Subaru: A History Of Innovation

When people think of classic cars, Subaru does not often come to mind. In fact, despite its half-a-century presence in America, many people think of Subaru as a new player. Several reasons contribute to this. Perhaps the strongest factor is that after years of testing boundaries, Subaru fine-tuned its offering to serve a particular niche. However, as the history of Subaru shows, innovation has always been at the heart of the brand.


400 × 266When Was Subaru Founded?

The Japanese carmaker is 66 years old and was originally established as Fuji Jidosha Kogyo in 1950. The company did develop a tiny concept car but mostly completed bodywork on buses. Then, in 1953, it became Fuji Heavy Industries. At this time, the company mostly worked in the aircraft industry. It handled not just sales and maintenance but also aircraft manufacturing.

FHI company finally established its automaker roots in 1954, when it completed the four-wheel concept car it first worked on, earlier in the decade. It was known to developers as P-1, but to the public as the Subaru 1500.


Subaru: The 1950s to 1960s

The Subaru 1500 featured Japan’s first homemade monocoque body. The car also had many of the same underpinnings found in modern-day Subies. Perhaps the most recognizable is the front wishbone-type suspension operating independently. It also featured a double-action oil damper and suspension with coil spring combination. These features and more came together to provide superior driving stability and an unbelievably comfortable ride for its time.

In the latter part of the 1950s, the automaker developed and unveiled the Subaru 360. At the time, the Japanese government was advocating for smaller cars that were lightweight and affordable. The company’s strong background in aircraft manufacturing made this challenge almost too easy to take on and accomplish.

The final result was a comfortable ride in a car that could fit four people. Subaru then went on to release several other vehicles based on this platform over the next decade. With such a strong start under its belt, Subaru’s success after that was certain. It kicked off the 1960s by venturing into the truck market with the Subaru Sambar. It was also based on the original Subaru 360 platform.

The Sambar undercut the competition with extra room in the cargo bed and a low deck body. Navigating tight corners and squeezing into small spaces was also a breeze. As is common of vehicle-adventurers today, people soon began to use these agile vehicles for recreation instead of work. This cemented Subaru’s place in the market as an automaker of fun-to-drive, affordable vehicles.

In 1966, Subaru then released the first car powered by its now-famous boxer engine. Known as the Subaru 1000, it was a compact passenger vehicle built on the successful features of its predecessors. After this came the Subaru R-2 to replace the Subaru 360, which shares a look with modern-day hatchbacks.


Subaru: The 1970s to 1980s

For the 1970s, Subaru ventured into a sportier market with its launch of the Leone coupe in 1971. Later models featured even more options as a hard-top version. However, the single most important development of the 1970s was the launch of the 4WD Leone in 1972. This 4WD vehicle became the top-selling car in the world, compelling Subaru to focus on stability, handling and off-road capability. Not surprisingly, it led to the birth of the AWD system that is now a Subaru standard.

Subaru then designed a vehicle specifically for the North American market. Not surprisingly, this vehicle was a truck — or close to one. Known as the Subaru Brat, this 4WD recreational vehicle was a cross between a coupe and a pickup truck. It featured a two-seat cabin for the driver and passenger, followed by two more seats in the rear cargo bed.

Subaru ended the 1970s with the release of the second-generation Leone model, which offered even better off road capability. The 80s began with a greater focus on trucks and buses. A new generation of the Sambar emerged, followed by an all-new Domingo, which resembled a minibus.

The mid-1980s also saw an important development for the automotive industry, even though car enthusiasts have a love-hate relationship with the result. This is because, in 1984, Subaru pioneered the electro-CVT movement.

In the latter half of the 1980s, Subaru continued to experiment with styling by releasing several new vehicles. These include the Rex Combi, Alcyone and the Legacy. Subaru closed out this decade by finally establishing itself as Subaru Tecnica International. It also set a world record in Arizona with the Subaru Legacy and developed a new research and testing center.


Subaru: The 1990s to 2020

Subaru’s speed record attracted the attention of Coloni, a formula 1 racing team from Italy. The team licensed the Subaru MM engine in 1990. This turned out to be a great investment on their part; by 1993, the Legacy had set yet another speed record. This came just in time for the release of the new Legacy series.

In 1994, Subaru then entered every available FIA WRC race. They completed the races in second place. Then, 1996 saw the Subaru Forester winning a 24-hour speed record. Like the Legacy, this was some great news to precede the release of the all-new Forester.

The 1990s saw full-model changes as well as the addition of new vehicles, well beyond the Forester. This was when the world-famous Impreza took to the streets, as well as the not-so-famous Pleo. Subaru even took the Justy into the European market.

The 2000s kicked off with the development of a new 6-cylinder engine to add more power to the Subaru lineup. The second-generation Impreza also got released and was followed up with model changes to the Legacy and other existing lines. This was also when Subaru began to take on the look and image that is so familiar to Subi lovers today: from the then-newly released Legacy sedan to the then-all-new Outback.

To commemorate these changes and the way forward, Subaru started to use “Think. Feel. Drive.” as their brand message. Following this, Subaru focused on improving not just the handling and fun-drive factor of its vehicles, but also the looks. Then, along came the Tribeca, a new R2, model changes to the Impreza and updates to the Forester. In 2008, Subaru also celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Confidence in Motion” is the brand message that took Subaru into the 2010s. By 2012, the company was celebrating the 40th anniversary of introducing revolutionary AWD drive vehicles to the market. The Subaru BRZ, XV and Crosstrek Hybrids are just some of the fantastic models that followed. The STI also brought a remarkable development in speed and sportiness.

Subaru history and engineering also gained some recognition in the following ways:

  • The WRX STI posted a 7:55 time in Germany.

  • The WRX STI won the 24-hour race in the SP3T class.

  • Subaru’s North American plant became the first to receive an ISO 50001 Certification.

  • The Model K111 of the Subaru 360 became a mechanical engineering heritage item.


Subaru Today

Now known as Subaru Corporation, this Japanese car manufacturer incorporated known aircraft manufacturing successes to create firsts in car manufacturing at its onset. The current lineup is the result of these decades of innovation.

It’s no wonder why 90% of Subie’s bought in the past decade are still on the road, driven by die-hard fans. Want to test drive a Subie today at Muller Subaru? Give us a call at 888-471-5314.

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