By on February 28, 2014


I once read a book abut Subaru’s history in the American market, which I assume makes me an expert on all things Fuji Heavy. That and I came home from the hospital in a GL10 Turbo station wagon, which suffered an ignominious death from rust just months later. But somehow, there was a gap in my Subaru knowledge, specifically with their two-door models.

As far as I knew, Subaru’s two door models included the XT, the SVX and the Impreza Coupe. Oh, and the BRAT. But I had no idea that the RX Coupe existed – not that many other people did either. Based on the Leone/GL, only 2600 RX Coupes were imported over a two year period from 1987 to 1989, with an automatic transmission only available in 1989.

Power came from a 1.8L turbocharged boxer-four, making 115 horsepower and 134 lb-ft of torque. Although the RX looked like a sporty coupe, it came with a low-range transmission and a locking center differential, as well as an unusually high ride height. On-road performance may not have been as sharp as some of its competitors, but the grip and handling on loose surfaces made up the difference. In a way, it was the Outback sedan, long before it was a glimmer in the eye of a New England Subaru dealer.

The RX’s limited numbers translate into a scarce supply. The only RX for sale in the country is this beautifully preserved sedan, which has the 5-speed manual/low-range combo and a very period correct color scheme. If I had one, it would look more like this.


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31 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: The Subaru RX Coupe...”

  • avatar

    Never have I ever seen one in real life (sedan or coupe)! The rear half smacks of Integra to me.

  • avatar

    Here’s the Japanese ad for this car known as the Leone RX/II, the tv ad will explain your 3rd paragraph: youtube video QHUt-gw-Kyw

    I think this car was done to compete with the Toyota Celica Twin Cam Turbo that also had pro safari rallying pedigree.

  • avatar

    I wonder how many of the RX’s came with the digital cluster?

    It’s my understanding that, although rare, especially in the RX, that the digital clusters relayed inaccurate information…

  • avatar
    Helmut Spargel

    My aunt was involved in a head on collision in a Subaru coupe on icy roads (I believe the RX coupe – it was circa 1990). She was rewarding herself for quitting smoking by going to the hairdresser weekly. She didn’t survive the accident, so she is one of the few people I can say quitting smoking did more harm than good.

  • avatar

    If I had one, it would look more like this.
    Nice car for $5k.

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s hope the Subie was meticulously maintained.

      With 189K on the clock, it’s going to need it sooner than later. Plus finding parts for it may be a bit more challenging than one thinks…

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The white one in the picture screams Audi Quattro Coupe to me. Undoubtedly not an accident.

    At this point I seem to feel disappointed in myself whenever I see a car that was sold here in my lifetime that I don’t recognize.

  • avatar

    Saw a beat-up and rusty example in Pawtucket, RI a few months back. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one – hopefully it won’t be the last.

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved the fact that Subaru put a low range gear box in a car like this (or Sedan / Wagon). It’s this type of lunacy that had until recently enamored me of Subaru. Now they are just another regular appliance rolling down the road.

  • avatar

    I drove the sedan analogue of this car for many years — the so-called “GL10 4WD Turbo Sedan” (yes, that was its real name.)

    It had the insane orange LCD Star Wars gauge cluster (complete with a picture of a turbo that would ‘spin up’.) Thing I remember most about it (besides it being insanely cool) was that when it got to negative temps, the cluster would s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. It also had a rad trip computer on the passenger’s side. The epitome of 80s high tech.

    The locking diff was useful when it got nasty, but led to epic tire scrub if you forgot & left it on; the wear patterns on the tires were hilarious.

    It was also floatier than most subies in the corners, since it had air suspension (!) and it looked positively ridiculous when you raised it to max height. In that sense, it almost reminds me of the modern outback, and was indeed a much worse handler than the ‘new’ Legacy that replaced it in ’89.

    Most of the car was indestructible, but the turbo was ridiculously fragile. If you forgot to let the car sit at idle before shutdown, it was very easy to cook the thing (and I did, which led to the car’s demise.) And speaking of the turbo, the large lag was also 80s-appropriate. But since it wasn’t hung like a 930, when it finally kicked in you weren’t thrown to the weeds. The car also rusted exactly as you’d expect, the sheet metal apparently formed from scrap.

    The final kicker was that it was expensive — $14k in 1986 dollars (what is that now? $30k? more?)

    Unrefined, unsafe, slow. And with an exploding turbo. But I miss it dearly.

    • 0 avatar

      They were a neat old bus. I got one as a winter beater back in fall 1996, welded up the floor under the driver’s area and it was good to go. Low gear was quite quick, so 0 to 40 mph was quite rapid – in fact I got hauled over by a female cop, who was outraged, outraged I tell you, that she had observed me blow out of a bridge tollgate, obviously a speeder, and then DID NOT speed on the four laner after that. She accused me of spotting her car and then not speeding because I saw her! How’s that for logic? It was nightime, I didn’t see her car at all. I just kept quiet as she ranted and raved for a good couple of minutes, because I sensed she was nuts. And then she let me go. I hadn’t broken any law, it just seemed like I was going to.

      The air suspension was great, and the loading area allowed slipping in a 36 inch TV in its packing which my pal’s Explorer couldn’t. The air suspension compensated for the weight. It handled like a stricken turkey, but in two years never went wrong as I drove it year round, I enjoyed it so much. None of the previous 5 Audis I’d had went two years without trouble. Ever. It was like being set free of car troubles.

      Mind you, one time the Warthog as I named it left a huge trail of white smoke behind it. I stopped, peered under the hood, assuming the turbo had gone. No problem could be found! All fluid levels correct! Great car.

      Bought new Subarus ever since, well two, and the second one is still going great. They last.

