Junkyard Find: 1988 Subaru Justy DL

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1988 subaru justy dl

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.

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.

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.

What is this, some kind of cruel joke?

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.

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.

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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  • Joe K Joe K on May 19, 2016

    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.

  • Hector Hector on May 21, 2016

    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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  • Sayahh Toyota Century
  • Probert Really needed more front and rear overhang.
  • Varezhka Autozam AZ-1 or a Toyota Sports 800.
  • Jeffro I can’t recall a visit to a Honda or Toyota dealership that wasn’t revolting to some degree. Why run yourself ragged going through the sleazy and greedy system store gauntlet, when you can purchase your luxury vehicle with just a few clicks on your smartphone?
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