Hidden Treasure: 2003 Subaru Baja in the Junkyard

When writing about the 2003 Baja, our reviewer asked, “Remember the Subaru BRAT?” Yes, from the 1978 through 1987 model years, Subaru sold a version of the Leone with a pickup bed in the United States. Memories of the BRAT remained fond even after all the lawsuits over injuries suffered by passengers riding in the Chicken Tax-avoiding jumpseats. That’s why it seemed to make sense for Subaru to give the BRAT treatment to the much larger Legacy; today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those first-year Baja pickups.

Most of the discarded Subarus I document are found in car graveyards located in my Subaru-loving home state of Colorado, but I spotted this one 1,300 miles to the southeast in New Orleans, Louisiana.

I haven’t been able to find a Baja in a Colorado junkyard that wasn’t burned and/or mangled beyond easy recognition. I spotted two of them at the New Orleans Pull-a-Part.

Subaru built the Baja for the 2003 through 2006 model years, terminating production after disappointing sales numbers. In fact, this publication rated the Baja as the sixth most embarrassing car you could drive in 2013 (#1 was the Smart ForTwo).

The Baja was essentially a stretched Legacy Outback wagon with a pickup bed grafted on. In 2003, American Subaru shoppers could still get a Legacy Outback sedan, though exterior Legacy badging was dropped from the Outback sedan and wagon starting with the 2000 model year.

The reason the Baja had to be a half-foot longer than its Outback wagon sibling was so there would be room for four doors and a back seat.

There were “Sports Bars” behind the cab to strengthen the structure and give the Baja a tough off-roady appearance.

The bed was small but useful.

All the Bajas had 2.5-liter boxer-fours under their hoods, either a SOHC naturally-aspirated version rated at 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet or a DOHC turbocharged version with 210 horses and 235 pound-feet. Only the non-turbo engine was available for 2003 and that’s what we have in this truck.

The base transmission was a five-speed manual, but this Baja has the optional four-speed automatic.

Those automatics often had expensive problems later in life. Blown head gaskets likely caused this truck’s demise. There’s an unused gasket kit inside; presumably the final owner decided engine removal was too much hassle for a gasket job and sent it off to the junkyard.

The keys are still in the ignition.

The multiple choice vehicle, sort of like the Pontiac Aztek. Lance Armstrong was still doing car advertising as the next decade dawned, but then it all fell apart. Reincarnation is real!

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