In the late ‘70s, a hole developed in Subaru’s lineup, between the Rex Kei car and latest compact Leone. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the compact Subaru 1000, and later Leone, were the popular family cars. However, the Leone became larger with the introduction of the second generation in 1979, both in body size and engine size. It should be noted that cars in Japan are taxed by engine displacement. A significant amount of people wanted something bigger than a Kei car, but still cheap to operate, which led to the rise of the “sub-compact” in Japan. The sub-compact car was already quite popular in Europe, where Subaru wanted to try to increase their presence. By the time the Justy made it to US shores, the sub-compact car was also starting to become popular in the US, thanks to the Hyundai Excel and Ford Festiva.
Subaru used the second generation Rex Kei car as the Justy’s starting point. Introduced three years earlier, the second generation Rex was a major leap forward for Subaru’s Kei car division. The new Rex featured front wheel drive, independent suspension all around, and eventually, selectable 4WD. Subaru went as far as to say that the only things that remained from the previous Rex were “two connecting rods, and an ashtray”. The Rex provided an excellent starting point for the Justy, starting with the body. The basic body shell of the Rex was lengthened and widened, with minimal changes made. In fact, the doors (and some other pieces) are interchangeable between the two. The Justy’s engine was also derived from the Rex: the 3 cylinder found in the Justy was closely related to the 2 cylinder found in the Rex. Both featured the same bore spacing and overall design, though the Justy did have an extra cylinder.
“Advanced” technologies were also tested on the Justy. Strut-based independent suspension was used front and rear, rather than the rear semi-trailing arm independent suspension found on the Rex. The Justy’s export market 1.2L engine (EF12) utilized multi-valve technology in the form of three valves per cylinder. Selectable 4WD was also available, thanks to the Rex.
The biggest advanced technology, however, was the use of the continuously variable transmission. Three years after the Justy was introduced in Japan, Fuji Heavy Industries, with the help of Van Doorn Transmissie, introduced the world’s first practical electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT). The transmission used a steel belt and adjustable pulleys with an electronic control system to vary the ratio. A more detailed explanation of the eCVT’s operation can be found here. The following year, the 4WD system found in the 5-speed manual Justy was coupled to the eCVT. Subaru would continue to develop the CVT for use in the ‘90s VIVIO Kei car, and later, their full-size passenger vehicles.
The design team chosen for the Justy project was not your ordinary team. Since the target audience for the Justy was people in their twenties and thirties, Fuji Heavy Industries placed their young engineers and designers on the project team. Kyoji Takenaka, a member of the product planning division of Fuji Heavy Industries, was quoted in an interview for Cartopia Magazine on the matter: “everyone could contribute to the development process while having a definite image in their minds of the target customers. Persons creating the design drawings could carefully draw each line in order to make a car that could be easily used for themselves while designers, when making clay models, could precisely scrape clay along one side with the same with the same mindset.”
The Justy was also billed as “A Tool to Expand Your Own Range” by its design team. That is, it should be part of your life for both the mundane daily grind, as well as exciting adventures. Kyoji further explained that “Accordingly, if you consider the true essence of a car, it is, after all, just another tool for us to use. I think that everyone, while living their day-to-day lives, has that sense of curiosity in wanting to start something new or to confront a personal challenge, and a car can be a useful tool when trying to actualize the object of that curiosity. I think that a car that is simply something that can only be used in our current daily lives is without value. A car must be something that satisfies our needs when we want to break out of our daily routine”.
While the Justy may not have been the rousing success that other Subaru models have proven to be, this design philosophy carried on. Kyoji Takenaka went on to become the president of Fuji Heavy Industries, while many of the engineers and designers continued to work on the many, diverse projects of Subaru.