Subaru began its history as an automobile manufacturer as a division of Fuji Heavy Industries in February of 1954 with the P-1 (a title that would later be held by the flagship UK Impreza). This was followed by the infamous Subaru 360 and 1000, all front-wheel drive vehicles.
Subaruís first venture into the 4WD world was in 1971 with the Leone. It was a new concept to have four wheel drive in a passenger automobile as that drivetrain was normally reserved for off-road vehicles like trucks. It was marketed to those who needed the comforts of a car in a climate where the extra traction would be of use, such as farms and snowy regions. The popularity of the Leone increased to the point that it was the world's best-selling 4WD car around 1977 and fathered Subaru's all-wheel drive market.
At about the same time the Leone was getting such praise Subaru introduced the Brat, what seemed to be their answer to the Jeep. It was a sort of half-truck half car in that it had an open bed in the back but was still as small as most cars were. This model gained a lot of popularity in North America as there were more roads suited to what the Brat was built for. There are still some Brats floating around the United States maintained by their loving owners. This was also the vehicle that helped Subaru gain reputation and a market in North America. Up until the Brat most models had only been available in Japan.
The next AWD model to come from Subaru was the Justy, which was released worldwide in February of 1984. It was simply a hatchback coupe with Subaru's AWD system. However the Justy made a bigger mark in automotive history in 1987 when Subaru installed the world's first continuously variable transmission as an option. This system was the first of its kind and would not gain popularity again until some 15 years later when manufacturers such as BMW re-introduced the technology in some of their models. The Justy is still available in some markets.
All previous models of Subaru automobiles had been mostly built for functionality. Subaru also wanted to extend its models into the realm of the sports car. While not sporty as other vehicles were on the market at the time the XT (or Alcyone in Japan) was introduced in 1985. The styling was supposed to be very aerodynamic with its wedge shape and rounded edges. In fact the styling ended up being very aerodynamic producing a drag coefficient of only 0.29, a record at the time and a value still unmatched by many other cars today. This was also Subaru's first vehicle to use their signature horizontally opposed, or "boxer", engine; a 1.8 liter turbocharged plant was available producing about 140bhp.
In 1989 Subaru released what was to be their best model ever, one to compete highly on the world market with all sorts of other cars. The Legacy came into the scene with a very unique record. Just before its initial release a set of 3 Legacies had driven 100,000 kilometers straight on a road course in Arizona. The total time for the lead car was some 447 hours with an average speed of 138.78 mph, an FIA record for this event and class. The Legacy would later become Subaru's first entry into the World Rally Championship, becoming the first Group N car to complete the Safari Rally in Africa in 1990. It is also one of the most popular models in the Subaru line-up in North America. Its reputation held up even with its wagon models as the Legacy wagon set a world speed record for a wagon in September of 1993 at the Bonneville speedway in Utah. It's average speed was 155.33 mph.
In 1991 Subaru decided it was going to try to enter the performance car market. Surely the Legacy was no slouch when it came to performance but Subaru lacked the general appeal of a true sports car. The SVX had a short-lived existence until 1994 when the idea was scrapped and more effort was concentrated on the much more popular Impreza. The SVX offered a 6-cylinder equivalent of its famous boxer engine which was capable of 230bhp as well as a very unique glass wrap-around cockpit. Unfortunately to those who liked the SVX none of them were ever fitted with a manual transmission. They were also very heavy and had problems with their automatic transmissions. The SVX is still a popular car and has a strong group of fanatics who have finally found a way to put a manual transmission in the car.
The most recent Subaru model is the Impreza which was almost completely purpose-built for the World Rally Championship. In fact the Impreza has seen a WRC entry every year it has been produced: many times a rally winner, three times winning the manufacturer championship (1995-1997), and 4 times taking its driver to the top of the championship. It has also seen some of the world's most talented drivers at the wheel: Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and most recently Tommi Makinnen. The Impreza Turbo and WRX available in Japan and Europe afforded the true feel of a sports car at a fraction of the cost. North American versions lacked the power of other versions until 1998 when the 2.5RS was released with a larger 2.5 liter engine and a sportier look. North America would not see a version of the Impreza Turbo until the WRX was released there in 2001. Some of the best versions of the Impreza originated in Great Britain where models such as the 22B, RB5, and P1 topped many performance magazines' best rides of the year. The Impreza continues to be the mainstay of Subaru in all markets and is still a tough competitor in the WRC.
Some useful Subaru links:
Researched by Garrett