13k-Mile Survivor: 1978 Subaru GF

I tried to think of some catchy title for this find, but I came up short – it’s just such a rare thing to see an old Subaru of this era in anything but “project” or “parts” condition that I had to tell you about it. It’s a 1978 Subaru GF with 13,000 original miles, and it’s for sale here on eBay in York, Pennsylvania, the home of the famous but now-defunct US30 Drag-O-Way.

I wager nobody ever would have taken a car like this to the ol’ straight-line, other than as a spectator, and from the looks of this one, it appears as though the original owner barely even took it out of the garage to see sunlight, let alone speed. Known as the Subaru Leone to the rest of the world, this is a well-preserved first-generation example of what Subaru really had to offer the American public in the time of Disco and downsized personal transportation. These were all built in Japan (because the U.S. plant in Indiana wouldn’t be up for another 9 years) and shipped by boat to most of the rest of the world. Over its run from 1971 to 1979, the first-generation Leone offered buyers four 4-cylinder engines and three transmissions, including a three-speed automatic, which I presume to be the one in this car. One could also choose front- or all-wheel-drive back in this day and, if my hunch (from the tag on the trunk) is correct, this car might just have the AWD option.

The seller doesn’t give us a whole lot of detail to work with, other than the facts that it has a 4 cylinder engine, automatic transmission, and a radio. It’s brown-on-brown, it runs and drives, has 80% of its original paint, and has a clean Pennsylvania title. Those of us in the Keystone State know how important that last part is!

It won’t get you anywhere in a hurry, but it will get you there, and pretty economically. It will definitely get you looks, thumbs-ups, and plenty of questions. Its clean-looking interior and exterior are definite plusses for any vintage-car buff, and our Boxer-engine fans are probably drooling as they read this. What say you?

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  1. Howard A Member

    Pretty sure it’s just a front drive, but can’t deny, these were the cars that turned the tide for Subaru after the dismal 360. Pretty rare here, just try and find a used low mileage Subie.

    • Mike H. Mike H. Member

      I agree with you Howard. Nothing indicates 4WD on this one. The one I had (1979 GL Wagon) was equipped with a manual and there was a separate shifter for the 4WD system (actually had 2WD, 4-HI, neutral, and 4-LO as selection options, like a standard truck of the same period). I think the automatics had a selector button on or near the shift lever, and I just don’t see one on this car.

      It’s cool for what it is, but (my personal opinion) it’s kind of an unattractive little ride. Why is it that all of the well preserved J-Tin have automatic transmissions? Oh yeah. . . It’s because they were so miserable to drive that they were parked up, a lot.

  2. Dave

    Those cars were rusty coming off the boat! For one to have survived in Pennsylvania this long and in this condition is nothing short of a miracle.

  3. That AMC guy

    I had the 4-door version of this back in the day, but with 5-speed stick shift and AC. As I recall at that time only the wagon had the 4WD option. As far as I can see on this car there is no external badging, or interior controls, indicating the presence of 4WD. Also I think their early part-time 4WD system was only available with a stick shift.

    This is what at the time was referred to by Subaru of America as a “Stage 2” model which came in for 1977. Stage 1 models looked similar but had an indentation running the length of the vehicle that gave it a bit fussier look.


    The pushrod boxer engine on these cars doesn’t make a lot of power but is bulletproof as long as you don’t overheat it.

  4. Bruce Turk

    I owned a bunch of these back in the day. This one is front drive only; sedans of this vintage did not have a 4 wheel drive option, only the wagons had it available. If it had a 4-speed I would be all over this auction. As stated, it’s a miracle to find one in this condition– you could hear them rust in your driveway.

    • Doug

      I believe the hatchbacks also had 4wd – I owned a slightly later hatchback that had 4wd – same basic body as this and the gen 1 Brat from the b pillar forward. The 4wd was a separate lever, it had 4 hi and 4 low as well as 2wd, and a 1600 cc engine.

  5. Thomas Cotrel

    But it would be a nice alternative to all those Volvo Bertone 242s out there.

  6. Oilyhands

    For a catchy headline I’m going with “Suby-Corn”…. a terrible play on unicorn!

    OK, I’m officially sorry about this.

  7. C.Jay

    Russell, I believe the emblem on the left side of trunk is “Automatic” because most early Subarus were 4 or 5 speeds.

  8. Keith

    It’s fugly but cute Haha!

  9. dweezilaz

    Fun to see a Broughamed version of a Japanese car.

    Brown, auto, vinyl half top, two door hardtop, faux velvet interior in “camel”. It ticks all the boxes for bizarre.

    Take that, LTD II.

    Parents had a 78 DL 2 door coupe and loved it. Dad’s only foreign car, a protest purchase after the shabby treatment he got from the Ford and Chevrolet dealers.

  10. Will Owen Member

    Even if it had 4WD, that’s a slippery-roads-only add-on, because there is no in-line differential. Operating with the rear wheels engaged on dry roads can cause excessive tire wear and driveline damage.

    The first 1100 FWD cars were as nice as the 360s were ghastly, not just because they could actually carry four people and go kinda fast, but changing direction at speed was no longer scary. The ’70s cars looked sort of French to me, with that odd sci-fi flavor the Citroens of the period had. I was never that interested in them, though I borrowed a friend’s Brat a few times and liked it well enough. Ten years or so down the road there was another friend’s 4WD wagon, still not full-time, but a nice enough car to make Mrs. O and I willing to buy a Forester in the early ’00s. Which we still have, on its third 100K.

  11. Beatnik Bedouin

    I wonder if Scotty’s seen this..? ;-)

  12. bryan thompson

    I’m tempted! It would be fun to have this next to my 78 sedan: http://picturecarwarehouse.net/cars/7726/subaru/

  13. Rex Kahrs Member

    That rear shot kinda looks like a mini AMC Hornet from the same era.

  14. Jeff Mitchell

    Hi, I had the UK Leone estate version of this model back in the day and I must admit it was an excellent motor. Mine was an auto but not full time 4wd unless selected but it was unusual in the fact that if you operated the windsheild wipers it would automatically go into 4wd also when braking it would do the same. Working on the premise that if it was raining then the road was wet and 4wd was safer and when braking it might stop the rear end braking away . like Volvo’s Subaru was well ahead of the curve back then..

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