Imagine if Panda Express decided to offer a hamburger. As it would turn out, the burger was rather delectable; grilled just right on a new system the restaurants installed. The sauce was very different but also delicious, with a big hint of peanut that few others had tried (yes, Purdue alumni, I have tried a Duane Purvis Peanut Butter Burger at the Triple XXX Family Restaurant on my way to Indianapolis). Of course, as good as this burger was, it failed miserably in this imaginary reality market. Are you surprised? Who goes to Panda Express for a hamburger? Also, regardless of how it tastes, just the idea of anything peanut on a meat paddy is too much for many people.
The 1992 Subaru SVX is a product similar to the one in the scenario described above. Here was a slick looking Italian-designed grand touring coupe with bizarre love-it-or-hate-it Lamborghini styled windows — and it was available for purchase at a dealership known for selling flat-four powered economy cars equipped with simple four wheel drive systems to people who had entire wardrobes from the L.L. Bean catalog.
The situation was worsened by the fact that the SVX cost significantly more than the next most expensive car on the Soobie lot; remember also that this was the age of the Japanese sports coupe where great options were plentiful from every brand. Despite being marketed as a sporting car, there was no option for a manual transmission. Here was a hard-to-define product which, no matter how you described it, and it didn’t fit the definition of anything a person would darken the door of a Subaru store for. The dismal sales of 5,200 units the first year dropped steadily to an embarrassing 600 for the final 1997 model year.
Of course, these factors mean that the SVX is about as Autopian as a car can get. A flat six up front and all wheel drive? A funky Giorgetto Guigiaro design from a period where many of his production cars were pretty damn dull? The radio inexplicably hidden behind a door? No wonder we love it, and no surprise that it didn’t sell. As much as I’m enamored with this car, I’ll admit that it didn’t really seem to make sense, and honestly Subaru should have been putting efforts towards a market it could actually compete in.
There’s a lot of argument as to what the first “crossover” built was. Admittedly the AMC Eagle of 1980 was the first to offer a real all-wheel-drive system, but arguably the late seventies Subaru wagons with four wheel drive seem to be the pioneers. Regardless, Subaru kicked off the new generation of the crossover breed in 1994 with the “Outback” series of Subaru Legacy models featuring raised suspensions and cosmetic modifications to make them appear more off-road-ready.
The Outback was a smash hit. After spending the early nineties trying to make boring Camry-competitors, Subaru finally got its groove back by effectively creating this new genre. However, when it came to larger, taller, and more truck-leaning crossover SUVs, Subaru struggled. The oddly-named and odd-looking B9 Tribeca was the brand’s poorly received first entry, and despite making less controversial entries in the coming years Subaru remains just-another-player today with the boring-as-a-filibuster Ascent.
Let’s turn back the clock. What if the SVX had never existed? Instead of making an ill-fated sporty car, Subaru could have complemented the Outback car-style crossovers by pioneering something bigger. We’d still have the SVX’s edgy styling and spirit, but used instead on a vehicle that couldn’t have hit Subaru’s target market and base better if it had a laser scope mounted to the roof.
Here’s a side view of the original GT car and what we might have it morph into:
Presenting the SRV (for Sport Recreational Vehicle, not the late, great blues guitarist); a Mercedes ML/BMW X5/Lexus RX years before those firms had a chance to hog the spotlight.
Based on a Legacy platform, it would be launched with the flat six motor (possibly lower lever four cylinder models could be available later) and all-wheel-drive. Because of the taller nose over the engine, we would absolutely put the space saver spare under the hood. We’ve kept the funky split windows, but with the larger glass in might not be as disturbing as on the SVX.
In back, a hatchback opens on to a reasonable sized cargo area, though only two rows of seats are available. This egg-shaped thing would likely raise some eyebrows, until you told them it was a Subaru off-roader-for-the-street. Just the word ‘Subaru’ would likely get them to nod, knowing that it came from a brand that once sold a four seater car with two of those seats outside of the car (the BRAT) or a wagon with the back roof cut off (the Baja) — see those below:
Speaking of Subarus with seats outside, the SRV doesn’t offer the Chicken Tax seats of the old BRAT, but there would have been a spiritual successor to that fun machine. The SRV Brumby would have used the name that was placed on Australian market BRATs (anything Aussie was uber cool in American in the early nineties- even Yahoo Serious had a career here and Mel Gibson hadn’t opened his mouth yet). The new Brumby thing would have had a few tricks up its sleeve for the flannel-shirt-under-puffer-vest crowd.
