Vintage Road & Track Road Test: 1970 Subaru Star (FF-1) – The Anti-Maverick

This review of the Subaru Star makes an excellent counterpoint to the one of the 1970 Maverick we had here last week. The Maverick was held up as the poster boy of why the American car companies had not yet been able to compete effectively against the imports. The Star was everything the Maverick wasn’t: It was actually fun to drive, with its smooth, horizontally opposed four driving the front wheels, slick four-speed stick, four wheel independent suspension, light and small but space efficient body, bucket seats, 28 mpg average, etc..

After a false start with the unsuitable 360, the Star,a rather exceptionally advanced car from Japan at the time, pointed the way forward for Subaru, and its basic configuration is still the hallmark of their current cars.

The Star was essentially the same as the FF-1 1000, which had been sold here in modest numbers in the previous year or two. With the Star, Subaru began to get traction in the US, even though it was still some years away from its AWD versions, which really put Subaru on a path to success. The Star had a slightly larger 1088 cc version of the pushrod opposed-piston four, which was not a copy of any one engine, but a new design that did reflect aspects of several opposed engines that Subaru examined. It churned out 62 hp, enough to give the lightweight (1590 lb) sedan a sporty character and a fairly brisk (for its class) 0-60 time of 18 seconds.

There were two radiators but no fan; one was actually the heater core.

Torsion bars were used front and back , with the rears attached to individual trailing arms. The compact engine set so far forward allowed the spare to be located in the engine compartment, yielding a trunk that was larger than the much bigger Maverick’s.

The flat four was “unusually smooth” thanks to its inherent balance. It had “a virile note“, something still very evident in the sporting Subarus of today.

The front drums were mounted inboard, as was common in FWD cars of the time. They were adequate, but “perhaps its weakest point“.

The Star was a ball to drive, with surprisingly light steering for a FWD car. Despite the little bias-ply tires, “the car has surprisingly high limits”.  And it’s not like that came at the expense of a decent ride; the Star had generous suspension travel, tackling a very rough dirt road with aplomb. The body structure was “mainly tight“.

The seating was great if one was not too tall, a not uncommon shortcoming on some Japanese cars then. The instrument panel was “well designed and trimmed“. The styling was clean and attractive, except perhaps for the overly-busy front end. R&T said the Star attracted more looks than one would have expected.

R&T predicted that the Star would be a success if it was properly promoted, had an adequate dealer network, and was reliable. That last issue turned out not to be an issue, and of course the Star is what started Subaru on its long road to success here.

These were not commonly seen except on the West Coast. But it’s been ages since I last saw one.

Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1975 Subaru 4WD Wagon (Leone) – The Revolutionary Four Wheel Drive Wagon That Started The Subaru Legacy