Speedhunters Garage: The GC8 Pick Up

I’ve been writing this story in my head for a long time. Mostly in the shower, on the toilet and sitting at the bus stop. I’d been waiting to buy a Subaru Impreza for a year, and finally there’s one parked outside my apartment. Let me tell you the story of how it came to be.

Being without a car for so long has given me plenty of time to daydream, and it has been both torturous and calming. I’ve spent many evenings scrolling through auction sites, Instagram and other online resources, trying to guide my purchase toward the perfect slice of petrolhead heaven here in Japan.


After owning three Foresters back home in the UK, I thought it might be good to get something that wasn’t a Subaru. While my last Forester STI packed a hefty punch and gripped the road with genuine ferocity, this time I wanted a proper performance car.


Eventually I’d saved enough to start looking to buy, and decided that Yahoo! Auctions was a better bet than paying a broker to purchase me a car at one of the big auction houses. Yahoo! Auctions is mostly full of dealer cars, but there are private sellers too, and like anywhere in the world, private listings usually represent the best deals.

When I saw this 1999 WRX Type RA 555 Limited come up as a private sale, it instantly piqued my interest. Even though it was a Subaru and had two too many doors (I still have my heart set on a coupe), it looked like it would do nicely as a project car, so I decided throw some bids on it.

In Japan, first-gen Impreza values are definitely climbing, in part because there aren’t many left here. That’s true of most JDM legends; the overseas demand is just too high. So, surprisingly I was successful – although I did go well over budget.


The WRX was located a long way from my place in Yokohama, but having been click-happy with bids meant I could no longer afford to have it transported home. This of course meant one thing: road trip.

I took a flight to Kobe then a train to Maiko, and from there hopped on a bus to Anan, near Tokushima on Shikoku Island. It sounds like something out of a Studio Gibli movie, right? The bus journey, although almost four hours long, was actually one of the best parts of the trip; the scenery of Awaji Island is just breathtaking. We crossed over huge suspension bridges, traversed mountains and skimmed the coastline.


Arriving at a lock-up garage in the countryside, I instantly spotted my sight unseen purchase amongst a few other old bangers. As if to mock me, a GC8 STI coupe sat on its haunches nearby, devoid of an engine but enticing nonetheless.


Some of you may say, ‘But Toby, you don’t have a STI.’ That’s true, I didn’t buy an STI, it’s only a WRX – but it is a Type RA variant, which means competition-spec engine and gearbox/diff. In fact, it uses the same engine block, the same internals save for slightly different valves, the same turbo, intercooler and injectors as an STI. And here’s the thing – if I were to get a 22-year-old STI, I’d be replacing almost everything anyway. So, to me it really doesn’t matter if it has pink STI stickers or not; all it needs to be is a blue GC8 in decent condition. If I’m wrong, tell me so in the comments.


After completing the purchase, I stayed the night in Tokushima and then drove another three hours the next morning to a couple of shoots that I’ll share with you soon.

That morning drive through the mountains of Shikoku where special in every way. The punchy little Subaru winding through mountain roads, turbo spooling and the gentle rumble of the boxer engine was intoxicating. And what’s more, the scenery was pretty distracting. Mid-spring in Japan means vibrant green foliage on the mountain sides, the last of the cherry blossoms shedding their pink petals across the roads, and crisp bright sunlight reflections shimmering in the rivers and lakes.


Japanese highways are also amazing and the services are like mini boutique market centres with the cleanest toilets you’ve ever seen. But this level of perfection comes at a cost; the tolls are extortionate. In fact, I had to get off the tolled highways halfway through my journey home, or they would have bankrupted me.

To give you some perspective, the tolls alone cost more than my airfare down to Shikoku and petrol back for the 800+km drive combined…


So why did I decide to purchase a 22-year-old Impreza? Well, everything else I considered had a ‘but’ attached to it. For example, I love the look of the FD3S Mazda RX-7, but the rotary engine just seems like a bigger headache than an EJ boxer. I considered a few two-door performance coupes – the RPS13 180SX, A70 Supra and Z20 Soarer – but they would have just been impractical, and with the exception of the Nissan sit in a higher annual tax bracket. I could probably trade in some practicality for a GT-R, but they’re a bit above my pay bracket right now.

I just kept coming back to the Subaru, and here’s why…


I love the Subaru AWD system; there’s a reason why it took the rally world by storm – it’s fantastic. Sure, rear-wheel drive is cool if you’re drifting through mountains or shredding rubber on track days, but for me, attacking corners with agility and grip is a far more rewarding way to drive.


While the EJ mill may have its problems, I love the idea of a balanced, symmetrical engine with a low centre of gravity. And to be fair, with these engines a lot of the problems experienced are from user error. People drive Impreza production cars like they are works rally machines, thrashing them without the required upgrades or proper maintenance.

Subaru is a tiny company compared to Nissan or Honda, so cars sold to the general public in dealerships are built to deliver a certain level of performance while returning a profit to the manufacturer. Profits can only be made if production costs are kept low.


Sure, it’s not just the drivers, the Subaru boxer engine does have a reputation for blowing head gaskets, but luckily, EJ20 technology and rebuilding techniques have come a long way in the past 20 years. There are numerous ways to combat the characteristic flaws of the engine, and baffled sumps and improved gasket technology is all good progress.

This means that they can be dependable engines and make good power, and there are plenty of reliable 800hp Imprezas out there to prove it. But basically, if you want the EJ engine to perform like those used in rally cars, you have to build them like one.


