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…
This is the car I should have bought as my first new car in 1980. Had virtually all of what I wanted:
Four door wagon
Instead of the identical car to this POS, which had all of the above but was Amerricun, and sold on the exact same dealer floor at Rye Ford Subaru.
Needless to say, the NEXT new car I bought was a Subaru Loyale Wagon.
Saw a white wagon just like this the other day, as well as a hatch last Christmas Eve, after not seeing a Subaru of this era in years.
Reminds me of the ’83 wagon I had, GL, 1800, 5 speed 2WD. Great car. And I thought it was weird that it had a Carter 1bbl carb from the factory, instead of the usual Jap progressive 2bbl like my brothers ’84 GL 4×4 wagon did.
FWD versions were very rare where I remember them from usually only sedans came that way wagons were all 4WD.
Very accurate account. I hated these cars back then, they were the typical, boring family sedan of the type infesting the roads of Israel. Now I however recognize them for what they were – more than any other car, they put Israel on wheels and changed the way cars were viewed beforehand, which was as status symbols, into an everyday tool. And the sheeple were right on one things, those are some of the most reliable cars known, important in a country where everything had to be imported and was never cheap.
I am well acquainted with the memories of “granddad’s car”, as the ’79 Malibu that I drove as a teenager and still own was purchased new by my grandfather. These Subarus, not as much–while they weren’t uncommon by any means, the following generation seemed to be the one that was really a hit in my part of the country. A school friend’s family were “Subaru people” and I rode in several of the newer ones. They had an old one of this same generation parked on the driveway when I first made their acquaintance, but it disappeared for a newer one soon afterward.
My grandfather had one also. Same colour. His was a 1985 4wd Touring Wagon with automatic, digital dash, velour, etc..
He really loved that car. He was a WWII veteran yet he had no issue with the Japanese. He even went to Japan on holiday one year.
He had always had big Ford sedans before that, but once he found his Subaru, he never looked back. It was traded on a Liberty (Legacy) LX sedan in 1990.
The same wagon you found had round lights until 86 in OZ where I remember them from a contrctor I worked for bought one he loved it, it was quite capable out on the black soil even in the wet though you had to stop and remove the wheels to clear mud from the wheel arches every now and then, yeah great little cars rust ate them all up usually about the same time the engines failed so most just ended on the scrap heap. Ive not seen one in a long time.
A local character here in the Witch City, an older gentleman everyone called “Pep” (he was a great booster of the high school football team) drove a circa 1978-79 Subaru DL wagon like this one for many years until he got into an accident & totaled it.
I bought an ’83 GL FWD wagon with 125,000 miles on it in 1989 after my ’78 Cougar caught on fire. I added another 50,000 miles to that. The only thing that led me to get rid of it was the appetite for CV joints (I replaced 6 of them) and the unibody damage it suffered in a wreck, which made the steering extremely…darty. I traded for a ’91 Cutlass Calais.
It was a decent car which was the first of 5 Subaru’s in my immediate family. My ex bought another ’83 wagon, we bought a 92 Leone and a ’92 Justy and my father bought an ’89 XT Turbo.
I always thought that this generation of Subaru looked best as a wagon, followed by the hatchback, BRAT, hardtop and sedan in that order. Being from Vermont myself, I grew up around plenty of these which were nearly all 4WDs, mostly wagons, and are basically extinct due to rust. The very driving conditions that made them popular destroyed them, and it wasn’t until the Indiana-built Legacy that they got the rust under control.
That rare version of the DL reminds me of a 2 door version of the GL-10 Turbo. I owned a 1989 model and it was really nice. I just didn’t take good care of it unfortunately.
Neat feature. Sort of Israel’s Model T then?
And you showed us one I never knew existed – that fastback (hatch I’d guess) version of the late ’80s DL. Fantastic!
In a sense, yes. There were other cheap economy sedans before it, but they were either total rubbish (the Israeli built Susita and Carmel), unreliable (Israeli assembled Triumph 1300) short lived (Israeli assembled Hino Contessa, the only other Japanese car we had before the Subaru) or bare bones only (Israeli assembled Ford Escort MkI and II). Subaru offered basic but reliable transport which did most things you could ask from it but also some luxury if you could pay the extra Shekels – the full model range was offered, not just the bare bones models (as was the case for the Ford Escort).
Seeing a Subaru wagon always triggers a specific memory for me. It was around 1988 or so and I was in New Hampshire going south on I95. A 4x4x8 timber had fallen from a truck and was blocking the 3Rd Lane. I moved over into the 4th Lane with ease as the traffic was light. There was a Subaru wagon behind me and checking my mirrors I could see that he wasn’t moving over. At the last minute he hit the brakes too late for it to help. He went right over that 4×4 and lost all four hubcaps at the same time and from what I could see flattenned all 4 tire at the same time. I don’t know how he didn’t see it. If he’s still alive I’m sure that he remembers this episode too.
Nice tribute to a very good car. There’s still a few of this generation in regular use here.
These were great and quite rugged. Not the most refined things in the world but they definitely had their place. I had no idea of Subaru’s history in Israel, that was wonderful. We had a wagon for a while which we had a lot of fun with:
Although I’ve never owned or driven a Subaru of this vintage, I remember seeing lots of them when I was a boy. I remember liking its style. I find it better looking than what’s being offered today.
I had a couple 1984 wagon versions the first was a 4×4 with the 1.8 litre engine. Which my mom gave me and I drive like a rented mule as she was paying for the repairs. Poor car but it never left me stuck in the snow and believe me I tried. Once that one blew a front main engine seal on the lions gate bridge in Vancouver I was able to sell it for enough money to get me a greyhound bus ticket back to Calgary making for a crappy end to that trip. The second 2 wd model I inherited from my uncle but I can’t remember what did it in. Top speed was about 145-150 kms per hour and took a while to get there. Good cars until about 350 000 kms and then they were done, if the rust monster hadn’t killed them by then. Only really missed the first one when there was a heavy snow fall.
The Subaru dealership experience was only slightly better than what you wrote about as I recall especially for parts and service. And although the various Volkswagens that replaced it had expensive parts they seemed cheap compared to the Subaru.