know we got a turd in an otherwise sea of good stories.

    But, the FWD experiment Subaru did didn’t work. The effort was killed. In a way its a shame. When Subbie came out with the Legacy GT sedan with a manual a few years later we loved the looks and interior, but our experience left us cold.

    • 0 avatar

      What FWD experiment? Subarus had mostly been FWD with AWD as an option until fairly recently. And even in Maine, where AWD is actually almost useful, AWD Subarus were RARE until they were all you could get.

      I rather liked this generation, had several in the family. A veneer of refinement over the agriculturalness.

  • avatar
    Keith Tomas

    Maybe it’s just me, but I see something of a resemblance between the Eagle/Concord and the Subaru sedans. Particularly in the greenhouse, with the c-pillar window. Had AMC not gone under, maybe the Eagle would have morphed into something similar…I also see similarities between the basic styling of the Spirit and the Honda Civic liftbacks and hatchbacks. The concepts seem very similar to my eyes, anyway. It’s almost as if Subaru and Honda were able to finish what AMC started.

  • avatar

    Wife just bought a 99 Forester with the dreaded EJ25 engine.
    Having read your article on how to buy a used car, I informed her
    that the car was REALLY low on oil. Also told her that that engine
    had a bad reputation. She bought it anyway. Seems to run well,
    does not overheat, was very low on coolant too. Could not smell
    exhaust in the coolant resevoir, nor could I see an oily film in that
    container. No white exhaust emanates. What do you all think? Could it
    possibly be good? It has 166K.

    In the course of test driving different Subies we looked at one that
    had SEVEN, count them,SEVEN, tree air fresheners in it. I was sick for hours.

    • 0 avatar

      At 166k it is likely on its second set of head gaskets. The EJ25 from 96-00 typically needed the original gaskets replaced around 100k. Updated gaskets should last a whole lot longer than the factory originals.

      • 0 avatar


        If the gasket was replaced early on it might be the old inferior design, but anytime after that it should be superior and hold up much longer.

        Just keep looking for that oily brown coolant, and air bubbles in the coolant tank.

  • avatar

    I have a 96 outback wagon as my current beater, and it’s the most mechanically robust, bulletproof beater I’ve ever yet had– and that includes by now about ten different well-regarded options, three of which were Volvos. The subie doesn’t get the fuel economy its deathly slowness deserves, but otherwise it’s like having a car and a small work truck at the same time. The outback runs better than my last beater despite already having 197k miles on it. I anticipate 250k no problem. Swapping in wear parts, I looks to me that most everything on the car is built for reliability and easy service.

    The subaru 2.2 liter engines of this time are unstoppable; the early 2.5 liter did have a bad head gasket design, but most of the ones still running have had that job done, and the replacement gaskets solve the problem and turn it back to a 300k mile engine. My neighborhood in Brooklyn is packed with old Subies, and I notice there are more wagons of the old 95-99 style than the rounder 00-04 model.

  • avatar

    Something broke, and the repair cost was too high.

    After doing some research I can conclude that Subbys are like Volvos, they’re great until something breaks, and things do break.

    I did hear a rumor that Subaru had some buyback program for parts in the 80’s where they’d buy old parts from dealers and destroy them, is this rumor true or just cyber-hogwash?

  • avatar

    I could be wrong, but i believe the “head-gasket eating monsters” were the vast majority the EJ25D model…the DOHC version which existed from 96-00. After that Subaru went to a different design with a SOHC head, and I believe the head gasket problems were severely reduced.

  • avatar

    If you’re bunching AMC cars along with Jeep, I think you can say Subaru borrowed the 4wd car concept, but Subaru had 4wd wagons back in the early ’70s, before the Eagles arrived on the scene.

  • avatar

    Surprised that nobody mentioned it but the lead photo shows a severe sag in the rear door. Look how badly the pinstriping is misaligned. It is even worse than the previous junkyard find, the AMC Eaglw, and that one was pretty bad….

    Regarding the sooo close but no 200K, I’d drag the thing to make the magic number.

  • avatar

    Just this Saturday I was driving through Lexington, MA and on the street was sitting an original white Subaru 360! It looked a bit like a pedal toy next to newer cars. How that thing survived 40+ years in Northeast is a difficult question to answer but it must’ve been garaged all its life. The little bugger was still a running car and it looked to be in decent shape.

    I waved to it. After all it is the great great grandfather of the WRX I was driving at that moment. :)

  • avatar

    Very fond memories of this car. Bought a 1990 AWD sedan and 1991 wagon. It all started on a Sunday when the local Honda dealer was closed. (Honda used to sell the Accord wagon, which was a good competitor). Decided to drop on by the nearby Subaru/VW dealer because it was open. Sedan had good pick-up (we forget how underpowered many cars were in the 1980s) and the out the door price with tax tags title etc. was $12,800 for the Legacy AWD L+ trim.

    Car was a beast, never had a problem in snow, waded through streams, and the 2.2 L 4 was rock solid (unlike the 2.5 L which blew the head gasket on my 2002 Outback). It even had front tow hooks under the bumper for attaching the tie downs for a canoe or other long loads.

    After 14 years donated it in great working order to a women’s breast cancer charity. The high ground clearance and sensible filter locations made oil changes and other maintenance a snap. The engine ran like a champ.

    Based on that positive experience have always had a warm spot for Subarus.

  • avatar

    During the 91-92 recession, the Subaru plant in Indiana was storing unsold Legacys in Kenosha WI, near 200 miles away!

    When they ditched FWD only and added “Outback” trim, then sales went up.

    And yeah the FWD only cars were not an ‘experiment’, and can’t be blamed for quality issues.

  • avatar

    And another thing, look at the interior. After 200K miles, it is trashed, and needs new everything. And, you’re not going to find pristine interior parts in ‘pick and pulls’ too easy. Have to do ‘flea-Bay’ and pay Barrett-Jackson collector car prices.

    So, in this case, car was done for this world and no need to ‘save’ it.

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