1917 - present
(Video) The History of Subaru
The Nakajima Aircraft Co. Ltd
The origins of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd can be traced back to 1917 when the Aircraft Research Laboratory was established by Chikuhei Nakajima in Ota City, Japan. In 1931 the Laboratory was incorporated as the Nakajima Aircraft Co. Ltd, with a capital of 12,000 Yen.
By 1933 new production plants had been established at Ogikubo, Koizumi, Handa, Misashi, Utsonomiya, Hamamatsu, Mishima and Mitaka to produce aircraft. The company continued to design and produce aircraft until the end of the war. After World War 2 the Nakajima Co, was re-organised as the Fuji Sangyo Co, to undertake the production of peacetime products such as scooters, including the 'Rabbit', bus bodies, rolling stock and various types of gasoline engines.
The Subaru 360
In 1950 the Occupation Forces ordered the breaking up of Fuji Sangyo into 12 independent companies, but three years later five of the major independent companies combined to form Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, with a capital of 50,000,000 Yen. Kenji Kita, then CEO of Fuji Heavy Industries, wanted to enter car manufacturing and soon began plans for building a car with the development code-name P-1. Kita canvassed the Company for suggestions about naming the P1, but none of the proposals were appealing enough.
In the end, he gave the car a Japanese name that he had "been cherishing in his heart": Subaru, which is the name of the Pleiades star cluster in Japanese. Subaru did not in fact introduce their first car to the market, the rear engined, unitary construction 360 minicar, until 1958. The power unit was a transversely mounted air-cooled, two stroke twin engine which developed 16 bhp. Suspension was independent all round by torsion bars and in the early models a three speed gearbox was employed. Later models (those produced after 1969) had four speed boxes. A light commercial version of the 360, the forward-control Sambar, was also made as a station wagon.
The Subaru 1000
In 1966 the company's head office moved to the Subaru building in Tokyo, Japan. Both that year and the following (1967) saw the successive introduction of the Subaru 1000 and the Subaru 1000 Sport. A full sized Subaru was announced in 1968, the front-engined, 997cc front-wheel-drive, Subaru FE. Again the car had all round independent suspension, but the company turned to a pushrod overhead valve engine and water cooling. Other new features were the introduction of an electric fan and an electric fuel pump.
A four speed fully synchromeshed gearbox was adopted and the 67 bhp Sports version of the car had front disc brakes. In 1968 the company joined the Nissan Group of companies, the released the FF version, which was the first Japanese car to adopt radial tyres as standard. In 1970 the company inserted a 1088cc power unit unto the car and a 1300cc 80 bhp engine was introduced in 1971. Also in 1970 Subaru updated their 'microcar' and produced the larger R2 with a longer wheelbase, a 30 bhp power unit and a fully synchromeshed gear box.
By 1972 a station wagon version of the R2 had been made an additional option in the range. In the USA Subaru were marketing by 1972, through Subaru of America, Pennsauken, New Jersey, three versions of their 'G' range, a two door, a four door and a four door wagon with hatchback and tailgate, independent suspension and monocoque body. In Europe the company made few inroads despite the fact that they began marketing their cars in Greece as early as 1962.
The Rex and Leone Series
In 1978, the Subaru range consisted of two basic models - the Rex Series and the Leone Series. The Rex Series corn prised three versions of the two-door saloon, three of the four-door saloon, but no station wagon. All were powered by a rear-mounted, four-stroke, two-cylinder, in-line 544cc unit with a compression ratio of 8.5: 1, which delivered 31 bhp at 8000 rpm. The engine itself was of cast iron cylinder block construction with a light alloy cylinder head, three crankshaft bearings and overhead valves and a single overhead camshaft, and was water cooled. Carburation was via a Zenith Stromberg down-draught, twin barrelled carburettor. Transmission to the rear wheels was through a four speed fully synchromeshed box and a single dry plate clutch. Steering was by rack and pinion and braking was by drums all round, though the AII and AIlG versions had discs on the front.
The 1969 Subaru 360, powered by a 360cc transversley mounted air-cooled twin cylinder two stroke engine mounted at the rear, and developing 16 bhp.
The 1972 Subaru Leone.
