Curbside Classic: Subaru SVX – A Price Point Too Far

Before hitting a performance bonanza with the Turbo’d Imprezas that cheerfully embarrass performance cars costing twice as much, Fuji Heavy Industries drilled a dry hole with the premium coupe SVX. But the effort was certainly a memorable one.

The history of Subaru in America is a checkered one, having come to the market in 1968 with the 360 Coupe thanks to the now infamous Malcom Bricklin. In their first year they sold less than a car per day. Over the next two decades Subaru ditched Bricklin, and followed an emergent strategy, benefited from the Regan administration’s car import limitation scheme, and were well on their path to becoming the undisputed champion of the AWD car class.

I caught this dark red model late afternoon on the main drag in Truckee.  Note the Dog enjoying the air from the window pod.

I was pleased to find this clean dark blue specimen in North Tahoe. Similar to the 1st generation Legacy, the A Pillar came with problematic track mounted shoulder belts.

Many vehicles of this era used red reflectors on the trunk to visually integrate the tail lights. The SVX worked aesthetic overtime with the oval matching bumper integrated twin exhausts.

The interior: would be purchasers found the lack of suitable cup-holders disturbing.

In hindsight the SVX was a good car that attempted to cross a premium bridge too far.  Arriving as a 1992 model in mid ’91, it was the wrong product at the wrong time, listing for $24-28k then, or roughly $38-45k in today’s money. In the midst of the early ’90s recession the SVX was Antoinette-grade cake being peddled next to high quality AWD Gruel of $11k Loyales and $15k Legacies.  It should be noted that the Supra, 3000GT and 300Z all suffered tacking into the same currency headwinds.

The engine was the EJ 2.2L, common to the Legacy and Impreza of that era, with two additional cylinders for 3.3L. Output: 230 hp. Similar to its flat-four little bro, it’s a compact, long lived design. Engine longevity is strong; the F4 in my 1990 Legacy stood up to 130k of stop in go Cali “freeway” grinding followed by another 45k of abuse by my teenage self before giving up the ghost.

At the time Subaru, had no manual that was rated to stand up to the 228lb of the engine, so the 4 speed slushbox was mandatory. Retrofitting a 5 or 6 speed manual out of a later WRX Subaru is just the ticket and opens up a world of go fast mods for the engine. This video shows a completed swap: SVX Manual Conversion

Subaru ended up moving only some 14k SVXs, and is thought to have lost some $3k on each one. But it still enjoys a strong following. In an increasingly look-alike world of cars, nobody is going to mistake an SVX for anything else.