Cars of a Lifetime: 1984 Subaru GL Wagon

This post is part of a series where I reflect on the cars that have shaped my life. Like the way music can transport us back in time, our cars hold memories and mark significant moments in our lives. In this installment, I want to share with you the story of my first wagon, a 1984 Subaru GL.

A Love for Wagons

Growing up, my family was no stranger to wagons. From the spacious ’68 Ford Country Squire to the quirky ’86 Audi 5000, wagons were a staple in our lives. Even though they were not American-made, we never gave up on our love for wagons. In fact, my mother still owns a Legacy Outback to this day.

A Subaru Revelation

The 1984 Subaru GL was the first wagon that I could truly call my own. I fell in love with it, despite the fact that it had its fair share of issues. I bought it at a repo auction, and while the exterior was in good shape, the interior needed some serious cleaning. After spending a long weekend hosing out the dirt, cigarette funk, and mildew, it was finally ready to hit the road.

Perfect for New York Winters

Living in New York State on the side of a mountain, the GL’s on-demand 4WD system was a perfect fit for me as a 16-year-old. I vividly recall the first winter in New York, where I witnessed the power of a rear-wheel drive car struggling in the snow. Determined to conquer the elements, I embraced the GL’s 4WD capabilities and safely navigated the snowy roads.

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A Wagon Full of Surprises

The Subaru GL was packed with ingenious engineering features. It had a third headlight hidden behind the badge in the grille, clever storage compartments, factory cupholders, and even a windowshade for the rear cargo area. The amount of space in the back, especially when the seats were folded down, surprised me and proved useful during summer parties when we needed extra sleeping space.

Quirks and Charm

This Subaru was also the first car I owned with electric door locks and windows. It was equipped with a stick shift, which was a thrill to drive during my high school years. I couldn’t resist adding a third-hand Blaupunkt tape deck and some retrofitted car speakers for the ultimate music experience.

A Journey to Remember

One unforgettable adventure with the GL was a road trip to visit my girlfriend at college and then continue up to my sister’s apartment. Filled with youthful naivety, we didn’t realize our long-distance relationship wouldn’t last. Little did I know, the car had a crack in the exhaust manifold that was leaking carbon monoxide into the cabin. Feeling exhausted and unaware of the danger, I closed my eyes for a moment on the highway and narrowly avoided a collision.

A Lesson Learned

The GL had its quirks, and one of them became apparent when I stalled the engine. The battery light would come on, and the car refused to start under its own power. Stranded on the side of the road, I used the hazard lights to flag down a kind stranger who gave me a jumpstart. With the windows rolled down and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blasting from the speakers, I made it to my destination, nursing yet another headache.

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A Rocky Return

The return trip was not without its challenges. As I approached a treacherous section near the Hudson River, I encountered a BMW that had crashed into the cliff wall. Startled by the sight, I downshifted to slow down and engage 4WD. However, my right front tire unexpectedly fell into a storm drain, stalling the engine. Stranded and without jumper cables, I hitched a ride to a nearby rest stop and called my dad for a tow.

Farewell, Subaru GL

The mechanics confirmed our suspicions of cracks in the manifold, and the cost of repair was simply too high. Reluctantly, I decided to sell the GL and move on to my next set of wheels. Despite its flaws, I still miss that little car dearly. It was fuel-efficient, versatile, and surprisingly zippy. It may have tried to kill me a couple of times, but it holds a special place in my heart.


Q: What was the Subaru GL’s fuel efficiency like?
The Subaru GL was impressively fuel-efficient, making it a practical choice for long drives and everyday commuting.

Q: Did the Subaru GL have any safety features?
Given its age, the Subaru GL lacked modern safety features like airbags. However, it did offer some standard safety features for its time.

Q: How spacious was the Subaru GL’s cargo area?
With the seats folded down, the Subaru GL offered a surprisingly large amount of space in the back, making it perfect for hauling various items.


The 1984 Subaru GL may have had its quirks and challenges, but it left an indelible mark on my life. Its ruggedness, versatility, and unique charm made it a memorable companion during my formative years. Although it’s been years since I said goodbye to that little wagon, the memories and lessons learned will stay with me forever.

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