Junkyard Find: 1990 Subaru Justy 4WD GL

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The General began selling the Suzuki Cultus hatchback with Chevrolet Sprint badges here starting in the 1985 model year, with the later versions becoming the Geo/ Chevrolet Metro. Even though gasoline prices had crashed during the middle 1980s, the three-cylinder Sprint sold well enough that Subaru decided to bring their tiny three-cylinder car to our shores. This was the Justy, and I’ve found this ’90 in a self-service yard in Subaru-crazed Denver.

You could buy the Justy here for the 1987 through 1994 model years, with the four-wheel-drive version appearing in the 1988 model year. At $8,156 (about $18,405 in 2022 dollars), it was the cheapest four-wheel-drive car you could buy in North America that year (yes, the $7,999 Suzuki Samurai was a bit cheaper, but it wasn’t a car).

This being Colorado, I find plenty of 4WD Justys in the car graveyards here; the front-wheel-drive examples have been much harder to find.

While the Metro eventually got a four-cylinder engine, every Justy sold new on our continent was a three-banger. This engine displaced 1,189 cubes (centimeters, that is) and had 73 fuel-injected horsepower (the entry-level Justy DL had a carburetor and 66 horses).

There was a version with a continuously variable transmission available in 1990, but this car has the five-speed manual. Check out that big 4WD button on the shifter, a feature you saw in a lot of Subarus of that era.

Though Subaru had just begun selling cars here with true all-wheel-drive systems by 1990 (and went to all-wheel-drive in all their North American offerings for 1996), most 1990 Subarus that could send power to all four corners did so via a system that required the driver to select between front- and four-wheel-drive manually. If you drove for long periods on dry pavement with the car in the 4WD setting, you’d tear up the tires and maybe the drivetrain. I find it interesting that the 4 in this badge could be read as an A; the “all-wheel-drive” term hadn’t come into widespread use at the time, but Subaru saw it coming and— presumably— didn’t want to be forced to design new decals.

How many miles did it have when its career on the road ended? Thanks to this five-digit odometer, we can’t know.

The Justy was available in North America as a hatchback with three or five doors. In Taiwan, car shoppers could get a notchback version called the Tutto.

The interior in this one still looks pretty good, despite the rough handling given to car upholstery by the High Plains sun.

There’s rust where you’d expect it, though, and that’s a death sentence for a tiny hatchback with too many pedals.

Air conditioning? Factory cassette deck? Not in this car!

It took Subaru a few more years to completely ditch the idea of selling bargain-basement miserable econoboxes here.

For links to more than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, check out the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images by the author]

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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  • Wolfwagen Wolfwagen on May 10, 2022

    I remember reading a review of a justy with a CVT by one of the automotive rags back in the day. IIRC it had a side bar on how a CVT works. That coupled with the review, that criticized mostly the CVT and not so much the Justy, made my decision to never buy a vehicle with a CVT.

  • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on May 10, 2022

    "There was a version with a continuously variable transmission available in 1990" Really?

    • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on May 11, 2022

      The DAF Variomatic was introduced in the late 50’s in the Netherlands.

  • Irvingklaws Was a must have for my wife's new car. After years of windshield mounts, trying to keep the sun off the phone, wires running across the dash, etc...it's been a welcome upgrade. Don't have it in my current (old) car, just a stock stereo with the aforementioned windshield phone mount and wires...which is fine enough for me. But if I upgrade the radio with an aftermarket unit, the first thing I'm looking for, after separate volume and tuning KNOBS, is Carplay. Note, I've yet to find an aftermarket head unit meeting these basic qualifications. The infotainment in my '17 GTI had both of these and was near perfect, I'd be happy with that unit in any car.
  • Haze3 Near must have... car guy make car, software guy make software THAT I CAN USE EVERYWHERE and not just on some specific brand of truck/car/suv.
  • Wolfwagen If there is no Rust or rot this would be a good buy when MB craftsmanship and engineering meant something. While I prefer the 500 or 560 for the larger engine, this is good
  • Wolfwagen Tim, Now you should ask the B&B who we want to succeed and why. You could limit it to EV or non- North American MFGs.
  • TCowner I consider it mandatory for the navigation purpose - using a phone in a Weathertech cupholder in my old Town Car just doesn't compare. However, I don't use it for anything else (i.e. music, etc) and don't find that important.