Buttoned-up engineering, unbuttoned.
BRZ Limited shown
As we continue to celebrate
our 35th anniversary, here is the second installment of a three-part series on the
history of Subaru of America, Inc. covering the introduction of several groundbreaking
models that defined Subaru of Americas position in the market. From the versatility
of the BRAT to our first foray into high-performance luxury vehicles with the SVX,
Subaru continued to provide innovative vehicle designs to fit our evolving lifestyles.
America was emerging from its doldrums. With the Vietnam War and the fuel embargo safely past, the nation celebrated its bicentennial in grand style. By 1977, our spirit was reinvigorated and our gas was once again affordable. Americans were ready to hit the highways and seek adventure behind the wheel.
What a perfect time for the Subaru BRAT to make the scene. A memorable name that means Bi-Drive, Recreational All-Terrain Transporter, BRAT was a go-anywhere, do-anything way to make the most of fun, sun and the open road. Its what American drivers needed a sporty, economical performer that helped build customer loyalty for a car company that was still the new kid on the block.
The BRAT became an instant hit with drivers who craved the ruggedness of a 4 x 4 with the comfort of a passenger car. Its fuel economy was tops among the competition, delivering the highest EPA gas mileage of any 4WD vehicle sold in America. And the MPV model won Off Road magazines 1978 Excellence in Engineering Award. Even today, long after the last car rolled off a Subaru assembly line, people from around the world fill the Internet with pages dedicated to the BRAT.
Similarly, in the late 1970s, the BRAT and Subaru gained increasing numbers of loyal customers, people who identified with the model and the brand. Like America, Subaru entered the 80s stronger than it entered the 70s. Positivity reigned.
For most of the 1980s, President Reagan oversaw a renewal of confidence among Americans. After 444 long days, the hostages returned home from Iran. MTV filled millions of homes, and teens danced along to their favorite videos just as their parents practiced their moves a generation before with American Bandstand. And from the heart-stopping Miracle on Ice in 1980, to the gold rush in 1984, American athletes were turning the Olympics into their own medal mint. It was at this time that Subaru and the U.S. ski team joined forces for a long, successful combination, making the DL 4WD Wagon the ski teams official car and Subaru an official team sponsor.
Subaru was gaining traction. Drivers knew they could expect both performance and economy from Subaru, and Subaru designers continued to push the design envelope. At the same time, America was adapting to the rapid advance of home computers that were, by the year, smaller, faster, better. Subaru followed suit. The XT Coupe debuted in 1986 as a technically advanced model. Its sweeping design evoked the image of an eagle and earned the distinction of the worlds most aerodynamic car. The New York Times was impressed enough to call it the ultimate in jazzy design. It was quite a departure from Subarus cheap and ugly entry into the American market less than 20 years earlier.
Subaru in a World of Change
Moving from the 1980s into the 1990s brought a barrage of changes that in some ways rivaled even the turbulent 60s. The Cold War suddenly entered the dustbin of history as The Wall came tumbling down. The sea of change spread quickly throughout the former Iron Curtain, as former Communist nations experienced velvet coups and experimented with democracy. Soon, Operation Desert Storm would be adding the prefix Mother of all ... to everything from war to laundry lists to arguments with the IRS. Our world turned into a global village almost overnight, as we watched the Gulf War on CNN 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In this changing world, Subaru continued to redefine its own image. The Justy proved that while Subaru models could climb hills, they also could put the pedal to the metal. Justy set the Class I Production speed record with a two-way flying mile average of 117.4 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Then, in 1991, it was time for the Subaru SVX
to take a bow. As a show-stopping entry in the high-performance luxury market, it grabbed hold of a new niche in Subaru marketing with a power train to rival any competitors.
And if anyone thought that the SVX introduction meant that Subaru had turned its back on its roots, the Impreza soon followed. Winner of three consecutive World Rally Championships, the Impreza Rally Car boasted the same engine configuration as the Ferrari Testarossa and the Porsche 911, while maintaining superb all-weather traction.
Subaru had succeeded in evolving its own image in a world marked by abrupt shifts in politics, technology and society. President George H.W. Bush couldnt keep his no new taxes pledge, so in came President Bill Clinton, who felt our pain. The 90s advanced, and the speed of the Internet brought the world instantly inside our homes and made 24/7 a catchphrase. Bill Gates and his Microsoft empire gave hope to computer geeks everywhere, while Michael Jordan had kids around the world wanting to be like Mike. Cheers closed its doors, and Forrest Gump saw life through a box of chocolates.
The world was nearing a new millennium. Subaru was ready to seize the day and make a major splash into a new and growing field: the sport utility wagon.
* This article is the second in a series of three. Read the first part of Subaru History in the Spring 2003 issue and the third part in the Fall 2003 issue.