LEGACY RS RA

This is gen­e­sis for for­est-fight­ing, go-fast Subarus

Motor (Australia) - - MEANWHILE IN THE FOREST -

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

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