The Subaru Leone is a compact car produced by the Japanese car manufacturer Fuji Heavy Industries from 1971 to 1994. The word "leone" is Italian for lion.
It was released as a replacement to the Subaru 1000 and was the predecessor to the Subaru Impreza. All Leones were powered by the Subaru EA boxer engine. Most cars were equipped with optional four-wheel drive.
Although released in Japan and some export markets as the Leone, for many years, this was the only vehicle sold internationally by Subaru where the smaller kei cars Rex, Vivio, R-2, 360 and Sambar were not sold or considered road legal. As a result in major markets such as Australia, Europe and North America, it was instead identified with a trim level designation, some of which included: DL, GL, GLF, GLF5, GL-10, and RX. This means the car is often referred to simply as the Subaru GL or the Subaru L-Series.
The first generation Leone was released on October 7, 1971 as a front-wheel drive coupé, with trim levels DL, GL and GSR. April 1972 saw the introduction of the two and four-door sedans with trim levels DL, GL and in Japan, the Super Touring. In September 1972 the four-wheel drive (4WD) station wagon was released, however it did not appear in the United States until 1974 as a 1975 model. Up until this time four-wheel drive had been limited mainly to off-road vehicles for special use. Subaru broke this pattern by introducing a mass-produced four-wheel drive passenger car, after having tested the waters by building a limited series of four-wheel drive FF-1 1300G wagons in 1971. Four-wheel drive was easily Subaru's most notable feature during the 1970s and 1980s, leading to particularly strong sales in places like Switzerland and Colorado. The Leone competed with the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sunny, Honda Civic, and the Mitsubishi Lancer. The Leone introduced a long established Subaru tradition of frameless side windows for all models.
In August 1968, Subaru entered into an alliance with Nissan Motors. The appearance of the new Leone was influenced by the design efforts from Nissan, most notably the long hood and short trunk appearance that Nissan was using at that time for their own products. The 1400 RX coupé was one of the first Japanese automobiles to be equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. The two-door hardtop (with different bodywork than the two-door sedan or two-door coupé) was introduced in June 1973 and a 4WD sedan in 1975.
The Leone was originally equipped with a 1.2 or a 1.4 litre flat-4, carbureted, OHV engine. In September 1975, as a response to tightening emissions regulations, the 1.2 was removed from the sedan lineup (although it continued to be available as a Van/Wagon version in the Japanese domestic market at least). To be able to offer as much power as the pre-smog 1.4, a bigger 1.6 litre version was added for 1976. The Leone was available with a four-speed manual transmission, a five-speed manual transmission, and also a three-speed automatic transmission beginning in 1975. Some early models had duo-servo drum brakes at the front, however, later models were equipped with disc brakes. All models originally had rear drum brakes except the RX coupés. Unusually, the handbrake or emergency brake operated on the front wheels.
The Leone was first introduced to the United States of America in 1972 and 1973 in Australia and New Zealand, with cars imported fully assembled from Japan. In 1976 the EA63 engine was replaced with the EA71 engine. The EA71 engine was originally installed in cars equipped with automatic transmission but eventually supplanted the EA63 across the entire range of vehicles in the USA and Australia.
A print add for the 1973 Subaru GL coupe referred to the engine as "quadrozontal"
In April 1977 an updated Leone range was released. All body panels were altered slightly and the overall look was 'smoother' and more contemporary in appearance. A completely new dashboard with altered interior were also part of the update. Despite these changes the overall effect was similar to the earlier version and mechanically identical, with the exception of the rear track which was widened by 40mm.
This model line was assembled from CKD kits in New Zealand by importer Motor Holdings' Waitara plant near New Plymouth.
Late in 1977 saw the introduction of the Subaru BRAT as a 1978 model. This was a two-seater with a pickup truck bed based on the Leone platform. The original brat was updated in 1981 with a dual-range 4WD transmission and 1.8 L EA81 engine. This was sold alongside the second generation Leone introduced in 1979 until 1982.
In June 1979 the Leone saw its first complete model update. This generation was released with a two-door hardtop coupe, four-door sedan, station wagon and a three-door hatchback. The United States did not see this generation until 1980.
New for this generation was a dual-range four-speed 4WD transmission with both hi and lo range gearing. In November 1981 Subaru introduced Japan's first all-wheel-drive vehicle with an automatic transmission, utilizing the world's first "wet hydraulic multi-plate clutch". This allowed the driver to engage 4WD with a simple push of a button rather than shifting a lever as in the manual models. The electric switch activated a solenoid that pushed the clutch plates together, thereby engaging the driveshaft to the rear whells.
The Subaru BRAT (an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) was a coupe utility version of the Subaru Leone introduced in 1977. The BRAT was developed directly from the company's four-wheel drive station wagon model and was first introduced as a 1978 model — following the concept of coupe utilities such as the Chevrolet El Camino and the Ford Ranchero. The Brat was also known as Brumby, MV or Shifter depending on where it was sold.
American versions also had carpeting and welded-in rear-facing jumpseats in the cargo area — serving actually to circumvent a tariff known as the Chicken tax. Although the BRAT could fairly be called a truck, the plastic seats in the cargo bed allowed Subaru to classify the BRAT as a passenger car. Passenger cars imported into the US were charged only a 2.5% tariff, compared to 25% on light trucks.
The BRAT was restyled in 1981 and the jumpseats were discontinued after the 1985 model year. The BRAT was introduced with a rise in popularity of small trucks being sold in the USA, primarily from Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda. Production continued into 1993 but ceased to be imported to North America in 1987. It was also known as the Brumby in Australia and the Shifter in the UK. Imports to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand continued until February 1994. The BRAT wasn't sold in Japan and was manufactured for export markets.
All BRATs had four-wheel drive and the Subaru EA engine. Early models received a 1.6L EA-71 whereas 1981 and later models received a 1.8 L EA-81 engine. 1983 and 1984 models could be purchased with an optional 94 hp (70 kW) turbocharged engine. Manual transmissions were standard on all models and an automatic transmission was available on turbocharged BRATs. 1980 and earlier models had a single-range transfer case, while 1981 and later GL models had a dual range transfer case (DLs still had single range) and all turbocharged models were equipped with an automatic transmission with single range push-button four-wheel drive.
In 2003, Subaru tried this approach again but with four doors on the second generation Subaru Outback platform called the Subaru Baja.