In the area were the normal SRV has a wagon-like hatchback cargo area, the Brumby has a tiny pickup-style bed with a tailgate. A standard ‘trunk lid’ makes this space weatherproof, but if you remove it you now have a mini pickup. This bed can be expanded by folding down the tailgate and adding a cargo fence around the perimeter of the open gate.
There’s a tough looking roof rack that can hold different adapters for product carriers, but the real trick is the Brumgalo tent system.
The Brumgalo (play on bungalow) is a tent system that takes advantage of the Brumby’s design to create a perfect space for two to camp. There’s sleeping space for two on the roof with an extension to increase the roof length so your legs aren’t hanging down. A full-height tent space is at the back of the car, but the cargo area/bed features a removable box containing a sink and cooktop (plus possibly a 12 volt fridge). Now you’ve got a real living space with the Brumgalo.
While I think few people might have used the Aztek-with-tent as a camping machine, I can guarantee that owners of Soobie do. You MUST know a person with a CrossTrek or Outback that actually does Instagrammable outdoor adventures on a regular basis (even if it isn’t on their dopey “Badge of Ownership” thing stuck on the tailgate):
Look, as with most designers, in my job I’m rarely designing for myself. I might occasionally cringe at the choices customers make, but I need to pay the power bill. With most of the cars that I ‘modify’ on this site, I’m quite fond of the design of the original vehicles and wouldn’t have changed a thing but acknowledge that they missed the mark with the buying public. The SVX is certainly one of those cars. However, this is one car where the design could be kept almost the same but be a better seller on a different type of vehicle. Subaru would have been the perfect brand to release an early “tall” crossover, likely unaware that this category would take over the world thirty years later.
That front 3/4 shot of the SRV has the air of a Citroën XM Break / Estate / Wagon about it (which is a good thing). How did BMW get away with nabbing that name for its new monstrosity?
No, no, no, no. It’s giving me Aztek flashbacks in the profile view.
I loved the SVX since the first time I saw it mentioned in a magazine and support this idea. It almost feels in a way like Citroen with the DS line nowadays. Maybe give it a whole naming scheme of other stars from the Pleiades constellation in keeping with the Alcyone name in its home market.
The Brumby thing would have been timely for the 90s where there were a ton of small trucklet concepts. Could be the shade of green with the dark lower half that’s giving Plymouth Backpack concept to me though.
I hope you have a patent pending on the Brumgalow idea – something like that for any of the short-bed trucks on the market today would sell like hotcakes.
I owned an SVX for 7.5 years, and took it from 112k to 200k miles. I think the general public missed the point of the SVX, and the magazine reviews at the time were completely off the mark. Magazine reviews often focus on 0-60, slalom, or lap times and other metrics, which, while fine, are not everything. It was NOT a sports car, it was a real GT car, and by that it could cover long distances at high speeds in comfort and no matter what the weather.
I was a ski instructor at the time so my schedule involved waking up at the ass crack of dawn and driving an hour away to the hill on roads that were rarely plowed yet, and the SVX just ate it up. I’ll never forget passing multiple SUVs in the ditch, while my trusty subie plowed through 12″ of white gold.
I also took it on long trips, from WI to Florida and back, out west, and man on the highway it’s just so ‘right’ at 80mph. I actually hated driving the thing in town; the gearing, the suspension, all of it felt awful in urban environments, and yeah, a jeep cherokee could beat it from a stop light. But from 60mph to 120mph, the thing was quite quick.
Out in South Dakota at around 2am, I decided to see how fast it would go; I wound up hitting 143mph on my GPS and it was still pulling pretty hard, but the pavement started getting uneven so I backed off. Supposedly they hit 155mph, stock.
Anyway….great car, learned a lot, very reliable, but I changed my trans fluid every other oil change because I REALLLLLLLLY didn’t want to replace a transmission, which they are known for. Next owner got it to 260k and burned up the transmission, undoubtedly from never changing the trans fluid.
Unrelated, I swear any car that is “known for” having bad transmissions are really just lazy AF owners that don’t change the ATF and trans filter like they’re supposed to, then act all shocked pikachu when their transmission dies.
