By on May 17, 2021

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBy the second half of the 1980s, Subaru had moved beyond being known only for tiny, hilarious econoboxes. While American Subaru shoppers could still get front-wheel-drive cheapmobiles at that time, the same showrooms also offered futuristic-looking sports cars and four-wheel-drive family wagons loaded with luxury features. Today’s Junkyard Find is the swankiest Subaru wagon money could buy in 1987 North America: a GL-10 4WD Turbo, found in a Denver car graveyard last summer.

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, emblems - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis was the period during which Subaru USA named every member of its Leone family (except for the BRAT pickup) using a trim level that doubled as the model name. The cheapest ones were DLs, and then the regular GL was a step up. The GL 4WD Turbo was king of the Leone jungle in 1987, and the GL-10 package added a heap of gadgets and comfort-enhancing features atop that.

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe GL-10 got a Mars Base digital instrument cluster (sadly, some junkyard shopper snagged the one out of this car before I could), power windows, sunroof, automatic transmission, and— of course— a turbocharged engine good for 115 horsepower.

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, automatic gearshift - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSubaru didn’t sell cars with true full-time all-wheel-drive until the 1990s (every Subaru sold here had AWD starting in the 1996 model year), so this one has a four-wheel-drive system activated via a switch on the gearshift lever. You weren’t supposed to drive it in 4WD on dry pavement for long periods, but good luck explaining that to American drivers!

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, radio - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSomeone pulled out the Alpine cassette deck and then left it. It was challenging preventing these units from being stolen, back in the 1980s, and many car owners resorted to faux-factory-AM-radio covers to camouflage their nice aftermarket decks.

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, sunroof controls - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPower sunroofs were serious status symbols in 1987. I’m still not sure why.

1987 Subaru GL-10 wagon in Colorado junkyard, mud flaps and rust - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt’s a bit rusty now, but it stayed alive for 33 years and it appears to have been a runner until the very end.

Even the affordable DL wagon had an automatic transmission and power steering as standard features in 1987. Subaru’s response to the Joe Isuzu ads of the same period wasn’t so funny, but at least they tried.

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19 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Subaru GL-10 Turbo 4WD Wagon...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “You weren’t supposed to drive it in 4WD on dry pavement for long periods”

    IIRC, that was because the wheel speeds were geared to be slightly different between the front and rear axles. I think the front was pulling a little faster than the rear.

    So, 4WD on dry pavement resulted in excess wear on the tires and drivetrain.

    This one had an exceptionally long life – good find!

  • avatar

    We had FWD like this, no turbo. So much plastic in the cabin…. And rust, rust, rust…

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Interesting that the prndl gear display for auto is the exact as our 81 Corolla wagon growing up. Wonder if it was a JDM color/config requirement.
    I had a faux AM radio cover I fabbed up for my high end car stereo in my 89 Probe. It worked in mid town KC for college but the car was broken into in my parents driveway. It was a pro job though, the vermin devised a hole punch device to cut through the door shell to unlock it, without breaking a window. He had set off the alarm 2 nights in a row in the middle of the night, thinking it was a bad sensor I had left the alarm off on day 3.

  • avatar

    The period from 1987 to 1995 was not kind to Subaru [skip to the “Annual Vehicle Sales Chart”]:

    (They made up for it since then.)

    Extra credit – Pick any other OEM and compare charts. I chose this one:

  • avatar

    These cars were the near-exact equivalent of the mini-stereos that all the Japanese electronics companies were pumping out around the same time. Absolutely packed with spec-sheet features, yet not nearly as satisfying as products in the next size class up.

  • avatar

    I took a short test drive in one of these. Back at the dealership in the Denver area, the salesman actually insisted I give him $50 in order “to guarantee you’ll work with me” on the price. I told him he’s the one working there, not me, and walked.

  • avatar

    My dad and his two business partners ran a used car dealership and import repair shop in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when they picked up a new car franchise from Subaru in the mid 1970s. During this late 1980s transition period they gave up the dealership as the cars were becoming too expensive for their small market. In the meantime they became an AMC dealer. The DLs and GLs were replaced by Renault Alliances built in Kenosha at the opposite end of Lake Michigan from their dealership.

