By on May 23, 2017

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

Your Rare Ride today is a quite old 1981 Subaru GL wagon. It comes complete with a manual transmission, brownish paint, 4×4 drivetrain, brougham Desert Fox trim, and plaid seats. I figured you wouldn’t be too interested in seeing it.

Oh, who am I kidding? You all clicked through as soon as you saw the headline image, and you’ll be glad you did.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

It’s not often a Subaru this old and in this sort of show quality condition comes up for sale. This little wagon is a memory from times past at Subaru, where the name of the game was quirky and the CUV did not exist. Not even in the wildest dreams of the LSD-powered marketing executive.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

This example has lived in Arizona and California which, if my memory serves me right, are mostly salt and winter-free areas. Prior owners include two from the same family, followed by a Subaru mechanic. Babied and preserved, it’s in excellent condition.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

It would seem we have a top-spec model here, complete with a Desert Fox exterior decoration package. I’d love a Subaru aficionado to come along and explain the history (and demise) of this dealer installed trim, as I’ve never seen one before.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

There’s even a (functioning) hidden center-mounted “Passing Light” behind the grille emblem. I’m going to call this feature a Cyborg Touring Lamp (or CTL) because it sounds more fun and Subaru-y.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

And would you look at those seats! Like a 1970s rumpus room, brown plaid comforts your bum in this little go-anywhere vehicle.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

Passengers will be on those plaid thrones for a while, as the standard 1.8-liter engine won’t get you anywhere in a hurry. But that just means more time to enjoy your time capsule.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

Currently the GL is listed on eBay, and I’d rather have it than anything made by Subaru this decade. It has ye olde Japanese charm in spades. With just under 66,000 miles on the odometer, it deserves gentle driving and further preservation.

Image: 1981 Subaru GL Wagon, image via eBay

With a current bid of $7,000 (just under the reserve), one of our B&B members would be wise to get out their wallet!

[Images: eBay]

 

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43 Comments on “Rare Rides: This Vintage 1981 Subaru GL is a Charming Desert Fox...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    I’d forgotten about the spare tire placement in these. Brings back memories of used car shopping in the early 1990s…

    Subarus, kinda like a Japan’s answer to SAABs.

  • avatar
    threeer

    The plaid seats are almost worth the purchase price alone! Cars like this fascinate me more than any supercar out there.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Subaru had an Outback long before the Outback. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any GL of this generation, or even the Loyale that succeeded it.

    320 people watching the eBay listing with a current bid of seven grand. I’ll believe it. The paint job alone makes me want this thing, but if you don’t live in the Sonoran you shouldn’t be allowed to have it.

  • avatar
    snoisseau

    I owned an 81 GL, two door in fire engine red! I loved that car.

    One of the cool things about it is you could raise the ride height to give the car more ground clearance. I was the ripe old age of twenty at the time, and the first thing I did was raise the rear end to make it look like the seventies hot rods of the time. It actually looked kinda cool with the rear end jacked up like that.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      So it had an air suspension? Or some manually adjustable ride level?

      • 0 avatar
        lithiumbomb

        I believe you lifted the carpet in the trunk and adjusted it with a lug wrench, which cranked the torsion bars.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          The old Mopar front suspensions worked that way too, except the adjustment bolt was on the bottom of the car and you really had to have the car up on a lift to make it work.

        • 0 avatar
          snoisseau

          “I believe you lifted the carpet in the trunk and adjusted it with a lug wrench, which cranked the torsion bars.”

          Yep. Exactly.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        Later, there were Subarus with optional air suspension and adjustable ride height: the first-generation Legacy wagons of 1990-94. Those air shocks were very costly to replace on our hand-me-down ’90 LS AWD, some $500 apiece installed. Otherwise it was a great car.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          We had a similar experience with the factory rear leveling system on our ’98 MPV Allsport 4wd. The cost effective solution was to swap out for the stiffer OEM springs for the non-leveling option, and then replace the leaky air shocks with Monroe air adjustables ($60 for a pair). Thus we retained the functionality of load leveling. The Monroes on their own are not designed to constantly hold that much pressure as some other MPV owners found out when they kept the weaker springs and just tried swapping shocks.

        • 0 avatar
          Corey Lewis

          I recall an old MotorWeek video on the very late GL wagon, and thinking how expensive it was a the time. I think things got cheaper when they switched to Legacy. But I didn’t know they had air suspension.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    I was ten years old when this car came out and I still remember the commercial jingle:

    “Ooh, new Subaru, got the brains and the beauty too!
    Subaru is today! Inexpensive, and it’s built to stay that way!”

    The little two-door hatch with round headlights was my favorite. Too bad road salt killed them all here in the Midwest.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”

    This Subaru brings back memories of Aunt Donna’s 2nd husband Mac. He owned a Subaru like this in Radio Flyer Red with the white wagon wheels, manual trans, and locking center differential. Rusted like heck but totally unstoppable in poor weather. He was working as a plant manager for a small factory and had to be on site come heck or high water.

    It turned him into a lifelong Subaru owner and he eventually owned one of the last of the Legacy GT wagons.

  • avatar
    vvk

    I love these old Subarus! They really suit my driving style! Very good torque, really flexible. Easy to putt along in first gear in a traffic jam at our below idle. Polar opposite of high strung Hondas.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Ironic that cars which were designed for snow were entirely killed by the accompanying salt.

    • 0 avatar
      xtoyota

      HOW TRUE :=(

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Ironic? I call it tragic, in the Shakespearean sense of the word!

      Now is the winter of our discontent.

      Some cars are born rusty, some achieve rustiness, and some have rust thrust upon them.

      To salt or not to salt, that is the question.

