Cars Of A Lifetime: 1979 Subaru FE – Finally, It Can Be Told (and Shown)

Subaru 1979 FEimage: subaruhighmileageclub

(first posted 7/24/2013)   In my web searching, I have been able to find pictures closely approximating every one of my past cars. The 1967 Delta 88. The  1976 Pacer. The Honda Civic. The Camaro. But the search for a picture of one particular Subaru has eluded me–until now.


1979 Subaru DL

Not that a 1979 Subaru is hard to find. You can find pictures of DLs (as above) and GLs all over the place. BRATs are a dime a dozen. But the Holy Grail of 1979 Subarus was found only last night, after years of searching: a 1979 Subaru FE, one of my favorite cars of all time.

Late 1970s Subarus were cars to be pitied, at least according to Motor Trend. They claimed the cars were stuck with styling from the 1960s and under-powered 1600cc engines that didn’t get the kind of fuel mileage they should.

The styling? I can see their point. Your everyday Subaru was boxy. It was dull, and uninspired. When I was looking for a good mileage car to take me five days a week from Las Cruces, NM to El Paso, TX for work, I stopped at the local Subaru dealer–and almost walked out. The salesman who stopped me earned his commission that day.

“These cars are UGLY,” I told him, and I meant every word. He agreed with me, but asked me to give him just five minutes of my time. We walked into the showroom, and I stopped short, staring in amazement.



“This is a very limited edition Subaru. It’s called the FE, which stands for ‘Fuel Efficient’,” said the salesman. “Compare it with the DL next to it. The roof line has been lowered. It’s been streamlined. The drive train has been specially designed for maximum fuel economy. It has a transistorized ignition, a specially redesigned camshaft and an increased compression ratio. Both 4th and 5th gears are overdrive. In fact, it’s rated at 50 MPG on the highway!” I had to admit, the styling was beautiful and unlike any other Subaru I’d ever seen.

SOLD! That silver front-wheel-drive beauty was destined to be in my driveway, and on that night. With a five-speed manual, a two barrel-carbureted 1,590cc (97 cubic inch!) engine, it not only kicked up and ran like a scared rabbit, but also delivered great fuel mileage. While it wasn’t the EPA-claimed 50 MPG, I never saw less than 40 MPG, even after five years of driving. On one trip, I decided to try my hand at hypermiling before it was fashionable. Driving over the Grapevine between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, I put the Subaru in neutral, turned the engine off, and coasted down the mountain pass. Thanks to that (and some very careful driving) I made it from Los Angeles to Bakersfield–at 62 MPG, according to my calcluation!

Subaru 1979 coupeSimilar European version Subaru coupe

It broke on me only twice during the entire time I owned it. The first time, it wasn’t the car’s fault. Whoever had installed the air conditioner did something wrong; the A/C was replaced, under warranty, and the Sooby purred like a kitten once again. The second time, the clutch cable broke. I felt it go when I shifted into third while driving one night. Fortunately, I’d been driving school buses for quite a while and was familiar with no-clutch shifting using only the RPMs. I was able to drive it to the repair shop, where I left it overnight.

The tires were interesting, 155/70 SR13s all the way around, and the owners manual advised checking them frequently to ensure 28 PSI in front and 24 at the rear. I always wondered if it was like an old Corvair, with tire pressure being critical to the car’s handling. I kept them inflated according to the manual, so I never found otherwise.

And one other thing: It would run on practically any gasoline you would throw into it. I frequently went into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just over the border at El Paso, to take advantage of the cheap Pemex gas there. I found out later that the regular I’d been using was only 85 octane, but the Subaru didn’t care. I noticed absolutely no difference.

It’s a car I would dearly love to find and have back. I sold it in 1984 for a brand new Camaro Z-28, and while the Z-28 was fast and fun, I still missed the 45 MPG of the Sooby. I’d take one in a second if I could find one, but it would HAVE to be an FE in great condition. Preferably silver with a blue interior. Just like mine.