COAL: 1982(?) Subaru DL 4WD Wagon – Like The Energizer Bunny!


(First posted July 14, 2013) My brother called me one day with the news that the roommate of a good friend was selling a car and would I be interested?  Somehow word had apparently spread that I seemed to consider buying anything and everything for sale…In actuality I had been complaining about having to deal with snow chains in the mountains on the few occasions that I actually went, and the car for sale was a 4WD Subaru…

I called my brother’s friend, got a few more details and set up a time to see it.  It was located in San Jose – about an hour away.  When we arrived we were directed to the carport in which it sat.  Nice!  A 1982 (I think) Subaru 4WD Wagon in blue with a blue vinyl interior.

Looking at it from the back it looked OK, just a small dent below the 4WD badge and a cracked taillight.  The left side had some minor scuffs but the right side had a fairly mangled front fender.  The odometer read about 195,000miles and the price was very reasonable, asking $450.  The roommate just wanted it gone.


I started it and drove it around for a few miles, everything seemed to work fine, I was excited at the prospect of 4WD and a wagon so I think I haggled him down to about $425 and drove home in this new (to me) car.  Some may think it peculiar that I had previously (and fairly recently to be honest) had a VW GTI, a Buick LeSabre T-Type, as well as a brand-new VW Jetta.

And now I had what can fairly be described as an old car with a lot of miles on it.  Nothing had changed for the negative in my work or living situation; it’s just that it’s easy for me to like and appreciate almost any car for what it is, and can usually find a positive aspect to it.  In this case a low price, 4WD and being a wagon were huge positives.


I said it was a 1982; in reality it could have been anywhere from 1981 to 1984, I just do not recall and no longer have any documentation.  The picture at the top is my actual car, if anyone here can somehow identify the actual year, please make a comment.  The front had the single square headlights as opposed to the earlier round ones or the later four-light setup.  My future wife can sort of be seen just on the other side of it by the tree.  She’s on the small side…


I loved the fact that it was blue inside, and by that I mean it was blue all over the inside, in a way that nobody seems to do anymore.  It was not particularly roomy, but big enough; the doors had frameless windows, there was a crappy radio (that worked) and a manually operated 4WD engagement lever.  Once engaged, to disengage it I recall you had to push the lever down and reverse for a short distance, although that could have been a peculiarity of my particular car.


Outside it seemed fairly loaded up, with the rear wiper, the “4WD” mud flaps, a roof rack and even the little spoiler above the rear window that is meant to keep the window free of snow and water at speed.  Mine just had standard steel wheels, not the 8-spoke white steel ones that you used to commonly see on these.  The upside of that was that the tires were so small that I recall buying two new Goodyear’s for the front and with installation and everything the charge was under $100.  Very nice.

The one feature I wished it had but did not is the Cyclops headlight.  This was a feature where a small portion of the front grille with the Subaru logo on it would flip upwards and there would be a smaller headlight mounted behind it.  Very weird but interesting concept.

The car was definitely slow as far as acceleration goes, but cruised fine (if a bit loud with those frameless windows).  That mangled fender helped a LOT in San Francisco traffic as when you needed to merge you just kind of started veering in the appropriate direction and one look at the fender would leave drivers of nicer cars (i.e. everybody else) slowing down and happily allowing me to go ahead of them.


Let’s talk mechanicals for a minute.  This, like Subarus to this day, was powered by a horizontally opposed (flat) four cylinder engine; with 1.8 liters of displacement it generated more noise than momentum.  I’m sure the high mileage on the car didn’t help any, but the manual gearbox (four speed if I recall correctly) was smooth if a bit sloppy.

The 4WD system had a single range transfer case without a center differential so using it on dry roads was a no-no.  (GL’s though had a dual range transfer case).  Later on in the model cycle a turbocharged version was also offered; I suppose it was the progenitor of the WRX…Subaru always having been a bit off-beat, the spare tire was housed in the engine bay – they had the room, it’s a fairly good use of the space when you think about it but the heat really can’t have been good for the tire.


We drove this thing a lot over the year or so that we had it, both in the city–thanks to no worries about dings and dents–and then also into the mountains.  Boy, was it slow up hills!  The odometer turned 200,000 miles as we were ascending Hwy 50 just past Strawberry on the way to Lake Tahoe loaded up with four of us and all of our snowboarding gear on the roof and in the back.  Like the Energizer Bunny it just kept going and going.  And going.  It never needed anything besides the two tires I mentioned earlier and some wiper blades while I had it.


It had character, bags of it, and just worked well at its mission.  When it was time for me to sell it (after we moved into the suburbs), the first person who called me came over and bought it on the spot for $600 (yes, a profit!).  His plan was to take it up to his cabin in Forestville (Sierra Nevada foothills) and attach a plow blade to it for his driveway.  For all I know it is still there waiting for the snow to fall in order to get to work.