It’s a word that doesn’t really mean much for most of the world, but for any car enthusiast, it’s a special one. Homologation specials have given us some of the most iconic road and performance cars of all time.
Whether it’s Mercedes-Benz’s Le Mans-based CLK GTR, Audi’s Group B era Sport quattro, BMW’s E30 M3 or Ford’s Sierra RS500 Cosworth, there was really no such thing as a bad homologation special.
Of course, one of the most iconic examples from recent years, when manufacturers would still sell you a road-going version of their race or rally car, is Subaru’s Impreza 22B STI. 424 examples were built to celebrate Subaru’s 40th year and their third consecutive WRC manufacturers’ title, with 400 of those exclusively for the Japanese market. For comparison, there were over 1,300 Ferrari F40s built.
The 22B always had a certain status amongst Subaru owners, but as we all know, its reputation over the last while has skyrocketed, along with its value. Based on a WRX Type R, the 22B was converted into a hand assembled 2.2-litre, wide-arched, BILSTEIN-equipped WRC tribute. It is the ultimate road-legal Subaru Impreza. Well, it was…
In 1998, UK outfit Prodrive, the team responsible for running Subaru’s World Rally Championship campaign, produced car PRO/WRC/98.031 – a full works WRC machine destined for its first event in New Zealand that same year, in the hands of Finnish debutant, Juha Kangas.
With team mate Colin McRae challenging for the lead, Kangas put the car off the road in treacherous conditions on Special Stage 12, while 13th overall. It was the first and last time the car would appear on the world stage, but not its last foray in rallying.
The car reappeared in 2000, on an island off the coast of Africa with local driver Vitor Sá behind the wheel. From a quick look around, Sá is something of a motorsport hero on the small Madeira Island, an autonomous region of Portugal.
The car, still wearing the registration R30 WRC, competed in some 15 events between 2000 and 2001, winning all but two of them, including its last event on the island in October 2001.
The next time the car competed in public, it had been converted to right-hand drive, and was now in the hands of Irishman Tommy Graham. It would stay in Ireland and Northern Ireland from 2002 until 2007, driven by three different drivers including Graham, competing regularly on either side of the Irish border.
2007 was peak recession in Ireland, so it isn’t surprising then that the car again moved on and in 2009 wound up in the hands of Dutch driver Paul Allerts. Now silver in colour (having previously been red in Ireland), it competed for another year in Europe before ultimately being retired. All in all, R30 WRC started 56 events between 1998 and 2010. It was at the turn of the last decade that the trail went cold temporarily, but we do know where it ended up.
Of course, it’s in Japan.Daily Driver WRC
When you’re a Subaru fan, and you’ve already owned a 22B, there isn’t really any other option. Despite how aggressive the 22B is compared to a normal Type R for instance, the 1998 WRC is another step up again.
Simply put, if you want the exact look of a 1998 Impreza WRC, you need to buy a 1998 Impreza WRC. (As an aside, this was the case until quite recently, but that’s another story I hope to cover at some stage this year.)
So, this is exactly what Junya Matsushita went out and did. He bought PRO/WRC/98.031, otherwise known as R30 WRC, as a rolling shell/parts car, and rebuilt it into this, his daily driver.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying he made it ‘road legal’, as most rally cars have to be road legal to a certain extent in order to travel between stages on public highways. I imagine this varies from country to country and perhaps with certain exemptions applied where applicable.
With the aim of using the car regularly, it does make sense that Junya chose to fit the car with an S204’s production specification 2.0-litre flat-four, as opposed to an ex-works motor (the usage of which is measured in time, rather than mileage). At the expense of an anti-lag system, the car is much easier to drive, more reliable and requires less maintenance. Peak power figures are similar, but torque is slightly lower along with what you would expect to be a very different power curve.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is also from an S204, as opposed to the original Prodrive dogbox. That’s a tasty hydraulic handbrake lever, too.
Despite debuting in gravel trim in the WRC, Junya has maintained the car in its tarmac specification (which it spent most of its competitive life in) as much as possible. This means 368mm front brake discs, Speedline Corse Prodrive
fivesix-spoke wheels and BILSTEIN suspension with remote reservoirs amongst others.
The only real luxury he has allowed himself is heating for the winter months, with the controls tucked away behind the centre console. All sensible changes it has to be said, which allow him to enjoy the car more of the time.
Mark was planning on shooting with just Junya, but as is the Japanese way, it’s impossible for someone to turn up to a shoot alone.
Junya brought along a friend and his 22B, which serves as the perfect reference between the two. Also, and forgive me for this, but I find it utterly hilarious that someone can roll up to a shoot in a 22B and not have the best Impreza. I love Japan.
It’s only when the two cars are side by side that you can see why the 22B’s bodywork is simply WRC ‘inspired’. Take the front fenders as an example. You can see how much more has been cut out of the WRC’s to allow for increased wheel clearance; the fenders are much thinner at the top.
The front bumpers are slightly different, although Junya has sourced an ultra-rare tarmac splitter which I noticed was missing in previous shoots. Once you see one fitted, you’ll always notice its absence in other cases as it brings the bottom of the front bumper level to the bottom of the side skirts.
The rear quarter panels again share similar differences to the front fenders, with a much larger wheel aperture and a smaller gap to the top of the panels.
On the inside are the original Prodrive seats and carbon right-hand drive dashboard. It’s worthwhile to note how tight the roll cage is to the body, especially around the A-pillars, and how the carbon door cards are shaped around the carbon-covered side impact bars. The carbon window winders are a work of art.
The centre console and the navigator’s console previously would have been home to switches, controls and timing gear, but have been covered over since with fresh carbon. I’m sure Junya uses Waze or something similar these days.
This is the Impreza that so many other cars try to imitate. The 1998 S4 WRC will surely go down as one of the all-time icons of this era of rallying. While it might not have enjoyed the outright success of its predecessors, for so many it still remains the ultimate Subaru. It was the last Impreza that McRae drove, as he moved to Ford 1999, so it feels special in that regard, too.
While the rest of the world will have to make do with lusting after the 22B, I can’t help but smile at the idea of Junya Matsushita cruising through Tokyo and out into the hills in his bonafide, ex-works Impreza WRC. The rumour is that he’s not even the only man in Japan driving a WRC car on the street.
Mark, I think we need to book flights…
Photos by Mark Riccioni