4WD, 5-Speed, No Rust! 1986 Subaru GL Wagon

As an incurable Subaru lover, I can’t believe that I don’t have a 4WD GL wagon yet. This nice 1986 Subaru GL 4WD 5-Speed Wagon is listed on eBay and is located in Sparks, Nevada. The reserve hasn’t been met yet at a current bid price of under $1,000. This is a good looking but not too good looking 4WD 5-speed wagon. As in, the next owner should be able to drive it without worrying about scratches or door dings like if it were a perfect example.

The seller says that this GL wagon is in “very good condition, no rust – originally from East Bay area California.” And, it has its “original paint with some small dings and scratches.” It sure looks good to me for being over three decades old, a lot of these cars have rusted away by now. NADA lists an average retail value for this car as being $2,800. There is no question that it’ll be on a trailer headed to the Midwest if the auction ends at that price. The body on this car looks nice but there are some shenanigans going on with the paint on the rear hatch. I wonder what that is? With no rust, why would that area have been touched-up, and touched-up poorly? Maybe a former owner peeled off a “Visualize Whirled Peas” bumper sticker?

When you look at the passenger side quarter panel, something is going on with the paint there, too. It’s not the end of the world, of course, and if this car were in perfect condition the bidding would be in the low-thousands by now, not the hundreds. The Subaru Leone was known by its trim level in most major markets, including the US. Two of the four Subarus in our little herd are Subaru Leone 5-speed sedans: one is a 1988 GL EV that was converted to battery power (!) and the other one is a 1988 4WD Turbo RX sedan. They both basically look like this classic, angular, third-generation Subaru Leone wagon, but in sedan form. I would love to add a GL 4WD 5-speed wagon to the mix. Is there such a thing as having too many Subarus? I think not.

This GL wagon is pretty unusual in that it doesn’t have power windows. Most, or actually all, of the GL models that I’ve seen have had power windows. This car also doesn’t have power steering – gettin’ back to the basics here! It does have AC, but as usual, it doesn’t currently work. This 4×4 wagon has a high/low selector for the 4WD system, if anyone dared to actually take it off-road. The interior on this car looks fantastic, with just a few odd puncture “wounds” on the passenger door panel. I’m guessing that those are due to an excited dog’s nails (don’t ask me how I know this). The 5-speed will make for easier highway cruising, but freeway (70+ mph) speeds will still be done with a higher-than-I-like RPM. The dash looks like it’s in excellent condition and the rear area also looks great. It’s probably long enough with the rear seats folded down to sleep in, which is where I’ll be sleeping if I get yet another car. Hey, I can think of worse places to sleep. I think it would be worth it, beds are overrated..

The engine and engine compartment look really nice! This is Subaru’s EA82 1.8L boxer-four that would have had around 85 hp. Yes, the spare tire rides under the hood! Being a low-profile boxer engine there was enough extra room on top for Subaru’s designers to sneak the spare tire up there. It frees up space in the back, or in the trunk on sedans, for more storage. Genius. My RX has fuel-injection and it still has the spare under the hood. It’s just one of those unique things that makes a Subaru a Subaru. This car has had a lot of work done on it in the last 5,000 miles, including “new timing belts and pulleys, water pump, head gaskets, axles/cv joints, steering boots, PVC & EGR valves, tires, windshield, battery. Resealed motor and rebuilt carburetor.” The seller mentions that it still has an “erratic idle”. That could be any number of things: a carburetor that isn’t tightly bolted down or one that needs to be rebuilt (again?), or it could be a lose or worn rotor in the distributor. But most likely, hopefully, it’s a vacuum leak. These things have a ton of vacuum hoses on them! I don’t know what the seller’s reserve is on this car but it looks like a $4,000 Subaru GL 4WD wagon to me any day of the week. What do you think this one will sell for, and what do you think is causing the erratic idle?

Fast Finds


  1. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    Go for it, Scotty!!!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Don’t challenge me, Jamie! That’s just what you need, two blue Subaru GLs in your garage. (I’m out of room here and then some)

      • Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

        I’ll find the room for you, my friend!

      • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

        I may pass on this one. The seller sent me a few additional photos and couldn’t answer why there was a dent sort of under the right side of the rear bumper seen in the rear-hatch-open photo. And, also why there was a piece of tape over the hatch seal on the right bottom side. They have owned it for almost 7 years and didn’t know about the tape on the rear hatch seal?

        “The pan around the bumper opening is bent, not rusted. It does look like the rear bumper bracket may have been bumped as seen in the 3rd pic. I never noticed it. Hatch fits well and there are no squeaks or rattles. Not sure about the tape, maybe a torn seal repair.”

        It’s probably worth buying, but it would be a gamble with the right-front fender being a little off and who knows what else is wrong. It’s tempting!

  2. Dolphin Member

    Looks like a well preserved wagon, and maybe at a very good price. But what this early wagon shows me is the benefit to a carmaker of going upmarket in performance with a part of their model line.

    I don’t have the numbers, but I’m guessing that as Subaru participated in motorsports—mainly international rallying—and was successful, and put out more performance oriented vehicles, they sold more and more cars, even if most buyers never rallied or competed with the cars they bought. Bottom line: a performance image sells. Earlier example: Pontiac GTO, even if John DeLorean did lift the name from Ferrari.

    Despite all that performance and success, my problem is that putt-putt-sounding 4. Am I the only one?

    Like 1
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      That’s a very good observation, Dolphin. And, I agree on the engine sound, my ’97 Outback runs like new with 346,000 miles on it but it sounds like a dozen bolts rattling around in a tin can.

  3. Howard A Member

    I’d have to say, without reservation, it was this car that catapulted Subaru to a world leader. These were very popular in the Midwest,,,,for a short time. They truly withered away in only a few seasons. ( 4 door shown)
    A shame too, because they had everything. I believe the Outback followed this, further cementing Subaru as a household name. Went on to become the unofficial “state car of Vermont”.( although, other states claim that too) To see one like this, is amazing. Again, I’ve said this time and again, and Scotty can verify, parts for older Asian cars may or may not exist. Even a car this nice is going to need something, trust me, and may or may not be available, causing the owner to sell. Just sayin’, be aware of that with these.

    Like 1
  4. SanityFactor

    We used to go mudding back in the woods in one of these years ago…maybe 88 or 89…never got stuck….only failure i can recall was a broken cv once….couldnt kill that car

  5. sparkster

    Bought one of these in California for $400 and gave it to my step mom . She didn’t have a clue how to drive a stick. Meet her in Las Vegas , gave her a quick lesson. And off to Colorado she went. Great cars in Colorado , not as popular in California. She called me week later and said driving a stick is a blast. Who knew !

  6. NY_RockCrusher

    I zoomed in on the picture to get a better look at the professional level paint work on the hatch & RR quarter panel – I see some fading on the hatch that hasn’t been touched up, so I’m thinking that someone gotta hold of some spray paint and went over the really bad spots, possibly making it worse. Hopefully that’s all it is. How ever! I did notice that the right front fender was not fitting correctly. Upon further inspection I noticed that the right side of the front bumper is pointing down, the right side front wheel looks out of alignment & the right front lights grill & trim aren’t lining up so good. Maybe this car took a decent shot and wasn’t straightened properly? I don’t know, I’m in NY, the car is in NV & I’m going by what I see in pics. Buyer beware, the owner took great pics of the show side and not so great pics of the hide side. I do like the car though and if I was able to see it in person w/o having to book a flight I might have put a bid in.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Hey, great eye, NY_RockCrusher! I see that lower RF bumper now, the gap is bigger on that side, on the photo of the RR quarter, you can see the RF fender isn’t fitting too well. I wonder if that dent on the LF fender is actually a kink from the front end being whacked on the right side? The car fax didn’t show any accident reports. Hmm.. Also, if you look at the photo of the open rear hatch, the bottom-right side has something weird going on there, like rust or a dent or something? And, is that tape or something over the bottom right corner of the door seal? Shoot, now you have me second-guessing on this one, which may be a very good thing.

      And, “maintenance and repairs” over the last 5,000 miles, could some of those be possible accident-related repairs? I hope that you’re doing Barn Finds inspections in New York, you have a good eye.

