CC Outtake: 1991 Subaru Legacy – Crawling Back Up From Rock Bottom, In AWD

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Subaru has enjoyed phenomenal success the past twenty years, and their sales have been almost explosive in the past 5-8 years. But what’s sometimes forgotten is that Subary had a bad slump right around the time this legacy was sold, and seriously considered exiting the US market. I’ll bet they’re glad they decided to stick it out. And what was the key to their upswing?

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We’ll answer that soon. It certainly wasn’t the new legacy, that arrived in 1989. It was a decided departure from the small and quirky cars with which Subaru established itself in the US during the 70s and 80s. The Legacy was squarely aimed at the Camry and Accord, with a new longer platform, smooth styling and the new EJ22 SOHC boxer four. Like all Subarus at the time, AWD was not standard, and in the case of the Legacy, even if the AWD was chosen, there were almost no external outward cues, unlike the Subaru 4WD wagons of yore, with their jacked up suspensions.

So I’ve essentially answered the question: America was not looking for another milquetoast FWD Camcord sedan.

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Well, it wasn’t 100% quirk-free, styling-wise. The kick-up on the C-pillar/window was distinctive, although hardly seriously quirky.

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The interior looks like it could be from a Toyota of the time. Which also means high quality materials and assembly.

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The Legacy sedan does have AWD, but that’s a mighty small little badge down there. Yes, therein lay the problem with the Legacy and Subaru: they were trying to go mainstream, but the market wasn’t buying it.

This is what they wanted, and in 1994, Subaru gave it to them, the Outback. Jack up the Legacy wagon, put on some cladding and fender flares, and hire Crocodile Dundee to sell it. That, and a fateful decision that henceforth, Subaru would only sell AWD vehicles in the US. A very smart move; in a crowded market, they needed to make their brand stand for something distinctive, and the timing was perfect. Subaru sales have been on a steep climb ever since.

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But that was still a few years away from when this decidedly non-Outback Legacy tried to compete with the Camry. And almost killed Subaru in the US for trying.