Subaru: A History Full of Highs, Lows, and Horsepower

Subaru: A History Full of Highs, Lows, and Horsepower

You've been a lifelong fan of the horizontally-opposed engine. The distinctive rumble and raw power of the boxer motor stirs your soul in a way no other engine can. From rally stages to grocery store parking lots, the Subaru badge has meant adventure, reliability, and just enough quirkiness to stand out from the crowd. Now it's time to buckle up and blast through the mud, snow, deserts, and highways to discover the origins of your favorite car company. Subaru's history is filled with ambitious engineering, financial hardship, and a passionate community that made the brand what it is today. This is the story of speed, endurance, and the unconventional thinkers who started it all. Get ready to dive into a tale full of highs, lows, and of course, horsepower.

The Early Days: Subaru's Humble Beginnings

Ah, the early days - when Subaru was just a twinkle in the eye of its founders! Let's take a fun trip down memory lane and relive Subaru's humble beginnings.

  • Believe it or not, Subaru started off as just a little airplane manufacturing company in 1917! Back then, it was called The Nakajima Aircraft Company. They made their first plane prototype in 1931.

  • It wasn't until after World War II that Subaru expanded into automobile manufacturing. Talk about a major pivot! In 1954, they released their first car - the Subaru 1500. This funky little rear-wheel-drive model really kickstarted Subaru's journey in the auto industry.

  • The name "Subaru" actually comes from the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster. So every Subaru vehicle is named after a star - how cosmic! The Subaru logo features six stars to represent the Pleiades cluster. Groovy!

  • In the 50s and 60s, Subaru mainly just made cheap, tiny economy cars as Japan recovered from the war. But bigger and better things were on the horizon!

  • One major milestone was in 1972 when Subaru launched their four-wheel drive model - the Leone 4WD Station Wagon. This was the start of their success with all-wheel drive vehicles.

  • The 70s also saw Subaru form a partnership with Nissan, which helped them advance technologically and expand production. This alliance lasted until the 90s when Subaru struck off on their own.

  • By the end of the 70s, Subaru was gaining popularity internationally, especially in America. Their small, affordable, and practical cars with all-wheel drive were a hit!

Subaru sure started off small, making planes and basic economy cars. But their innovation and perseverance during those early days paved the way for the Subaru we know and love today!

Expanding Production and Sales in the 1950s

Hey there auto enthusiasts! Get ready for a wild ride through Subaru's growth spurt back in the fabulous '50s. With post-war recovery in full swing, the demand for personal transportation went through the roof. Subaru was primed to ride this wave to new heights.

  • After getting their start building aircraft engines, Subaru expanded into building affordable, economical cars. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

  • With more and more families moving to the 'burbs, Subaru's compact cars and delivery vehicles were just what the doctor ordered. Their sales absolutely skyrocketed!

  • And with the exciting new medium of television becoming commonplace in homes, Subaru had a powerful new outlet for advertising their products directly to consumers. Genius!

  • By leveraging their expertise in small engines and jumping on the surging demand for light automobiles, Subaru was able to rapidly grow its production capabilities and sales.

  • In just a few short years, Subaru revved up from a minor player to a major force in the auto industry. Not too shabby!

It was a real Cinderella story, going from wartime manufacturing to peacetime prosperity. Subaru made the most of the booming economy and changing lifestyles in the 1950s to lay the foundations for their future success. Pretty savvy moves!

With their can-do spirit and knack for building what people wanted, Subaru was riding high. But little did they know the challenges that lay around the corner. Buckle up for the next twists and turns in Subaru's odyssey!

The Subaru 360 - Subaru's First Mass-Produced Vehicle

Get ready to take a joyride down memory lane! 🚗 In 1958, Subaru launched its very first automobile - the Subaru 360. This adorable little car was an instant hit in Japan. Here's a quick rundown of this historic vehicle's highs and lows:

  • The 360 was a two-door, two-stroke sedan that could seat four passengers. It measured just 9 feet long and 4 feet wide - basically a rolling micro-machine!

  • With a whopping maximum speed of 56 mph, the 360 offered a thrilling ride around town. It sported a unique suicide door design for easy access.

  • Powered by a plucky 356 cc, 16 hp engine, the 360 got an estimated 66 mpg. Not bad for the 1950s! Owners definitely saved on gas with this fuel-efficient runabout.

  • Nearly 392,000 Subaru 360s were produced during its 13-year lifespan. The majority sold in Japan, but about 10,000 made their way to the U.S. market.

  • Unfortunately, the 360 didn't fare well in America. It failed to meet U.S. safety standards due to its lightweight design. Sales sputtered and the 360 was discontinued stateside in 1969.

