The Subaru Leone or L-Series, as it is simply known, was the compact car that preceded the Subaru Impreza. It was in production between 1971 and 1994 as a replacement for the earlier Subaru 1000 model. For many years, the Leone was the only Subaru export car as their other models were not considered to be roadworthy outside of Japan.
The first-generation L-Series cars drew much inspiration from American car design, and with their working partnership with Nissan came the familiar long, sculpted bonnet and short, stubby boot. By 1977, designers had worked on a smoother shape for the Leone, and two years later the appearance of the second-generation L-Series saw further subtle modifications to the shape, most notably a new front grille design.
The second-generation Leone cars were available in two-door hardtop coupe, sedan, station wagon, and hatchback. The Brumby, one of the earliest Ute 4x4s, was also released around this time and based on the L-Series architecture.
The last, third-generation Leone was put into production in 1984 and still had predominantly straight lines and a square shape. By now, the design of cars was starting to become curvier and the L-Series started to look a little out-dated all round. Initially, development within the Subaru Rally team concentrated on the L-Series DL and XL turbocharged engines and achieved a reasonable level of success. In 1989, the Rally L-Series was capable of producing 190 horsepower and 230Nm torque from its Boxer H4 SOHC engine. This, however, was superseded by the much faster Subaru MRX � a successful machine loved by petrol heads and games players alike.
Initially, the L-Series was powered by 1.2L or 1.4L Flat-4 OHV engines, however, tougher emissions and the need for a more powerful unit led to the installation of the 1.6L EA71. You could pick up the L-Series with 4- or 5-speed manual gearboxes or the 3-speed automatic transmission. One of the most favourable features of the L-Series at the time was its 4WD system that was available on all models.
By the second generation, Subaru fitted the L-Series with 1.6L and the new 1.8L EA81 and 1.8L turbo engines. The ultimate rendition of the L-Series came equipped with EA82T engines, 5-speed manual transmission, and a rally tuned suspension for that extra spring and all-round disc brakes as standard.
The 1984, 1.8GL Subaru L-Series engine produced 90 horsepower and could take the car from a standstill to 100/km in 10.7 seconds. On the track, its top speed was clocked at 175km/h, and it had a fuel consumption of around 7L/100km.
Another area where the L-Series autos are particularly individual is with their horizontally mounted engine, not uncommon, as it has been used in German engineering on the VW Beetle and the Porsche. The spare tyre is unusually found in the engine bay.
The second-generation L-Series model was one of the first cars to offer air-con, power windows, and adjustable steering. From 1984 onwards, the Leone came well fitted out with powered windows, central locking, air-con, powered sunroof, and split rear seats for better storage space. The options packages had some nice touches too, with full digital dashboard, self-diagnostic computer, cruise control, and adjustable pneumatic suspension.
The rear was also opened up more with a 50/50 rear seat split, enabling the L-Series to carry more varied loads, along with defroster/wiper and intermittent wipers in the front.
The Subaru L-Series, throughout its history, has been compared to its contemporaries � the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sunny, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, Renault 12, early models of the Ford Focus, and the first-generation and second-generation Volkswagen Jetta.
Owners of the L-Series Leone look back on it as a great performer that provided a comfortable ride for its time, and it was a technologically advanced car. There was great storage space in the boot, and with the 50/50 folding rear seats, space could be considerably extended.
Where Subaru made superb advances was within the mechanics of the car; the 4WD transmission, with hi and lo gearing for extra torque, could be operated with the simple press of a switch. All-round disc brakes, digital instrumentation, and adjustable suspension all made the L-Series a unique car for its time. While those features are standard on many of today�s cars, they were new to motoring when they appeared on the L-Series.