All through the '70s, the Leone was Subaru's most popular model. This Japanese compact car carried the Subaru EA boxer engine and came offered in a wide range of different body and chassis types like its coupé, sedan, and even pickup truck variants.
Believe it or not, this car was even used in the motorsports world at the World Rally Championship from 1980-1989!
The car's Italian name Leone translates to 'Lion' in English. In a lot of markets like Australia, though, the car wasn't even identified by that name. Instead, this Subaru was often just called the Subaru GL, the Subaru L Series, or just labeled according to its trim level.
All Subaru Leones came out of the Yajima Plant in Gunma, Japan. The plant is owned by Subaru which used to be known as Fuji Heavy Industries.
The car lasted for three generations:
- First Generation (1971-1979)
- Second Generation (1979-1984)
- Third Generation (1984-1994)
First Generation (1971-1979)
Even for the first generation of the Leone, Subaru released multiple versions of the car. The initial variant was a four-wheel-drive coupé, but later included two- and four-door sedan versions as well. Size-wise, this was the biggest car that Subaru had at the time with a 2,455 mm wheelbase and a width of 1,500 mm.
Subaru assembled the cars in Japan before exporting them overseas. They were available in a wide range of body types, from the earlier-mentioned coupé and sedan to hardtop, station wagon, and even a pickup truck type (known as the Subaru BRAT, or 'Bi-Drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter'). In the later years of the first generation, some of these types were assembled locally in New Zealand.
At first, the powertrain consisted of 1.2-litre (45kW of power and 88 N⋅m of torque) and 1.4-litre (50kW, 93 N⋅m) flat-four, carburetted OHV engine options. Eventually, Subaru removed the 1.2-litre engine and instead put a 1.6-litre (57kW, 103 N⋅m) engine option on offer. Subaru put this change in place to comply with new regulations regarding automobile emissions.
In terms of transmission, the Leone came with four- or five-speed manual or three-speed automatic options. These were typically available in front-wheel-drive, though an optional all-wheel-drive was also available. Changing with the times, the Leone started off using duo-servo drum brakes but later switched over to disc brakes.
Second Generation (1979-1984)
In the middle of 1979, the Leone got its first significant upgrade which also ushered in its second generation. In this new stage of its life, the Leone came in the four-door sedan, station wagon, three-door hatchback and two-door hardtop coupé body types.
Engine types available in the Leone during this phase were the:
- 1.6-litre H4 OHV (51kW of power, 114 N⋅m of torque)
- 1.8-litre H4 OHV (54kW, 127 N⋅m)
- 1.8-litre Turbo H4 OHV (54kW, 127 N⋅m)
The transmissions that Subaru included in the Leone during the second generation included a three-speed automatic, while the manual transmissions came in four- or five-speed.
One significant development here was that Subaru included a dual-range four-speed 4WD transmission for the Leone this time around. This transmission came with hi/lo gear range and allowed the driver to adjust the height manually on 4WD versions of the Leone.
Demonstrating the company's technological leadership at the time, Subaru also added an all-wheel-drive version of the Leone that had an automatic transmission. While modern drivers might take this feature for granted, during the early '80s, it was mindblowing for a driver to be able to engage 4WD mode with just a push of a button!
The second generation also included a redesigned BRAT version of the Subaru Leone in 1981. This version wasn't available in Japan because it was made purely for overseas markets and was called the 'Brumby' in Australia. Subaru assembled this version in Gunma, Japan, as well as Pretoria in South Africa and closer to Australia in Waitara, New Zealand.
Third Generation (1984-1994)
When redesigned for the third generation, the Subaru Leone's body style options were more streamlined and reduced to three types. These were the three-door hatchback coupé, the four-door sedan, and the five-door station wagon types.
The third generation was notable for including what was considered at the time to be high-tech features. These features included a digital instrument panel, cruise control, and pneumatic suspension that allowed drivers to select their preferred height. Many people were also impressed with the inclusion of self-diagnostic and travel computers for the car.
Bear in mind that this was in the late '80s!
The engines available during this generation were the:
- 1.3-litre H4 OHV engine (with 48kW of power and 115 N⋅m of torque)
- 1.6-litre H4 OHV engine (51kW, 114 N⋅m)
- 1.8-litre H4 OHV engine (72kW, 140 N⋅m)
- 1.8-litre H4 Turbo SOHC engine (86kW, 182 N⋅m)
As other models became more popular, the Leone stopped being available by 1994 as Subaru replaced it with the Subaru Impreza. Up until 2001, the 'Leone' name carried on in the form of a light commercial delivery van.
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- Rasyad 'Ray' Hasbollah