By on May 18, 2016

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, RH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

You can’t talk about the miserable econoboxes of the 1980s without talking about perhaps the most miserable of them all: the irresistibly cheap, irredeemably terrible, front-wheel-drive Subaru Justy (the all-wheel-drive Justy could be a lot of fun, of course).

You won’t see many of these cars today, but I was able to find this 28-year-old survivor in a Silicon Valley U-Wrench-It yard.

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, speedometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

How many miles on the clock? We’ll never know, because Subaru followed Detroit’s lead and held onto five-digit odometers for these cars, long after nearly all the other Japanese manufacturers went to a full six digits.

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, warning label - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Catalytic converters had become fairly sophisticated and trouble-free by this time, at least compared to their predecessors of a decade earlier, but a choke-equipped carburetor coupled with yen-pinching components meant that Justy owners could still recreate the middle 1970s with exhaust-system fires.

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, racy stickers - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

What is this, some kind of cruel joke?

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Sixty-six horses came out of this 1.2-liter, three-cylinder engine. That’s a lot better than the Chevrolet Sprint‘s 48 horsepower three-banger.

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, interior - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

At least this car has the 5-speed manual transmission, rather than the nightmarish CVT that went in many of these cars. Hateful as many 2016 CVTs might be, they’re incredibly sophisticated next to the slippy, random-ratio-selecting, yowling 1980s Subaru version.

1988 Subaru Justy in California Wrecking Yard, air conditioning button - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This car even had air conditioning!


In Japan, the Justy was depicted as the kind of car a dog would drive around Los Angeles, while making statements learned in first-year English classes. Good morning! How are you? Hey, come on!


In the United States, Subaru pitched the Justy as a cheap-as-hell car that you could abuse — which, as it turned out, was fairly accurate.

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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25 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Subaru Justy DL...”


  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    Considering how much the A/C slowed down my 86 Nissan Pulsar, I have to assume the Subaru Justy’s A/C made it go from Snail’s pace to “Are we moving”

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    The interior looks basically the same as my mom’s ’15 Impreza. Heyyyyy

  • avatar

    My parents had a red one of these growing up. I learned to drive on it, bad clutch and all. My mom finally sold it after my dad passed away nearly 8 years now. It had 280k miles on it when she sold it and she still sees the family she sold it to driving around town occasionally. And the A/C still worked. You couldn’t read any of the LCD screens anymore though as they all had faded. So good look knowing the time or what station the radio was on.

    It was slow, but reliable and got good gas mileage.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I once knew a girl who drove a Justy. She was not too big but very busty.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      …she had a way with the stick shift,
      and wanted to drive for Lyft,
      but they wouldn’t allow a car that was so rusty.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Her car was crusty, but her eyes were lusty, her spirit gutsy, and her thighs squeezed tightly, and in her musty Justy, she served Lyft customers nightly.

        • 0 avatar
          Johnster

          There was also that hit single by “Damaskas.”

          (Okay, so it was only a hit on Dr. Demento.) I don’t seem to be able to post the link, but you can google it and find it on YouTube.

  • avatar
    319583076

    A cruel joke indeed.

  • avatar
    pbr

    I knew a guy who had the CVT version. My rusty ’76 Camaro running on 7 cylinders was faster flat-towing an MG Midget than that Justy.

  • avatar
    Sketch

    Is an AWD model with even more weight for that 63hp to drag around really going to be more fun?

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Only if you’re willing to boost it to 10psi for a whopping 150HP that may or may not explode the manual trans. I don’t think the CVT could handle all 65 it came with.

  • avatar

    I had one of these as my secondary car from 2006 to 2010. It was a 1987 model, and the base DL, like this one

    I paid $550 for it, and it was the best money I ever invested. It had 111k miles on the odometer at the time (proven by the service records, not the 5-digit odometer), passed California’s smog regulations, and even though the interior was a little torn up (nothing that some seat covers couldn’t fix), the car was in mechanical tip-top shape. Even the A/C worked perfectly.

    Believe it or not, the Justy was quite fun even in 2WD. The 1.2 litre had 66 horsepower, and was much quicker than the other three-cylinder cars I’ve ever owned (Metro and Charade). I drove it back and forwards all over California, and never hesitated about taking it on long trips. Although it wasn’t a rocket, it never felt dangerously slow.

    It was also surprisingly comfortable, at least in the front. These photos of the bare metal door panels, and even the warning sticker advising not to leave the car running, bring back memories.

