X-Tra Weird: Subaru XT and XT6 Survivors

subiext

Barn Finds reader Jim S. spotted one of my favorite oddballs of the 80s: a 1989 Subaru XT here on craigslist. This one is a survivor with only 50,000 original miles and free from the chronic rust problems that plagued these and other Japanese cars of the era. Though it’s the four-cylinder version, it does come with a stick and the seller is the original owner’s son. But if that’s not racy enough for you, we have another oddball Subaru coupe up for grabs.

subiext6

Here on craigslist in Oregon is a very nice Subaru XT6 with a manual transmission. That means it has the more powerful flat-six engine, which emits the familiar Subaru “warble” engine note under load. This car has higher miles but appears equally cared for, and when you add in the fact that it also had all-wheel drive, this is a pretty compelling package for a car of the 80s. It’s going for a little bit less than the 4-cylinder XT above ($3,500) and is personally where I’d spend my money.

subieparts

One of the big concerns with cars like these is parts supply. Fortunately, at the moment, there are a few sellers on eBay parting out XT6s, which share a lot of the interior components and body pieces with the 4-cylinder cars. This one in Idaho here on eBay looks mostly complete, as does this automatic-transmission version, also here on eBay and not too far from me in Connecticut at a local salvage yard.

subaru xt ad

And if all of those options take up too much space, you can simply buy a vintage advertisement like this one here on eBay that touted the XT’s achievements as a small automaker going up against the big guys. Frankly, I miss the days when weirdness was on the menu and automakers strove to be different. Now, it’s near impossible to distinguish a Subaru from a Toyota from a Honda – making the XT and XT6 weird but wonderful cars. Which one would you choose?

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Comments

  1. Howard A

    I always thought the proportions of these cars were off, like they had a big butt or something. Didn’t see many of these in Wisconsin, and the ones you did see, rusted pretty quickly.
    In an unrelated matter, I think BF’s has found their new contributor.

  2. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    I think the later Subaru SVX was what Subaru wanted this car to be, but wasn’t. The ’80s folded-paper school of car design is best left in the past. I’m trying to remember what designer came up with that approach but it hurts my brain too much, so now I’m going to think of organic, rounded forms instead. That’s much better…..

    • Peter downUnder

      I purchased a new SVX back in 1993. Awesome car! Still one of the nicest, coolest vehicles I’ve owned – a superb long distance cruiser. I’d love to find a mint example today. In Europe apparently, they have quite a cult following.

      1
      • Greg

        I know of a Subaru SVX up for sale in Hayden Idaho; well maintained…owner is moving…last I heard it was near 4-5k they were asking but all records are available.

  3. Scotty G

    The black AWD XT-6 would already be in our garage if it didn’t have those dang automatic seatbelts, I don’t know if I could live with those. Which, unfortunately, leaves a lot of interesting car choices off of the list from that era. That car has 99% of everything on my list: AWD, manual transmission, unusual / oddball vehicle, Subaru (I guess I didn’t have to say both unusual and Subaru; just one would have worked)..no rust, etc. It’s an unbelievable deal on a super rare car, at least in that condition.

    • JW454

      Scotty,

      I agree on the automatic seat belts. Once, while my car was being repaired, I had to drive a Ford Escort for six weeks equipped this way. The seat belts were disabled on day two and reconnected the morning I returned it. While it seems like a nice safety feature, it gets very annoying having them trap you in the seat before you’re ready.

    • Mike H. Mike H Member

      When driver side airbags became mandatory on all passenger vehicles in model year 1995, most manufacturers stopped equipping cars with automatic seat belts. Exceptions include the 1995-1996 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer and the Eagle Summit Wagon which had automatic safety belts along with dual airbags. Automatic belt systems generally offer inferior occupant crash protection; in systems with belts attached to the door rather than a sturdier fixed portion of the vehicle body, a crash that causes the vehicle door to open leaves the occupant without belt protection. In such a scenario, the occupant may be thrown from the vehicle and suffer greater injury or death.

      Automatic belt systems also present several operational disadvantages. Motorists who would normally wear seat belts must still fasten the manual lap belt, thus rendering redundant the automation of the shoulder belt. Those who do not fasten the lap belt wind up inadequately protected by only the shoulder belt; in a crash without a lap belt such a vehicle occupant is likely to “submarine” (be thrown forward under the shoulder belt) and be seriously injured. Motorized or door-affixed shoulder belts hinder access to the vehicle, making it difficult to enter and exit—particularly if the occupant is carrying items such as a box or a purse. Vehicle owners tend to disconnect the motorized or door-affixed shoulder belt to alleviate the nuisance of entering and exiting the vehicle, leaving only a lap belt for crash protection. Also, many automatic seat belt systems are incompatible with child safety seats, or compatible only with special modifications.