1975 Subaru Leone 1400 boxer engine.
The Leone Series comprised five versions of the 1400 model along with fourteen versions of the 1600, comprising seven saloons, four hardtops, two coupes and a station wagon. The 72 hp power team, which was standard in the five 1400 versions, was a four stroke, four cylinder unit with increased bore and stroke dimensions which produced its 72 hp at 6000 rpm. Of light alloy construction, it had three crankshaft bearings, overhead valves, push rods and rockers and a single side camshaft. Carburation was by a Hitachi-Zenith-Stromberg downdraught twin barrel carburettor. Transmission was to the front wheels through a four speed fully synchromeshed box and a single dry plate clutch. Suspension was independent all round incorporating MacPherson strut, coil springs telescopic damper struts, trailing link lower wishbones and anti-roll bar at the front, and by semi-trailing arms, torsion bars and telescopic dampers at the rear.
The steering was rack and pinion and brakes were drum all round. In addition to the basic 72hp unit, Subaru offered 80, 82, 85 and 95hp versions, all of 1595cc capacity but with variations in compression ratios and carburation: the 95 having two twin barrel Hitachi carburettors. Despite having only a very small share of the domestic market, Subaru steadily expanded their exports in the late '70s, becoming the fifth largest importer in the US in 1977 and starting sales in the UK in the same year.
By 1978 the company was producing cars at the Gunma plant at Otashi, Gunmaken, while engines were built at the Mitka plant in Mitakashi, Tokyo. Production of cars rose successively from 1965 to 1969 with the company manufacturing 37,000 units in 1965 and 125,000 in 1969. In 1972, however, production fell to 101,709 units. However, the company's total vehicle production amounted to 164,449 units in 1974 and 241,465 units in 1976 giving them approximately a 3.06 per cent share of the total vehicle production in Japan.
In line with other Japanese manufacturers, Subaru suffered from a 19 per cent decline in new car registrations in Japan in 1974, when the whole market suffered from the effects of the oil crisis which began at the end of 1973. Total sales in Japan dropped in 1974 from 4,954,039 in 1973 to 3,852,751, a fall of almost 23 per cent. Subaru's share of the car market fell in this period from 3.3 per cent (162,818 units) to 2.9 per cent in 1974 (109,916 units), but Subaru's performance stabilized after 1974; market share was 2.89 per cent in 1978.
This sales decline was generally attributed to a combination of uneasiness over the available supply of petrol; two separate price increases for new cars; runaway inflation and the general business recession as a result of the implementation of the Government's tight money policy to curb inflation. Increase in car taxes also contributed to a further decline in car sales but this was largely halted by substantial wage increases in Japan averaging 33 per cent in the Spring of 1974.
The Plaza Accord Agreement
Subaru decided to offer more products due to the Plaza Accord agreement of 1985 which made the value of the yen stronger in exchange rates to the dollar, which had an effect on Subaru sales in the USA. The creation of the Legacy was influenced by Subaru's desire to compete with successful Japanese carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda, and the Legacy was targeted against the Camry, Stanza, and Accord. The Legacy was considered mainstream in its appearance and a departure from previous vehicles, which had earned a reputation of being "quirky". It was perceived by some as Subaru's attempt to compete with new luxury brands Lexus, Infiniti and Acura, as Japanese vehicles were increasing in popularity, particularly in the USA.
Subaru continued their new direction with the controversially styled Alcyone XT (1985), the GT six-cylinder SVX (1992), and the Impreza (1993). From 1995 to 2000, Subaru ran a series of advertisements for the newly developed Subaru Outback which starred Aussie Paul Hogan, well known for his "Crocodile Dundee" film character not only here in Australia, but right around the world. The advertisements were intended to highlight Subaru's All wheel drive, and depicted the Outback in a number of rugged Australian locations. The tagline "the world's first sport utility wagon" was successfully used by Subaru, though the AMC Eagle had tried much the same idea, with less success in the 1980s.
Before the Outback was introduced, Subaru sold a badge engineered Isuzu Trooper in Japan as the Subaru Bighorn. Some of the advertising slogans Subaru has used in the past include, "Inexpensive, and built to stay that way", "The World's favourite Four Wheel Drive" (in the U.K.), "Plus on y pense, plus on a le gout de la conduire" (The more one thinks, the more one has the taste of driving it) in French Quebec, "We built our reputation by building a better car", "What to Drive", "The Beauty of All wheel drive", "Think, Feel, Drive", and currently "Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru" in North America, "All 4 The Driver" in Australia, and "Uncommon Engineering, Uncommon Stability, Uncommon Roadholding, Uncommon Sense" in the UK.
Also see: Subaru Car Reviews