Scotty G’s Garage: 1988 Subaru RX Turbo Sedan

In another installment of Scotty G’s Garage I thought I’d show you my rare 1988 Subaru RX Turbo sedan. I know, it screams the 1980s, especially with those white wheel covers and decals-a-plenty! This is by far the rarest car that I own, I have ever owned, or that I will ever own. But as we all know just because a car is rare doesn’t mean that it’s worth a fortune. Any new Kia will be worth more than this car is worth, at least monetarily. Let’s check it out, Subie fans.

The RX was a model of the third-generation Subaru Leone and they came in two-door and four-door versions. I have only seen a couple of other RX turbo sedans and that’s it, ever. One can be seen in a video posted below and one was a dusty project car. I don’t think it’s a shock to read that I’m a huge fan of vintage Japanese cars but I really love Subarus. I like my collector vehicles on the unusual side since I daily drive a couple of fairly boring, i.e. dependable, cars depending on what season it is.

AutoWeek called this car, as in this exact car sitting here in these photos, “the world’s nicest Subaru RX.” I have never owned the world’s nicest anything before. The following video shows me on my way to work last week.. Ha, just kidding, this is a YouTube video of another RX sedan. Yeah, that’s fun stuff. I do that now with my 1997 Outback, mainly because it’s fun but also because I don’t drive any of my collector cars in the salty mush that we call winter here in the Midwest. This RX is safe and dry tucked away for the winter with a trickle charger on the battery to keep it ready to go, just in case.

This car has a great interior and it’s one of the easiest-driving cars that I’ve ever owned. The shifter is amazing as is the clutch and clutch pedal. It’s almost like Subaru was trying to make a fun car to drive or something.. The seats are nice but a bit dirty, I haven’t detailed this interior at all and there is other work to do on it. There is a small rust spot on the LF fender and the windshield has a crack in it. Luckily a local auto glass company has a replacement for something like $300 installed! The rust will be more than that to fix but hopefully the white paint can be matched.

The Subaru RX is somewhat of a predecessor to Subaru’s WRX STi with a center differential lock on the center console along with having a hi-low range. And, of course it’s a 5-speed, they didn’t come in an automatic. They’re legendary rally cars, paving the way for Subaru’s success in that field today. Here’s an RX going through the motions on a YouTube video.

The back seats fold down so a person can put a load of lumber in there like you’d normally haul around in your 4×4. Well, maybe it’s more for luggage or skis or something. This car has power locks, windows, mirrors, power steering, (the early models didn’t have power steering), and power four-wheel disc brakes. Also, the AC was converted to R134 and there’s even a rare Subaru cooler in the trunk!

 

Dig that rubber air cleaner! Wait, that’s the spare tire, never mind. Because of the low boxer-four engine the engineers had room to put the spare tire on the engine, it also gave a little more weight to the front drive wheels for traction. This one is full-time 4WD but it still helps. It’s just one more thing that gives these old Subarus the quirkiness that I and millions of other fanatics love. This EA82T 1.8L turbo boxer-four is almost scary for how good it runs. It starts almost before I even turn the key, well not quite but if it’s one second of cranking I’d be surprised. It’s literally instant, another reason that I love fuel-injected cars. And that turbo! It adds a whopping 25% to the horsepower – unfortunately that only brings it up to around 115 hp. (crickets) But again, it’s the quirky appeal for me, not the speed. So, that’s about it for this one, have any of you heard of the Subaru RX?

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Comments

  1. CanuckCarGuy

    Beautiful car Scotty…the more I see of these ‘vintage’ Japanese cars, the more I get the itch to own one. I’m in the market to add another affordable collectible, and I think I’m turning Japanese…I really think so!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks, CanuckCarGuy! I know that most folks here don’t care for Japanese cars but hopefully a few can appreciate them for what they are.

      • glen

        Dads on his 4th Altima. While not collectible, they are good cars. Full disclosure, I have a Nissan Micra( not available in the USA), and I love my F-150.

  2. Andrew

    Isn’t the diff lock button for the center diff, not the rear? I didn’t realize the RX came I anything other than a hatchback.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Ha, good grief, wow. Brain freeze there. Thanks, Andrew and Robert.

  3. Robert Allen

    The Diff Lock switch is for the center Diff, it gives you 50-50 power front and rear. I’m not sure about them not having a AT sedan, but I know the 3 door did in 89. I’ll try and post a pic of my 89 3Dr RX later, I can’t seem to link it right now

    • Robert Allen

      1989 3DR with EJ22T swap, first gen Impreza transmission, complete suspension swap to 5 lugs with BC Racing coilovers. WRX TD04 turbo and TMIC and many other mods. Been a project for over 10yrs and still have more to do. The car is dipped until I can afford paint.

