Subaru has celebrated 50 years as a car manufacturer this year.
From basic beginnings with the Subaru 360 the company has now established itself as on of the top manufacturers of All Wheel Drive vehicles for the road. Subaru has its origins as an aircraft manufacturer between the two World Wars and then began producing scooters in the late 1940s. In 1953 Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company was formed from six companies. Subaru (“gathering together”) is the Japanese name for the six star constellation Pleiades, which provides the brand with its easily recognised identification.
Launched in 1958 the Subaru 360 was a simple, cost effective small car that met the needs of an emerging Japanese middle class as the country rebuilt after the Second World War. The engineering led company soon decided that flat four cylinder horizontally opposed engines suited its philosophy for compact front wheel drive vehicles with a low centre of gravity and the Subaru 1000 followed in 1965. This car immediately set Subaru apart offering a different solution to personal transportation from all its Japanese rivals who were still producing conventional front engined, rear wheel drive cars.
The 1000 morphed into the Subaru FF1 and then the first of a long line of Leone models. In 1972 the world’s first 4WD car, the Leone 4WD Station Wagon was launched. It had been relatively easy to graft the prop. shaft onto the back of the gearbox and take power to a rear axle unit. Until 1972, 4WD had only been used in large commercial or utilitarian vehicles produced for defence forces, farmers, mining and forestry operations. The concept was developed through the 70s and the first turbocharged Leone appeared in 1982. Subaru had also been testing its products in the world’s toughest rally, the Kenyan Safari with some success at a class level.
The first “full time” 4WD car with a centre differential, the Leone coupe was introduced in 1986. The company was also developing small cars with a difference and in 1987 launched the first electro continuously variable transmission in the Justy.
With the launch of the Legacy in 1989, Subaru established itself as a true producer of quality cars with world wide appeal. And to give the new model credibility a turbocharged model set a World 100,000 kms nonstop record at 223.3 km/h. In the 90s Subaru entered the World Rally Championship seriously gaining its first victory in New Zealand in 1993 with the Legacy RS. With the introduction of the more nimble Impreza the same year, the WRX started its iconic career winning the driver’s and manufacturer’s titles in 1995 with Colin McRae.
Further success followed with the late Possum Bourne winning eight national championships on both sides of the Tasman and three Asia — Pacific titles. Further World crowns were won in 2001 and 2003 with Richard Burns and Petter Solberg.
With its background in 4WD the introduction of the Outback in 1996 seems so logical now. The world’s first “cross over” vehicle bridged the gap between traditional 4WDs and an ordinary car, offering the comfort and refinement of the car with the ground clearance and traction of a 4WD. The Forester followed a year later into the growing market of SUVs.
Into the 21st century, Subaru has continued to develop and refine its symmetrical All Wheel Drive vehicles, with the latest development being the world’s first diesel boxer engine designed specifically for a passenger car.