For a company that was once perceived as an underdog, Subaru has come a long way. Technically, it is a combination of six companies that are merged under the FHI group, with the largest being Fuji Heavy Industries. In fact, the term “Subaru” is a direct translation of “unite”. Like most successful companies, Subaru started as a completely different manufacturer. It was formed in 1917 as an aircraft research laboratory in Japan before switching to producing airplanes. After World War II, they recycled the damaged airplanes to create a scooter called Fuji Rabbit. Soon enough, the company expanded and started manufacturing coaches, chassis, and engines.
The ultimate phase was car making, under the direction of CEO Kenji Kita, which saw the introduction of the first concept: the 1954 Subaru 1500. This was followed by the iconic 360 series in 1958, and then the 1961 Sambar, the 1965 1000, the 1100, and 1969 R2. The seventy’s came with the Leone while the eighty’s introduced the Alcyclone and the Legacy. In the 1990’s, the brand slowly steered away from manufacturing small vehicles and embraced rally cars like the Impreza and Vivio. These were quite successful, especially the Impreza WRX that won several world championships under such drivers as Colin McRae. With such an impressive history, one can’t help but reminisce on Subaru’s golden days. Here are the top five Subaru car models of all time.
1958 Subaru 360
Playfully referred to as the “Ladybug,” the Subaru 360 marked the company’s official entrance into the car making industry. Although it was not an instant hit in the American market, the model sold an impressive 392,000 units in its home country between 1958 and 1970, subsequently becoming a cultural icon. In fact, the 1958 Subaru 360 was recognized by the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage item in 2016 and is currently preserved in a Subaru visitor’s center by Fuji Heavy Industries.
In designing the model, the company hired former Nakajima Aircraft engineers with an inspired ambition to hold their position in the new automobile manufacturing undertaking. The 360 applied the same monocoque construction as the company’s airplanes, being strong and light (847 pounds/385 kgs) at the same time. It was stylish and roomy enough to accommodate 4 adults, and housed an air-cooled 2-stroke engine generating 16HP. This could propel it to a maximum speed of 51mph. The engine was later adjusted to produce 25hp, subsequently increasing the top speed to around 70mph.
1984 Subaru Justy
Unknown to many, the Subaru Justy is actually the longest running name in the marque’s range, with the first model debuting in 1984. The car was an extension of their popular Kei model: the Rex. It was designed to compete with successful Japanese super-mini models like the Toyota Starlet and Honda Civic. The Subaru Justy offered several unusual options, including the first 4-wheel drive in that market sector as well as CVT transmission. The latter was developed from Van Doorne’s supplies from Holland, but was not as successful as intended, despite its uniqueness.
The overall design was upright and conservative, even after the car received a minor facelift in 1989. Ironically, the Justy was also referred to as the Trendy. International versions were available in 1.2 and 1.0 liter forms, as well as 3- and 5-door forms. Although it is rare to find these days, it was one of the most significant family cars in the 80’s.
2002 - 2006 Subaru Baja
The Subaru Baja made its debut in 2002 but was limited to one generation. The idea behind this car was to introduce an all-wheel drive vehicle that could carry four passengers and incorporate an open-bed at the back. In a nutshell, it was designed to combine the comfort and handling of a typical passenger car with the practicality of a pick-up truck. This concept can be found in many small American pickups. The Baja boasted a uni-body design and many of its elements were conspicuously synonymous with the Outback and Legacy models.
The car was only available with a double-cab configuration and used a 2.4-L flat 4 engine. The major differences between the Subaru Baja and the Outback were the silver-stone-metallic side body coating and the bigger front fenders. It also had a unique radiator grill as well as simple but sporty main lights. The bonnet was crossed by 2 creases that made it seem rather muscular. The bumper featured a rugged design and came with 2 large fog lamps that seemed slightly out of place. Standard equipment included a power moon roof, crossbars, and roof rails.
1997 Subaru Forester
Since it was introduced in 1997, the Subaru Forester has won the hearts of those looking for a car with 4WD capabilities without the bulkiness of a full sized 4WD, in addition to winning an array of motoring awards as the best recreational 4WD. The car featured at least twenty three separate storage spaces, including a plastic bucket at the spare wheel and a special fishing rod compartment. The Subaru Forester was also multipurpose, depending on your mood. Standard features included driver & passenger airbags, headlamp washers, electric windows & mirrors, remote central locking, and power steering.
For once, the “all weather pack” advertisement-talk was accurate, as it incorporated air conditioning and an electric sunroof, as well as an electric de-icer element (for when the windscreen wipers get stuck on a frozen screen), heated door mirrors & front seats, and side airbags.
1992 Subaru Impreza WRX
When the first generation WRX model was launched in 1992, it became the symbol of Subaru and one of the most iconic cars of the 90s. It overtook the Lancia Delta Integrale to become the dominant A-to-B automobile in the world, alongside Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. In particular, it won three consecutive World Rally Championships between 1995 and 1997, and was one of the fastest and most exciting cars on the road. In order to boost the WRX’s profits, Subaru availed several versions of the car, including wagon body and sedan, automatic and manual transmission, as well as various levels of performance depending on the price.
This automatically made the WRX series accessible to a diverse audience, subsequently boosting its sales volume astronomically compared to other rivals. What’s more, the WRX came some unusual features. For instance, it had hidden B-pillars and four frameless windows to achieve a simpler and uncluttered structure. It also boasted a distinct soundtrack and a four- cylinder boxer engine that facilitated low center of gravity.
Written by Garrett Parker
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