By on June 16, 2014

10 - 1987 Subaru XT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
The Subaru XT is a car you won’t see often in most parts of the country, but Denver junkyards have tremendous quantities of old Subarus and so I see them on a regular basis here. So far, this series has had this ’85 XT Turbo, this ’91 XT, this ’91 XT6, and now today’s ’87 XT.

I shot a bit of video of the tilt wheel/instrument cluster in action. Since I have developed an unhealthy obsession with 1980s Japanese digital instrument clusters, I bought the one out of the ’85 XT Turbo. Today’s XT had the regular analog cluster, so I left it in the car.
01 - 1987 Subaru XT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf you like 1980s design, this car is full of good examples. I was in college in 1987, and I remember thinking very clearly at the time that nobody will ever be capable of feeling nostalgia for this era. Now that Tears For Fears plays in supermarkets and Members Only jackets are making a comeback, I have been proved wrong about that embarrassing decade once again.
20 - 1987 Subaru XT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMulti Point FI!
18 - 1987 Subaru XT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars were full of weird little touches like these door-latch cover panels. Sure, more stuff to go wrong (and with 1980s Subarus, much did go wrong), but it was still cool stuff.
09 - 1987 Subaru XT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis example is the ordinary front-wheel-drive version.
16 - 1987 Subaru XT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomeday I will be unable to resist the lure of the Alcyone, and I will buy a nice XT Turbo or XT6.

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Subaru XT GL...”

  • avatar

    The U.K. car magazine “CAR” summed up the XT as follows: “distinctive, but so is wearing a fez”.

  • avatar

    So how exactly did that door handle work? You push in the lower part to get access to the dog leg upper part?

    • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        I would just love to use that in icy climates.

        • 0 avatar

          It worked fine in winter.

          It did have a problem with frozen door locks but so did many cars. Ah the old days, when you needed a key to open the door. Remember when frozen door locks were a thing?

          • 0 avatar

            I had issues with my electric locks this past tundra, er winter. The old Saturn with manual locks had no issues.

          • 0 avatar

            It didn’t get snow and ice compacted in there, preventing pressing the lower panel inwards? That’s what I pictured.

            My 5000 had very freeze-prone locks AND freezey trigger breaky handles. This was solved when (IIRC) most nicer cars later on had heated door locks. I’m thinking my A8 did.

          • 0 avatar

            “It didn’t get snow and ice compacted in there, preventing pressing the lower panel inwards? ”

            No, I assume the gap was small enough that ice/snow didn’t tend to accumulate.

          • 0 avatar

            I’ve lived in Florida, Georgia and Hawaii my whole life, so no- closest thing I’ve had to that was in GA when it got down to 12 degrees or so and my Mustang’s blinker noise maker thing wouldn’t make its noise.

            Also, the high humidity led to frozen condensation on the inside of my tires, so when I first started driving they crackled.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      The lower panel would also latch open, so if you reached for the door pull but didn’t open it, the panel would remain open in place until the door latch was activated, whereupon that lower panel would pop back into position – until the release mechanism wore out and jammed.

  • avatar

    As a teenager I so wanted one of these. I had the plain jane fwd GL coupe, the manual that came with the car was a bit of a blend that showcased all of the features from the GL as well as many from the XT. Oh how I pined for that MPFI.
    I eventually did test drive one with the kick ass weird pistol grip 5 speed, but alas as a poor teenager, I didn’t have the funds to pull it off. I still hope that I will come across one of these one day. Dual range awd with pneumatic suspension. What could possibly go wrong?

  • avatar

    I’m so diggin’ that shifter.

  • avatar

    Someday love will find you!

  • avatar

    I learned to drive on one of these a turbo manual with a digital dash! Oh the digital dash was epic!

    And I’m not sure where you’re getting that a lot went wrong with 80’s Subarus. Mechanically they were incredibly reliable and durable. Rust was a problem but that was true of all 80s cars.

  • avatar

    I’m digging the steering wheel, and were 80’s Subarus that bad? my parents bought a 1988 boxy Subaru station wagon and kept it for quite a few miles, I don’t remember it having any major problems, anyway I like the funky Subarus.

  • avatar

    Staring at an asymetrical steering-wheel would make me insane. Cool car though. I used to get parts for mY Sunbird from a pick-your-part, which had rows and rows of Sunbirds/Cavaliers. I called it “Happy Sunbirdland.”

  • avatar

    My parents bought a new Subaru wagon in ’88, I didn’t know until years later it actually had a model name “Leone”!

  • avatar

    Still remember Tommy Hanks walking away from a burgundy XT wedge thingy then magically changing into a boy in front of that sublime actress (in which I cannot remember her name).

