Turbo Unicorn: 1985 Subaru XT 4WD 5-Speed

Talk about a box-checking unicorn, this unusual (some would say oddball) Subaru XT 4WD 5-Speed Turbo has it all. Well, other than a working engine. Yes, this one is a non-running donated vehicle that is listed here on eBay in Orange, California by a familiar seller. There is no reserve and the current bid price is $2,260.

Our own senior editor Jeff Lavery had a similar Subaru but his car was a six-cylinder. He restored that car and found out just how hard it was to get parts for these unusual old 1980s Subarus. Sometimes it’s impossible, literally. This one has AWD (some were just front-wheel-drive), it has a 5-speed manual (a lot of them are automatics), it has a four-cylinder turbo engine (some fours weren’t turbocharged), and it appears to be in almost like-new condition with no rust anywhere.

If this was 2018 again I’d be on this thing like (insert un-pc phrase here). I was a rabid Subaru fan in those days having put 365,000 on my beloved Outback that we bought new in 1997 and I also had a 1988 Subaru RX Turbo 5-speed sedan. I was always looking for another Subaru, but then I sold the RX Turbo and the Outback rusted to death and now we’re down to just one, a Crosstrek that my wife drives. It’s a nice car but not enough for me to keep my enthusiasm alive. Plus, with Jeff’s nightmares, I’ll pass on this one. For the record, Hagerty is at $3,800 for a #3 good condition car – which, of course, would be for a car in running condition.

The XT was made from 1985 to 1991 and they were very unusual and very cool. The wedge shape and pop-up headlights gave them a then-cool and now-dated-but-somehow-still-cool appearance. You can see the off-set steering wheel, almost like a Citroen, and the pistol-grip shifter and that crazy 1980s Space Ranger dash! Yes, this one appears to have a digital dash although the seller says that it needs a battery. The interior is beautiful with those unique seats, although the back seat doesn’t have the same fabric. If this were mine I’d have my favorite upholstery shop add inserts to match the front seats, if I could find that fabric that is. There is also a pop-up moonroof and it appears to work.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with this seller, there is no engine photo and that’s really a bummer with such an unusual engine as this. It would be Subaru’s 1.8 EA-82T boxer-four which in turbo form had about 112 horsepower, about 15 more than the non-turbo. The six-cylinder boxer had another 30 horsepower or so. You can see the red button on the top of the shifter for activating the 4WD, almost the exact same thing as my 1986 Nissan Stanza 4WD 5-speed wagon had. Have any of you owned a Subaru XT?


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  1. alphasud Member

    I worked on one many years ago and from my experience they were a reliability nightmare. Most problems came from the adjustable ride height suspension. Even back in the 90’s parts were very expensive. What did impress me was the level of electronic gadgets these cars had. My memory is fuzzy but I thought it had rear steering as well. Good luck finding parts today with so few being built and with the high cost of repairs they were off the streets pretty quick.

    Like 8
    • SubGothius

      I’d thought that adjustable-height air suspension only appeared on the XT6, but looks like I’m mistaken, as I see this one has the Height button on the left-hand control pod. BTW those pods, along with the gauge cluster (digital in these turbo models), move with the steering wheel when you adjust its height. I gather the air suspension can also be retrofitted to a conventional setup, not sure if the struts from other XTs/Subes would fit or if aftermarket coilovers would be required.

      At least these boxer-4 XTs didn’t have the XT6’s weird “Cybrid” power steering system not shared with any other car ever made, which required pricey special fluid only available from Subaru dealers, if even available anymore by now, though I gather even that can be retrofitted to a more conventional system.

      Aside form all that, pretty sure most of the powertrain and other running gear under the skin is common to the mainline Subie sedans of that era, which should help with parts availability.

      Like 2
  2. Troy

    And in a future email from barn finds we will see this thing jacked up on mud tires.

    Like 1
  3. Tango Smoker

    I’m assuming that’s not an ashtray in the middle of the steering wheel.

    Like 2
  4. Dayle Gray

    I own 2, both turbo models, one 5 spd fwd and one auto awd. Az cars no rot at all, but interior parts are hard to find when needed. Love mine, quick little bastards.

    Like 2
  5. Matt

    I owned one similar to this car in the 90s. Wrecked it twice and fixed it twice. It was a quick little car with the turbo and 5 speed, loved the ride hight button that kicked in the 4 wheel drive and lifted the car. It was fantastic on fuel and drove it to 330,000 miles before it finally bit the big one.
    If this was closer I’d buy it in a flash.

    Like 3
    • ADM

      There’s a non-turbo automatic for sale in Alexandria, NH on Facebook. Very nice shape, about 50K for miles.

      Like 3
      • DN

        I tried to search for that one and couldn’t find it?

        Like 1
  6. SubGothius

    These are proof that aerodynamics doesn’t have to mean blobby jellybean styling; the XT had 0.29 Cd, which is still impressive even today.

    Note how the greenhouse tapers like a teardrop narrower towards the rear, somewhat camouflaged by the taper continuing (and increasing!) into the sides of the wraparound backlight.

    Lore has it the engineers wanted a faster backlight for lower drag, while the stylists wanted a more upright, formal coupe roofline, so wind tunnel experiments with scale models resulted in this as the optimal compromise, giving up nothing in drag vs. a full fastback.

    Like 1
  7. Mark

    Those wheelcovers have to rank in the top five of the most ridiculous and putrid designs of all time.

    Like 3
    • Kevin

      Could not agree more. I remember when these were new and thinking the same thing. Time has not improved them. I venture to say a cheap set from WallyWorldMart would provide a needed upgrade.

      Like 2
    • CCFisher

      Aerodynamics were all the rage when this car was new. This was one of the most aerodynamic cars available at the time, and those admittedly ugly wheel covers were part of that.

      Like 1
  8. Bultaco

    Needs a WRX swap.

  9. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    A very, very unusual auction update: this car sold, I think, for a whopping $10,200! The bids went from $3,750 to $9,000 and kept climbing from there, so I’m not sure what’s going on – if it was a real bidding war or two kids or what happened.

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