Back in the 1970s, Americans weren’t all driving around in high-riding, car-like pseudo-SUVs with all-wheel drive and a plethora of modern technology to keep them on the road. When winter rolled through, you essentially tackled the weather in a boxy, body-on-frame SUV or you managed in two-wheel drive sedan or station wagon. All-wheel drive just wasn’t a thing in passenger cars — at least until Subaru came along.
Now, we have a whole host of Subaru models from the Legacy to the Outback and the Forester, but where did all that start? For most markets, at least, it started with the unassuming wagon you see above.
Taking a different approach
With its shift-on-the-fly “four-wheel drive” system, the first generation of the Subaru Leone, otherwise known by its trim names like DL or GL here in the United States, took a different approach. Now instead of having to rely on a tall, heavy, SUV, you could get power to all four wheels in a smaller, more economical package. No longer did you have to get out and lock the hubs, and you could send power to the rear end on slippery surfaces only when needed. The rest of the time, it was just a typical, front-wheel drive wagon.
Not only did it change the game for all-wheel drive passenger cars, but it also gave you the practicality we enjoy in modern crossovers in a small package. Putting it up against the modern “Mini” Cooper SE, you can in fact see that the Subaru DL packs tons of space into roughly the same footprint.
Under the hood, its 1.6-liter boxer engine produced just over 60 horsepower when new. That’s nothing by modern standards, but bear in mind that older cars are much lighter and the engine’s diminutive size made the car a cinch to work on.
Over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll do plenty more with this old Subaru. We’ll show just how far we’ve come in the past forty years and just how well the Japanese automaker set the template for its own brand on an epic road trip through Canyonlands National Park.