February 8th to May 4th
How Subaru conquered Switzerland
The Subaru 1600 4WD first made its appearance on the Swiss market 40 years ago. At first laughed at, the 4x4 estate car took the country by storm. An exhibition at the Classic Car Museum in Safenwil retraces Subaru’s success story.
When the Emil Frey Group started importing the Subaru 1600 4WD, success was far from granted, as the car didn’t really fulfil the prevailing Swiss automobile beauty criteria. On the other hand, it was robust, practical and inexpensive: thanks to its generous ground clearance and selectable all-wheel drive, it stuck to the snow and ice as well as to country lanes and wet meadows.
The company’s boss, Walter Frey, had a good eye again when he signed Bernhard Russi as brand ambassador. The popular Downhill ski champion and Olympic winner from Andermatt presented the vehicle in 1978 in a three-minute TV commercial (!). Obviously extremely credible: His “little truck”, as he was known to call his Subaru off record, conquered Switzerland from the start: Only two years later, the 1600 4WD was the biggest selling estate car.
The affordable and multi-purpose car was especially popular among the farmers in the Alps as it made farming in remote pastures easier for them. Over hill and down dale, the milk could now be transported down the valley to the dairy while still providing space for the kids and the dog. For Simon Bundi who grew up in the Grisons, and curator of the special exhibition "All-wheel drive pioneer. Rally winner. Cult car." at the Classic Car Museum Safenwil, Subaru was almost a synonym for all-wheel drive. “As a boy, I was fascinated by the digital clock on the dashboard.”
The inconspicuous passenger car was the start of the all-wheel drive boom in Switzerland. Before that, the 4x4 market share was less than one percent and exclusively all-terrain vehicles. Today, every other vehicle sold in Switzerland has such a drive system. “The Subaru 1600 4WD has played a decisive role in our current exhibition about what a car should be able to achieve”, explains Simon Bundi.
Soon, Subaru – in Japanese, the name also refers to the Pleiades constellation – offered several four-wheel drive model ranges, from small cars to sports cars. The all-wheel drive pioneer has been a member of the local automobile establishment for a long time. The vehicles’ unique selling point is the permanent and symmetrical four-wheel drive coupled with a longitudinally-mounted boxer engine.
But it was only with the Impreza GT Turbo that Subaru also built an emotional car. It was derived from the rally bolides with which Subaru won the driver standing of the WRC world championships in 1995, 2001 and 2003. Later, the Japanese blessed its fan base with the WRX STI 4x4, a driving machine fuelled by a 2.5 l boxer turbo and 300 hp. SUBARU also won the WRC World Championship in 1996, 1997 and 1998.