A company known for its all-wheel-drive vehicles, Subaru is celebrating its 50th anniversary of being in the United States. It hasn’t necessarily been an easy ride for the automaker since it began importing the 360 microcar here in 1968, but the company continues to grow and be successful in the States.
Established in 1950, Fuji Jidosha Kogyo, one of the 12 companies that Fuji Sangyo was divided into when a corporate credit rearrangement law hit Japan that year, primarily worked in bus bodywork. It also created its first automobile, the P-1 concept car. Three years later, Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) was founded as an aircraft sales, manufacturing, and maintenance business. The company’s five investment companies merged with FHI in 1955, forming the FHI (now Subaru Corporation) known today.
On February 15, 1968, Subaru of America was incorporated as an import company with an exclusive contract with FHI. Malcolm Bricklin served as president, while Harvey Lamm was executive vice president and the national sales manager. The company became publicly traded in 1972 for cash flow. The same year, Bricklin left. Lamm later became CEO and then chairman before departing the company in 1990.
The sub-1,000-pound, 25-hp 360’s advertisement read: “With a face that only a Mother could love, Subaru has done it, proven that America is ready for a Cheap & Ugly Little Car.” After the 360, the company released the FF-1 in the States, named for its front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout. It was a bit bigger than the 360, and its flat-four produced 61 horsepower and 65 pound-feet of torque.
In the mid-1970s, however, world politics greatly helped out the Japanese brand. The oil embargo in 1973 resulted in Americans purchasing smaller fuel-efficient vehicles. In 1974, Subaru’s sales in the United States totaled 22,980; in 1977, the automaker sold three and a half times that.
Subaru introduced its first all-wheel-drive station wagon in the States in 1974. Six years later, all-wheel drive became an option on all of the company’s models.
The P-1 prototype, which used the first Japanese made monocoque body, was completed in 1954 and became the 1500 the following year. The car had an independent front suspension and a leaf spring suspension in the rear. While it was Subaru’s first car, it would be the only one to use a front-engine, rear-drive setup until the BRZ.
The 1966 1000 offered both comfort and stability with its front and rear independent suspensions, and its body design incorporated some of FHI’s aeronautical knowledge. It was the company’s first boxer-powered car, with 54 horsepower coming out of the water-cooled engine. A two-door version was released initially; a four-door wagon, a sports sedan, and a two-door wagon followed later.
Exclusively developed for the North American market, Subaru based this recreational vehicle on the four-wheel-drive Leone. The 1978 BRAT (Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) featured a two-seater cabin and a cargo bed. The company managed to avoid the 25 percent Chicken Tax by welding plastic jump seats in the bed to help classify the BRAT as a passenger vehicle.
The 1985 Alcyone, named after a star in the Pleiades star cluster called “Subaru” in Japanese, was known as the XT in the U.S. Its wedge shape was designed to evoke an eagle or hawk’s aerodynamic shape, which combined with its rounded curves helped the automaker accomplish the Alcyone’s 0.29 drag coefficient, improved fuel economy, and reduced wind noise.
The Impreza WRX, the World Rally eXperimental version of the Impreza, launched in November 1992 in Japan. It featured all-wheel drive, a 237-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four, a stiffened suspension, and twin viscous differentials. A stripped-down Type RA version had manual windows, closer gearbox ratios, no ABS, and no air conditioning.
With a 250-hp boxer six-cylinder engine and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, the 2006 B9 Tribeca debuted at the 2005 North American International Auto Show. Subaru based its design on the idea of a progressive sport utility vehicle, and it was the automaker’s first vehicle with seating for seven passengers.
BRZ: Boxer engine, Rear-wheel drive, Zenith. The result of a joint venture with Toyota/Scion, the nimble 2013 BRZ’s 200-hp, 2.0-liter flat-four engine was placed as low as possible to achieve a low 18.1-inch center of gravity. The BRZ featured a sport-tuned suspension and a Torsen limited slip differential, and it also utilized Toyota’s port and direct fuel injection system.