Junkyard Classic: 1989 Subaru Justy GL ECVT – There Just Isn’t Any Justice

Justice – If such a concept really existed, then any of the total beaters of the world that we see every day would be sitting here instead of this old car that looks about three years old instead of 30.  It’s becoming a bit of a semi-regular theme in these posts that the cast-offs here are looking good enough to drive away in as with the Honda Accord of a few weeks ago and the Dodge 600 as well.  And the Saab 900 SPG, well, that one did look pretty much done.  And we shan’t even speak of the Porsche 928…

Anyway, why wouldn’t someone, anyone, want this little second generation Justy?  Well, for starters, this is in Denver, where everyone thinks they need 4WD and this is one of the very few Subarus that I’ve ever seen around here that isn’t 4WD (even though it was available).  At first I figured maybe it just didn’t have a sticker proclaiming it but then I deigned to kneel down to look at the rear axle, and nope, nothing to transmit drive back there, it was as plain as a gelding.

The Justy was first introduced to the US in 1987, about three years after first being offered in Japan. For 1989, just a couple of years later, a restyle was offered and made it look a little less square and a little more like the larger Legacy, especially around the rear where it channeled the wagon a bit.  But by 1994 the party was already all over, and the Justy left our shores for good (In Canada it stuck around for an extra year).  I was a little surprised to see it was around even that long as I do see the first generation ones every once in a while but almost never see this restyled version.

Power (if it can be called that) was provided by a 3-cylinder 1.2liter engine with an output of 72hp.  Weight was under 2000 pounds, but acceleration was still quite lethargic.  In an effort to make it more acceptable, Subaru offered the Justy with an ECVT, the first Continuously Variable Transmission offered in the US in the modern era (DAF imported the Daffodil in the early 60’s which had incorporated an early CVT design) which helped it to make better use of the power than some competitors.

The transmission is one of the few things that was missing from this car when I saw it, so clearly it was someone’s lucky day.  However I can’t imagine that the intended donor car could possibly be in better condition than this one, so maybe they should have tried to take every other possible part as well.  There was an “all you can carry” sale a couple of weeks after I saw this Justy so perhaps they came back then for the rest of the car, two strong people (the maximum allowed) could probably almost carry the whole thing across the line…

With only 78,291 miles on the odometer, this is barely broken in for a Subaru (although it’s an inline 3, not a flat, uh, never mind), hopefully the CVT wasn’t actually broken and that was the reason it’s here.  This early CVT did prove to not be so reliable in higher mileage cars, thus the reason it was eventually withdrawn from the market, however I am not sure what is considered “higher mileage” back in 1989 given that there are a plethora of other vehicles with conventional automatics that don’t/didn’t seem to last particularly long either.

Look at the happy fabrics on the seats and door panels!  This is what budget motoring in the ’80’s was all about.  A little fizz to look at while you wait to reach the posted speed limit.  And the key appears to still be in it as well.  Like I said, ready to go.

Sun-wrinkled vinyl, a patch of cloth, two large door pockets for your paper maps, a manual window winder, and a rocker switch door lock below the latch.  And an armrest tacked on for good measure.  Life was good.

I don’t see A/C, which in all fairness would have probably sucked the last of the power here at altitude, but no center console either so plenty of room to man-spread all the way over to the passenger as long as the ECVT lever is all the way back in the Ds position.  Still, no A/C is a killer here on the 100 degree days without a GM crotch vent, likely not helping to keep it on the road.

That Ds position is interesting as it is the “Sport” Mode; putting it in that vs D makes the engine spin at twice the speed it would in Drive, presumably unleashing more power as the revs were higher.  This is interesting as the whole idea of a CVT is for it to continuously adjust its pulley ratios in order to keep the engine at its optimum power point, so one would think that merely flooring the throttle would do a better job than dropping it into “Sport” mode.  Supposedly the point was to use it when passing or on hills, just nudge the lever down and keep the foot steady.

I know you guys like the rubbery bumpers with nothing to get damaged in a low-speed impact just as much as they appeal to the inner cheapskate in me as well.  Still, it’s not styled too terrible, perhaps a little plain, or is that just elegance?

Not even a side-view mirror on the passenger side of this GL trim level model.  But with those spindly pillars, there’s no need for it anyway, just move your head a couple of degrees and your peripheral vision will let you see everything.

Trunk space galore, a nifty cargo cover with rope lifters, VW Golf style, and what looks like a split rear bench for this 4-seater.  And slightly dark tinted tail lights for that sporty style.

It says four passengers but also says weight capacity is 660lbs.  Methinks your odds would be 50/50 at best of finding any random four people with a combined weight below that total over here these days.  A tire size of 165/65-13 is unheard of nowadays and likely explains why a couple of the wheels and tires are gone as well.

Back then Subaru’s tagline was “Inexpensive.  And built to stay that way”.  With a base price of $7,791 with the ECVT in 1989, this was a pretty good value.  And conversely what probably helped to put it here today; it apparently just wasn’t worth keeping on the road.

Related Reading:

David Saunders’ take on the Justy

Paul Niedermeyer’s Mother Earty Justy