  7. Gay Car Nut

    Sweet looking Subaru! I’ve always loved this generation Subaru 4wd. I’d buy it if I lived in Nevada.

  8. Rustytech Member

    Why would you want to pay $4,000 for a car you just said had an average retail of $2800? Don’t get me wrong, I love the old Subaru’s, I bought and sold these by the dozens a few years back. I think the biggest problem with these was the exhaust, it rotted out at incredible speed, and was super expensive to replace, especially if you needed the converter. The repair was sometimes more than the cars book value. This was the car that gave me the incentive to learn to weld! Still I love it, and would love to have it here in the mountains of western PA.

  9. XMA0891

    A Subaru that survived from the era when Subaru made a Subaru: Simple, rugged, boxy, affordable – They don’t come that way now! Great find! Watch the bidding ratchet up accordingly.

  10. Jim Morris

    I’m a wagon guy, I bought my first-ever new car, ’85 GL wagon, stick, turbo, 4wd, analog dash. Worst freaking car I ever owned.
    1st time I took a corner fast to get into traffic, the torque-steer pulled the wheel right out of my hand.
    CAR magazine (England) called it the worst t/s ever tested (wish I would have read that issue before I bought it).
    Turbo-lag? I could freakin eat lunch while I waited for it to spool up.
    Exceeded 20mpg once in the year I owned it, traded even up for a ’84 Olds 98 which did a consistent 23mpg hiway.
    Couldn’t make a u-turn at the end of my dead-end street, diff locked up, had to back all the way out. My 1st 4wd and the dealer never mentioned that quirk.
    I would wash the car on Sunday, and if I opened the hood on Thursday, water would still run out of the seams. I had to drill drain holes in the door bottoms, otherwise the windows would be wet when I raised them all week long.
    Now I drive a 400hp ’92 Hurstish Olds Custom Cruiser to Home Cheapo!

    • Howard A Member

      There you have it folks, the only disgruntled Subaru owner on the planet. Sorry, Jim, it’s just I rarely hear that from Subaru owners. When introduced, these cars combined all-wheel drive, economy ( what did you expect from a “turbo”) reliability( hard to buy a low mileage Subaru, they all have hundreds of thousands of miles) and room for the “average” family. The biggest problem with Subaru’s, is, as they age, they can’t pass the emission tests ( I saw many Outbacks, “outback” in lots and yards in NYS, that can’t pass the emission test, I checked a couple) I wonder if that affects sales to states that have no testing. A guy could make a killing picking those up. A piece of black tape over the “check engine” light, and you’re good to go!

  11. mxb

    There are at least two of us disgruntled (former) Subaru owners on the planet. Wife had a Legacy Outback wagon. Engine was pulled numerous times trying to stop oil leaks from the front seals, rear main, and elsewhere. Replaced all of the CV joints at least once. A real money pit. It never came out of the shop with a bill under $1000.

  12. LAB3

    Had a gold colored turbo wagon close to the same year, damn good little car that did well in the snow and on the two tracks. One time while swapping out a flat tire along the interstate a state policeman pulled up behind me asking what was wrong. “Just flat sir, I’m almost done” “How come you have the hood open?”

  13. Rabbit

    I came very close to buying a 92 Loyale wagon new back in 93. Couldn’t figure why the car was still on the lot 6 months after the model year ended, seemed like a great little vehicle. It was a turbo 4WD, had every box checked except the automatic. Was marked down below a base model & showed a couple hundred demo miles. A layoff made up my mind for me, & I passed. A few years later, I got in the auto parts biz, & was shocked to see just how many (very expensive) converter assemblies & CV axles I was selling for these. Kinda glad I passed.

  14. Alan (Michigan)

    Auction ended with the high bid at $1800.

    Reserve Not Met.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Auction update 2: this Subaru went through another eBay auction and sold for $3,150.

  15. 433Jeff

    I drive a dual ranger blue 87 carb wagon in the winter and it’s really mint to put it in 4 low when there is a foot of snow, I have a blue 87 turbo wagon I drive in the summer,the turbo power is mint . The head gaskets go at 90k, maybe more with the non turbo. Very simple very cheap , most are soup cans now, so if you find a non rusty one, that’s pretty special

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