Oh and for the record, a stock SVX is a better car than a non turbo z32, 3000gt, supra, etc. People often compare the SVX to the boosted version of the JDM coupes at the time, which is just a bad move. Subaru never offered a high HP ‘super fast’ SVX. It had one engine, and it was a great engine.
Also, I’d love to see those magazine reviewers take that whole flock of cars up a mountain pass in bad weather. The SVX would dominate all of them.
Many transmissions are killed by neglect. But I’d challenge the assertation that every failure is caused by such. I’ll offer Ford’s AXOD up as a classic example. After numerous hard part failures, they retroactively revised the ATF change interval down to 30,000 miles and told users to never use their parking pawls (only the emergency brake). Neither of these are in the original owners manuals, so some owners simply didn’t get the message. But I did, and I applied these steps to 3 of these transmissions, nursing them along as long as possible. They still all failed in short order, and none of them were unreasonably abused.
Sometimes a design is just too fragile for reasonable real-world use. Underbuilt. Not engineered for its actual use case. Even walking on eggshells can’t keep every transmission alive.
Needs an XT or GT trim model with a hood scoop for the turbo 4.
I can’t identify why, but that SRV side view looks French to me.
Genewich- that’s because it looks a bit like a Citroen XM wagon (and sedan too).
the windows were an unnecessary design feature that offered zero benefit to the car and it’s design. adding them to alternative designs is not the best idea. The Lincoln by Vignale would have been a better thing and possibly where this whole SVX came from.
You’re speaking out of your ass and don’t know what you’re talking about.
But what do I know, I only owned one for almost 8 years.
It’s great that you’re an expert on SVXs and passionately defending their qualities, but could you maybe tone down the aggression? There’s no need for it.
There’s also no need for people confidently making claims on things they don’t have any experience or knowledge about. If I’m coming across as aggressive, it’s probably the result of every high school drop out becoming loud/confident that they’re simultaneously smarter than microbiologists, scientists, constitutional scholars, geopolitical historians, all without any formal education or professional experience in ANY of those fields.
Idk why people just can’t STFU about stuff they don’t know about, but it’s admittedly triggering lately.
I know how you feel – the proliferation of ‘facts’ spouted across the internet by folks who have no idea what they’re talking about grinds my gears too. I’m just hoping we can keep the rhetoric here a bit more pleasant and supportive.
It’s great to hear about real-world experience from folks who’ve actually owned these cool quirky cars, and that’s a big draw of the autopian community for me. I honestly assumed the windows on the SVX would be an absolute nightmare, but from your comments it sounds like they are much less of an issue than I imagined.
Now I’m wishing I could take a Countach through the drive-thru at MacDonalds just to see what it’s like!
I once, back in the early ’90s, witnessed a guy in a DeLorean at a drive thru.
It was epic – he eventually backed up a little, then pulled to the right so he could half-open the door and snake his arm out to collect the drinks. So cool that he even gave it a try.
Upon reading the lead image, the first thing that popped into my head was the theme to Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Strange Brew”.
Also, I loved the SVX. My sister’s boyfriend (now ex husband) owned one back in 2002 or so and I thought it was the coolest car that anyone I knew owned.
taargustaargus- indeed. Have you discovered a rat in one the cans in your Two Four?
No yet, but when I do I’m going to complain for a free one.
I bet those hosers would have appreciated something like that Brumby over the GMC Vandura.
I love weird cars. I think Subaru was looking for the SVX to serve as something of a halo car to draw people to dealerships to sell more normie cars and if that were thw case (by subaru corp.) They could justify low sales, though still being a Subaru they wanted to make it reasonably enough priced to be attainable.
@Bishop I love both of your renders the wagon / avant version reminds me of the wagon/ avant version of the Citroën XM a car that I wish were imported here (USDM)
Well of a Subaru station wagon is a crossover i guess a jeep is too. So the WWII JEEP must be the 1st crossover. 4wd and a sturdy passenger car body.
Yeah….. I’m pretty sure a crossover is not a car with 4wd and a suspension lift. A crossover is a car that’s taller for no reason and has black plastic on it.
Example: Chevy Trax. I wouldn’t take a Trax anywhere I wouldn’t take a Cruze or similar. No off-road benefit, it’s just a car that’s taller for no reason.
Making the 98 Lexus crossover properly the first crossover.