      The automatic seatbelts were essentially a stop-gap measure to enable the car manufacturers to continue production while living within the confines of the NHTSA, at least until they were able to “properly” develop other passive safety restraints, most notably – airbags. Not that airbags are the huge savior that the industry thought that they would be; from 1990 to 2000, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified 175 fatalities caused by air bags. Most of these (104) had been children, while the rest were adults.

    • Matt B

      I may have to do some research, but on some of the Legacies of the same era had regular seatbelts in Canadian models. My friend that used to have a ’91 Legacy Sport Sedan ordered a set for the front and removed the automatic setup.

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Staff

      Scotty, I want that black one so damn bad. If space were of no concern, I’d have been on a plane by now.

      • Scotty G

        Jeff, my heart sank, and sank hard and low, when I saw those automatic seatbelts, I didn’t even give it a thought that one of my halo / master-wish-list cars would be saddled with those crazy contrivances. I never, ever, ever see Subaru XTs in anything other than the automatic transmission varietals (as they say in Oregon wine country), but man, those seatbelts! I can just hear them now.. gggdddddddddd.... as it grinds back and forth past your head twenty times a day, and no matter how many times you’ve lubricated the whole system.. ggggddddddddd… I’ve talked with the seller a couple of times and I literally can not believe that this car is still for sale. In five years, if not sooner, we’ll both be kicking ourselves when these are going for $10,000.

    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      If the belts are the only reason stopping you, there are workarounds.

      Just did a quick Google search and found stories of people replacing the belts in the XT with regular belts pulled from an older, or Canadian, model. Others mention just pulling the fuse.

      My GF had a Mazda 323 with the automatic belts and I just learned how to live with it – no biggie. It was fun to drive a slow car fast.

    • Rick Baldwin

      Just for the record, it would be very easy to disable the re-tractor in the rear position and simply buckle and unbuckle. My seat belt track ate itself so this is my default method.

      Yes mine does need some stuff, I will never sell it.

  4. fred

    When I had my ’51 Kaiser I purchased a set of 3 point retractable shoulder belts and installed them in a couple of hours. I’m sure you could replace the automatic belts with conventional ones just as easily.

  5. Paul R.

    Brings back old memories from the early 80’s.
    My well to do girlfriend had a Turbo Brat for a beach cruiser and a Turbo Nissan Pulsar for a daily commute car. Both were wicked fast in the days of under powered smog era cars being produced and fun to drive. The Japs were smart and put turbos on everything to boost power during this sad time. The American manufactures soon figured it out also.
    The Brat had the death trap jump seats in the back and had crazy flip up T-Tops!
    I can’t attest to the off road capabilities, but it ran the sugar white sands on the West Florida gulf coast just fine!

    When I ran a bumper to bumper import shop, the Subaru’s that came in were usually for normal service or an occasional clutch.
    . Very dependable cars. The pancake opposed engine reminded me of some sort of water cooled cross-breed between a Corvair flat 6 and a VW bug engine. The spare tire was mounted in the engine compartment between the engine and firewall. An early airbag? I almost liked them!

  6. MountainMan

    These are such nice examples of a really cool car and the 5speed is the icing for sure. I hate the belts but would deal with it to have either of these. Especially the XT6!

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Staff

      There’s a video floating around YouTube of an XT6 with a cherry bomb exhaust. Not my style but it sounds like a WRX on full boil. Absolutely nasty.

  7. charlie

    I installed, myself, as an 18 year old, lap belts bought from Sears in my ’56 Chevy and, a few years later, lap/shoulder belts in the same car. Cosmetically, not a success, but otherwise. worked well.

  8. American_Badaz

    I had 1991 XT6 5spd, awd, and loved it. Real fun car to drive with one exception…. air suspension. I did discover that as long as the bags are good, you can let some air out of them, and disconnect the sensors and it would stay at that height. Free lowering kit from the factory! lol

  9. Jawn

    i own an XT6, love the little car
    sporty, cool and unique

    AWD 5 Speed Manual 2.7L H6

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Staff

      Jawn, I love it. Hold onto it – these will be near impossible to find someday.

  10. djkenny

    Th Turbo always go low ratings compared to other cars in it’s class. They ran circles around it. GTI’s, Dodge Colt Turbo, Owni GLH, Toyota FX-16.. all were less quirky, more practical, handled better (snow belt, aside), and did not have a digital dash that was hard to read with heavy sun.

    The next model with the 6 is a much better buy. Much better more flexible torquey engine, no weird digital dash (by customer demand) and if you like the looks… they are intact.

    It was like the transformation of the Corrado from G60 to VR6.

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