Recently I was heading somewhere on foot. While walking, I suddenly caught a glimpse of a well-known shape across the street.
Yep, the Subaru Leone (or DL, as we’ve known it here in Israel). It was one of the best selling cars in here, and probably most associated with the memory of any Israeli over 40.
But more on that later- what’s it got to do with my grandad? Well, he owned one, of the exact vintage and even color. Bought new to replace his aging Simca 1100. Granted, his was a sedan and not a wagon, but I’ll overlook that. We tend to make concessions some thirty-something years later.
Grandad was a grouchy man. Well, he was married to grandma, so no surprise there. He never let anyone near a steering wheel of any of his cars, and never drove them past 80 Kph. “Easy does it”.
But curiously, just as I got my driver’s license in 1990, he warmed up and for some obscure reason, let me drive his precious DL, mostly on my own. I, with the fresh, green license was the only one who ever drove any of his cars besides him. As it happens, the Gods above decreed that it would be the Subaru. Whad’ya know, he even let me drive it from our home town to Tel Aviv, and that was almost 50 Kilometers away! I used to joke that by doing it, he inadvertently let the Subaru discover fifth gear, which he almost certainly never used, driving a just a few kilometers everyday.
Back to the wagon at hand:
Doesn’t look too bad- certainly for a car over thirty, and by the looks of things I’d wager it was never restored. Note the “missing” right hand side mirror. Remember in times past you had to specify an option to get it, if it was available at all?
Obviously it had had an encounter with a rough object, as you can see on the bumper. Imagine that fog light was center placed…
They were never lookers, were they? A matter of taste, really. From this side, it looks remarkably clean, far younger than its years.
Original upholstery! This is very rare. It’s now hard to find even restored examples with this. And note the “command” instrumentation behind the steering wheel. This will be known to any Subaru driver from the 1980s.
Subaru in Israel was a great success in its day. Back at a time when all the other Japanese manufacturers were reluctant to breach the Arab Boycott, Subaru were so small they didn’t have anything to lose. So in 1969 they arrived in Israel with their 360 and 1000 model family. The cars proved to be reliable and with relatively high quality, so sales were quite reasonable. Those sales increased further throughout the Seventies, as more models arrived- wagons, coupes and the like, and by the end of the decade, the Subaru DL (Leone) become one of the best selling cars in the country, having ticked all the right boxes.
But the best was yet to come: The new Subaru family had arrived in 1980, with its (then) modern design and with the proved mechanics, most importantly with a 1.3 liter engine. This in turn fit the newly imposed tax reductions on all cars with engine size smaller than 1.3 liter. Thousands of Israeli could now fulfill their dream of a new car- and they did. Nothing deterred them: not the insulting, antipathic attitude of the sale-persons at the showrooms (this has now become a legend). The cars at the showrooms, by the way, were locked. You couldn’t get in- I promise you this is true. There was an insulting six months warranty, and then you were on your own. But as said- nothing stopped the public from buying those DLs in massive numbers. And the next generation mid-1980s DL was even more successful, and carried on its love affair with the Israeli public.
Once the Arab Boycott was breached by Mitsubishi (in 1989), which entered Israel with much better products, offered more accessories for the same money and increased the warranty to three years, it started to go downhill for Subaru, it’s importer failing to realize what’s about to happen. Soon after, the rest of the Japanese manufacturers followed, and Subaru stepped off the sales-throne for good.
Because Subaru was such a sales’ success in its day, and also the good reputation it held in the used car market, most classic Subarus are cars that were imported to Israel back then. Only very few classic Subarus are new imports- simply put, it’s a very popular classic car, now being preserved by people nostalgic about their childhood (“dad had one”). And of course, there’s a strong classic Subaru club, maintaining events and preserving cars. Here is a selection I photographed throughout various events:
This is the 1970s DL that started the rise in sales.
Hardtops and coupes were also available.
And this is the successor and the sales hit, also in the photo below.
This generation was also available as a two door coupe or hatchback.
The pickup was extremely popular.
So popular, in fact, I heard of cars being stolen nowadays, and found “working”, not hidden!
Success continued with this mid-1980s DL, here photographed as a fully pledged CC.
Here’s a rare version of it- most cars arrived to Israel with small capacity engines and front wheel drive.
XT Turbos also found their way to Israel, and you can see some managed to survive.
And here you see probably the most rare of all Subarus to arrive to Israel- the SVX. Only a handful ever sold here.
Of course, the Impreza could have continued all this success, but for the competitors, by now the Arab Boycott was totally breached.
I’ll finish off this post by returning to grandad; after years of keeping his DL clean, immaculate and pristine, one day while driving with my mother and grandma, he failed to give right of way and was T-boned properly. Don’t worry, they all survived but the Subaru was totally wrecked and grandad never drove again afterwards…