Subaru is not the best known brand in France. The Fuji Heavy Industry company was late to our market in 1992, when the protection standards on Japanese cars ended due to pressure from the European Union.
Before the Legacy, Impreza and Forester, the flagship car in the Subaru lineup was the Leone. This is a peaceful saloon sold from 1971 in many body styles: 2/5 door saloon, hardtop coupé, station wagon and pick up to suit all needs. This strategy to avoid producing special models, Subaru remained a small manufacturer with limited means of production at that time.
Foreign cars: Subaru Leone
A genius idea
The idea of all-wheel drive was put forward in 1970 by… Tohoku Electric Power, the 4th largest electricity supplier in Japan, which is mostly located in the north of the country. When winter comes, there is snow in this area and the company used only old Jeeps to move around for their activities. Very unlikely and not very good, the leaders of Tohoku Electric Power are asking Subaru to make a four-wheeled vehicle, comfortable and able to carry a good amount of equipment.
Subaru accepted the challenge and began building this AWD transmission in 1971 based on the Subaru FF-1 1300 Break and using Datsun 510 variations! Very satisfied with the results, Subaru will build eight Subaru FF-1 1300G AWD models. Five copies will be distributed to Tohoku Electric Power, the other three will go to the small village of Hakuba, in Nagano prefecture, to be used in the fields.
This experiment was a great success and the transmission was offered as an option from 1972 on the Leone. This is the first mass-produced car to receive an AWD transmission, only Jensen with the Interceptor FF tried it, without success and only 330 copies were sold due to the prohibitive price. Once the British were inventing…
So Subaru is positioning itself in a market that doesn’t exist and is quickly establishing itself in certain target markets. In the USA, Subarus will thrive very quickly in mountainous areas such as Colorado or Montana. In Europe, it is common in Switzerland that Subaru is positioning itself in the market, many Swiss replace their uncomfortable and difficult 4x4s with Subaru which is more versatile and can be used on the road, without being a criterion in the field.
It was in 1984 that the third generation Leone was revealed to the general public. The lines are not unique but in keeping with the times and are even sportier for the Turbo version with the addition of a front splitter and rear spoiler along with “TURBO AWD” from the 80’s. The front is very low with a very narrow grille unlike the competition which games more ostentatious last end.
Under the hood, there is a plethora of engines, many of which are brand new. At the entry level, the small 1.3 of 65 hp is not widely distributed and is not compatible with the AWD transmission, the 1.6 that produces 87 hp, the new 1.8 engine with several power levels: 90 hp for the carburettor version, 98 hp or 105 hp for the version injection and 120 hp for the Turbo version. The 71 bhp 1.6 engine, carried over from the previous generation, was initially offered in North America but was quickly dropped from the range due to lack of power.
In 1987, Subaru released a sports version for the coupe but also for the sedan and station wagon. The 1.8 Turbo engine has been developed to 136 hp, providing a very impressive performance with 0 to 100 km / h in less than 9 seconds with a weight of 1,145 kg for the coupe, 1,165 kg for the sedan and 1,190 kg for the station wagon.
On the other hand, the American version lacks power because it produces only 112 hp with the performance greatly reduced (10.5 for 0-100). Note also that the Leone is called the GL for the Sedan/Estate and Hatchback RX versions. for Coupe. These are different models in the Subaru lineup in North America while the models have only one name elsewhere. Before 1989, the names of Subaru models in the United States did not make much sense.
With its incredible influence, it is the reliability that will be another great part of Leone thanks to the simplicity of its mechanics and the experience of engine engineers in other fields such as space, aeronautics or the marine industry and the production of large containers. ship. The interior is very well built and it is possible to choose a digital dashboard worthy of the K2000.
On the other hand, the Leone is a basic car with almost any road behavior (except for the Turbo which has undergone improvements in the suspension levels), average comfort and sound insulation to be checked.
Subaru knows that in order to reach the Honda Accord/Toyota Camry/Mazda 626 customers, it has to work hard to offer a sedan that combines the Leone’s features with those of the competition. This would happen in 1989 with the arrival of the Legacy which would delight many owners (including me) through seven generations but that is another story…
In the competition
At the same time, Subaru went on the offensive at the sporting level by committing to the WRC to promote itself worldwide, while the brand was only successful in certain specific markets such as Switzerland and the mountainous regions of the USA. .
The arrival of Subaru was very discreet in 1980 with the 2nd generation Leone in its hatchback version. It was during the 1982 Safari Rally that Subaru made its debut in the WRC with 7th place overall, 7:15 off the leader.
Why Safari Rally? Because it is in the land of Kenya that the Japanese made themselves famous by gathering many victories for Toyota, Datsun or Mitsubishi in the 70s, 80s and 90s. This meeting being the most demanding this season, the Japanese did not hesitate to do it. many advertisements selling the durability and reliability of their vehicles with Safari Rally images.
The first victory would take place during the DCC Summer Championship in Japan in February 1982 by Junichiro Kato. In 1984, the Subaru World Rally team uses the Leone III coupe and sedan for its new car. Not being able to offer Group B, Subaru falls into group A. The 1.8 Turbo engine has been heavily modified to reach 180 hp, which was quite low compared to the competition in the category.
Fortunately for Subaru, Group B was discontinued in 1986 and Group A took over which gave Subaru a lot of media coverage even if the results were not the same on one podium, during the New Zealand 1987 meeting with the local Possum. Bourne. This is just the beginning of the events since 1990, Subaru will develop with Prodrive the new Heritage Group A for the WRC which will take Subaru to another level on the world stage.
What did the media think?
Here are the Guide de l’Auto 1989 reviews of the GL and Hatchback RX.
Despite all the beauty, if not the flashiness, of the Subaru XT and RX that have appeared in recent years, it is still the GL sedans and cars that are in the middle of the line of this manufacturer. They are the ones that collect the biggest sales of the brand, especially the station wagon, its bestseller, whose popularity is still growing. […]
The excellent reliability of its models from a few years ago, which has had a few hiccups since then, obviously had a lot to do with buyers who prefer these characteristics above all, including driving pleasure. It has to be said that despite their irresistible qualities, the Subarus of the GL family are not the most fun to drive.