Junkyard Gem: 1988 Subaru GL 4WD Sedan

While Subaru kept the hatchback version of the second-generation Leone available in North America all the way through the late 1980s, the third-generation sedans and wagons went on sale here in 1985. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a loaded ’88 4WD sedan, found in thoroughly worn-out condition in a junkyard next to Pikes Peak in Colorado.

From the late 1970s through the 1980s, Subaru named each of their North American Leone models “The Subaru,” adding trim levels as placeholders for model names. The GL was the top-of-the-line version. This confused everybody, so these cars became Loyales starting in the 1990 model year.

This car has the optional automatic transmission and Subaru’s first full-time four-wheel-drive system (we’d call it all-wheel-drive by today’s definition), available starting in 1988. You hit the red button on the shifter to switch between front- and all-wheel-drive, and if you drove on dry asphalt in the 4WD setting you didn’t tear up the tires and/or drivetrain. Prior to this system, four-wheel-drive Subarus had a big lever to switch between drive modes, and you’d damage stuff by using 4WD on dry pavement.

Adding to the luxury, this car came with factory air conditioning. A/C was still considered a frivolous luxury by many small-car shoppers in the late 1980s, but that attitude faded as the cost of refrigerated air went down.

This car turned well over 200,000 miles during its 32-year career. That doesn’t quite measure up to the kind of final odometer readings I see on four-wheel-drive Toyota cars of this era, but it’s still excellent for its time.

In the end, the rust finally got this car. The fenders sway in the mountain breezes now.

The final owner appears to have been a huge fan of high-potency THC concentrates, available legally all over Colorado. We can only hope they didn’t drive high, because shatter hash and old Subarus don’t mix.

In addition to the high miles and rust, the scent of overflowing ashtrays, sweat, clouds of vaped cannabis, and decomposing interior plastics knocked the resale value of this car down from $400 to about $80, despite the sale-enhancing automatic transmission.

The idea of a Subaru GL with power windows would have seemed laughable just a few years earlier than 1988.

This car could be purchased with a turbocharged engine, but this one just has the aftermarket badge upgrade.

This is the fuel-injected, 1.8-liter boxer four, rated at 90 horsepower.


Remember, it’s pronounced “lay-OH-nay.”

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