My (First) Car: 1990 Subaru Legacy L

Ah yes. The car that inspired 143Car. Was it legendary?

Let me tell you about this story….

Chapter 1: Eye Contact

In 2nd year university, I needed a car. And having grown up watching, admiring, and lusting after cars, my dad decided that he was tired of me pinching his. He would front some money for this purchase. Which basically meant that he owned me.

Being really excited to have my own car, I only had two requests (which I felt were reasonable):
1. I wanted a Japanese car (affordable, reliable, potentially respectable)

So after months of searching, my dad got fed up and just purchased a car from a former school teacher turned retired granny, who didn’t feel she was fit to drive anymore. It showed – it had nicks and scratches all over the bumpers and the interior smelled of crayons.

It was a 1990 Subaru Legacy L. A family sedan. Which I probably could have overlooked except worst of all it was an automatic. And unlike 99.9999% of the Subarus out there, this was a “rare” front-wheel drive version, so I couldn’t even live out my rallying fantasies.

This was all a bit overwhelmingly disappointing after my dad had alluded to acquiring a variety of RWD sports cars. Recognizing that this was probably a bit disappointing, my dad handed me the official brochure that he had got from the auto show for free as consolation. A BROCHURE.

But wait – thats not all! He also was gracious enough to include a newspaper clipping where a somewhat renknowned automotive journalist appraised it as being “not bad”. Wow.

Still, it had a 2.2L flat flour boxer engine, and was somewhat related to the original and basically UNHEARD of Subaru rally car – the 1993 Legacy RS. Well, that’s what I convinced myself anyway. Ignoring the fact that it had been driven by a grade school teacher smelling of crayons all its life.

Yet over time, it really grew on me. After a good wash, there was something beautifully pure about its Ceramic White colour (yes that is the official trade-marked paint colour).

One day while washing it I decided the wheel covers on this base model car were ghastly – the silver paint was peeling off, exposing the ugly yellow plastic underneath. I decided to go for the “au naturale” look by taking the wheel covers off, and just living with whatever lay underneath. It was a leap of faith – sort of like having Kim Kardashian as your girlfriend and asking her to leave the make up off permanently.

After washing the 13 years of brake dust off, I found that underneath were some of the most beautiful steel wheels I have ever seen. It was this beautiful dark anthracite that had a proper spoke pattern to it (not just a bunch of drilled holes). Coupling the knobby Canadian Tire El Cheapo winter tires and contrasting white paint, it finally looked like the rally car that I knew it was deep inside.

My friend Cam (and fellow car dork) thought I had copied HIS matte black painted steel wheels on his 1991 Civic. Like I was challenging his throne for shittiest car that we inexplicably cared for. I just wasn’t – and my car looked better anyway.

Chapter 2: The First Kiss

I had a lot of firsts in this car: First independent road trip, first girlfriend, first real job – the biggest of which was falling in love with it.

There were a few signs of this love:
– I hand washed it even when it didn’t need washing. In some perverse way, I think it was to memorize every crease on that boxy shape that looked like it had been designed using a set of chisels and a bar of soap
– I would drive the long way home to revel in its comfort. It wasn’t so much that it was luxurious, but if offered a sort of sanctuary
– I almost never turned on the radio so that I could concentrate on the (very faint) throbby sound of the boxer engine
– I took pride in up-keeping the car – my own oil changes, paint work etc.
– I used to drive all around town at night, logging up to 130kms once, to experience it on nicer and twistier roads without traffic, where the full might of the 130hp could be unleashed on public roads. The best bits were when the roads were only illuminated by the Subie’s headlamps – it was just me, the car, and the road.

Every chance I got when it snowed I would call Cam and we would head to our favorite deserted parking lot to practice rally driving with our shitty cars in the snow. The suspension in my car was so soft that I could initiate a Scandinavian flick without braking (that is a rally driving technique where you turn the opposite direction of where want to go to transfer the weight and induce a drift). It was here that I started missing the AWD present on the more legitimate versions of this Legacy, as maintaining the slide was difficult without the rear wheels pedaling you along.

I even tried to teach my sister how to do a basic handbrake turn. Except she sucked.

I also had some close calls in this car.

Once while getting frustrated with a sunday-paced driver, I zoomed past the slow poke, turning my head as I passed to give him “the eye”. As luck would have it, an amber light faced me right before a corner. Unwilling to stop and end up next to this guy at the traffic light, I turned to Cam (who was catching a ride home with me) and yelled, “WATCH THIS!!”.

Since it was wet out, I trail-braked into the corner, hoping that the weight shift forward would give load up the front tires and give me the traction to steer through the corner (and possibly help the tail step out). Like a pro.

It didn’t.

The car did not turn past the first five feet I spent steering, just enough to clear the concrete islands present on the road. The next twenty feet it plowed ahead completely straight; my steering was now turned all the way to the stops but it was like the steering wasn’t connected. Panicking, everything shifted to slow-mo. I pumped the brakes – Nothing. I held the brakes – Nothing. I then dug deep into my driving techniques and PUSHED THE BRAKE PEDAL HARDER. Still nothing.

By this time, the car was into the grass and thankfully it stopped. Five feet in front me were a bunch of cedars, and beyond that was a cliff to the ocean. I sat there, next to Cam, completely silent as the car I had overtaken so exuberantly at the traffic light passed me. It felt like 20 mins before we said anything.

