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Rubysu the subaru - 81 GL D/R 4x4 wagon - WA to MO

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When it comes to old cars I've been more of a Fiat guy, but after talking with a co-worker about his fond childhood memories of his parents old Subarus I started looking around a bit more at the early 80s suby wagons. At first I was digging the dual headlights on the old DLs, but slowly the GL grille grew on me and especially after finding out about the cyclops light. Had almost 300k on an 00 Civic SI and was looking to get out of it and into a more versatile daily driver. Kept my eyes peeled on CL for a 4-5 months and ebay had a really nice 84 come up in St. Louis which is nearby, but alas I wasn't quick enough.


Finally in September the 81 up in Bellingham popped up and I had a work trip that would be taking me to Seattle so I was hoping to take a look. She flaked out on me though, I even had the cash with me, and I didn't get to see it. Figured it would be as good as gone before I'd be able to make another Pacific NW trip. Happened to check back in with her a few months later and she'd actually reposted, but reduced the price. Struck while the iron was hot and arranged to send her a cashiers check(risky risky). Meanwhile December had arrived so I sent up some tools and cold weather break down supplies to our Seattle office. The headlights didn't work so I'd read up about possible relay issues and snagged a couple new ones to take with me. I had a lot of driving so headlights were going to make the trip much easier and shorter. Fortunately after pickup I was able to find a fuse not in the fuse box, but under the steering column that had blown. Low and behold a few cents later I had lights. Woohoo the trip could begin.


Once I got onto interstate I noticed the oil pressure dropping to around 20-25 psi and dropping. I found if I reduced speed it would stabalize at 25. Stopped and had a heavier weight oil put in at a quick lube and no improvement. Parked across from our office in Seattle and started researching the oil pump. Found a gasket set in Shoreline so was crossing my fingers a rebuild might help. Slept in the office and was only maybe 50ft away from the car the whole night. However here's what I found when I started to load up in the morning.


The d-bag didn't even steal anything; there was 100 bucks cash in the glove box and $300 bucks in tools in a sock on the floor. Needless to say I was pretty bummed and didn't figure it was even worth reporting to the police. The turkey even dropped his knife into the back seat that he was using to pry with.


Got to O'reillys bought some gorilla tape and fastened a box into the window and got the oil pump rebuilt. Unfortunately it didn't improve the oil pressure. Was just going to have to baby it at 50-55mph all the way home to SW Missouri...2300 miles.


Stopped at a rest stop off I-90 while going between Wenatchee and Snoqualmie and smelled oil real bad like it was burning oil instead of gas. Oil levels checked out so I had to press on. The burning oil smell went away eventually, not that I could have done much about it if it hadn't.




Went through Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Really really liked Idaho. ruby-at-the-flamingo-hotel.jpg

In western Montana I was able to kick the speed up to 65-70 with a stable oil pressure around 30 psi, w00t! Had new front tires put on in Missoula because I was expecting snow and found out they had 14s on the car...hmmm weird. Cut south on 191 at Bozeman to try and see the edge of Yellowstone and head towards Grand Targhee to snowboard for an afternoon.


Well just after this picture the car stalled and died...and wouldn't restart. Turned over but nothing could get her going. Well crap; there was almost no traffic on this stretch, no cell signal and temp in the low teens. Didn't want to keeping turning and use up the last juice out of the battery so I popped the hoid and started trying to figure out what was happening. Didn't smell flooded at the carb, was getting spark and so I was a bit stumped. A nice couple from North Dakota stopped and we noticed the venturis on the carb were shut so he manually operated the shutter and I turned her over some more. Finally she fired up, but was super bogged down so apparently it had flooded. I mashed the pedal to the floor and finally after a minute or two it cleared up. Thanked them and jumped into the car and got moving again. Stopped in west yellowstone at a gas station to fill up where it tried to do the same thing on me. This time though it did start and once again had to mash the pedal down to keep it running and eventually it cleared up. Well crud there goes any stopping along the way unless I'm in a town. Kept my eyes peeled along the drive for a possible donor window and actually came across three 81-84 subys near Driggs. All sitting in fields all non-runners one was even a matching blue. Couldn't convince anyone to part with a window/door(also forgot to mention the door with the broken window was stuck shut). Was a little cheesed at the apparent stinginess but oh well.


Made it through quite a bit of snow over the pass coming into Jackson Hole to overnight at the hostel. Got the air filter cleaner kit to clean the mold...yes mold off the K&N filter and was hoping a better breathing car might boost my mileage. I was ranging anywhere from 20 to 27 mpg, but that's somewhat off because the 14s make the speedo run 5mph slow and won't accurately reflect mileage. At this point the car seemed less likely to die on a tourist stop so I tried my luck in WY at an Oregon Trail marker.



Once I got on I-80 though there was no more babying the oil pressure. She wouldn't stay up at any speed. So from here on out I just had to put the hammer down and hope for the best. Still 1100 miles to go but at least I could try and make some miles running a decent speed. Amazingly she held up running the rest of the way hovering just around 3 psi. The mileage even jumped way up once I made it clear of windy west and central Kansas. I breathed a sigh of relief as I closed in on Topeka and would be within towing range of home 4 hours away. Cleaned up the broken glass and sprayed her off in Kansas City. Pushed on from Topeka to Springfield on one tank of gas and was wanting to see where true E was on the gauge and to see if the low fuel light still worked. Made it to my parents and the ran dry 2 blocks away. The low fuel light does not work. Had gas with me so it was easy enough to fill back up. I'd already called a local glass shop so they had a rather pricey($188) window waiting for me. Went back to the parents and got that put in and then again when just a couple blocks from their house the accelerator cable SNAPPED! Holy cow that was a close call, I can't imagine how buggered I'd have been had it done that really anywhere west of Kansas. The barrel on the end of the new cable had to be ground down in order to fit the pedal assembly which would have been a real pain to have found out while trying to make it home.