    Lol. Movies from the 80’s.

  • avatar

    My 89XT 4WD (shifter mounted switch to engage 4WD) went ~226,000 miles before the electrohydropneumatic (or something like that) suspension went south and the single windshield wiper stopped working well before that necessitating the Rainex solution. That being said, in 4WD it was a beast in the snow with near 50:50 weight balance although I spun it once and it kept spinning until it found a patch of dry pavement. Averaged about 35 MPGs with the 4 banger which had an odd sound between an old biplane and a Citroen CV2. I always wanted to paint the wheels yellow and dress it out like a Lancia Stratos in ralley livery.

  • avatar

    Surprised no one mentioned the remarkable book written about Subaru’s marketing for this car “Where The Suckers Moon” by Randall Rothenburg… JB’s review gets it right so I won’t add more than say it’s one of the best insider books on automotive marketing and conceit ever.

    The car… well… I tend to file these in the 1980’s Nissan Pulsar “cool show car and you will sell 10 of these if you make them” folder.

  • avatar

    What was so bad about the 80’s? I started college in ’87 as well. The 70’s were an embarrassing decade, the 80’s were WAY, WAY better!

    These cars were everywhere around here back then – Subaru ruled Maine. Then they all rotted to pieces in short order.

  • avatar

    There’s something really cool about 80s Japanese vehicles – almost like they didn’t really know what they were doing, so they tried a little bit of everything to see what worked, with a healthy dash of sci-fi thrown in for good measure.

    The variety of Japanese FWD I4s, RWD I6s, AWD turbo-4s, RWD NA V8s and rotaries, all with manual transmissions, is much more interesting than the same-old-same-old RWD NA V8 we Americans had for all that time.

    To say nothing of the idea that a car doesn’t have to be BIG to be desirable.

    I figure that any decade whose official soundtrack was Hair Metal – the Michael Bay Movie of Music – gets the last laugh in the end.

    The 80s get trashed relentlessly by modern pop culture, but that’s just peasants throwing rocks at a giant.

  • avatar

    Rosemary: Is that a Member’s Only jacket?

    Mauricio: Yes.

    Rosemary: So what are you, the last member?

    -Shallow Hal

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Our ’05 Nissan Murano had a instrument cluster that was mounted to the steering column so that it could move up and down as said steering column was adjusted…but it didn’t look as cool as that XT’s system and it didn’t have a quick-release like that. I guess that sort of pre-dates the first electric tilt-away and electric recall steering column, which I believe was in the original Lexus LS.

  • avatar

    Hmmm… I wonder what killed it. Not much to go wrong on a base model like this. Bulletproof EA82 non-interference engine, regular struts in the suspension (not hydro- pneumatic), manual transmission, non- digital dash, little or no rust. Only thing that would keep it from still being a driver is the funky electric power steering pump that requires dealer- only Cybrid power steering fluid (NO substitutes available!) at about $35 a quart IF you can still find it! I bet it was the power steering or maybe a broken timing belt (there are two on this car) that took it off the road.

  • avatar

    This is a FWD, but I find it amazing that of all the snow belt cities, Denver alone has junkyards that are repositories of Subaru’s AWD import history. Denver’s climate is actually nearly identical to Boston’s (though residents of both think that the other is snowbound from October to April). Subarus of this vintage are long gone in Boston, done in by metal melting chemicals put on the roads. How does Denver cope with snow without salt from Great Salt Lake, or chemically treated sand?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the early 90′s there used to be one of these parked on my street. Base model, XT DL (Talk about your letter and trim level letters) no AWD in light blue, black bumpers with steelies and the center caps. It did not even have a rear seat, just a pressed board package shelf with a sticker warning you not to seat passengers there. Obviously no rear seat belts. Think an old 30′s, 40′s Business coupe.

  • avatar

    My friend’s wife had an XT, a ’90, I think. It had the analog instrument panel, and was white. It was slow, it broke down an awful lot, and I was asked to help fix it, when it wasn’t something the dealer had to deal with. As it aged, it just had more and more weird issues, a lot of them having to do with the brakes for some reason. One day, my friend took it to the dealer for dead A/C, and it never came back. He traded it for a Mitsubishi Eclipse, a base one, maroon metal flake. That car was great for 4 years, then it was stolen (First of 4 vehicles that were stolen while they lived in a not so great neighborhood) and totalled after the folks who stole it rolled it down into a ravine. He and his wife didn’t even know it was gone until the police called to tell them it had been found. They had a second kid on the way, so they ended up buying an SUV, that was stolen and trashed too, in almost the same area.

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