Rust Buckets- I think a CJ/Wrangler type Jeep is indeed not a crossover. It’s hard to classify; I think an Outback is a crossover but something like an RX is a ‘tall crossover’. The height only helps with visibility (since everyone has tall car now and we need to see over other tall cars in a they-bring-a-knife-we-bring-a-gun sort of escalation) and a bit more ground clearance. I will say that I took our 2000 RX300 over a curb to get to a different suburban parking lot once; my wife said to never do that again while my then-5-year-old said DO IT AGAIN DO IT AGAIN NOW NOW. That was it for off roading in 12 years of ownership.
Circa 1995, my boss LOVED these cars. He bought one for here, and another for his place in Arizona. I remember it had a suede like finish on the dash.
He told me that there was only one dealership that had people who could work on these, at the Troy Motor Mall. I had to take him there one day to pick up his car.
We stopped by the Jaguar Dealer, and they had a right hand drive 1965-ish Jauuar sedan, British Racing Green, Brownish-Tanish interior. Kind of rough shape. IIRC, non-syncrho manual transmission. Or at least the way I was driving it, it might have felt that way.
I was in love with this thing, and I had the money (it wasn’t obscenely expensive), but I figured, “you know, I don’t think my wife is going to appreciate this bit of automotive excellence…”
The suede was synthetic; it was the first production car to use alcantara in the interior.
I got a Subaru ad reading this article.
You guys have really hit the big time now.
I always loved the look of the SVX. Even to this day, I think it looks great. I also distinctly remember working at a McDonald’s drive-thru when some guy pulled up in his brand new SVX, and I saw him roll down that little half-window and struggle to get his average-sized arm out of that tiny ship porthole to give me the money for his Big Mac meal. That man broke my heart that day. Never meet your heroes, people.
Not sure what you saw, but there’s no issue going to drive thrus with an SVX. I owned one for 8 years. The windows were fantastic; only real downside would be replacement cost if the upper portion broke. I loved them and they had a lot of benefits, scroll up.
No love for the original bizarro Subaru, the XT?
Surely that deserves a shout out for being the originator of the concept that would spawn the admittedly crazy/cool SVX.
I quite enjoyed mine, a 4-cyl with the 4wd button at the top of the joystick shifter. The approach & departure angles were a fair bit worse than my wagons, tho, so it became kinda scruffy pretty quickly. I certainly got plenty of glares from the hunting crowd on their mud boggers when I’d come clawing up a fire road…
Teenage Jack Trade used to constantly press his nose up the windows of these in the high school parking lot, just to get a glimpse of that awesome space ship interior. Oh that steering wheel!
Jack Trade- are you kidding? How could I not love a car with a digital dashboard that looked like a car driving down a runway (tach on one side, speedometer graph on the other, and the animated car lifted up when you raised the suspension)? The window switches hidden in slots on the side doors? Asymetric steering wheel? Checkerboard seat upholstery? Shoot-the-aliens button on the gear shift for 4WD? I’m getting hot and bothered just thinking about it now?
The Subaru XT was peak Subaru.
I don’t care how many more crossovers and WRXs they sell and who loves them, the XT was the greatest Subaru ever, and I will die on this hill.
I love the SVX. Everything you said about its use case on a Subaru dealership in the early 90s is completely, sadly true. No idea who greenlit this car for them, but it was a spectacular failure.
That being said, I loved the one I owned. I manual swapped mine and daily drove that thing for a good while. 2003 Impreza manual trans and matching rear diff. The maintenance was rough though. $1200 windshield repalcements (ten years ago). $130 valve cover gasket set. Etc.
Lockleaf- I did forget to mention that the standard automatic transmission in the SVX was supposedly a time bomb.
It was fine if it was maintained. Which most weren’t. The early models had a screen on the inlet of the trans cooler built into the radiator; this would become clogged and then things would overheat. The fix was to poke out that screen, and just change the fluid and internal trans filter often.
Yeah, I picked mine up with a blown automatic
Speaking on behalf of Oregonians, we love our Subaru’s, and I can promise you I would see more than 20 of these on our roads within a month.
I’m in upstate NY (think ADK’s/Vermont border). Subaru could sell literally anything they want to here. Wish that sort of ultra-loyal base I wish they’d take some real chances on some cool designs like they used to.
If Subaru was a French company, this would be exactly how it all went.