So I've made it home safely and the car has continued to run pretty well. Made a couple more 3-4 hour drives for the holidays without mishap. The oil pressure will stay back up around 25 if I drive in town, but drops on long hauls except when accelerating. I was even able to find a cheap CL EA81 from a brat that a guy had gotten to put into his VW van so I've taken it down to the machine shop to be rebuilt and I'll put it in sometime in February.


Would like to get a full set of the original 13" rims. The shocks need replaced as do the ball joints and tie rods. The interior is that great blue plaid, but could use a wetvac to really be cleaned up and look great. They cut into the center console to put in a beater cd player so I'd love to find a replacement console w/ factory radio at some point. The 4wd works great and I even had my first chance to pull out someone that was stuck in Idaho. The cyclops eye works great and my younger nephew and his friends think that's about the coolest option ever. Next spring I'd like to build a sleeping deck in the back and start repairing the rare rust spots it has. Overall I'm pretty stoked to have the car and to have put 3000 miles on it in a few weeks. These cars just don't exist out here so I've already turned quite a few heads and regularly have guys ask me about it at the gas station.



Eli B

Southwest Missouri

Edited by ebarb

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Looks great! I bet there would be plenty of people who would work a trade with you for the 14" wheels you have, myself included. Sounds like it was quite the road trip!

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Awesome read! I'm glad she got you home with little mishap. Really sucks about the window, what a bummer!


I went on a similar adventure after I got my 87 GL. It sat for years, then got sent to a dealership. I got my hands on it, changed the oil, put new spark plugs in it and proceeded to drive from New Jersey to Nevada for Burning man with about 1,000 lbs of gear+people in/on the car.


Got me all the way out there and back with no problem. 5,000 + miles. Two days after getting back to Jersey the water pump fell apart. :eek:


Nice ride and I'm interested to see what you do with it!

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Excellent story.. experience.


I lived for 18 years in the Idaho/Yellowstone/Driggs area. Shame they didn't help you on the door/window issue.


Winter travel in that area and over the pass and into Jackson Hole.. gutsy :headbang: Yup, a lot of nothing on some of those less traveled roads and be prepared for the worst. That is some impressive area...


As for the low oil pressure, possibly confirm that is correct? Rebuilt engine sounds nice too.


As for traveling, communication issues: No bars on a cell phone, you can purchase power boosters to set cell phone in... they work great from what I hear. Also I have a "SPOT: satellite tracker. Your parent could keep track of your location and with purchased options you can send for a tow-truck by use of satellite signal. But, these also take away some of the fun of jumping in a rig and going... seeing what happens. Yearly subscription is pricey for SPOT. Another maker, "Quick-Link" or "Rescue-Link have just a "sos" no yearly fee's. I usually have Boy Scouts when I head into out of town excursions so I assure to have communication methods. Just something to think about.


I have a 1982 Wagon, grey color with the same seat patterns! Not running, yet.


That is a good looking wagon you have. Nice color, looks like it was taken care of. I Like the two tone, lower chrome etc... that would even turn heads as they are getting harder to find, so nice snag.


Sounds like it was a lot of fun... adventure... Well done. :clap:

Edited by Indrid cold

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Quite a journey, sounds like it was a lot of fun. Except for the window though, that's a real bummer. Only consolation is, the broken window probably saved your tools and money, perhaps even the car. The bloke was probably trying to pry the door open and the glass shattered and scared him off. Darn frame-less window =P


A good adventure though. And an awesome buy, definitely a car worth the trip. I really like the bumpers and trim. I would love to do the same thing. I'm looking for a car right now and I may just end up out west. All the nicer cars are out that way, and it really is a good excuse for road trip.


Thanks for sharing, and some great photos =)



Edited by Coyote Paws

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Sweet '81 and kudos on your dedication. The oil pressure may not be as big of an issue as you think. The stock sender is notoriously inaccurate and low psi numbers on the gauge when the engine is hot are almost the rule rather than the exception. Being an old used car however, I would recommend doing a Seafoam wash in the oil to clean the interior of the engine a bit and a new oil pump. An aftermarket oil pressure gauge would also be a plus since you are obviously very mindful of that. Did I miss where you listed the odo reading?


I would also recommend an alternator upgrade if it hasn't been done already. The '81s were externally regulated. You can delete the external regulator and switch over to an uber-modern internally regulated unit along with an output upgrade. It's all been covered here, so you should be able to find the info with searches.


Those 14" steel rims are actually quite desirable because they are the rare 4 x 140 lug pattern and give you more tire choices than the 13s. It sounds like you are aiming for something of a stock restoration, but you can get tires for the 14's that will be very similar to the 13" tire size but you'll have greater selection.


That sucks about the window, especially since these cars are so easy to break into. That's one of my concerns about doing so much work on my '81. They're getting old enough now that any kind of body or window damage means a hunt for increasingly rare parts or expensive glass. I already have storage issues for all my spare parts, but I would still like a complete set of extra glass for my hatch. You can always make another trip back to the left coast for a parts run.:grin:

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