      There were plenty of those coupes around here. These cars dissolved into rust. Flogged my GL10 Turbo to a friend – a woman driving a Caravan T-boned it and totaled both vehicles about a year later. My friend had no injuries beyond bruises and said the cops and paramedics were amazed. Exit Warthog, poor old thing.

    • 0 avatar

      @fozone- I had an ’89 GL-10 Turbo Sedan myself. It was silver and well-maintained for its’ age. I unfortunately dinged it up badly in the back. The transmission went and then not too long later, the head gasket. It was junked afterward.

      Too bad. It was a nice car and I wasn’t prepared for that level of luxury. I still got the better deal when compared to that poor Mustang that my brother abused.

  • avatar

    Isn’t that just a fancy GL coupe? I’ve seen those before.

  • avatar

    Always remember, Subaru spelled backwards is
    u r a bus.

  • avatar

    There were a few of these in Norway when I was young. I think they were just called GL here, and they all had the NA 1.8 and awd. A fiends mother had one. Slow and boring and quirky looking with it’s high ground clearance, but a hoot in the winter :)

  • avatar

    I owned a 1989 RX in black/gold scheme back in 1998. It was my first 5-speed car.

    A piece of junk it was. The lower part was quite crusty under the fancy ground effects despite being garaged most of its life. The shifter became very loose within the first year and would lean in turns while in neutral. Engine was pretty anemic until turbo kicked in. Mechanics looked at it and told me to run away because all aluminum engine was prone to major oil leakage. I invested about $600 into it – $420 for a catalytic converter (it had 2) and $180 for a timing belt that snapped and stranded me in a garage in the middle of Boston. This is all in 9K miles I had it starting at about 86K. Sold it a year later with 95K or so.

    The list of fixes by previous owners was several pages long and that should’ve tipped me off but I was young and it was a manual 2-door coupe. After that I vowed not to buy Subaru for a long time and stuck to that, next one I bought was about 13.5 years later. It also turned me off 2-door coupes. I hated the lack of access to rear seats so all my cars from then on either had 4 doors or no back seats.

    The only good things about it was the 4wd system with LSDs which did pull me through the New England winter quite well. And the car did look pretty good in an 80s kind of way. That’s about it. It was only later than I found out on the forums that the EA82T is notorious for being a horrible drivetrain so it wasn’t just me.

    The guy with the auction is a true optimist. I wouldn’t pay more than $2K for one with 50K on it. With 189K it should be worth maybe $1000 and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If you buy it prepare to invest a lot and often.

    • 0 avatar

      His other offerings are equally optimistically priced.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, the Subie on Ebay is WAY overpriced, it has been posted several times before. Perhaps the seller will get the hint, or perhaps he is just waiting for that special Subie Lover to pay his price and make a 3000 margin when he sells the car he picked up at auction (it is a dealer sale after all).

  • avatar

    This was the car that started Subaru rallying, well the JDM version Leone RX.

    We had the lowliest FWD GL wagon (no a/c no PS). Stayed in the family through various owners until rusting out somewhere north of 175k.

  • avatar

    Isn’t this the one with fighter plane-esque shifter?

    One of my “bad car books” made a much ruder analogy for it.

  • avatar

    The comments on this post are a sad reminder that there is no room in the current market for ‘niche’ vehicles. There are people who love their air suspensions, low range transfer cases, station wagons, rotaries etc. I myself drive a large lift back car and cannot see the utility in any replacement available today.

    Totally unrelated but weird is the current Peugeot ad on Aussie TV. It shows a LHD model and is obviously shot in an American desert. Maybe Utah? If I remember correctly you cannot even buy a French car in the U.S. Right?

    • 0 avatar

      The French left a long time ago. The closest thing that we have are Nissans that are cousins to Renault.

      It’s possible to do a lot with CGI these days. The striping on the road in that ad(vert) is distinctly British in style.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you hit the nail on the head. When i look at the existing subaru lineup, none of the cars excite me like my old GL10 with all of its attendant weirdness, despite the new cars being objectively superior in every way.

      It is getting harder for me to appreciate the differences between models, or to come up with reasons to buy anything but an Accord.

      Sometimes i wonder if consolidation of OEM parts suppliers — as well as brutal price competition among said suppliers — has led to this homogeneity across manufacturers.

  • avatar

    This is the car that started my Subaru obsession in the late 90’s. I was 16, it was 1998, and a neighbor who was a Subaru guy had an absolute mint RX Turbo Coupoe for sale. I drooled over it for a long time and then one day it was gone. I wish I could have afforded it. Haven’t seen another since.

    BTW – on the topic of the car for sale – stay away. That seller has a bad reputation at best – you can read about them on several Landrover forums. They seem to bring a lot of “pristine” Subarus up north from the desert but I suspect many come out of junk yards.

    • 0 avatar

      agreed, best to steer a wide berth from this seller…the seller seems to have offered a lot of low dollar watches, etc. recently to boost his feedback rating. The most recent vehicle he sold received the following feedback: Fraud,Material Misrepresentation,No Title,Car&All Fees Fully Paid past 3 months. Not a good sign….but perhaps that’s why all his cars are sitting. By the way, seller is listed in Staten Island, which got hit with major flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Not sure where these cars came from, but just sayin….

  • avatar

    2 door turbo with a low range? I think this is the model that got me banned from test driving new subies back then. You’d think mud didn’t wash off roofs or something.

  • avatar

    118HP WITH a turbo? Wow. That’s anemic even by late 80’s standards.

  • avatar

    Actually, I have one of these that I would be willing to part with … 4 speed auto w/turbo, air conditioning, power steering & brakes 140k miles

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