Behold, the Subaru “Third Eye” Passing Lamp!


Subaru has always been a quirky automaker, but the funkiest feature in a pantheon of funkiness has got to be the Passing Lamp. Basically, it’s a third headlight hidden in the center of the car’s grille. When closed, the light’s door looks just like any Subaru constellation logo. Flip a switch on the turn signal stalk and BAM — the door swings up to reveal a glorious beacon of Fuji Heavy radiance commanding the darkness retreat!

274_Subaru Leone GL 1600 wagon cyclops_Subaru BRAT

Offered on 1980-82 GL and BRAT models, it’s sometimes called the Center Headlight, Third Eye or Cyclops (although the mythological Greek monsters had just one eye, if you want to be pedantic about it). Apparently though, it only worked with low beams. The Passing Lamp would automatically shut off if high beams were activated while the door was still open. It might have been a handy feature if you if you sprang for the turbocharged EA81.

Earlier this year we dropped in on our friends at Subaru USA and got a chance to take a 1980 Subaru GL out of the attic. Enjoy the little animation we made. Funky, right? And that’s saying a lot from a company that gave us rear-facing jump seats in a pickup bed, hi-lo 4WD in a passenger car, and a spare tire mounted on the engine.

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21 Responses to Behold, the Subaru “Third Eye” Passing Lamp!

  1. Ben E says:

    Would be a great car to take the kids out trick-or-treating… That thing would creep anybody out driving slowly up and down the street in the dark letting out tiny ghosts and scary creatures!

  2. Jason says:

    A TRI-clops !

  3. The 1964 Chevrolet Corvair also had the spare tire moved to the rear directly over the engine. It finally had a useable front trunk. This move also gave birth to the “Size 53” 12 volt battery which is used in only 2 cars. The 1964 Corvair and the Datsun RL411.

  4. Bart says:

    So cool. Car companies just don’t do neat little things like this anymore. I’ve seen a few old GLs around town, I’m gonna hafta take a closer look at one next time and see if I can tell if it has this third eye.


  5. Nigel says:

    Is it a “passing light” or is it a scanner…
    (Another reason I wan’t a Subaru Brat).

  6. Steve says:

    Yeah, just another reason to kick myself for not buying a BRAT back in the 1970s…

  7. GEN2TWINCAM says:

    I thought this was uber-cool at the time!

    Two of my friends owned Brats with this feature. I spent some harrowing moments grasping the jumpseat “handlebars” while these guys tried their best to eject me!

    This was when I lived in New Jersey, very close to the Subaru of America facility. I remember the first SVX I ever encountered pulled up beside me at a stoplight. It contained three or four Japanese gentlemen in suits. They were eying-up my Mugen wheels, and I was impressed with their car. We all shared “Thumbs-Up” before parting ways.

  8. Benjamin says:

    Having owned and driven a 1980 GL wagon with an EA71 for a short time, I can say that the passing lamp was the best feature of this car.

  9. Dave says:

    I want that Leone!

  10. Michael says:

    Hi guys, New to the forum we owned this exact car but with one critical difference it had round headlights which from what i hear is rare can someone help me get a photo. Tried to search through the family album can’t find a proper pic

    • craig says:

      michael, i have the 1980 australian version of this 4wd wagon which is known as a subaru 1600. mine has the round headlight but alas no third eye. it has just in this last week clocked over the 200,000 km mark and goes like a treat. possibly i have the best if not only still registered and driven daily 1600 in australia, parts are near impossible to find here and every day i get looks and thumbs up from people who obviously appreciate these great little wagons.

  11. JAMSTER says:

    I have an 82 hatchback with the Tricyclops eye. It gets the funniest looks. I’ve been meaning to put some eye decals on it for fun. Cool little cars, not fast, but very hardy. First year they had pull on the go 4WD too.

  12. Chris Johnson says:

    I have a 1982, I thought that was the only year it was available?

  13. Nicholas Zervas says:

    I believe, from everything I’ve found online (even though Wikipedia says it was available for 3 years), that it was only ever actually available on the 1982 models. If someone has more info that’d be great. I owned one of these (1982 model) a couple years ago, but had to sell it, unfortunately. Luckily it got a good home and the new owner is driving it daily. Huge fan of older subaru wagons!

  14. Nancy Page says:

    My car is a 2008 Subaru Impreza. Took it for inspection at Subaru dealer. Was told it is doing something quirky. They wanted me to pay to have them find problem. I do not see it as an item that would cause a failure of inspection. All other signal lights and other lights work fine.

  15. John Peters says:

    I owned an 82 GL wagon. It had the third eye passing lamp. It also had adjustable front and rear suspension. You could adjust the rear suspension using a T-bar wrench which was located under the rear seat next to the adjustment location. You could rise up the back end up to 4 inches above the factory ride height thus stiffening the shocks. This gave better clearance and less springiness for off roading. The front suspension was more work to adjust but the feature was nice and it definitely affected the vehicles performance. I was unaware at the time at just how special this car was. I loved it and would have to say it is in the top three of vehicles I’ve owned.I really wish I had taken better care of it and not given it away to my nephew.

  16. Mike says:

    Had a white 1980 Subaru wagon with the third headlight in the middle hidden behind badging. The rear seat had a hand crank under it that was used to crank the rear end up and down. The 4 WD came as part of the package, and had white bar on the front bumper. Great car.

  17. Charlie says:

    I managed to find one of those lamps thanks to a friend near a salvage yard, knowing the 1983 GL in the yard would likely have it. It did. Not sure if they ever had one with the quad heldlamps, but I made it work.

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