What do you think would happen if Wheels brought in a Subaru Outback from the US and drove it in the Aussie outback?
“It was an obvious idea, really. But not ours.” Deputy editor John Carey happily credited US magazine Automobile with an idea that would see Subaru America ship an early, left-hand-drive Subaru Outback to Australia, almost a year before the taller-than-normal Liberty wagon went on sale here.
Read John Carey's classic story, as published in the December 1995 edition of Wheels.
Carey’s December 1995 story explained that during an editorial planning meeting, Automobile associate editor Mark Schirmer had wondered aloud if the right place to test the new Legacy Outback wasn’t, well, the Outback. Schirmer’s idea quickly became his assignment.
So it came to pass that Carey, Schirmer (on his first visit to Australia) and Alice Springs-based photographer Steve Strike left Sydney to drive through the Outback to Alice Springs via Broken Hill, then across the Flinders Ranges to Arkaroola and Uluru. Which Schirmer insisted on climbing.
Shirmer on the salt of Lake Eyre South
In four and a half days and 4000km of high-speed driving, Carey only admitted to cruising at 160km/h in the speed limit-free Northern Territory, though Schirmer happily recorded they sat the Subaru at 130km/h on dirt roads and cruised between 150 and 170km/h for much of the time, the 2.5-litre flat-four returning a range-spoiling 16.5L/100km at these speeds. They must have slowed down for a good part of the journey, though, because Carey recorded an overall average of 13.1L/100km.
Carey wrote that he was mostly pleased with the Outback’s performance, though he did find the rear suspension too soft when the road undulated. “The Outback remembers direct road irregularities for some time afterwards in several diminishing oscillations before eventually settling,” he noted.
Does a year pass without Wheels going outback for a story? I doubt it, though to do so in an Indiana-built LHD Subaru in company with an American journalist certainly created a unique opportunity.
Paul Hogan, the Australian comedian and actor then at the height of his international fame, was contracted to Subaru and appeared in the Legacy Outback’s American TV advertisement, pretending that the location in the desert east of Los Angles was the Australian Outback.
Subaru America claimed it was “The World’s First Sport Utility Wagon”, not knowing that two decades later we’d be calling this new class Crossovers.
For the Australian market launch, Subaru elected against not only the Legacy badge – the international model name dropped in deference to the war veterans’ group of the same name – but also the Australia-only Liberty name, instead promoting the high-riding wagon purely as Outback. So successful has the concept proved that Outback is now fundamentally a standalone model globally.
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