    One of my favorite features on this was that the headlights would automtically turn off when the engine was turned off. No worrying about leaving your headlights on. It was a small, but very advanced touch, for an 80’s econobox

    The only issues were electrical, and that was because of the prior owner trying to do an at-home installation of some foglights and a CD changer. I ended up having much of the car rewired.

    The horn did stop working at one stage, as did the A/C compressor. Finding parts on this did prove difficult, although Subaru dealers could order a limited amount of original OEM parts.

    I sold it in 2010 after finding the much cleaner Charade. By then, the Subie had 135k miles and I sold it for $1200. Ironically, the entire time I had the car, a guy would always ask me if he could buy it, and how he always wanted a Justy. When I placed an ad online for it, his sister contacted me and bought it as a gift to him. As of a few months ago, he still has it and I see it once in a while.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    In India this would win the Safety Car of the Year award.

  • avatar
    countymountie

    Saw one of these on I-70 going thru Denver a couple of months ago. The driver was flogging the hell out of the car, zipping in and out of traffic. It was small enough to fit anywhere and he made great time. I was in a 2010 SHO and had to push it to keep up with him. The car looked like a total beater but it had to be fun behind the wheel, a guilt-free experience. What would you be out if you destroyed it? $200 tops would be my guess.

  • avatar

    I bought my wife a ’91 four-door Justy equipped with AWD and CVT. She learned to drive in that car and drove it for the better part of a decade. Barely any rust though it was driven regularly in winter on salted roads. I can’t recall ANY problems requiring a dealer or mechanic but when the CVT started whining, the end was near: just cracking open the tranny was going to cost more than the car was worth at that point.

  • avatar
    Balto

    I’m a fan of the stickers, as a person who has a beige ’95 taurus wagon with 80’s STP and NHRA Drag Racing hot rod stickers on it I can confirm they make you go much faster.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” Subaru pitched the Justy as a cheap-as-hell car that you could abuse “.
    .
    Should have used this statement as an advert .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    Russycle

    My brother-in-law had one of these, when I moved to Oregon in the early 90s I borrowed it for some reason. Driving down I-5 about 11 PM, it decided to drop the exhaust pipe. Managed to pull off the highway and find something to rig it back in place, fortunately I was only about 20 miles from home at that point.

    After driving this my wife’s ’93 Escort felt like a Cadillac.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Who pulls up to the annual Cheapskate Family BBQ already in progress and parks their car in the middle of it? Jerk!

    Hey, come on!

    I buy a new car and turn up, and you’re gonna slam the crap out of it? HELL NAW, I’m out.

  • avatar
    ShoogyBee

    I inherited a bright red ’88 Justy GL from my cousin during the mid 1990s. 5-speed manual with FWD. Air conditioning *and* a floor-mounted cassette player that was physically separate from the AM/FM radio. (I believe it was a dealer-installed accessory.) The Justy was quite fun to chuck around town; the motor was quite gutsy, at least when the A/C was off. My roommate and I were able to take home a new 27″ TV in that car. I miss the utility of having a hatchback, as all of my cars since then have been 4-door sedans.

    One day the hood flew open and smashed into the windshield while I was driving on the freeway – it didn’t have a secondary safety hood latch. After about a year and a half of ownership, the Justy needed a prohibitively expensive brake job (for a college student), so I gave it to a friend of mine. He fixed it up for his younger brother who had just gotten his license at the time.

    I believe the author posted an article on another automotive site, where he reviewed the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage. He managed to take a photograph of the Mirage standing next to a 1988-89 Justy. It’s amazing how tiny the Justy was in comparison to today’s Mirage.

  • avatar

    First time I ever saw one of these was at a junkyard.
    http://phxjunkyarding.blogspot.com/2015/06/1990-subaru-justy.html

    I’m not sure I’ve seen one elsewhere since.

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    In a Drag Race with Rupaul, the crusty busty justy would not only lose, but Rupaul would look fabulous beating it by walking in heels.

  • avatar
    Joe K

    I have a 1989 CVT Justy sitting in front of the house right ow, it’s my city car. Its fun to drive, I dont mind the cvt below 50 mph. You just have to let the transmission do all the work instead of the engine. Its a simpe transmission, if driven as it should be will last a long long time.

  • avatar
    Hector

    I’ve owned a couple of these, both 1.2i manual 4WDs (no FWD Justys were available in the UK).
    They’re very lightly built but feel relatively solid, handle well and more than keep up with traffic. I don’t know why they get such a bashing whenever they’re mentioned on here.

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