There are two ways in life: the quick way and the long way. If we use food as an analogy to unfold this deeply profound philosophy, the quick way is Uber Eats and TV dinners, while the long way is slaving over a hot stove while following a Michelin-star chef’s recipe and feeling a real sense of achievement when belts are loosened at 9:00pm.
Almost everything in life is better when we take the time to savour the moment and really put in the hard yards. It allows us time to make plans, contemplate outcomes and work out how to get there. It also helps to eliminate any chance of things going wrong, although, Sod’s law dictates that something will always go wrong. Bracing for the inevitable, the best we can do is take it slow and do it properly the first time.
As they say, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These profound words of wisdom also ring true when it comes to building cars. And when it comes to modifying or repairing our pride and joy, the stakes are a little higher.
I’ve learnt my lesson in the past, rushing things with my project cars and ultimately making them worse. This one will be different, or at least that’s the plan.
As is often the case with rare old cars, my GC8 was at the other end of the country, which meant I bought it sight unseen after a late-night, Asahi-fuelled Yahoo! Auctions Japan bidding battle. Win!
To be fair, the car was very true to its photos and listing blurb. Mostly. The body is straight and paint the is excellent, but unfortunately some specifics were omitted from the mechanical description. The ad stated: “engine runs fine with no problems, but 3rd gear sometimes pops out.”
The latter part of that statement I could deal with, because a 6-speed swap from a newer GD series STI was on the cards regardless. But the first half of that statement did not really tell the full truth. While the engine did indeed run fine, boosting nicely and not leaking oil from every orifice, there’s a subtle rattling sound coming from deep within.
I’m generally a pretty trusting guy, and even more so in Japan where I stupidly think that people are 100% trustworthy and honest. Because of this I didn’t really listen carefully to the engine when I collected the car, and with a photoshoot to get to I simply drove my auction win away into the sunset.
After the shoot I stopped to take some pics of the new car, and in the quiet of the night it was soon obvious that the engine did in fact have a problem. By the time I emailed the seller, I was told “I didn’t hear anything, why didn’t you say something?”
Honestly, I’m actually at peace with the whole thing and looking forward to replacing the engine’s innards soon. Considering how much I won it for at auction, I’m pretty happy anyway.The Trip
Before I start pulling the WRX apart and replacing everything, I wanted to see what the weak points of the car are. A visual inspection would have probably been enough, but where’s the fun in that?
When I headed to Nagano Prefecture for an event recently, I had two choices: take the toll roads and get there in two hours, or take the scenic route and get there in five. Obviously, I decided to go the long way and make a kind of touring holiday out of it. It would be a good opportunity to just enjoy the car before it goes in for surgery. After all, taking things slow is my new zen, remember?
Pushing the plucky little Impreza through the twisting mountain roads, it was easy to imagine how McRae and Burns must have felt on WRC tarmac stages. The sparse interior allows a direct connection to the outside world; the rush of the wind, growl of the motor and gentle pssshhh of the turbo blow-off valve make every corner a delight.
And boy, there were a lot of corners.
Taking the scenic route means leaving Kanagawa Prefecture, going past Mt. Tanzawa and heading into the highlands of Yamanashi Prefecture. From there it’s a couple of hours driving through the Minami Alps past Mt. Kita (Japan’s second largest mountain after Mt. Fuji) and Mt. Aka until finally arriving in Nagano Prefecture where Nagano City has an altitude of 371.4m.
Even though I had an evening photoshoot to get to, I could not resist stopping at what seemed like every mountain pass to take photos of either the car, the road or the view. It’s a trip that I won’t forget any time soon. A soak at one of Nagano’s local onsen was a welcome respite from the day’s drive.The Test
This isn’t the first road trip I’ve had in Project GC8. Some of you may remember I that I drove it home from Tokushima, a 12-hour trip, if not you can check out that story here. What I didn’t tell you was that, because of the aforementioned engine issue, I babied it, keeping revs under 4,000rpm for most of the way.
That’s why this trip was so much fun. I just stopped worrying about things and just enjoyed the drive. Knowing that I’d be replacing most of the engine, I wound down the windows and removed the exhaust silencer which drowned out the mild-but-ominous ticking from under the hood. I wanted to see how the suspension components had held up after years of track use. I was never going to really lean on it, because I didn’t want to be stuck on a mountain with a conrod lodged in my radiator, but I could at least hit boost every now and again and focus on the handling.
Admittedly, to really test the limits of an Impreza, it really needs to be driven on a track, but with very few cars on the road, I was able to attack the tight corners of these mountain roads with enough vigour to get an idea of how things are holding together. Surprisingly, the tired and worn Dunlop Direzza tires did a pretty decent job keeping grip.
The Cusco half cage and strut tower braces make the chassis and body very tight indeed with little-to-no flex. Steering is direct and basically the GC8 will just go anywhere you point it. However, left-hand turns induce an irritating squeal from the steering pump and right-hand turns invokes a lovely whir from the front drive shaft, or somewhere in that vicinity.
Once I started pushing the car through some serious corners it became obvious that each side of the car was handling differently; the left side hard and the right side soft. When you’re driving a car renowned for its balance and low center of gravity, having mismatched coilovers is like Usain Bolt running with a trainer on his left foot and a stiletto on his right.
Overall, despite the elephant in the room (or in the cylinder block), the little Impreza is in good structural and cosmetic condition and is an absolute joy to drive. It’s a very direct, visceral and sensory-tickling experience which will only improve with some attention to its worn parts.
As I’ve said before, these cars were never built from the factory as rally cars or track weapons. Basically, they were sold – especially in the case of the Type RA – as a base car for works teams, privateers and hobbyists to build into race cars as they deemed fit. Subaru were not, and still are not, a big company compared to the likes of Nissan and Toyota, so manufacturing costs had to be kept low in some places to make any profit. Considering that 99% of this car is stock, I think it’s held up pretty well.
Half of the modifications it does have are inside the cabin. There’s a Sparco bucket for the driver, HKS boost meter and a Lamco triple gauge set, a Momo wheel and of course an ETC reader who reminds you to insert your card every time you turn the key.
Being a Subaru, this one, like most, has lived a colourful life, and it’s been setup for light track work and spirited road driving. It came with some extra goodies, those I’ve mentioned already plus a Cusco rear diff brace and master cylinder stopper, as well as Endless brake lines and pads.
The weak points are definitely all the bits made of rubber. After 22 years and 170,000km it’s safe to say all the suspension bushings need replacing with OEM STI items. The engine, gearbox and rear diff mounts could all probably do with being upgraded to poly bushings too. Further inspection found a ripped open steering rack boot.The Next Step
So, what’s next? Well, like a newlywed couple planning their honeymoon weekend away in Tahiti, I’m busy planning the purchase of all the new internal parts for the EJ boxer engine. It’s all very exciting, although I’ve never got as far as a honeymoon so I can’t compare.
The Cusco coilovers have to go because they have either not been looked after or have just given up the ghost of their own accord. Thankfully, one of Speedhunters’ fantastic Official Suppliers has stepped in to help in this department, and I look forward to bringing you that story in due course.