Reader Submissions: This Homologation Subaru Impreza Brings Group A Rallying To The Road

This Homologation Subaru Impreza Brings Group A Rallying To The Road

By Lenm
May 5, 2017

Photography by Brook Andreas and Xandria Moody

To celebrate early world rally championship victories with the group A Impreza (1993-1996) – Subaru released a small number of ‘limited edition’ models for the Japanese domestic market and a few other countries. These early, Type RA (“race altered”) Imprezas were a true homologation special. Comically, the car even features a non-functional factory component in order to match the rallying version: a fifth fuel injector is located on the four-runner intake manifold, and its purpose in the road car could be likened to our appendix organ—redundant.

There are no modern luxury items in this car either: no airbags, no air conditioning, and no electric windows. These were generally deleted on the early Type RAs in order to save weight. They even went as far as minimizing the use of sound deadening material in the body shell.

And if I want some air conditioning, there is a factory rally-style roof vent which works just fine. To make up for the missing luxuries though, Subaru included a host of performance parts in-line with the ethos of a homologation special.

Lightweight aluminum components (like the hood and control arms), Subaru’s patented DCCD, or Driver Controlled Center Differential, limited slip differentials front and rear, a power steering fluid cooler, intercooler water sprayer, a closed deck design engine block, blueprinted and forged engine internals, and a motorsport ECU tuned by Subaru Technica International (otherwise known as STi) make up the brunt of the modifications that separate this GC8 from the masses of box-stock ones running about. The “555” livery was also a factory option on some RAs, completing the package with a look to match the might.

Now that we’re situated, here is the story of how I found, built, and now enjoy my very own Impreza Type RA.

When I was much younger, my parents would drag me to our local library each week to borrow books. And like many kids who find themselves in such a place beyond their choosing, my attention was not what you’d call piqued. Back then the books didn’t draw any interest from me, as the first and only thing I cared to view in that library was the selection of videotapes on the World Rally Championship—mostly Group B and Group A footage from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Watching the likes of Ari Vatanen, Colin McRae, and Carlos Sainz throw their cars around tight, winding mountain roads like those encountered in the Monte Carlo rally really developed my interest in cars. In particular, the ones with a rally pedigree behind them.

In concordance with my interests, my first car was a 1980 RS2000 Ford Escort. It was my foray into the cars that captivated me, and was all the more special because my father had bought it for me. I had planned to keep this car forever, and managed a ways down that path until it the Escort was stolen a decade later.

Years on, I set out looking for a replacement for that car, and it had to be something with a similar connection to the sport I love. I’d always thought a road car with the characteristics of something you might see in the Group A era would be a cool one to own—something raw, lightweight, and fast.

Subarus had always appealed to me, especially after watching the Kiwi rally legend “Possum” Bourne in action in one one day. The distinctive boxer engine sound burbling and popping on anti-lag was and is a spectacular aural experience. Needless to say, the souped-up Subaru Imprezas akin to the ones in Group A were added to my list.

Early GC8-generation Imprezas were relatively common in Australia at the time of my search, however there were a few variants produced which were quite rare in Australia, and others only offered to the Japanese domestic market. It was one of these special edition cars that I stumbled across in the back yard of a car dealer one day, the deep blue color immediately recognizable to me as the hue used on the works-team rally cars.

Despite my excitement at finding one of these rarities, it wasn’t long before reality rushed back and I noticed the terribly faded paint that had deteriorated from being parked in the harsh Australian sun for years on end. The Subaru was at that time also very poor mechanically—the engine even missing part of its air filter!

I wasn’t really after a project like this when I discovered it, given that its condition would require a major restoration instead of a few weekends of work. Needless to say, I purchased the car and set about on the restoration project I hadn’t been seeking a few days earlier.

No matter the state of it when it first came into my possession, the deep and now flat blue (color code 55C, aka 555 Rallye Blue or Monte Carlo Blue—possibly to celebrate Subaru’s victory of the Monte Carlo rally in 1995) was still sweet in my eyes.  Every time I looked at it, the color would persuade me to match it with period-correct rally wheels, painted gold, of course.

Incidentally, it proved quite a challenge finding a set of the original Speedline wheels, which were long out of production. After searching for 12 months, I finally ended up sourcing a set from a chap in Tasmania who had imported them from Europe a few years prior. Like the car, the wheels also required a complete restoration, and had to be stripped back to bare alloy before being repainted in the correct gold color of the Subaru rally teams.

In keeping with my desire for a road-legal Group A tribute car, I also sourced and added the factory-option bright yellow 555 tobacco livery decal set from the 1993-1996 WRC competitors.

Ari Vatanen once described the 1993 Impreza rally car as a compact “super toy” while testing for the 1993 Thousand Lakes Rally, with his team member (and Lancia legend) Markku Alén. Vatenen would go on to take the Prodrive-built Impreza to a second place finish in its debut WRC event, proving the car’s capabilities right away.

Though not as intense of an experience as the Prodrive car that he was driving, the road car also feels like somewhat of a “super toy” to me as well; it’s compact, nimble, fast, and so fun to drive as a consequence. While traversing winding forest roads, quick changes in direction seem so natural and occur with minimal body roll—I suspect due in part to low center of gravity offered by the four-cylinder boxer engine.

The 275 metric horsepower produced by the turbocharged, intercooled motor combined with the trick all-wheel drive and only 1,170 kilos of curb weight delivers spectacular performance. In addition to the factory-delivered aptitude of my Impreza, I’ve also chosen to bring it just that much closer to a full-on rally car through some additional performance pieces. When restoring the car, I swapped out the five-speed that came with the car for a dog box, sourced some serving plate-sized Brembo calipers and rotors, modified and set up the suspension in line with what would have been used in tarmac stages, and tied it all together—literally—with a road-legal roll cage. It surely fills the void missing in my life since the escort, and then some.

I love my car for its light weight, rawness, and close connection to rallying. Taking it for drives through the mountains or weekend excursions to events like hillclimbs, there is a lot to be said about the joys of owning a road-legal race car. A car like this is not destined to spend its life being chained to a trailer, it should be in its element, free to traverse tightly wound roads on the way to and from the race track, and I believe I have accomplished that with this car. 

These early models of the GC8 rally cars may have been forgotten by many—living in the shadow of the later and more aggressive looking coupes such as the 22b and Type R. That said, this car is arguably the real deal as far as a homologation model goes, and also possibly Subaru’s most significant.

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Kelly Gordon
Kelly Gordon
5 years ago

First time hearing “Race Altered” for the RA designation. I’ve heard Rally Applicant, Record Attempt, and R=racing A=class (group A) but never Race Altered. Interesting…

B.A. Lindstrom
B.A. Lindstrom
7 years ago

Beautiful car. I bet it’s a beast to drive on a twisty road. These early Subarus are so well balanced and great platforms for fun.

7 years ago

Of course the group A rally car is a completely bespoke piece of machinery!
The artice was intended to give a bit of history about the early road going impreza (type RA) and subtle differences between the plain vanilla version. Definitely not to suggest by
any means that it would compare to a group A car or N for that matter..

7 years ago

Errr … not to be pedantic but .. Group N would be the closer albeit still somewhat exaggerated approximation … not Group A . Take a look at Reinhold Klein’s ” Rally Cars ” pages 36 – 56 to see just how drastically and dramatically different a Group A car was from either the road , homologation or Group N cars .. Conveniently the focus is on the Subaru Impreza

” In concordance with my interests ”

And the correct word should be … accordance … not concordance

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