      Like 1
  4. larry

    I had a 87 rx with a rear spoiler loved it best car I ever owned in the snow drove beautiful miss that car would love to find one in good shape

  5. Beatnik Bedouin

    Thanks for sharing your story, Scotty. It’s a neat, fun-to-drive car and worthy of preserving for the future.

    I’m with Canuk, this would be the time to collect older Japanese cars while prices are still low. I’m keen to get a Kei car, of which quite a few were imported and assembled in NZ, when the country had a local-assembly industry.

    In my case, I’m thinking first-generation Honda City with a matching Motocompo scooter stored behind the rear passenger seat – the wee hatchbacks were specifically designed to hold the Honda moped.

    I thought it would be a fun pairing to take to car shows. There are plenty of City hatches about and still at very low prices.

    I just need to get through some projects (e.g. see the attached pic of my unrestored half-a-Subaru that’s just arrived in from Japan – it’s a rare, according to the doyen of the marque, ’61 Fuji Rabbit S-201 90 Minor motorbike) and rejig the garage to be able to store the Honda car out of the weather.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks, Beatnik! Dang, being a Subaru guy I’ve been looking for a Fuji Rabbit like that, that’s a beauty. I have a Motocompo but no Honda City to haul it around in; yet.. I’ve seen a couple of nice looking ones but shipping from Japan seems like it would be a gamble.

  6. Neal

    Beautiful ride, Scotty.

    I wrote this for another Subaru writeup recently, but I thought I’d share it here again in case you or anyone else who cares about these cars may have missed it before:

    I’ve loved these older Subarus. And I do mean loved, as in loved my first car.

    I tell people to stay away from the early turbos, though.

    The wagon version was a favorite of mine, and I had a top-of-the-line GLT (Turbo) ’85 wagon that I bought used in ’93 as my first car. It had led a supposedly pampered life and was a trade-in with low miles and no rust even though it was “old” for a northeast daily driver, but it had loads of problems in the several years I owned it.

    His name was Jake. Never name your vehicles because you get too attached. My low-mileage ’85 had been lovingly cared for and maintained. I continued to care for it, religiously letting it idle for over a minute as instructed each time before turning off the ignition to ensure proper cooling and lubrication of the turbo bearings. They should have never added a turbo to that engine: it had a habit of cracking the aluminum cylinder heads from heat and boost. Needed y-pipes, cylinder heads that cracked because of the heat and boost of the turbo, a differential rebuild. I actually fixed it TWICE and then I gave up. I sold it when the replacement heads failed again. I refused to sell it to a single mom who was looking for reliable transportation. Buyer knew what he was getting into when he swung circles in a parking lot to check for cv joint clatter and left plumes of white smoke from burning coolant in rings around us. They should have never turbocharged that engine.

    I’ve stayed away from Subarus since (I hate the grindy whine of their boxer engines, even on the new ones) and turbos in general ever since.

    I still have the heads and differential pieces in my basement for some reason. Always wanted to make them into andirons or something.

    I swore off turbos and Subarus in general, but someday if the right Scout with an intercooled 4BT comes along, I might change my turbo vow…

    Sounds like I rode it hard and put it away wet a lot, but I actually took good care of it. Ol’Jake let me down and cost me a lot of money I didn’t have back then.

    I still have a soft spot for this generation Subarus, especially the wagons. But a friend on college had an XT6, and that was a spaceship dreamy ride.

    I’ve moved on to minivans…

    So, Scotty, I know yours is a similar vintage and probably the same engine. Your AWD system would be different than my part-time system was (and mine was an automatic unfortunately). What’s your mileage, how do you care for that delicate engine and turbo, and have you or anyone heard of similar head problems?

    And please know that I don’t mean to be a downer on your pride and joy! Please enjoy your beautiful ride! I love the look!

    Also, I believe here in Massachusetts, that windshield replacement would be covered under basic insurance since it is considered safety equipment. And hopefully no hidden rust along the windshield frame that needs attention too.

  7. ChipsBee

    I had a silver/gray-colored RX turbo Subby sedan, thoroughly enjoyed it in all weather. I used (and needed) it here in the Madison Wi area, winter snows used to be heavy and often. It was a 5-speed and got 25-ish mpg on pavement, way worse ice-racing on the lakes. It seemed un-stopable, would climb through almost all of the worst drifts until it just got higher (deeper) and longer than the car, so I did get stuck a few times, but I might have tried too hard. The heater core ruptured, (a alum-finned piece as wide as the dash, and the entire dash had to come apart to replace it. That was the only repair it required over the 3 years I owned it.

  8. Jeremy holmes

    Great looking car. You have more readers than you think that love old Japanese cars.