So what’s the plan for this car? I’m not going to go crazy with it because I really still would like to get a coupe at some point, so I think the majority of the work will be replacing worn or tired components and tidying up anything that makes the car as a whole look a bit shabby.

If anyone has any other suggestions, however, I’m all ears in the comments section.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_



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How much HP does it make, does it have anything done under the hood? Turbo maybe, I'm interested in the boxer and I don't know anything about it.


On paper, 280ps. This one has been track prepped and butt dyno says closer to 300ps, I’ll update with a technical story when I start pulling it to pieces!

Samvel Rostomian

please, help. your last three events do not open in full screen mode.


You have great taste! I’ve owned 3 myself. A 2.2TS sedan, 2.5RS sedan, and a 2.2TS Brighton wagon. We never got the WRX variants to in Canada until the real ease of the 2002 ‘bug eye’. I’m pretty sure I’ll be convincing my wife to let me have another one in the stable pretty soon. Lol. Thanks for the article.


Do it!


"While my last Forester STI packed a hefty punch and gripped the road with genuine ferocity, this time I wanted a proper performance car."

The difference between a not proper performance car and a proper one was in essence the exact same vehicle sans some cabin space?


Actually I just checked and that’s around 240kg difference!!
Type RA is 1260kg and the Foz is around 1500kg!!


While they share many similarities, they are two very different vehicles. For starters the FSTi is a 2004 model, and the GC8 is a 99 model, thats 3 Impreza generations and 2 forester generations. The Forester does indeed share the same chassis with its GD Impreza cousin, but uses the 2.5l engine instead of the 2l twin scroll found in the JDM Impreza. The extra cabin space makes a huge difference, it adds more than 100kg to the forester compared to the GC8 and a lot of that is up high in the estate body. Having driven both I can tell you that, while the FSTi is a performance vehicle, a sports car it is not.


This is a common misconception. The GD isn't all that much heavier than the GC, and the Foz is only about 50kg heavier than a similar spec GD I believe.

The major difference in weight is the front subframe for crash safety that is interchangeable, the STi 6 speed, the heavier R180 rear diff, the heavier axles, the 17" wheels, and the Brembo brakes. That's well over half the GC to GD difference in weight, more like 3/4 if I recall correctly.


I’m comparing the FSTi with my GC8 Type RA. The Foz weighs in at 1500kg or thereabouts according to every single resource I checked, and My GC8 weighs 1260kg according to its last Shaken certificate.


Apologies, I misread the first comment.

A GC with all the newer, better, heavier STi goodies would weigh much more than your RA due to that stuff weighing a ton.

Keep it light and simple. That RA gearing is a hoot. I’ve had opportunity to drive everything you mentioned and I’ll say the RA is the most... extreme I suppose.

Random fun fact about GCs: everything on the two and four door body is the same except the location of the B Pilar and the doors. Yet it changes the look of the car SO MUCH.

I’d really like to see a wagon STi with coupe doors myself.


That’s exactly right! I am planning to swap in a 6MT and GD driveline so I’m sure the weight will go up. And you’re right the GD STi is almost as heavy as the Foz.
Even with the new gear box I’m pretty sure the Type RA will still be much lighter.

Samvel Rostomian

this is the third article where there are no full-screen photos. You can fix this.

Samvel Rostomian

this is the third article where there are no full-screen photos. You can fix this.


I don't know why but I just love the looks of the GC8 and it's certainly something special
Looking forward to seeing this build


Shouldve bought the rx7


The question is.. Will you track it?!


Someday, over a rainbow perhaps


FINALLY!!! A piece about a Subaru, any Subaru !!! So often I check speedhunters and more often than not enjoy the articles and photography about various automotive candy - it seems to me that Subaru candy is few and far between. I’ve had a bugeye WRX wagon, BRZ, and currently a “Frankenstein” Forrester, so I have an attraction to Subarus - thanks for the article. BTW, there’s a 22B on BAT.


Auction says 3rd gear is not holding and theresw moulding thats lifting. You should do a full respray!


Not sure if the full respray will fix the 3rd gear issue....


Of all the Impreza generations, this looks the best, i.e the cool & confident look of a winner's face.
Today, cars' look are aggressive and angry-all-the-time.



Samvel Rostomian

this is the third article where there are no full-screen photos. You can fix this. Please, Help.


Hey Samvel, thanks for pointing this out! We've updated the GC8 story and will do so for the others soon too. I think we've fixed the issue, so Toby's stories should all show the full-screen images from now on.

Samvel Rostomian

And you could fix the problem with this event - http://www.speedhunters.com/2019/02/week-chasing-monte/

Samvel Rostomian

Thanks for attention. By the way, I already have 210,000 full-screen speedhunters. I started saving them in 2011.


Am I the only one who thought this was going to be a story about some mad subaru pick up truck co version.


I'll get my coat


Unintentional click bait, hope you liked the story any way!


id get that bonnet painted blue and get some speedlines


Looking forward to seeing where you go with this. Love me some GC8... hell anything Subaru is gold to me.


You gotta get the carbon centre caps for the rays wheels !

Oskar Pettersson

Toby, just wanna say that I really like your style of articles here in SH. Glad you came around.
Looking forward to updates on this nugget


Thanks Oskar! Very kind of you to say.
Plenty more nugget news to come!


Man, these HDR photos are amazing. They look like oil paintings. Great job!


Thanks Matt!


My suggestion would be to not let your newly purchase be photobombed like in Pic#26 :D