Righty-Tighty: 1990 Subaru Rex

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The photos must be in backwards, the steering wheel looks like it’s on the right side!.. (crickets). I have to admit that I’ve never driven a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right-hand side, but it’s about time that I learn how to. With the 25-year rule on importing wacky cars taunting me there are a lot of fun, little RHD cars that I would love to own. Luckily, this one is already here, it’s a 1990 Subaru Rex found on craigslist in North Houston, TX for an asking price of 396,882 Japanese Yen, or, $3,500.

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Yes, this is a small car. In fact, it’s actually a kei-car, as opposed to a Chrysler K-Car. Kei-class cars were designed for the post-war Japanese market to comply with tax and insurance regulations, but they also had to meet physical size and engine displacement rules beginning in 1949. 360cc was the original maximum engine size allowed for kei cars which is why there was a Subaru 360 as well as many other similar cars (Mazda R360, Suzuki Fronte 360, etc.). 9.2 feet was the maximum length allowed in 1949. NINE-POINT-TWO-FEET! Shorter than the couch in your family room. I can’t tell if that’s a funky graphic on the bottom or if that’s a six-foot-long scrape. I’m hoping that it’s the former since there’s no mention of any dents or dings.

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Eventually, the power and size requirements were ramped up and by 1990 kei cars like this Subaru Rex had a 4-cylinder 660cc engine and could be a whopping 10.2 feet in length. Shaq need not inquire about this car. AWD was available but since the seller doesn’t mention it, I would assume that this is a front-drive car. The seller says that the car gets 40 mpg and takes just six gallons to fill it to the brim. That really meant something before gas was $1.50 a gallon, but we all know that it’ll go up again sooner rather than later. This is a 5-speed car, thankfully, as some of them came with a CVT-type automatic.

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Four reasonably-sized adults should be able to fit inside but if you’re much over 6′-0″ tall, you might have a tough time operating the pedals if you’re the driver. I literally can’t operate the pedals on a Subaru 360 with my 6′-5″ stick-figure crammed in there and my knees firmly planted against the dash, but this car is a little more height-friendly.

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You can pack a fair amount of stuff and things into the back of this car, especially with the seats folded down. It’s not exactly a Winnebago, but if a person was hard up for money on their cross-country trip they could theoretically curl up in the back and get some shuteye. This car has traveled just 37,000 km, or about 26,000 miles, in the last 26 years. I drive much more than that each year, but I couldn’t imagine doing that in a car this small.

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And, then there’s this, the elephant in the room with these 25-year Japanese imports: it has right-hand-drive. I know, a lot of people say that it’s no big deal at all and it’ll just take a short drive to get used to it. But, even in a car that’s only 4.5 feet wide, you’re still pretty far from the center line on US roads; that’s a little intimating to me. I’m sure that it wouldn’t take long to get used to driving this car in the US and you would sure turn a few heads at stoplights when it looks like you’re sitting in the “passenger seat”. What do you think, are you a righty-tighty or a lefty-loosey?

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Comments

  1. skloon

    I am King of the Subarus hear me squeak

  2. RayT Member

    I have driven several kei-cars; Mitsubishis in Japan, Honda, Subaru and Mazda in the U.S. I’ve also driven more than a few British right-hook cars here, and had no trouble worse than getting used to the “reversed” steering-wheel stalks. Seeing out and keeping in lanes is no sweat at all; you get used to it very quickly.

    That said, I’d enjoy having a kei as a toy, but as a daily driver, not so much. Performance, despite a lot of ruckus as you wind the engine as high as it will go, is barely at a keep-up-with-traffic level. They were built for narrow roads, traffic and low speed limits, and are best confined to such use.

    The various turbocharged kei were a different matter. They can be downright peppy, and as entertaining as can be. The Autozam AZ-1 (from Mazda), with its little turbo-three wailing away inches behind your ears, took to mountain roads like an un-Sanforized Porsche 917. You can’t neat the amusement value.

    I’d give the Rex a miss, though. Like most of the kei-cars, it’s too small to be physically comfortable, too slow to be mentally comfortable and, to me, not all that interesting. Nissan Be-1 or S-Cargo, Autozam or Mitsubishi Dangan or Toppo? Now you’re talking….

  3. Mike

    It would make a good mail delivery car!!!!!
    Dad had a contract some years ago for the maintenance of the Postal Service Jeeps, and we would play with them when ever we got a chance. A good friend of dads which had a rural route for many years would order Jeeps with Right side steering which of course put him on the correct side to deliver to rural mailboxes.

    • RayT Member

      For a time, Subaru sold RHD wagons — Legacy, I believe — for rural mail carriers. Wonder if any of those are still around?

      • yaug

        There’s a few still around. I just worked on 1 few months ago. Had 460k miles on it though!

  4. AMC STEVE

    One step above walking…

  5. Howard A Member

    Again, timing. In 1990 I wouldn’t be caught in a car like this.( in 1990, I was driving a full size Bronco) Now it seems to make sense ( I’m sure the Asians are saying, “who’s stupid now”?) Personally, I still wouldn’t be caught in a car like this, but rest assured, our children will be running around in these. While the right hand drive would be a challenge, it would be the shifting I’d have a problem with. ( some RHD British cars, I’ve seen, have the shifter on the right of the driver) Strictly economical transportation here, can’t see anybody making a custom resto-mod out of something like this.

  6. Matt B

    The post is gone. :(

    As for RHD Legacies, they’re still out there and pop up on Ebay now and again and command a premium because its really easy to swap a Japanese engine when you’ve got a car with the mechanicals on the right side.

  7. Chebby

    Ruh-roh Reorge, a Rubaru Rex!

  8. Bob Hadley

    I was stationed in Northern Japan in the ’80’s, (Misawa) and on my second day there was driving a RHD with a stick, worst part was driving on the wrong side of the road, when I got back to the good old USA (Adak) I kept trying to drive on the wrong side of the road for about a month!

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