The year 1991 has special meaning to me. It was both the year I was born, and the year my current car was manufactured. In our 24 years of existence, we have been beside each other the whole way.
The car in question is a white Subaru Liberty GX station-wagon. The GX occupied the middle space between the poverty-spec LX model and the more luxurious Heritage.. Unfortunately, All-wheel-drive was an option on some Subaru models back then, so this example is only a FWD.
The car has a special place in my heart as it has been in my family from new. My grandparents purchased it 24 years ago. In 2001, they gave it to my parents who then used it as their second ‘run around’ car. In 2008, I inherited the beast after learning how to drive in it, which at that stage had travelled 378,000km. After 7 years of ownership, I have moved the kilometre count to just over 470,000. I have such distinct memories with this car, including driving from Melbourne to Cairns on two occasions for a family holiday, getting stuck on a tree trunk that was hiding in a massive mud pit, having my friend mistake my car for an AWD Subaru and getting it stuck on a dangerously steep and grassy hill, and of course, multiple camp outs (thank you split folding seats). It has carted stuff around for 24 years without ever complaining. I’ve moved interstate with it twice and have ferried many friends and family to the airport. The useable space of the boot is fantastic, easily swallowing 4 suitcases without hassle.
But unlike many other cars of its time, age hasn’t wearied it too much. It has been well looked after – the original paint it still in top condition, no rust has emerged, and the interior is still holding up well. Apart from routine servicing, the only things that have needed to be replaced is the starter motor, radiator, and a few engine hoses and clutches. I also had the rear suspension replaced a few years ago, as it was starting to sag after almost a quarter-century of load lugging and family duties.
The interior is typical 90s Japanese, which means swathes of dark and uninspiring plastics throughout the cabin. They have proven to be durable though — nothing has fallen off, faded, or cracked. The cloth seats have worn well with no sagging and minimal fading; they are comfortable and offer good adjustable lumbar support. All electrics bar the external antenna still work faultlessly, although the frameless windows all make squeaking noises when they close. The automatic driver’s window is particularly loud. The car was well equipped for its time, and included features such as power steering, electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning, central locking, rake-adjustable steering wheel, driver’s footrest, cassette player (with rewind function!) and cruise control. It’s ergonomically sound, apart from the ridiculous cup holders that come out of the middle of the dash board, blocking both air-con and radio controls.
The 2.2 four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine has heaps of character and has proven to be very reliable. It has always started first time, and the that charismatic Subaru boxer-rumble still sounds beautiful. It happily runs on unleaded 91 and will return anywhere between 9-10 litres per 100km in. Iced conditions, which I find to be acceptable. It’s not overly powerful, but it is surprisingly torquey from the lower to middle rev range, and doesn’t require much cog-swapping when in higher gears. The 5-speed manual gearbox is acceptable – driving in first gear is nasty, as the car makes a horrible warbling noise and shifting from 3rd to 2nd gear is impossible to do smoothly. Reverse gear also turns on the 1 single reverse light, instead of the usual two on other cars. So you’ll have all sorts of people telling you one of your reverse lights is broken… Even though it only has one. The car also handles surprisingly well – it’s ride is comfortable, yet it can handle a few twisty sections of road without too much complaint. I have no doubt that the AWD version would be ahead on this front thought. The steering is communicative, and does have any slack on-centre, which I find to be pretty remarkable!
But sadly, our seven year affair is coming to an end. I have literally grown up alongside and inside this car, gone on heaps of crazy adventures, and made the best memories. It’s been passed down through 3 generations of my family, but I don’t think it will hold out for another 18 years before my soon-to-be-born daughter grows up to take the wheel. Whilst this Subaru has been amazingly reliable and dependable, is time to trade up to something newer and safer. Whilst I wish I could keep it, we have no need, or room, for two cars. Now it has come time for the old faithful to be passed on, but luckily it is staying in the family! I’m giving it to my newly-licensed and pimply-faced cousin, as I believe it has another solid 100,000km of mostly trouble free kilometres left in its heart. As me and this car have such a long history, I’ve mostly held onto it for sentimental reasons. I’ve always had the money for a newer and shinier car; my friends have laughed at me, my wife has nagged me for years to replace it, and even my grandparents have gently suggested I get a new car. But whilst the liberty may get a low score on the safety, technology and ‘cool’ fronts, it scores much better in reliability and durability stakes.
The Liberty has been amazing to me and I will miss it deeply… so I’m going to continue the trend with the new Outback wagon! I’ve ordered a black 2.5 premium, and it and should be delivered before Christmas! The two cars are worlds apart, but I hope two things remain the same – the bullet proof reliability and durability.