Junkyard Gem: 1987 Subaru GL 4WD Wagon with 324k miles


When I’m walking the rows of a car graveyard in search of historically significant subjects for this series, a Toyota or Honda needs at least 400,000 miles showing on the odometer for me to consider photographing it based on final mileage alone; discarded Accords and Previas with better than 300k miles are a dime a dozen. With Subaru, however, it’s another story; even in Subie-centric Colorado, I don’t run across many that drove past the magical 299,999-mile mark. Today we’ve got one that accomplished that feat, found in rough shape in a Denver self-service yard.

Yes, 324,780.5 miles traveled during its three-plus decades on the road. That makes this car #2 in the Murilee Martin Junkyard Subaru Odometer Hall of Fame, after a 1998 Legacy Outback wagon with 341,418 miles and before a 1993 Impreza wagon with 319,554 miles (plus a 311,342-mile 1997 Legacy sedan I haven’t written up yet). Keep in mind that Subaru only began using six-digit odometers here in 1981 (in 1993 for the Justy), and that electronic odometers that are difficult to boot up in the junkyard took over the U.S.-market Subaru world in 2000, so I may have walked right by some half-million-mile Pleiades-badged vehicles.

04 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

Subarus of the 1980s weren’t as sturdy as they are today, in my opinion, but I think the main reason their owners don’t keep them going when expensive things break is that they tend to upgrade to a bigger and more powerful 21st century Subaru rather than pay for a transmission or head gasket job on their beloved-but-decades-old cars. It’s something of an unofficial state law that Colorado residents must own at least one Subaru (I have two, a ’96 Sambar and an ’04 Outback wagon).

35 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

Though Subaru never used the Leone name on its North American products, that’s what we have here. The first Leones showed up in the United States in 1972, going through several generations until the final ones were sold here as 1994 models.

28 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

For most of the 1970s and all of the 1980s, the U.S.-market Leone was officially called simply, “the Subaru,” with the exception of the Leone-based BRAT pickup. The trim-level designations thus ended up being used as de facto model names for these cars; most Subaru aficionados around these parts refer to all 1980s Subaru Leones as GLs, since that was the best-selling trim level. This all got very confusing when the non-Leone-derived XT appeared in 1985 followed by the Justy in 1987 and the Legacy in 1990, so the Leone became the Loyale here for the final 1990-1994 period.

33 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

This car really is a GL (above the DL wagon but below the mighty GL-10 wagon in the 1987 Subaru longroof prestige pyramid), so its MSRP was $10,708 (about $29,883 in 2024 dollars). There were Leone hatchbacks, sedans and coupes available for ’87 as well, plus the WRX-ancestor RX.

12 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

Air conditioning was standard equipment on the 1987 GL, but this AM/FM/cassette radio with metal, track detection and auto-reverse was an extra-cost option when this car was purchased (or someone swapped this one in from a junkyard GL-10 or XT). You needed hardware like this to really appreciate the hits of 1987.

21 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

The engine is a 1.8-liter SOHC boxer-four, rated at 90 horsepower and 101 pound-feet, which was adequate for a car that scaled in at a mere 2,395 pounds. A turbocharged version with 115 horses and 134 pound-feet was available.

10 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

Subaru introduced its first true all-wheel-drive system (as we understand the term today) in the United States late in the 1987 model year, calling its AWD system “full-time four-wheel-drive. That’s what appears to be in this car, which has a high/low-range selector but not the switch to select between front- and four-wheel-drive. Subarus with front-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive were sold here through 1994, with just FWD and AWD available for 1995. Starting with the 1996 model year, every new Subaru sold in the United States has been equipped with an all-wheel-drive system.

31 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

Why is this car in such a place? First of all, it’s rusty— not too bad by Michigan standards but pretty far gone for High Plains Colorado.

30 1987 Subaru GL Leone station wagon in Colorado wrecking yard photo by Murilee Martin

Secondly, it got into a crash at some point and had junkyard body parts swapped on. And most importantly, everyone in the region who collects these cars already has at least a half-dozen with no room for more.

The DL version had sealed-beam headlights plus subliminal messages in its TV commercials.

Instead of a great deal of hype, Subaru gives you a great deal. I prefer the Ruth Gordon BRAT commercials of a few years earlier.



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