Even with its flaws, the 360 remains an iconic part of Subaru history. It launched the company's journey to becoming a major player in the auto industry. The 360 paved the way for Subaru to start building a reputation for reliable, fun-to-drive vehicles. From humble beginnings in the 1950s to today's powerful WRXs and Outbacks, Subaru sure has come a long way!

Subaru's Rise in Popularity in the US in the 1970s

The 1970s were an epic time for Subaru. After years of being a small, niche brand, they shot into the spotlight and started winning over American drivers in a big way!

  • In 1971, Subaru introduced the FF-1, one of the first affordable, mass-produced front-wheel-drive cars. This put them on the map as an innovative brand.

  • They followed up the FF-1 with the sporty Leone in the mid-1970s. Available as a coupe, sedan, or station wagon, the Leone turned heads with its sleek styling.

  • By the end of the decade, Subaru was racking up awards left and right from the automotive press. The Subaru BRAT pickup truck was named Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year in 1978.

  • In 1979, Subaru launched their popular 4WD system, which allowed drivers to switch between 2WD and 4WD on the fly. This made Subarus versatile for all weather and terrain.

As the 70s came to a close, Subaru had gone from zero to hero. They gained a passionate, loyal following who loved the brand's quirky personality, rally racing heritage, and rugged capability. Subaru was officially on the map in America!

From niche import brand to award-winning manufacturer, Subaru's meteoric rise in the 1970s set the stage for even more growth and popularity to come. Drivers fell in love with the fun-to-drive performance and off-road chops of classics like the BRAT and Leone. By tapping into America's growing appetite for affordable, capable imports, Subaru struck automotive gold in the 70s. Their momentum was unstoppable!

The Subaru Legacy and Outback Take Center Stage in the 90s

Subaru hit a home run in the 1990s with the Legacy sedan and its rugged Outback wagon sibling. These versatile vehicles showed off Subaru's fun spirit while providing roominess and capability for growing families. Let's take a look back at this dynamic duo that helped save the day for Subaru!

  • The Legacy midsize sedan arrived on the scene in 1989, just when Subaru sales started slumping in the U.S. This smooth ride handled great on pavement while still being able to venture off-road a bit thanks to Subaru's renowned symmetrical all-wheel drive. Offered as a sedan or wagon, the Legacy became Subaru's flagship model through the 1990s.

  • But the real magic happened when Subaru decided to soup up the Legacy wagon into a more rugged, lifted vehicle with beefier tires and body cladding. Debuting in 1995, the Subaru Outback was an instant hit with buyers looking for an adventure-ready vehicle that could still haul the family.

  • With its unique blend of car-like handling and SUV capability, the Outback was way ahead of the crossover curve. It created a whole new market segment that others soon tried to copy. The famous "It's Not A Car. It's Not An SUV. It's a Subaru" ad campaign highlighted the Outback's one-of-a-kind versatility.

  • Under the hood, the Legacy and Outback of the 90s offered zippy performance from the turbocharged 2.5-liter "boxer" 4-cylinder engine. Subaru's trademark horizontally opposed piston configuration gave the cars great balance while delivering up to 230 horsepower.

  • The fun, youthful spirit of the Outback resonated with buyers, and helped Subaru get its groove back in the 1990s. Sales steadily climbed, thanks to this iconic vehicle that showed off Subaru's unconventional thinking and passion for adventure. The Outback remains a core part of Subaru's lineup today!

Subaru's Focus on Safety and Performance

There's nothing like the thrill of driving a Subaru! With its symmetrical all-wheel drive, Subaru vehicles grip the road and handle corners with ease. You feel planted and in control at all times. Subaru's engineering reflects a focus on safety and performance that makes getting behind the wheel an absolute blast!

  • Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive system distributes power evenly between front and rear axles for superior traction and control on all road surfaces. Whether you're driving in snow, rain, or clear conditions, you can count on your Subaru's AWD system to keep you safely headed in the intended direction.

  • Subaru vehicles like the WRX are equipped with a turbocharged Boxer engine that provides exhilarating acceleration and passing power. That signature Boxer rumble puts a smile on your face every time you hit the gas!

  • Subaru was one of the first carmakers to make standard multiple airbags to protect occupants. They also pioneered rear seat shoulder belts and introduced vehicle dynamics control to help avoid crashes. Subaru prioritizes your safety above all else.

  • Subaru equips its vehicles with top-tier tires like Bridgestone and Michelin that are optimized to work with the symmetrical AWD system. Quality tires provide the grip and control you need for precise handling, while also boosting braking performance. Check your tire pressure and tread depth regularly.

  • Stick to the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual, and visit your Subaru dealer for routine upkeep. Proper maintenance ensures your Subaru will continue to deliver exhilarating performance and peace of mind for many miles to come.