  • avatar

    Well, Mr Martin you’re quite wrong about the Subaru AWD not being available till the ’90s. How do I know? I had a used ’88 Warthog GL-10 automatic wagon as a winter beater from ’96 for a couple of years. The successor to this featured car.

    It had ditched the wazoo digital dash for ’88, and featured an all around air suspension that worked a treat. Blue velour comfy upholstery and door cards and fuzzo headliner, plasticky dash sure, but nice plastic, mind. Looked new.

    The auto tranny ’88 AWD was Subaru’s first year for completely automatic operation, and ran a 90:10 split. With that 90:10 split, on snow you could floor it, get the front wheels spinning like mad and spewing snow by the windows and after a good second, the rear would kick in with a jolt of traction and off you’d motor. Yeehaw!

    Since I had already owned two Audi Quattros and a ’90 Eagle Talon AWD turbo, I can say Subaru’s MPT clutch-type AWD version was not as good, a fact I confirmed when I later bought a ’99 Impreza TS auto, which by the way for detail freaks, was the year Subaru changed to a 60:40 torque split — no more fun in the snow, just torque steer (!) when the car crossed lines of icy slush as you changed lanes in winter — it felt quite tip-toey compared to the Audi in particular, nowhere near as stable. But far better than the FWD I’d had through the ’70s and ’80s.

    Back to the Warthog — it was only 8 years old when I got it, and I had to get a new front driver’s floor welded in to pass inspection as the road was visible when you lifted the carpet — considering how cheap I got the car, I had budgeted for that. It ran like a Subaru top for two and a half years, which means completely non-linear surging engine response, with flat spots and really only any guts in low gear. It was ace at zero to 40 mph digs, even got stopped by a female cop after leaving a bridge toll at night who told me I looked like I was going to speed — the most stupid cop I ever met and who nearly caused an accident pulling me over from the fast lane. No, I wasn’t speeding when she did turn on the lights. I got no ticket, and I got her badge number in case. Stupid person.

    Still, the Warthog was a cheery beast, which is why when the “special” $800 electric fuel pump failed in Sept ’98, I flogged it to a pal and ordered a new Impreza for winter. By then Subarus used galvanized tin like everyone else. I dumped my other car and happily ran the Subie for a decade, with the only repair being the replacement of a rusted out-filler neck in 92K miles. It was a very cheery car too, but even though a normally-aspirated 2.2l, still surged due to Subaru’s amateur fuel injection calibration.

    The Warthog met its end when a Caravan obliquely T-boned it when it didn’t yield on a very short on-ramp. Both cars then caromed off curbs. The Caravan also croaked. My friend was unhurt but distraught, he loved that thing. Suited him down to the ground for his business with the air supension compensating for the weight of his tools. He bought a used ’92 Legacy turbo wagon to replace it. It had the 90:10 torque split too.

  • avatar

    Only 8 comments on glorious Subaru??

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    When the 88’s were released I cross shopped new 88 and remaining 87 Toyota ‘tall boy’ wagon, Honda ‘wagovans’, remaining 87 Nissan Multis as well as two new models the Nissan Axxess and Eagle Vista (wagon). All available with AWD.

    For some reason, I did not even look at the Subaru.

    Bought the Honda.

    Probably should have gone with my original thought, an Isuzu Trooper.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I picked up several of these for $100-$200 each about 20 years ago in various states of neediness. I had an ’87 or ’88 identical to this one including the digital dash, but the 3AT transmission Subaru put in these was problematic, something about a plastic gear breaking, and I never could get it working. I also had a ’90 Loyale AWD turbo wagon which was basically the same car but with the improved 4EAT transmission and fewer bells and whistles (no digital dash.) It was a fun little car but the roof had rusted through around the windshield. I kept it patched together for a few years until it started leaking down into the dash, and then one of the TWO timing belts broke. I decided I’d gotten my $150 worth of fun and junked it.

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