If there’s one feeling in particular that writing this feature evokes, it’s almost certainly melancholy.
If there’s two, then paradoxically, I think that second one might be positivity. You see, this is a project almost 15 years in the making so far, and when it was started, we lived in a very different world. There was no such thing as Instagram, and Facebook and Twitter were really still in their infancy.
If you wanted to consume automotive media, you either purchased a magazine or punched ‘www.speedhunters.com’ into your browser. There weren’t a whole heap of online options in 2009 – certainly nothing when compared to today. But there was one thing we all did really well back then: build threads. Yeah, remember those?
You could spend hours upon hours scrolling through forums looking at other people’s project threads which were being documented in the most minute detail. The amount of knowledge being shared was simply incredible, but since then so much of it has been lost to server moves, lapsed hosting, and other reasons. The throwaway nature of social media was never a suitable substitute to host these build threads, and slowly, people just stopped documenting.
For the most part, anyway.
When Jamie Flett bought this Subaru Impreza Type R in 2004, I don’t think he ever could have imagined the journey he was about to undertake with it. He drove the car for around a year, before taking it off the road due to the discovery of previously covered up accident damage.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but like most automotive enthusiasts, Jamie saw an opportunity to evolve his Impreza into something more.
Jamie’s original plan was to wide-arch the car with 22B-style carbon fibre panels, but this proved cost-prohibitive. He then figured, that if he was going to that much effort, he might as well go the whole hog and fit the much wider and more aggressive S5 WRC-style panels.
In 2008, Jamie acquired a set of WRC panels, created from moulds from one of the genuine ex-works cars, and in 2009 set to work stripping the Impreza, repairing the previous crash damage, tubbing the rear arches, fitting the cage and building a rotisserie. A structural designer by trade, he taught himself the required skills as he went along.
The first major speed bump Jamie hit was with the fit of the WRC panels. Despite having been taken from a bonafide World Rally car, the nature of how the original cars were built meant that no two were the same, and as such, the panel fitment was atrocious against his two-door Type R.
This is probably a good time to let you know that Jamie is quite particular with how things are done, and his knowledge of the S5 Impreza WRC is comprehensive.
To explain further, it’s my understanding that the wide arches on the original S5 WRC were steel, made from pressings and then hand beaten into shape on each car. So, when a mould was taken to make the aftermarket composite panels, the resulting panels would really only suit the car from which the moulds were taken from. Being composite panels, there wasn’t as much room to shape them to fit.
This was where Jamie reached his proverbial crossroads; he could either just fit these panels to the best of his abilities and get the car back on the road, or go down the rabbit hole of making this the best he possibly could.
I wouldn’t so much as say as he went down the rabbit hole, as he really just jumped into it from orbit. In 2013, he created ‘The Project’ with the intention of creating small aftermarket parts like thermal spacers and firewalls, essentially trying to fund his Impreza WRC-shaped addiction.
By 2016 – it’s worth adding that Jamie was balancing a work and family life with two small kids, and he’s keen to add that none of this would have been possible without the support of his partner, Aoife – he had personally put somewhere around 800 hours into getting the ill-fitting panels to actually fit the car properly.
A conversation with Galway Carbon, an Irish company that creates carbon fibre panels for World RX cars and elite-level rally cars, led to the Impreza’s panels being moulded and recreated in the lightweight composite material. The process is intense, and I’m in no way doing it any justice, but as an example, it takes two days alone just to create a single front bumper; from laying up the mould, to bagging, infusing and then delaminating.
The result, however, is stunning. For reference, this kit isn’t actually fitted to the car, it’s just resting in place.
The same can be said for the rest of the kit, including the front fenders, sills and bumpers. There’s a significant difference between the WRC panels and 22B, and even more again back to the original Type R. If you want to see the difference between a WRC and 22B in detail, then you can view this story we published earlier this year.
Since making the decision to go wide-body in 2005, it was 2017 by the time Jamie received the first set of carbon panels. Having continued to document the process online, naturally there was a lot of interest in this kit. Some of this interest was from owners campaigning ex-works cars in need of replacement panels, and others were – like Jamie – looking to create their own WRC-inspired road or track car. So far, 19 sets of panels have been produced and sold around the world. Not bad for something which started as a hobby.
This isn’t even close to the end of this story, either. By creating this kit, Jamie has been able to access information and people he might not have been able to otherwise. For instance, these are copies of the proper workshop manuals for the S5 Impreza WRC.
I’m loathe to show you too much, for fear of angering someone at Prodrive, but let’s just say if you wanted to build an S5 from scratch, this is what you would need. Acquiring this was a bit of a double-edged sword for Jamie, as it highlighted things which he had already completed, but now wants to redo to ensure accuracy on his car.
Jamie’s car won’t be a fully-fledged rally machine – he’s aiming for as accurate a reproduction of an S5 WRC as possible, but one that remains road-legal and useable everyday on Irish roads. This will likely include some modifications to the roll cage and the use of the Type R’s production specification engine.
To the untrained eye however, it will appear about as close as possible, and you can be sure Jamie will minimise the compromises.
The Prodrive (by Sparco) seats are genuine ex-WRC items, and while they are out of date for competition use, are still suitable for a street car.
The dashboard used in the S5 is actually an older type, so this has already been sourced and will be matched to the correct door cards. Interestingly, Prodrive used the original factory rear interior panels, which Jamie had disposed of previously but has since managed to acquire again courtesy of a friend.
In addition to this, Jamie’s next endeavour will be to develop all of the correct carbon interior parts.
From battery holders to the bonnet vents, it’s not just the big ticket items that Jamie has obsessed over. His fascination with the details and making everything just right is captivating.
Let’s talk about the bonnet vents for a moment. According to Jamie, most make the mistake of just bonding the vent directly to the bonnet and then blending it in. The correct method is to countersink them, with a return lip in the aperture with retaining tabs in place. This is tricky on an alloy bonnet, so Jamie came up with the idea of an under tray which serves not only to fit the vent correctly, but also helps to reinforce the cut under-bonnet ribs (required to fit the vents) once they’re bonded in place. This might give you some idea of how deep he’s willing to go on this project.
It’s not surprising then that he hasn’t set a completion date for the car. For Jamie, his joy is found 100% within the build process, and he makes no apologies for that either. It will take however long it’s going to take, and not a minute less.
“I’ve often come out here at night with a bottle of beer and just looked at it,” he told me with a smile. It doesn’t seem to bother Jamie in the slightest that other cars, which are now reaping the rewards of his hard work, have been completed before his own has even finished chassis fabrication. In fact, I think he enjoys it. At the very least anyway, the other projects wearing his kit are helping him to fund his own.
What started out as something relatively straightforward has evolved significantly over a not inconsiderable amount of time. There’s still a long way to go before we see this on the road, but there is one more positive to this. There’s an actual build thread.