Every time you get behind the wheel of your Subaru, you can feel the focus on engineering excellence. The symmetrical AWD system, turbocharged power, and active safety features give you confidence to push the vehicle while keeping you protected. Regular tire and maintenance checks will keep your Subaru performing at its peak. Now go have some fun and see what your Subaru can do!

Subaru's Recent Struggles and Comeback

Are you an avid Subaru fan who has had trouble finding your favorite model at the dealership lately? Hey, you're not alone! All automakers have faced inventory challenges over the past couple years thanks to that pesky microchip shortage and supply chain issues. But the good news is that Subaru seems to be bouncing back strong.

Production constraints have finally started easing up for Subaru. This has allowed dealers to begin restocking their sparse lots once again. Hooray! In fact, Subaru's U.S. sales rose by a whopping 23 percent in September 2022 as compared to 2021. Now that's what we like to hear!

It hasn't been a completely smooth road for Subaru though. The brand has definitely faced its fair share of struggles during the pandemic, like most other automakers. Sales dropped 6.4 percent in 2020. And 2021 saw only a modest increase of 2.4 percent in U.S. sales. Not to mention those painfully low vehicle inventories at dealerships. But it seems like Subaru is now kicking it into high gear and making up for lost time.

As production volumes continue ramping up, Subaru fans can look forward to once again having their pick of Outbacks, Foresters, Imprezas, and more at their local dealers. The lots may not be completely full just yet. But steady progress is being made toward getting Subaru's lineup fully stocked. It's only a matter of time before car buyers can easily find the Subaru of their dreams right off the lot. This comeback has been a long time coming!

Subaru's Motorsports Heritage and Rally Success

Subaru's rally heritage began when they entered the World Rally Championship in 1980. Though the early years were full of challenges, by the late 80s Subaru Rally cars were becoming a force to be reckoned with.

  • The Subaru Legacy RS proved itself by winning the 1990 Australian Rally Championship in the hands of Ross Dunkerton. This paved the way for even greater victories.

  • It was the Subaru Impreza WRX, introduced in 1992, that cemented Subaru's reputation in rally racing. The Impreza went on to win 46 WRC events over its career - more than any other model!

  • Famous drivers like Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg all achieved championship wins driving the Impreza. Its turbocharged Boxer engine and symmetrical all-wheel drive made it unbeatable on loose surfaces.

The Impreza WRX became a legendary car with a huge cult following. Even casual fans were drawn to its distinctive hood scoop and rally-bred performance. Subaru had gone from the new kid on the block to one of the most successful brands in rallying.

Their motorsports heritage continues today with the Subaru BRZ sports car competing in endurance racing. Subaru's underdog spirit lives on through decades of racing success and fan loyalty. Whether you're a die-hard fan or just love a great underdog story, Subaru's motorsports history is one for the record books!

Subaru FAQs: Your Top Questions About the Brand's History Answered

When it comes to Subaru's past, present, and future - you've got questions, and we've got answers! Let's dive into the most frequently asked queries about this iconic Japanese automaker. Gear up for a high-octane history lesson!

  • How did Subaru get its start?

Subaru's journey began July 15, 1953 when five Japanese companies merged to form Fuji Heavy Industries. One division focused solely on auto manufacturing and adopted the name "Subaru." This moniker comes from the Japanese term meaning "unite," fitting for the merged companies.

  • What were Subaru's first cars?

After a couple years developing prototypes, Subaru released its first automobile in 1955 - the Subaru 1500. This model set the tone for Subaru’s future emphasis on quality engineering and all-wheel-drive systems.

  • When did Subaru start selling cars in the US?

Subaru entered the American market in 1968 with its 360 model. Compact, affordable, and durable, this mini car attracted new buyers during the fuel crisis era.

  • How did Subaru gain its outdoorsy image?

Subaru cemented its reputation for ruggedness and reliability through involvement in motorsports like rally racing in the 1990s. Plus, standard all-wheel-drive across models appealed to adventurous drivers.

  • What makes Subaru unique?

Subaru prides itself on engineering vehicles suited to any road condition, thanks to its signature symmetrical all-wheel-drive. This carmaker also exudes passion and personality through quirky marketing and community engagement.

Let us know if you have any other burning questions about Subaru's history! We could chat all day about this brand's bumpy yet exciting road from early mergers to present-day successes.


And that brings us to today! With Subaru’s latest models bringing more power than ever, you’ve got to be psyched. Whether you’re looking for a zippy Impreza to dart through city streets or a beefed-up Outback to charge down backcountry roads, Subaru has a ride for you. Their dedication to AWD and the boxer engine shows no sign of letting up. As other brands push toward electrification, Subaru holds steady with their tried-and-true formula. And you? You get to reap the benefits of decades of innovation from this plucky little car company. So buckle up for the next chapter of Subaru’s journey. With you behind the wheel, it’s sure to be a thrilling ride!


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