LEGACY RS RA
This is genesis for forest-fighting, go-fast Subarus
JUST AS a Walkinshaw VL will always be the seminal HSV and that crazy, 6.8-litre 300 SEL racecar is revered as the first AMG, so too does the Legacy RS RA represent a line in the sand. As STi’s first full model, the RA is the grand-daddy of them all.
While the Legacy (and Liberty out here) RS was a cult hit back in the day, the real wonder was reserved for the RA model. But the way the model came about is a bit left field. See, while STi was founded to create halo cars for the Subaru brand and to homologate cars that could win rallies at the highest level, the RA was kind of a celebration of a publicity stunt conducted by STi in the very early days.
Back in 1989, STi took four specially prepared Legacies and, with the FIA watching, ran them on an oval track in Arizona for 18 long days, racking up 100,000km in the process and topping out at almost 225km/h. In the process, the cars set a new world speed endurance record and STi was on the map. And this car, the RA (which stands for Record Attempt) was the productionbased fruit of all that.
But don’t go thinking it’s an RS with an STi decal. Oh no. As well as putting the Legacy on a diet with less sound-deadening, thinner glass and a sunroof-delete deal, the RA also got a much tougher engine and driveline. That started with forged pistons, hand-ported cylinder heads, stronger rods and a full balance of all the reciprocating bits. Power was the same claimed 161kW (or 162, depending on who you talk to) and, combined
with a 1290kg kerb weight, the RA was a proper statement back in 1990 when it hit showrooms.
STi continued to fiddle with the concept for the next few years adding, among other things, a close-ratio five-speed gearbox. However, the aim always was to keep the RA a lowvolume model. Which is why it only built 100 cars in 1990, 286 in ’91, 217 in ’92 and just ’93 in 1993. And this white car is one of that last batch.
Once a rampaging, high-tech special, the RA these days seems a bit milder. Then again, the visual approach taken by STi back in the day was pretty subtle. But the truth is that it’s more of a cruiser these days than a red-hot poker. But, lord, does it take me back. That skinny Momo wheels is absolutely gorgeous and the way the whole interior looks, feels and smells propels me straight back to the late ’80s.
The balanced bottom end makes itself felt right from the off, too, and there’s a lot less of that Subaru thrumminess through the gears than I recall. It gets along, too, and while there’s no doubt it’ll spin hard, it’s also torquey and flexible enough to be short-shifted and still provide enough clarity of shunt to be effective. The close-ratio ’box has a straight-cut first and second, the former of which, in particular, makes a racket and tends to try to trip you up if you start shifting back to first before the car has stopped.
There’s a real fluidity to the way the RA gets down the road that I don’t recall in bread-andbutter Liberties and, despite some pretty munted dampers on this car, the RA feels light on its feet and a pretty vice-free platform. Okay, the performance probably wouldn’t trouble a modern Ford Fiesta ST but, just like a Walkinshaw or Red Sow, that’s hardly the point any more. So why haven’t you seen more of them? Because they’re a dead-set Tassie Tiger. There’s reckoned to be two doing the rounds as rally cars and one road car. This one.
WITH A 1290KG KERB WEIGHT, THE RA WAS A PROPER STATEMENT BACK IN 1990 WHEN IT HIT SHOWROOMS
RIGHT Driving the RA in a modern context makes you appreciate just how good it was when it landed. It’s an iconic ’80s performance car and the first STi Subaru