“I think I just saw my life flash before my eyes”

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry”

“Are we dead?”

“I think I just shat myself”

Getting out of the car to inspect for damage, I found none. Only grass and mud on the rear fenders betrayed us.

After that character-building incident, Cam and I decided to call ourselves “Team Risky”. We would boast (to each other) that we were the fastest 1990 Subaru Legacy / 1991 Honda Civic duo in all of the area that we lived in. And we would have many more memories of driving in snowy parking lots or taking random drives at night around the city.

Chapter 3: The Break Up

Over the four years I had with my car, I had racked up over 100,000 kms – more than doubling the mileage I had started out with – and it was showing.

I noticed one day that the temperature gauge was erring on the high side. A quick check of the coolant revealed a low level, and it was later discovered that there was a leak in the radiator.

Not wanting to save a penny at the risk of my car’s life, I went out and ordered the BEST RADIATOR I COULD AFFORD (which was about a hundred bucks). After picking it up one night I noticed that my most recent coolant top-up would be borderline enough to get me home. Driving home that night with new radiator in tow, I prayed that the temperature would not go so high as to blow the head gasket; which would for sure spell the end. I drove home in suspense, trying not to imagine what would happen if the car kicked the bucket that night.

“Please God – I know I don’t normally believe in you but if you help me get my car home, it will be further proof of your existence”. I drove home with all the vents turned to maximum heat and kept the revs low to build as little heat in that engine as possible – Stay with me Subaru!

Limping the car to my cul de sac, smoke started pouring from the front hood. Luckily, I managed to coast it home and install the shiny new radiator in my dad’s garage at night. Headlamp on and everything. I was a proud surgeon that had just saved my own car’s life!

Unfortunately, that feeling that did not last long.

Shortly after, I started experiencing a faint petroleum smell…which became stronger. On nice days, I could roll the window down to keep fresh air going through, but unfortunately this was mid-December. Everywhere I went, I had a choice of showing up with Level II hypothermia, or being high as a kite from the fumes. I picked up my (now long term) girlfriend on our somewhat disastrous first date with the car in this state, trying not to shiver as I drove.

When Cam and I went to our parking lot to do more snow driving, I would have to drive with the windows down. Usually by time we left, I would have a mound of snow on the rear seats from going sideways for so long.

A fix for the leak causing the smells was $1500 – which for a car I had owned for 4 years and had cost me $3900 pretty much spelled the end.

Perhaps if it had been AWD, and if it had been a manual, I would have fixed it. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t the car for me – this was the end.

My dad had scheduled a flat deck truck to come pick it up. And even though I was preparing myself for that fateful day, I knew that it was going to be tough to see my car go.

The day came. And to help see it off I gave the car a final farewell car wash. I did this to A. remember those “curves” as I washed the car one last time, and 2. see it off properly the way you get an undertaker to dress up your family member before you say your final goodbyes.

And then, while a montage of memories were playing in my head, something magical happened. The Subaru badge on the trunk lid came off as I brushed my hand over it. It knew the end was near and it gave up its last sacrifice to me. I yelled, “This is a sign! Its saying goodbye to me!!”. Living at home at the time, my dad looked at me like I had gone crazy and grunted.

I took off the VIN plate in the engine bay and kept the car manual as proof of its life. Cam showed up with his Civic for moral support, and we took some pictures together. Team Risky – together for the last time. We vowed that when we got better cars we would resurrect the team once again, and continue the nerdy car things we did together. And although we did eventually get better cars that day never came.

The flat deck arrived. It was the grim reaper.

I had been hopeful that my car would have a noble afterlife. Perhaps somehow, somewhere, it would be a donor car to somebody else’s Legacy, perhaps to another kid that at one point was disappointed by not getting a better car but had grown to love it like I did.

The truck driver then told me it would simply be crushed, melted down, and shipped to China. Damn.

Being a bit of a hoarder, my dad wanted to keep the wheels even though they did not fit any of the other cars at home. I would later find out that he had relieved my car of every single light bulb as well – JUST IN CASE he could sell them (which he didn’t). And without the wheels, the truck driver could only give me $20 for the car. I was saddened that the market value for my car was only equivalent to modest meal at Joey’s. To me it had been so much more: A friend, shelter, transport, fun, and a confidant.

As the truck drove off, I waved goodbye to my first real possession, sitting there on its disc brakes. It was fitting that the sun was setting, and I was fighting back the tears and failing. It was the end of a legacy – THE Legacy – and I would miss it. My next car would be better in every way, but there is something special about your first car that you never forget.

6 Comments Add Yours

  1. Mandy

    Lol yes i sucked at drifting in the snow priobably cuz i was scared shitless that we would get caught or i would hurt your baby 😛

  2. Eva

    You made me laugh! And don’t worry, I won’t think about you and your make-out sessions =P

    P.S. this is your cousin, not your gf LOL!

    • Mandy

      LOL i was like… why wouldn’t you think about the make out sessions?? LOL and then i was like oh OH cousin Eva hahah XD

  3. Keiho

    Good write up…at least you gave up the Scoob on your own terms. Mine left via a t-bone!

    • admin

      Yeah I’m sure that was a tough day for you kent

      There’s always a “next” car isn’t there? Something nice and practical like a spec b legacy? 😉

    • Keiho

      Nah…got to be German next, need to go with luxury now. 🙂

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