There’s no such thing as a cheap Subaru, says Shed. If the price is low, the repair costs will be high, he says, whether there’s anybody listening or not. Usually not.
This sort of generalisation sounds like classic old git ‘wisdom’, but is he right? Subarus haven’t exactly built up a legendary reputation for reliability and low running costs. Boxer-engined cars especially have gained poor reviews for oil leaks and head gasket travails.
Despite that, all-wheel drive Subarus are still quite common in rural parts of Britain where there are plenty of bad roads and plenty of old folk willing to take them on in Foresters and the like at an unwavering speed of 43mph irrespective of the prevailing limit. Older drivers have always been a key part of Subaru’s UK demographic, but Subaru UK ran into a perfect storm a couple of years ago when Covid, an off-point range of hard-drinking cars and a grumpy network of demotivated dealers came together to generate barrel-scrapingly low UK sales for 2020, described with a nice line of grim understatement by the company’s MD at the time as ‘ridiculous’, ‘horrible’, ‘insane’, and ‘a disaster’.
Still, as old folk like to say, things were always better in the old days, and that brings us to this week’s Shed, a Subaru which might prove Shed wrong by being both cheap to buy and cheap to run. If you can keep it running, that is.
As the private seller of this 1992 specimen says, this model of AWD Justy is a very rare bird in the UK. The total number of roadgoing and SORN’d examples could well be down to single figures. Post-‘94 Justys were rebadged Suzukis, but these earlier ones were true Scoobydoos. Subaru’s stock-in-trade boxer engine was deemed unsuitable for such a small vehicle, so instead they used a 1.2 litre three-pot engine, a common format nowadays but something of an outlier in the early 1990s. The only contemporary rival Shed can remember is the turbocharged 104hp 1.0 litre triple that Daihatsu stuffed into its hootmungous and heavily sought after gen-three Charade GTi. The Justy’s unassisted 1.2 only had 66hp at 5,600rpm, but it did put out 70lb ft at 3,600rpm, which was pretty good for such a titchy n/a engine. Even so, the tow bar on this one looks a bit hopeful unless you are a candy floss salesperson.
With or without a trailer the AWD Justy was known for its driving hilarity thanks to a sparkly chassis which combined independent front suspension with a multilink back end and a kerb weight of just 830kg. After pressing the button on the shift lever to activate the ‘on demand’ all-wheel drive system (which used a viscous coupling rather than a centre diff) you could quickly see why they became quite popular as budget rally cars. As this one was heading towards being until the owner decided to venture off into pastures new.
The Justy’s fuel filler cap gives us a nice insight into how car manufacture has changed over the years. Nowadays, everything has to work everywhere, with minimal or no design flexibility allowed. On the five-door Justy the filler cap was in a conventional location between the nearside rear door and the back light unit. On the three-door it was in an entirely new spot between the passenger door and rear wheel. Why would they do that?
Who knows or cares. What would be good to know though is why cars like get this sold for buttons when their owners have spent thousands on them, as here. Could it be a project that’s reached a dead end because some crucial spares are No Longer Available? Maybe. Finding parts for one of these could easily turn into a labour of love. Shed thinks that engine mounts and throttle cables are pretty thin on the ground, along with the vacuum solenoids for the AWD. If the system is stuck on, which can happen, you can get it to turn off by disconnecting the vacuum hose and sucking on it. Although your local Postmistress may well be happy to assist with this task it isn’t really a practical long-term solution, not least because the gears won’t be working.
Talking of which, Shed likes a project. His most recent one was meant to be for the Postmistress but it never got off the ground. When she is not franking the village mails the PM is a keen horsewoman. After acquiring an old eighteen-hand Clydesdale from the brewery, she asked Shed if he could think of anything that might help her climb aboard her enormous gluepot. Over that evening’s mutton stew Shed stupidly mentioned to Mrs Shed that he was thinking of knocking up a mounting block to help the postmistress tame a stallion. Unfortunately Mrs Shed’s ears were partially blocked by a head cold and she only heard mounting, knocking up, mistress and stallion. Shed ended up wearing most of the stew, plus the saucepan containing it, as a warm, moist but also nutritious hat.
Even if you managed to see this Justy project to its conclusion, you’d still need to be on your guard. We’re told there’s a tiny spot of corrosion on one door. A small amount of rust would be a large miracle on an early ‘90s Justy. Hardly any of the old MOT reports dating back to 2006 fails to mention it. As soon as a critical point of structural fragility had been reached Justy drivers had to studiously avoid any sort of encounter with harder objects, the list of which included not just other cars but also lemon souffles, over-inflated balloons and some of the larger butterflies.
The seller does state that much money has been spent on the bodywork and underside. And on the engine, apparently, but his honest admission that it still has an occasional overheating problem tells us that more cash will need to be spent there. Did Subaru source its Justy head gaskets from the same place as its boxer ones? If so, that might be a reasonable place to start your inquiries.
There comes a point in any car’s restoration where the restorer has had enough. If the restorer is lucky, that point will be at the end of the restoration, but you suspect that happy endings like that are heavily outnumbered by unhappy ones. Don’t sweat it. With only 51,000 miles covered (verified by the MOT history, which incidentally runs to the end of September), a £1,500 price tag, a lot of the work already done and very likely a ready market of buyers in Japan, this mini-Scoob is surely worthy of further investigation. Especially if you live anywhere near the south coast as the car lives in Dawlish, Devon. How long it might continue to live outside of Dawlish if you decide to buy it is in the lap of the Old Git Gods. Worst case scenario, you’ll have had a nice trip to the seaside.
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