COAL № 16: Subaru Wagons – Practical And Bland, But A Little Different

This may come as a surprise; I always had old British cars plus the odd modern when it was needed for long commuting. So why a Subaru? I had looked at them when I had to select a new car in 1997, but they were too expensive for my lease budget. I chose a Renault Laguna then.

In 2006, a year after I sold my Citroën Xantia wagon, we were starting to rebuild our home and garage. That wagon was much missed, as it was so practical with its huge luggage space.

There were a couple of reasons for buying another modern wagon.

  1. The versatility: very practical for moving things from my garage to the barn, or to get stuff for the rebuild of our house, or to get things for the new garden, etc. Much more will fit in a wagon compared to a car with a boot.
  2. Ability to tow a car transporter, or a just a trailer. Sometimes I had to move a car and had to borrow a car and transporter. Would be much more easier if I already had the towing car. A trailer is practical to haul long stuff—often needed when building a house or garage.
  3. Bad-weather car. I used my classic cars all year round, but the trips in rain and snow were not nice. Window demisting is much less effective in a classic, as is the heater.
  4. Winter sports car. Possibility to use the car to drive to winter sports countries in the winter. Not really doable with a classic car.

    So I started looking for another wagon, but it had to be a little different; not just any wagon. Of the modern brands, I liked the way Subaru operated—they stood out with their slightly different approach to things. They were more or less an independent car company, which had individual ideas about cars. Maybe not so much, but I liked the idea of getting a car from a car brand that is just a bit different. Quality was always first-class, which resulted in good reliability records. The top-specification Legacy wagon had air suspension; frameless windows; four-wheel drive, and that wonderful boxer engine. It seemed to me a first-generation Legacy wagon, the type I liked best, would be a good buy. The second generation was a sleeker car, but it lost some character points. Not that the first-gen Legacy wagon was a particularly beautiful car; you could say it was a very generically styled car, and you’d be right; it did not stand out. But it had those other peculiarities I admired. If only I could find one! Because I would not take just any, but wanted the 2.2 GX—the biggest engine, and with the air suspension. And it had to have the automatic gearbox. And preferably without a sunroof. Well, these were nearly impossible to find, as very few were sold new here. Most had the 1.8 or 2.0 engines. Add the fact these Gen 1 cars were already at least 13 years old, and it was hard to find a decent example.

    The Red Legacy

    I found one, but it was not completely to my liking: it had many KMs; the red paint was flat on the hood and roof; it had dings; its interior looked a bit worn out, and it had awful aftermarket cheap plastic wheel covers. It had a non-original sporty, thick, leather-rimmed, small-diameter Momo aftermarket steering wheel. Also it had a sliding sunroof, one of my pet hates. On the other hand, it was the only one I could find. It was very cheap and was supposedly in good mechanical condition, so why not? We needed a wagon!

    This turned out not to be a good buy. The front driveshafts were noisy and that sliding roof was leaking.

    Cement truck delivering my new garage floor


    Still, it was very useful in the half-year we owned it. It had a strange rear-lights problem, I had to put in an extra wire from under the dash all the way to the rear because there was no power there, probably a broken wire somewhere. Annoying, because in my view such “modern” cars—it was only 15 years old at the time—should not have these problems. I was not happy with the car, so I kept an eye on the market for a better one.

    The Silver Legacy

    A much better-looking car came up. Wearing (boring) silver paint, this wagon almost looked new although it was 13 years old. Paint was very good as was the interior. Better stil, it had air conditioning and no sliding roof! The second owner sold it because he became too old to drive.

    This silver Legacy was everything the red one was not. It had low KMs, was more expensive of course, but so worth it. It was a one-owner car, being sold by the (now ex-) Subaru dealer where it was always maintained. I went to that garage and they were happy to show me the service history over the years.

    I was glad to have found such a good car. I would keep this one forever, or at least many, many years to come.

    It was the perfect car for accompanying my classic cars. Excellent in bad weather and winter with its 4WD. It could be kept on the street; no leaky sunroof or window rubbers. It could tow heavy trailers (garden rubbish, old cars) if needed; the air suspension could cope well. It was a bit dull on the outside, but that was fine, it showed personality in its boxer engine sounds.

    We used it for skiing holidays and summer holidays with our old (1971) Constructam caravan in France. I would love to say it was without problems but it was not. On our way home from a holiday in France, towing the Constructam, the front driveshafts (which had made some noise since buying the car, but far less than the red one we had before) became louder and louder…too loud to go on. We were able to reach a typical French small village garage.

