Junkyard Find: 1986 Subaru GL 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Living in Colorado (as I do) and spending a lot of time in junkyards ( as I do), I see discarded Subarus. Lots of discarded Subarus, in fact, so many that I only notice the more interesting ones — say, an XT Turbo or a really ancient wagon out of a novelty song.

Today’s Junkyard Find isn’t particularly noteworthy by those standards, but it seems to embody so many Denver Subaru stereotypes that I decided to photograph it. High mileage, high final owner, and high levels of oxidation, all here at a mile-high junkyard.

This yard is located just north of downtown Denver and just east of the Rocky Mountains, so it’s more picturesque than, say, your typical urban yard in Santa Fe Springs or Green Bay.

During the 1980s, Subarus managed to get the same sort of reputation for reliability that Hondas, Toyotas, and Mercedes-Benzes earned the hard way, though these Leones really weren’t anywhere close to the sort of indestructibility enjoyed by owners of, say, an ’88 Civic or 190E. Still, this one nearly reached 250,000 miles, putting more than 8,000 miles under its tires for each of its 30 years on the road.

1980s Japanese cars didn’t rust as readily as 1970s Japanese cars, but this car has plenty of that too-many-trips-to-the-ski-slopes corrosion.

The hatch is rusty and from a different car, so the original one must have been a real oxidation horror show.

1980s American drivers of four-wheel-drive cars were somewhat accepting of the need to reach down and move a lever when they wanted to switch between two- and four-wheel-drive modes. This is how the Tercel and Civic 4WD wagons did it, too.

The problems came when drivers didn’t understand the reasons to ever leave four-wheel-drive, which led to tire damage and worse. Full-time all-wheel-drive with center differentials, which came a bit later for cars like this, took the decision-making out of the drivers’ hands, hurting fuel economy but boosting sales.

I’d say that a majority of junkyard Colorado Subarus older than 20 years have at least one sticker from a cannabis dispensary. Let’s call it 70 percent.

You can’t have cannabis stickers without brewery stickers. It’s the law.

It’s also a Colorado law, or at least a very strong tradition, that you must have some dog-related sticker on your Subaru.

It’s a four-wheel-drive wagon with a five-speed manual transmission, so the 73-horsepower (or maybe 84 hp, depending on options) engine doesn’t take away from the things we like about such cars.

If Subaru didn’t make your life easier, who would?

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Jeff Semenak Jeff Semenak on Aug 26, 2018

    Ever see a Subaru Justy in the Junk Yard?

  • Pliddle Pliddle on Sep 26, 2018

    I had this model--a local Subaru mechanic used to buy ones with blown head gaskets and replace and resell. The HI-LO transfer case was a trip--low range was a stump puller, generally useless except a few times I took the car to the top of Mt. Washington. Came down in 2nd gear LO range--held 18 mph with rpms around 4500 & never had to brake.

  • JOHN One is for sale on an ebay car donation site.https://www.ebay.com/itm/305579991767?itmmeta=01HYHVJ49MCC6HEWQY5AX9MX85&hash=item4725fca2d7:g:k9cAAOSw5V5mThFw
  • Scott So they are losing hundreds of millions of dollars and they are promising us a “Cheaper EV”? I wonder how that will look and feel? They killed the Fiesta because they claimed that they couldn’t make a profit on them and when I bought the first one in late 2010 they couldn’t deliver the accessories I wanted for it! Then I bought a 2016 Fiesta ST and again couldn’t get the accessories for it I wanted. They claimed that the components were going to be available, eventually. So they lost on that one as well! I don’t care about what they say anymore. I’ve moved on to another brand.
  • Michael S6 CX 70 or 90 will not be on my buying list. Drove a rental base CX 90 and it was noisy and the engine noise was not pleasant. Ride was rough for a family SUV. Mazda has to understand that what is good for Miata isn't what we expect in semi luxury SUV. My wife's 2012 Buick Enclave has much better Ride and noise level albeit at worse gas millage. Had difficulty pairing my phone with Apple CarPlay
  • Michael S6 What is the metric conversion between one million barrels and the number of votes he expects to buy.
  • NJRide This could give Infiniti dealers an extra product maybe make it a sub brand