Junkyard Gem: 1989 Subaru XT6 4WD

The first Subaru available in the United States was the tiny 360 kei car, imported by Malcolm Bricklin starting in 1968. For more than a decade after that, we knew Subarus mostly as cheap, useful little cars, sometimes equipped with manually-selected four-wheel-drive. Then, once the 1980s really got rolling, fancier and more futuristic Subarus began hitting our shores, with sci-fi gadgets, vividly-colored interiors, turbocharging, etc. The wildest of the mid-1980s Subarus was the Alcyone, known as the XT on our shores. You could get an XT with a turbocharger and/or four-wheel-drive, but then Subaru took the car to the next level by designing its first six-cylinder engine and stuffing it under the hood, while making a genuine all-wheel-drive system available at the same time. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those rare Subarus, found in a yard just south of Denver.

Nobody else on the planet was offering a new car with liquid-cooled boxer six when Subaru introduced the ER27 in the Alcyone VX/XT6 in late 1987. Instead of the lackluster 111 horsepower of the XT Turbo, the XT6 had a rampaging 145 horses under its hood (which was very low and slick-looking, thanks to the engine’s low profile). A larger-displacement version of this engine went into the later Alcyone SVX, though only with an automatic transmission.

This car has the five-speed manual, which the SVX’s powerful engine would have reduced to a slurry of oil-soaked metal shards in a hurry. The only prior example of an XT6 I’ve seen in a junkyard (nearly a decade ago and also in Denver) had a slushbox.

The term “all-wheel-drive” as we understand it today wasn’t in widespread use in the late 1980s, though increasing numbers of carmakers began installing true AWD systems in cars during that decade (once AMC and Audi showed how it could be done). It appears that Subaru made this decal readable as either “AWD” or “4WD,” so as to avoid confusion while everyone sorted out the definitions of those terms.

The Full Time 4WD system required no driver input other than the use of a center-differential-lock switch for extremely slippery conditions, much like Toyota’s All-Trac rig of the same period. Starting in 1996, every new Subaru sold in the United States had all-wheel-drive (until the BRZ was launched).

In one of the weirdest control layouts ever used in a production car, Subaru put most of the Alcyone’s switches on pods protruding from the steering column, enabling them to move up and down when the driver adjusted the wheel.

Not only did the pods move along with the steering column, but the gauge cluster did so as well! You just know the Mars colonists will have this sort of setup in their rovers.

Let’s take another look at that fighter-jet-joystick gearshift lever. Sure, Mitsubishi was building actual Mach 2 jet fighters, but Subaru outdid even the Cordia Turbo for futuristic control design in civilian motor vehicles.

The outside door handles have little hinged panels that fold out of the way to allow your fingers entry to lift up the lever. Why? Who cares, because this is just cool.

This car managed to travel an impressive number of miles during its life. I’m guessing the powertrain just wore out, sending it to this place.

MSRP on this car started at $17,745, or about $40,000 in 2021 dollars. That was much more than Subaru’s cheapest 4WD car that year (the $7,195 Justy 4WD), but a lot cheaper than the cheapest Quattro-equipped Audi.

In its homeland, this car got schmaltzy, contemplative advertising.

This US-market ad is for the early XT Turbo with regular four-wheel-drive and video-game-style digital instruments, but you get the idea.


Source: AutoBlog.com