Back to the future
How motoring’s brave new world looked in 1988
This is a watershed year for motoring: in 2018, for the first time, you cannot buy an Australian-made new car. Three decades ago, you were unlikely to buy anything else. The Ford Falcon was riding high in the charts and together with the Holden Commodore dominated sales. Or how about a locally built Toyota, Nissan or Mitsubishi? Imports attracted just one in four shoppers.
Australia’s tariff wall, at its peak in 1988, was the main reason. Another was the absence of alternatives to the traditional “three-box” (engine bay, cabin, boot) sedan. Its nemesis, the SUV, was a long way from being a threat.
Different vehicle formats were starting to appear, though, chief among them the people-mover. Channel Ten hailed Subaru’s BLT – “Business Leisure Transporter” – as the most advanced car at the 1988 Sydney motor show. This futuristic mono-box concept car featured lounge-style seating for four and a “satellite-radar navigation system” using a screen that might have come from a World War II submarine.
It never entered production and people-movers have failed to capture more than a small fraction of the market in Australia. But Subaru was picking up on a trend that had begun a few years earlier in the US and was quickly echoed in Europe, first by Renault. In those two markets people-movers were a hit and designers were dreaming up variations on the theme. Among the
Just add taste: Subaru’s BLT