      What a piece of work is Subaru! How noble in drivetrain layout! How infinite in traction!

      Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as road salt’s ingratitude.

      If you prick our rust spots, do we not crumble?

      Uneasy lies the cylinder head that wears a spare tire under the hood.

      The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

      All the perfumes of undercoating will not sweeten this little rustbucket.

      And finally,

      Out of the jaws of crusher.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Honestly, I’m quite impressed with this little thing; I really like the graphics work on side and rear and it looks remarkably good for its age. Would I pay $7K? Well, give it another 15 years and I might. Without seeing, hearing and driving it first-hand, I’d be skeptical about the price, short proof that it’s either one heck of a garage find or a recent total rebuild.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Our circle of friends needed to access remote trails up logging roads, so a few people bought these. Imports were still uncommon and these cars stuck out like sore thumbs. I recall stopping at a gas station in a small town and opening the hood for some reason. Several good’ol boy pickup types came over to marvel at the strange things in the engine compartment of the alien car.

    As snoisseau noted you could raise the rear suspension, 3″ as I recall. This was done by cranking a bolt, under the cargo area. It took about 3 minutes, so it wasn’t changed frequently.

    Note also the frameless windows.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Ah, you answered my question.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        “Our circle of friends needed to access remote trails up logging roads, so a few people bought these.”

        When I was living in Michigan (2000-2002) the surviving Subarus from the 80s into the early 1990s were being used like people used Mules/Gators/etc. today. The Good Ol’ Boys loved them for getting deep into the woods on the kind of trails they’d usually only take ATVs.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Same story in rural parts of Central NY. College profs loved them new, and then the redneck crew got their hands on the rusty loyales and were totally befuddled how these funny sounding small Japanese cars could tackle some insane woods trails and kept up with gnarly lifted trucks and worn out XJs.

  • avatar
    la834

    Few cars look as good from the driver’s seat at night as this one. The entire dash glows in a gorgeous pink/orange color, with the gauges both backlit and edgelit. The cheaper DL version had a different dash with a smaller binnacle and a more common illumination color like green.

    Wasn’t there some legal problem with that Tuckeresque center driving lamp in some states that made Subaru sell some with the covers permanently shut?

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Same exterior and interior colors as the ’83 GL-10 sedan my younger brother owned. Five-speed, digital dash, all the goodies.

  • avatar
    jcisne

    I had a 1981 Subaru wagon when I was in college during the early 90’s. Mine was the front wheel,drive version, 1.8 liter engine, and a 5 speed manual. It was a reliable car, except for the CV joints. Even after replacing them with new ones, they would last just a couple of years.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I had an ’83 (?) Subaru Standard (base 3 door hatch, 2wd). I bought it for $30 at an abandoned vehicle auction.

    Fiddled with it and got it to run, drove it home, bought oil and filter, and the old oil filter was seized on there so tight that I broke the external oil pump trying to get it off. Bought a new oil pump, but had trouble getting the old one off (blocked by cross member or something, I can’t remember). Anyway, I gave up and sold it for $100, which us all I had in it. Guy was a Subaru fanatic, I bet that beat up old car got the royal treatment under his ownership.

    My one and only Subaru.

  • avatar
    chris724

    OK, so what is that gauge sticking out above the radio?

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    If my memory of these is correct, at that mileage at least one of the CV joints has already blown and there will be a steady dribble of oil from the oil pump gasket. These were always much more maintenance intensive than their owners imagined them to be.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I love survivor cars of any stripe, but this is just fantastic. So many of these were just rotted out during my youth in the Rust Belt that I’ve never seen one this clean ever. My one uncle who was a nuclear engineer mostly out in Idaho had a few of these. The one he had while living near Rochester never made it out of NY state.

    I’ve always enjoyed the script used for the “4WD’ on these. Whoever mentioned “Japanese SAAB” fairly well nailed it. We had an 03 Legacy and while it wasn’t my favorite car, it had its charms. Fuel economy and power were not those charms.

    I swear there was something wrong with that car to this day. Our friend had an 02 Forester and I’m fairly certain they were the same powertrain (someone will correct me) the Forester felt sprightly while our Legacy was anything but. The Legacy never returned more than 16 mpg city and while Pittsburgh’s topography had something to do with it, the automatic never seemed well suited to that car.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I believe Foresters are Impreza based, less weight means better mpg and pick up. Of course state of tune matters too.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        Hmm, the Impreza thing is probably the reason. Both cars were relatively new at the time.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        Every Forester so far has been Impreza-based: The current 2014-17 Forester (first sold in early 2013) is based on the 2012-16 Impreza, the previous 2009-13 Forester is based on the 2008-11 Impreza, and the original-shape 1997-2008 Foresters are based on the earlier, frameless-door-glass Imprezas. The current and previous Foresters even use the dashboards of the corresponding Imprezas.

  • avatar
    jimble

    My parents had a couple Subarus of roughly this vintage. They got great mileage and AFAIK they were the most reliable cars the family had ever owned, but my parents went back to buying Chrysler products after the Subies, when the gas lines had gone away and driving little stick-shift Japanese cars didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I’ll confess this is kinda neat, like an AMC Eagles dorky friend. Shame it took Subaru a few decades to learn how rust works.

    Didn’t Subaru borrow ita boxer design from VW for these?

  • avatar
    millmech

    The Subaru FF-1, the first in USA after the 360, bore a strong mechanical similarity to the Borgward Hansa.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Truly a thing of beauty. I miss wheels like that.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    My first car was an ’82 4dr sedan, 5spd. I desperately wanted a 4×4 wagon when I was in high school – so cool.

    One other quirky thing – like old Saabs, the handbrake was on the front wheels. Made my attempts to do handbrake turns in the snow less than successful…


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