    When talking to the garage owner I noticed he had a stack of nice early-’70s tin Michelin advertisement boards; these now adorn my garage wall. We had comprehensive car insurance which also covered repairs needed when on holiday, or it would transport our car back to a dealer in our town to be repaired. We managed to call in help from the Netherlands; the Subaru and caravan were transported home, and we were given a rental car.

    When the Subaru dealer repaired our car, we were allowed to have a loan car. Problem was he did not have a ‘usual’ loan car—meaning a traded-in car a few years old or so. So we were given a brand-new Impreza.

    My old Triumph 2500 in the background

    My daughter liked the car!


    It proved difficult for the dealer to locate new driveshaft components for our old Legacy, so we had this Impreza for a full three weeks. My son loved it, but I was less impressed. This was a flashy car with a big air scoop and too-shiny wheels. Of course it was frighteningly fast; it also was very firm, and comfort was nil. However I did not miss the opportunity to have a couple of fun trips with it. 🙂

    My red Citroën CX on the right

    This was the only big problem we had with the car. Over the six years we owned it, there were a few other age-related things. The air pump stopped pumping air, which turned out to be a simple worn rubber O-ring in the pump. I changed the front air bladders, as one was leaking a little. The rears had been replaced a year before my buying the car. These were quite expensive, but I did not mind the high price, as the idea was to keep the car for a long time and this would prolong it for many years.

    I quite liked the car, which was strange for me because it did not stand out much and looked just like any usual Japanese station wagon. But I liked the typical Subaru touches. I was looking forward to many more years with it.

    With a friend, I had started a small business in my garage, specializing in adding modern electric power steering to classic cars. For the one or two days we need to convert a car, clients could use the Subaru because it was so user-friendly and in good condition. One evening a client called; he’d had an accident on the motorway.



    … not!


    The left side of the car was damaged, and the right side even worse. The right rear wheel was hit and there was damage to the rear suspension.

    Luckily it was just damage to the car, not the client. When checking the car it became clear to me that the damage was too much to think of repairing it. It was 19 years old now, and worth almost nothing, even though before the accident it was in very good condition. So this was the end of the silver Legacy. I was quite upset because I had not seen this coming, and it was not even my fault! Well, maybe I should not have loaned a cherished vehicle.

    A year later. Sylvia got work elsewhere, so she had to travel to and from in a half-an-hour motorway journey. This meant a modern car was required. Times had changed, and she did not want to use a classic car for this. I agreed, it had to be more safe than a car designed in the sixties.

    So the search went on for a third Legacy, hopefully like the Silver one. But the situation had changed in seven years, and they all had disappeared. Newer versions of the Legacy did not appeal to me much.

    The Outback

    Somewhere I read about the Outback, which had been available with a six-cylinder boxer engine! That made me search for one, even though I did not much like its exterior. As with the top-spec Legacy, these were hard to find; most had the 2.5L four-cylinder engine. Subarus always have been a bit more expensive over here, and the top of the line was quite rare.

    But I found one to my liking, twelve years old. Dark green, with scratches to the paint on both sides—its (only) elderly owner had a narrow driveway with big bushes alongside it. The tan leather interior was in good condition, but was dirty. Because of the scratches and the dirty interior there was not much interest in the car, maybe also because it had the larger engine, too thirsty? Whatever; it was not too expensive, so I bought it.

    The weekend was spend deep-cleaning the car. It came out admirably. We used the car for two years. I liked that engine, so smooth and powerful compared to the Legacy. What I feared happened: one of the two sunroofs started leaking. I inquired about renewing the rubbers around it and was informed they were not available. On a Subaru forum I learned this was a common problem and not easy to solve. There was a solution but it was a hell of a job and time consuming. I tried to blow out the drain hoses but was not very successful.

    The auto gearbox started to develop a small problem: sometimes the change up was sudden and too late. Most of the times all was well. I changed the fluid to the correct spec, but that did not help. Then one morning, I could not select reverse. After a few tries, it worked. I feared an expensive trans out repair would be necessary soon.

    Sylvia had found other work at biking distance—she never was a fan of the daily car commute. That, plus the fact I never really grew attached to the car; not in the way of the Silver Legacy, made us decide to sell the car.

    I looked around and again would have liked a gen-1 Legacy wagon again if I could find one, but none was available. I test drove a few fourth-generation Legacys and Outbacks, but these were too expensive, and the thrill was gone. I did not want to spend a large amount of money on a car which for us was just a car, not commuting transport anymore.

    In hindsight, I should not have sold the green Outback so quickly. It was fairly rare; I was only the second owner; it was in a nice condition; top specification, with low mileage and full service history. Why did I not have the transmission repaired, and the leaking roof?

    Its replacement was quite surprising, a kind I never had thought of before. All will be revealed in a next COAL!