  9. Todd Fitch Staff

    Hey Scotty – another interesting car from your stable. I’ve never heard of this model. My brother had an 87 Subaru two-door fastback, DL maybe? anyway it served him through high school, college, and a good chunk of adulthood, requiring little more than regular maintenance. A friend’s WRX is one of the few cars I’ve driven that could match its magazine-rated 0-60, mid-fives all day with no speed-shifting, and that growly flat-four sound is musical – like a VW Beetle on steroids. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Rock On

    Hey Scotty, when my fellow Canadian said that he thought that he was turning Japanese, this is what he was referring to!
    https://youtu.be/LR4XNqrqxrU

  11. Marc Stephens

    My dad sold a ton of RX’s when he had a Subaru dealership in western Masschusetts. He always had an RX as a demo, did countless trips from Maryland to Mass in them. Great cars

  12. Rob

    Hi, I’m Rob. I’m addicted to Subarus. I’ve always had a soft spot and deep seated infatuation for them.

    Except for the Tribeca. That was the ugly girlfriend. That car could put a booger look on a pitbull.

  13. Rube Goldberg Member

    Scotty knows how I feel about Asian cars. I can take them or leave them. A tad too generic for me. There’s no question, Subaru made some of the best cars and hundred’s of thousands of miles are common. Just try and buy a low mileage Subaru.( Scotty has, at last count, over 350K on his Ooootback.) However, I think they, like most new cars, are engineered to fail, and in areas where exhaust testing is in place, older Subaru’s have a tough time passing. Just about every service garage in NY has several sitting “Outback”, because they can’t get the “check engine” light to go out ( I know from experience on that) and are too expensive to fix.
    I remember, a while back, Subaru was the car of choice for lesbians. Before you throw up your arms,, “what did he say”?, it’s true. Subaru’s sales were slipping, and they specifically targeted the gay and lesbian community, as they were 4 times more likely to buy a Subaru. It was the 1st time an automaker recognized the group, and it literally turned their sales around. Of course, the next thing was, “Subaru’s, they’re not just for lesbian’s anymore”. It’s the official state car of Vermont, which may or may not, have a large G/L community.
    https://priceonomics.com/how-an-ad-campaign-made-lesbians-fall-in-love-with/

  14. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    I remember Click and Clack had a few article on the subject also Rube. https://www.cartalk.com/content/ultimate-gay-and-lesbian-cars-all-time-1. Cool looking ride Scotty! Now, tell us what’s in the cooler? I will keep my guess to myself. LOL. Take care, Mike.

  15. Michael Jones

    Scotty: I guess I’m also a Subieholic, ‘cuz I’ve already got both a ’94 & a ’96 SVX in my garage, a ’01 2.5RS, and the utility car, a ’17 Outback, but I really NEED a top quality RX. This is the nicest one I’ve seen in many years. I got hooked on the silly things while watching Chad DiMarco up here in Washington running in the Olympus Rally, so if you’re ever looking to find it a good home, send me an email. Please?? Please???

  16. Karl Nelson

    I used to own the hatchback twin of this car. It was a ton of fun to drive even with an automatic. East coast salt had eaten the rear subframe, but I managed to find one in Oregon and swapped it out. If I had unlimited space to store a collection, I never would have let it go.

  17. Steve

    I had a 1987 Subaru RX 4WD 5 speed sedan very similar to yours. White turbo car, with the white and black checkered interior. Incredible car in the snow.

  18. CarBuzzard Member

    My daughter had the RX Coupe, unfortunately in Erie, PA, and the salt got to it. We sold it to a Subaru mechanic who loved it enough to, well, he was going to restore it. Hope he did.

  19. Laura

    Nice car – the sedan models of the RX seem to be really rare. My daily driver is an ’87 RX Turbo 3-door hatchback, I’ve had it for the past 20 years and it’s still going strong, just about to turn 240,000 miles. I bought it to work at a ski resort, and it more than held its own next to all the 4×4 trucks the maintenance crew drove. Fantastic car for the mountains. Also, apparently it’s a huge collector item in Australia… who knew? Previous to this car I’d owned only 60’s Fords – a couple Falcons, an F-100, and a T-bird. I still love the classics, but this Subaru has completely won me over for dependability and spunkiness.

  20. Jared Rusk

    Hey Scotty, I picked up one of these recently for a project and I am so in love. I’m making a build series, first episode can be seen at https://youtu.be/yikBoEGGdhc. What I’ve been wondering is how rare are the sedan models compared to the coupe? I’ve seen a handful of coupes online but yours is just about the only other sedan that I’ve seen!

    Like 1
  21. Robert Allen

    The RX sedans were first made in 85 and the 3 door coupe in 87. From what I have researched, more RX sedans were made than 3dr RX coupes.

    Like 1

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