Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. After Die Hard, Bruce Willis was so popular in Japan, Subaru hired him to sell Japanese-market Subarus. That worked so well, they named a car in his honor. Here’s the story of the zany car campaign and resulting Legacy.
Bruce Willis became an international celebrity in 1988
Before full stardom, Bruce Willis was a dedicated actor, appearing in TV shows throughout the 1980s. These included Miami Vice. the Twilight Zone reboot, and Moonlighting. But his breakout role was as John McClane in Die Hard, released in 1988. He immediately reprised his role in Die Hard 2 and the rest of the series. This opened up opportunities such as starring in The Fifth Element, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense.
By the early 1990s, Bruce Willis was a major star in the United States. He was also very popular in Japan. For this reason, Willis has appeared in multiple Japanese commercials. These include spots for Softbank Doraemon and Daihatsu. In 1991, Subaru first hired Bruce Willis to advertise the Legacy.
Bruce Willis’ first Subaru Legacy commercial inspired a car in his honor
Subaru unveiled the Legacy right after Die Hard came out: 1989. The goal of the car was to compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Subaru also offered this midsize sedan and wagon in Japan. From the get-go, it was a technologically advanced car. Customers could order it with Bosch, 4-channel ABS and an adjustable air suspension system. The suspension lowered the car at high speeds and allowed the driver to increase ground clearance while off-roading.
Perhaps Subaru had difficulty selling the Japanese market on a midsize car. When Bruce Willis agreed to do a Subaru commercial, the company decided to shoot a Legacy spot. The resulting commercials are truly strange. Firstly, they are recorded in English and not dubbed. The company seems content with the Japanese viewers knowing nothing about the plot and dialogue. Secondly, Willis begins each commercial by saying “The Age of Legacy,” then does a lot of running.
In one commercial, Willis drive a Japanese-market RHD Subaru Legacy along a California road. Then, he pulls onto a beach and uses his jacket to shoo a flock of seagulls. In another commercial, he speaks to the camera wearing a trench coat. Then, as police sirens blare, he runs to a Subaru to make a getaway. But they both look fun to shoot and have us intrigued, so maybe they worked perfectly.
Subaru must have considered the commercials a success. Not only did they hire Bruce Willis again, but they named a special-edition Legacy after him: the 1993 Subaru Touring Bruce.
The 1993 Subaru Legacy Touring Bruce
For the first generation of the Subaru Legacy, the company introduced many special editions of the car. These include the Brighton, Lancaster, and VZ. For the 1993 model year, one such trim was the Subaru Legacy Touring Bruce.
Bruce Willis continued to appear in Subaru commercials. He helped sell the Legacy Touring Bruce by appearing on sales brochures dressed in a linen suit. In a new TV spot he actually sang “A House of Gold” originally by Kenny Rankin.
Sadly, the Subaru Legacy Touring Bruce trim level was discontinued. But Bruce Willis has appeared in many more Subaru commercials over the years, even selling the newest Legacy. Perhaps one day, another Subaru special edition will carry his name.