By on January 28, 2019

1978 Subaru DL in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsLiving in Colorado, I see so many discarded Subarus during my junkyard explorations that it takes a very unusual one to make me reach for my camera. An SVX might do it (though not always), or maybe a BRAT (again, not always), or perhaps a Subaru with Saab badges. A really early Subaru, from the Malaise Era days when few Americans took the brand seriously — I think that’s always worth shooting.

Here’s a first-generation Leone that I had to go all the way to Northern California to find.

1978 Subaru DL in California wrecking yard, door badge - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn 1978, the Subaru Leone was known as just “The Subaru” in the American market, with the different trim levels used for model names. This one is a front-wheel-drive DL sedan, located in the middle of the Subaru price range that year.

1978 Subaru DL in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPower came from a 1.6-liter boxer four, rated at 67 horsepower. Yes, that’s an air-conditioning compressor, and it probably felt like opening a big parachute behind the car when the AC kicked in.

1978 Subaru DL in California wrecking yard, gearshift - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn addition to air conditioning (which must have been an extremely rare option for ’78 Subarus), this car has the luxurious automatic transmission. Acceleration must have been… stately.

It appears that the original owner of this car bought it at a dealership in a Grand Rapids suburb, risking vandalism from enraged autoworkers and rust so voracious that many Japanese cars simply evaporated overnight.

1978 Subaru DL in California wrecking yard, rust - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis car shows plenty of damage from the Rust Monster, but it’s the top-down kind you get in California, not the bottom-up sort that happens in the Upper Midwest. This car moved west early in life.

1978 Subaru DL in California wrecking yard, seat upholstery - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhat’s left of the interior looks decent, so maybe some owner of an early BRAT will grab a few bits.

Even The Cadillacs loved the ’78 Subaru.

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14 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Subaru DL Sedan...”

  • avatar

    The front seats are in fantastic shape. A testament to the durability of the materials used. They’d be great in a restoration project. I don’t see a picture of the back seat, but I’ll bet it’s just as good.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    That Sanden A/C compressor is a newer design than the rest of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure about that. Sanden is a Japanese company and it makes sense a Japanese car would get one of these before Americans figured it out.

      It wasn’t long after 1978 that these started showing up in more places.

      • 0 avatar

        That one looks like a Sanden SD-5, and they’ve been around for a long time. Sanden’s US headquarters and manufacturing are literally three minutes from my house, and I toured their R&D and environmental labs back in the early ’90s, with a local SAE group. Back then, they were supplying many OEMs including Chrysler, and their compressors were also being used by 18-wheel tractor manufacturers like Peterbilt.

        • 0 avatar

          Howdy neighbor!

          The Sanden units are very good ones too, I’m thinking about changing over the old Harrison/Fridgidare A6 on my Chevelle to something a bit less ‘dramatic’ in the drag department. That big six cylinder compressor gives new meaning to the term ‘paid for’ when you turn it on.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    These always looked like a smaller Saab 900 to me.

  • avatar

    Subaru, from the era when Subaru stood for “weird car from Japan”.

    Maybe no so much this DL, but the Subaru XT and other 80s Subarus.

    Also, hard to take seriously, since we would push my roomates mid-70s DL to the corner, so he could turn left and use the downgrade to start his car….something about the starter and rain.

    But I wanted to like his DL, buzzy motor and all….

  • avatar

    Never owned a subie, after fixing a rod knocking
    WRX, doubt I ever will…

  • avatar
    David Mc Lean

    Memories… bought a ’78 wagon in about 1988 after my divorce had drained most of my liquid assets, needed something to haul my two small kids around. Same color, same interior, 4 speed with no other accessories. Tough little beater. I think I paid about $1,000 for it and sold it a couple years later for something like $900. Other than valve adjustments, fuel and oil it was free to drive.

  • avatar

    Stately? I would have said glacial or geologic.

  • avatar

    This would have been an interesting one to see when the registration stickers stopped being replaced and the odometer stopped turning. 1978 Subarus were unusually popular in my home town thanks to campus radicals and R.M. Davis Motors, but the ’78s looked like this one by 1986. The only difference is they were rustier.

  • avatar

    Long time no see one of these .


  • avatar

    I’m shocked at how little rust this Subaru has. Growing up in NE PA, we had a lot of snow, and my family had a lot of 70s Subarus- my father had several wagons, 1 76 2wd, 2 of the late 70s 4wds, My uncle had 2 of the late 70s 4wd wagons, my best friend’s mom had a 79 4wd wagon, and for a while at university I had a 79 4wd Brat that I bought for $300 to get through the winter. With the exception of the Brat, all of them were running perfectly and they rusted out- one of my father’s cars had literal holes in the floor that blew cold air and slush through, another had a bar that held the struts in place necessitating the removal of the spare, and bungee cords keeping the fenders from flapping because they all rusted through at the top. My Brat was in comparatively good shape-it had rust but wasn’t rusted out. Broke a torsion bar when I was driving, and I sold it. Wish I still had it, but that was a long time ago. All of these people loved, really loved their Subarus, except for the rust. In this era there were no economical, reliable 4wds except Subaru. The closest was the 4wd AMC Eagle, which was not highly thought of.

  • avatar

    Where did you find this one? I actually could use some parts if it still exists..

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