Most of us, when we think of Subaru, think of the rallying fervour which accompanied the Impreza during its near dominance of the WRC in the nineties. Tinged with this is the sad loss of arguably the two greatest exponents of that rally art, Colin McRae and Richard Burns. But what of milestone cars?
When we look at Subaru’s start in life, formed in 1953 out of Fuji Heavy Industries as an amalgamation of no fewer than six separate engineering firms it would have been expected that there would be interesting developments. The Rabbit motor scooter of 1956 was the precursor to their first real motor car, the little 356 cc flat-twin air-cooled 2-stroke. The 360 sold by the bucket load in its home market and calamity only came when Malcolm Bricklin tried to market it Stateside. If that fateful Consumer Report was right in which the 360 was branded ‘the most unsafe car on the market’, there could be little question of milestones here; not of the positive sort anyhow.
Road and Track, in 1971 , did not see the ff1 in its flat four 1361 cc form as in any way ground-breaking. My rather grubby copy of the R and T road test roundup for 1972 raves more about the acceptability of the increased swept volume of the motor rather than about any Great Leap Forward. It was a leap into, rather than out of, the mainstream.
In some ways, the ground-breaking step Subaru took was in relation to the marketing of four wheel drive in an admittedly fairly ugly form, in rather workaday vehicles . In 1973 Subaru offered the option of all wheel drive on their mundane mid-range when, for the most part, that form of drive had been confined to the new-in-1970 Range Rover and the highly specialised Jensen FF. No pioneering steps in the field of true off-roaders could be said to have been taken by Subaru since Land Rovers and the like were everywhere. But the option was there to equip an otherwise modest vehicle with 4 x 4. So the marketing ploy worked and Border farmers began to flock to the slightly ungainly 4 x 4 .
In later years Subaru’s landmark cars have come about because of astute association with others , notably Prodrive, which took the Impreza in hand and helped it to achieve what Subaru on its own, perhaps, could not have achieved – world rally dominance.
So there is a case for saying that Subaru’s virtues have been exemplified in sound and nimble marketing strategy – in spotting a niche if you like – and in an ability latterly to find excellent partners, first with Prodrive and latterly with the majority shareholder Toyota. Not many people can think of a landmark Subaru unless it is to recall those rallying exploits to which it was led by Prodrive. But equipping relatively mundane saloon cars with 4 wheel drive was certainly a noteworthy step. Not many manufacturers in 1984, when marketing a ‘supermini’, in Subaru’s case the Justy, could boast an otherwise cooking offering in the 1.2 capacity range which offered the option of 4 wheel drive selection by the driver, not permanently engaged.
That, in its way, was a milestone.
From motoringrumpole on ‘Landmarks as applied to Subaru’.