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 EAboxer engine. Most cars were equipped with optional four-wheel drive. At the time of its introduction, the Leone was Subaru’s top model until 1989, when the larger Legacy was introduced.
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 carsRex, Vivio, R-2, 360, and Sambar were not commonly sold. 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. The car is thus 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 drivecoupé, 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. At its introduction, the Leone was Subaru’s largest car, and was the top level vehicle above the kei car Subaru Rex.
In September 1972 the four-wheel drive (4WD) station wagon (A67) was released, however it did not appear in the United States until 1974 as a 1975 model. The Leone was introduced before the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo to emphasize its durability in adverse weather conditions. Up until this time four-wheel drive had been limited mainly to off-road vehicles, although the very expensive Jensen FF had been built in limited numbers.
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 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, Mazda Familia, Isuzu Gemini, and the Mitsubishi Lancer. The Leone introduced a 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, especially 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 (A27) in 1975. In the Japanese market, the sedan had to be equipped with the SEEC-T desmogged EA71 engine producing 80 PS (59 kW), whereas the station wagon was classified as a commercial vehicle and thus received an engine with 85 PS (63 kW).
The Leone was originally equipped with a 1.2- or a 1.4-litre flat-four, carbureted, OHV engine. The 1,100 cc engine from the earlier FF-1 G was carried over for the Leone 1100 van in the Japanese domestic market, but was only available in the first few years. 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). 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.
In March 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 it was mechanically identical, with the exception of the rear track which was widened by 40 mm (1.6 in). The chassis codes were changed, with sedans now in the 30 series and estates in the 60 series. The little 1.2 continued to be available in the lowliest standard van model, with 68 PS (50 kW). In November 1977 a new top model arrived, the Leone Grand Am-T, which adopted the federalized safety bumpers and had an interior “inspired by American tastes.”
The Leone entered Australia and New Zealand in 1973, with cars imported fully assembled from Japan. The 4WD Wagon entered the Australian market in 1975, and remained the only vehicle in its class until the early 1980s. Many versions – sedan, wagon and Brumby (BRAT) coupe utility, were also assembled from CKD kits, from 1978, in New Zealand by then-importer Motor Holdings’ Waitara plant near New Plymouth. Local assembly ceased when the Legacy range replaced the Leone in 1993.
1978 Subaru DL 2-door sedan
1978 Subaru DL wagon
1972 Subaru Leone 1400RX coupe