Yankee bush lark

PETER ROBINSON’SClassic

PETER ROBINSON

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

FIRST PUBLISHED DECEMBER 1995

Carey’s December 1995 story explained that during an editorial planning meeting, Automobile associate editor Mark Schirmer had wondered aloud if the right place to test the new Legacy Outback wasn’t, well, the Outback.

Schirmer’s idea quickly became his assignment.

So it came to pass that Carey, Schirmer (on his first visit to Australia) and Alice Springs-based photographer Steve Strike left Sydney to drive through the Outback to Alice Springs via Broken Hill, then across the Flinders Ranges to Arkaroola and Uluru. Which Schirmer insisted on climbing.

“In the States, you wouldn’t be allowed to climb it,” he told Carey. “It’s so dangerous.”

In four and a half days and 4000km of high-speed driving, Carey only admitted to cruising at 160km/h in the speed limit-free Northern Territory, though Schirmer happily recorded they sat the Subaru at 130km/h on dirt roads and cruised between 150 and 170km/h for much of the time, the 2.5-litre flat-four returning a range-spoiling 16.5L/100km at these speeds. They must have slowed down for a good part of the journey, though, because Carey recorded an overall average of 13.1L/100km.

Carey wrote that he was mostly pleased with the Outback’s performance, though he did find the rear

“IT WAS AN OBVIOUS IDEA, REALLY. BUT NOT OURS.” DEPUTY EDITOR JOHN CAREY HAPPILY CREDITED US MAGAZINE AUTOMOBILE WITH AN IDEA THAT WOULD SEE SUBARU AMERICA SHIP AN EARLY, LEFT-HAND-DRIVE OUTBACK TO AUSTRALIA, ALMOST A YEAR BEFORE THE TALLER-THAN-NORMAL LIBERTY WAGON WENT ON SALE HERE.

suspension too soft when the road undulated. “The Outback remembers direct road irregularities for some time afterwards in several diminishing oscillations before eventually settling,” he noted.

Does a year pass without Wheels going outback for a story? I doubt it, though to do so in an Indiana-built LHD Subaru in company with an American journalist certainly created a unique opportunity.

Paul Hogan, the Australian comedian and actor then at the height of his international fame, was contracted to Subaru and appeared in the Legacy Outback’s American TV advertisement, pretending that the location in the desert east of Los Angles was the Australian Outback.

Subaru America claimed it was “The World’s First Sport Utility Wagon”, not knowing that two decades later we’d be calling this new class Crossovers.

For the Australian market launch, Subaru elected against not only the Legacy badge – the international model name dropped in deference to the war veterans’ group of the same name – but also the Australia-only Liberty name, instead promoting the high-riding wagon purely as Outback.

So successful has the concept proved that Outback is now fundamentally a standalone model globally.

“THE AMERICAN LEARNS THAT [PHOTOGRAPHER STEVE] STRIKE’S INFECTIOUS CHORTLING IS A SIGN HE IS DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE” – JOHN CAREY, 1995

A big country

Mark Schirmer, who now runs Ford’s SUV PR operations in North America, remembers the story as “one of the absolute highlights of what has become a somewhat meandering 25 years in the auto business”.

In his July 1996 Automobile story, he discovered the vast emptiness of Australia: “There are two facts about the Outback: A) It is too big to see B) There isn’t much to see… Run as fast as you want all day, and by nightfall the scenery is the same as when you finished coffee at breakfast.

In Australia 100mph (160km/h) will barely keep you awake. You just go.”

ALSO IN WHEELS, December 1995

A first look at the Holden VT Commodore; Audi’s bizarre TT concept given the production green light; Jaguar chief stylist Geoff Lawson under the spotlight; Sir Jack Brabham at the Eastern Creek 12 Hour; BMW’s new 528i named (maybe) best car in the world; Holden Frontera takes on the Toyota RAV4; Saab 900’s clutchless manual gearbox makes an impression; First drive of the Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG

WheelsMag.com.au/classic READ THIS STORY AND HEAPS MORE CLASSICS AT

THE WAY IT WAS 9 ’ 5

BMW bonds

BMW reportedly pays $US3 million for James Bond to drive a BMW Z3 in GoldenEye, the first of three paid Bond movie placements by the brand.

Dotcom dawn

French-born Iranian- American coder Pierre Omidyar launches his AuctionWeb online trading site. Later the same year it changes its name to eBay.

Aussie salute

Flies believed responsible for carrying the deadly rabbit calicivirus out of quarantine, halving Australia’s 300 million wild rabbit population.

Next issue

The always entertaining Bill Tuckey passes brutal judgement on the 52 cars he’s driven in the course of a year