Subaru started importing their range of cars in late 1977, using a franchise by International Motors, who later went on to distribute Hyundai, Isuzu, Ssang Yong, Daihatsu and more recently Great Wall. Subaru were a relatively small company and had a limited range of cars, say unlike Nissan who often had as many as 30 different model lines at one time, while Subaru offered just two ranges. This included the Kei based rear engined Rex models which were not generally imported into Europe and the Leone (referred as the 1600/1800 models in the UK) with several body styles and offered a unique feature that helped stand the cars apart from the the usual Japanese car. The option the availability of 4WD in both saloon and estate (as well as a useful pick-up truck) bodies became the cars unique selling point and helped Subaru UK the cars specifically in rural areas where the 4WD option would be appreciated. They also followed up sales by promoting the cars at country fairs and open days – this encouraged farmers to buy and they soon discovered that the cars were an alternative to the relatively uncompromising utilitarian Land Rovers.
Sales started briskly, with growth doubling each year. Early Leones were imported into the UK alongside the facelift models, which were better proportioned. These models were plusher and better suited to the UK market, offering the more powerful 1800 models. What followed however was a confusing array of discontinuations and re-introductions of certain models and engines, the coupes were totally removed from the line up in 1981 and joined in 1984 by a 4WD 3 door hatchback. This meant that by 1984, you could buy 4WD versions of all body shapes available, which helped to strengthen the sales. The pick up had also been available from the start and was a consistant seller throughout its lifetime, as there were very few competitors available. The pick up was known as the Brat and opened up a successful demand for lifestyle vehicles. The last of the range, the 1800 4WD hatchback was discontinued in 1987, while the pick up was finally discontinued in early 1992, with sales due to demand continuing until 1994. Subaru never fully replaced the pick up, although a Legacy based version called the Baja was built and available in the States.
The 1600 and 1800 range had long lives, and overlapped with their intended replacement the equally as popular L series models. Imports of the replacement model started in late 1984, with a similar line up and body options to the previous models. Carismatically the new models featured the usual off road features on all body shapes including the rare coupe model. Subaru continued to market the cars to rural customers and farmers with even more success. Again coverted by owners, the cars were never properly replaced as the upscale Legacy was more expensive and the Impreza carved its own niche and image. Subaru also entered several models into various rally stages and competitions with reasonable success and a glimpse into what the Impreza would achieve.
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