How Subaru Got All-Wheel Drive

Today Subaru is known for having all-wheel drive and... uh... well, they’re known for having all-wheel drive. That’s for sure. But where did this all start? Well, it all goes back to a power company, some old Toyotas, and a few borrowed parts from Nissan.

None other than Ben Hsu of the absolutely wonderful site Japanese Nostalgic Car explains how this story all came together.…


It all started in 1970 when TEPCO (Tohoku Electric Power Co., Inc), the power company for northeast Japan, needed to replace their fleet of clunky old Toyota Land Cruisers. TEPCO needed something that could trudge through winter snow, but they wanted something that drove like a car in the summer.

Hsu explains how Subaru came into the picture.

Fuji Heavy Industires was ahead of the curve in employing front-wheel-drive with the FF-1, while most Japanese cars of its era and size were still rear-wheel-drive. Because their engines (and even spare tires) were mounted over the drive wheels, they garnered a reputation for performing extraordinarily well in snow. A TEPCO manager walked in to a Subaru store one day asking if they would consider making the FF-1 wagon in AWD.

Subaru complied, modifying a handful of them to be fitted with propellor shafts and rear differentials. The diffs and rear axle, in fact, were taken from a Datsun 510 wagon as Nissan owned 20 percent of Subaru at the time (which is also why modern Impreza diffs work so well with RWD Nissans in the aftermarket world). The AWD wagons sat 20mm higher than the FF ones, and with the FF-1 already adopting boxer motors with spare tires sitting atop the engines, the template for all modern Subarus was born.


Without that dealership meeting, Subaru might still be cranking out completely ordinary front-wheel drive cars today. There might be no WRC championship titles to their name, no huge fan meets, no Subaru as we know it.

Check out Japanese Nostalgic Car for a bit more history on how these prototype TEPCO service vehicles transitioned into Subaru’s road cars just a year later. And give thanks to Toyota’s clunkiness that birthed the world’s smoother all-wheel drive Scoobies.


Photo Credits: Subaru via Spotted Laurel (Front-Wheel Drive Subaru FF-1 pictured at top)


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