Junkyard Find: 1986 Subaru GL 4WD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1986 subaru gl 4wd wagon

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?

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2 of 59 comments
  • 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.

  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"