The Story of Little Red | A 1984 Subaru GL

November 2016, I found an online posting of a 1984 Subaru GL Hatchback for sale in Hood River, Oregon. Merl, the 2nd owner of the Subaru, asked an employee at his local Les Schwab tire center to list the Subaru for sale as he wasn’t comfortable advertising it. In the coming days, I arranged for my friend Phil Haskell and I to drive down in a slightly more modified 84’ Subaru GL built by Gregg Huld

Arriving at Merl’s house, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Merl, a veteran of the U.S. Submarine Service, greeted me. As he opened the shop doors, the 84’ Subaru stood alone. It seemed to have been preserved inside for years. At first glance, it was mint.


A friend of Merl’s purchased the Subaru brand new at Continental Motors in Anchorage, Alaska in 1984. She worked as a secretary for ESSO. She drove a Honda up to Anchorage summer of 1984 and because it didn’t do well in snow, she asked Merl his advice. Merl told her, “get a Subaru”. And this is what she did. Later in 1990, she brought the Subaru on a ferry from Anchorage to Seattle, Washington and drove it to Fairview, Oregon. What happened, the Subaru GL started miss firing on her. She took it to the Subaru dealership in Gresham, Oregon and they told her she had a blown engine. It was only cylinder 1 & 3. When Merl heard this, he told her that it couldn’t have a blown engine if it would run on #1 & #3 because it must have compression. So he knew what was wrong. There are two magnets on the ignitions and when one of them cracks, it knocks out #2 & #4. You run on #1 & #3 on one magnet, and #2 & #4 on the other magnet. The dealership told her that they would give $1,200 for the Subaru. After she discussed the issue with her husband and how he didn’t want to deal with the mechanical issue, she told him to call Merl if he would be interested in purchasing the car. Merl agreed to buy it and her husband wouldn’t have to worry about it. Merl drove it from Fairview to Hood River, Oregon. It would only do 40mph on 2 cylinders, but his wife was following him in a ¾ ton Chevy 4wd pickup in case it needed to be dragged home. When the little Subaru reached the bottom of the hill, it needed to be towed up his driveway. As soon as he had a chance, he took it apart and he put new magnets in and it hasn’t had a problem since.

As Merl remembers, nobody has sat in the back seat. The spare tire has never been used. The longest trip was taken to Idaho and Glacier Park. With only 95,000 miles, the car truly showed mint at the view of the interior. He has only put Qaker State 10w30 in the engine as he reminded me that these EA81s have solid lifters. He mentioned when filling the washer reservoir too high, it will leak out. Also it is hard to put in reverse so you may need to double clutch it. The hydraulic struts for the rear hatch was also worn and he showed me a custom bracket he fabricated to latch.

When I returned home, I called Merl of my safe arrival. The next day I began pressure washing the wheel wells. Since Merl lived on a dirt road, the mud had accumulated on each of the 4 wheel wells over the decades. The mud had turned into a clay substance and while he likely washed only the external painted surfaces of the vehicle, most of the wheel wells remained dirty. When I finished pressure washing the wheel wells, I was disappointed to find holes through them. Now I had seen what Alaska’s salty roads had done to the car in those first five years. The water from the pressure washer had soaked the interior of the carpet as well as finding an opening to the fuel filler neck that had corroded from above contaminating the fuel tank with water and debris. I spent two weeks repairing the vehicle. Both sides of the rear quarter panels had corrosion building from underneath the fender flares. A lot of the supporting material would have to be removed. I was not in a position to pay a body shop to professionally restore it so I decided to remove as much rust, and then treat it with a rust reformer with the help from my friend Michael. We chose to use fiber glass jelly to fill in the holes and rebuild the lost material. I temporarily decided to use some Ford tractor red paint to blend the area that was reworked. I asked my local Subaru dealership, Dewey Griffin Subaru, if they could find a new fuel filler neck for the corroded filler neck. With my surprise, they found the very last one on the East coast of the U.S. After repairing and controlling the corrosion damage, I had a chance to cut and polish the painted surfaces. The results were amazing. On September 16, 2017, “Little Red” was welcomed at the Grand Opening of the New remodeled Dewey Griffin Subaru Dealership in Bellingham, Washington State.

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Stock No. 4441
Model: 4WD GL HB

Ventilated Front Disc Brakes w/Power Assist
8 Position Tilt Steering Wheel
Steel Belted 185/70SR13 Radial Tires
Electronic Ignition
PushButton AM/FM Four Speaker Stereo Radio
Reclining Front Bucket Seats w/Drivers Seat Lumbar Support
Maintenance Free Battery
TellTale Graphic Monitor
Tachometer, Voltmeter, Oil Pressure Gauge, Temperature Gauge
Tinted Glass All Around
Quartz Digital Clock
Electric Rear Window Defroster
Front Side Window Defogger
Front Side Window Defogger
Variable 4-Speed Heater – Defroster
Intermittent Windshield Wipers
Rear Window Wiper and Washer
Custom 8-Spoke Styled Steel Wheels
Low Fuel Warning Light
Dual Rectangular Halogen Headlights
High Beam Light Signal Switch
Off Road Adjustable Front and Rear Suspension
Inside Hatch Release
Vanity Mirror on Sunvisor
7 Figure Odometer w/Trip Meter
Metric Tool Kit
12 Month Warranty with No Mileage Limit

Additional Equipment Added By Dealer:

Additional Dlr. Markup $435.00
Zebra Front Mud Flaps $116.00
Mold Front Mud Flaps $45.00
Air Deflector $68.00
Engine Heater $50.00
Rubber Floor Mats $35.00
Sunroof $320.00
Side Molding $95.00
Waxoyl Rustproofing $295.00
Wayoyl Paint/Fabric $150.00
Mag Wheels $619.00
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