A BOXER’S TALE

FOR READER SOFA CER­TAIN AGE, THE SUB­ARU WRX WILL EVOKE VI­SIONS OF NOISY BOY RACE RS, EX­HAUST TIPS THAT BURBLE IN­CES­SANT NOISE, AND CAPS WORN IN SUCH A MAN­NER THAT THEIR IN­TENDED PUR­POSE HAS BEEN AVOIDED ...

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Lach­lan Jones Pho­tos: Adam Croy

FU­TURE CLAS­SIC SUBARUS

For read­ers of a dif­fer­ent age, the WRX will sum­mon thoughts of the 1990s World Rally Cham­pi­onship ( WRC), a Scots­man named Colin Mcrae, a Kiwi named Pos­sum Bourne, and the dawn of the era of ac­ces­si­ble all-wheel drive along­side the fear­some Mit­subishi Evo­lu­tion (tai ho, Qu­at­tro fans, we’ll get to you). In this bat­tle, just as with Holden and Ford, fans had their camps and they fer­vently stuck to them. The pop-cul­ture suc­cess of the Sub­aru WRX in the late 1990s came on the back of the ad­vent of ac­tual race cars on con­sole com­puter games. It meant that the fans of all things fast and en­thu­si­asts of most things freshly dig­i­tal had an op­por­tu­nity. In be­tween sips of Moun­tain Dew and bites of na­chos, we got to drive our hero cars. We got to be Colin Mcrae be­hind the wheel of the WRX, fly­ing over blind crests on New Zealand roads with our co­driver Nicky Grist scream­ing un­in­tel­li­gi­ble in­struc­tions across mono speak­ers.

Some­where in be­tween these dif­fer­ing views is a car that has be­come a sta­ple for fans of ev­ery­thing fast, fun, and af­ford­able. And I’d hazard a guess: these two camps will prob­a­bly meet in the mid­dle to shake hands, share ra­tions, and dis­cuss why the WRX (in par­tic­u­lar, the STI) can now be con­sid­ered im­por­tant enough to be a clas­sic.

In the be­gin­ning

Sub­aru was born of its par­ent com­pany, Fuji Heavy In­dus­tries. Un­til quite re­cently, a name­plate bear­ing “Built for Fuji Heavy In­dus­tries” could still be found tak­ing pride of place in the en­gine bay of mod­ern-day Subarus. How­ever, once the com­pany was re­named the ‘Sub­aru Cor­po­ra­tion’, this nod to a time past sadly fell by the way­side.

Sub­aru’s in­tro­duc­tion into New Zealand came in the form of the Brumby and the not-quite-as-well-named Leone. The Brumby was and is a fan­tas­tic-to-look-at util­ity with two seats, a low ride height, and se­lectable all-wheel drive. The Leone was es­sen­tially the same plat­form as the Brumby, but in the form of a sedan and a sta­tion wagon — a for­mat which we now ap­pre­ci­ate as the back­bone of the Sub­aru story. While the Brumby and Leone had a cer­tain ‘quirk’ fac­tor, they did lit­tle to whet the ap­petite of the Kiwi con­sumer.

But, in 1991, things changed for the bur­geon­ing Ja­panese brand. It got se­ri­ous about tak­ing on some big hit­ters, not least of which was a lit­tle Ger­man brand named Audi. At that time, Audi had al­ready gained an enor­mous amount of trac­tion with its ground­break­ing Qu­at­tro prod­uct (see what I did there?). The UR Qu­at­tro had proven a mas­ter stroke in terms of brand aware­ness and mo­tor sport, with great suc­cess in both Group B and in the WRC.

So, in the late 1980s, as the UR Qu­at­tro was head­ing into its twi­light, Sub­aru re­leased the Legacy. A lot of Ki­wis — my­self in­cluded — will re­mem­ber the RS Legacy as the barn­storm­ing in­tro­duc­tion of this all-new setup to the scene: trans­verse boxer en­gine with a big sin­gle turbo, a short five-speed man­ual with Ja­panese all-wheel drive — the recipe was pretty sweet. So, when the WRX was re­leased to the mar­ket in 1992, the Legacy be­came a some­what muted, fam­ily ver­sion of the new and sporty WRX ‘cross­over’.

The per­for­mance car to own

The WRX ( World Rally ex­per­i­men­tal) took a good prod­uct (in the RS and GT Legacy) and made it bet­ter. A chas­sis to die for, grip for days, and pace un­heard of for the money, the WRX, ac­cord­ing to breath­less au­to­mo­tive jour­nal­ists here and be­yond, was the per­for­mance car to own in the 1990s.

The re­al­ity was that times were dif­fer­ent then. The old ‘there’s no re­place­ment for dis­place­ment’ ar­gu­ment was strong. “Only milk and or­ange juice come in 2 litres”, the stick­ers shouted from the back of SSS and XR8S. It took some time be­fore the mar­ket came to terms with the new kid on the block, and a com­pet­i­tive one at that. Not un­like the Nis­san R32 Sky­line when it took on Bathurst (which we will re­visit in New Zealand Clas­sic Car soon), the WRX was seen as an un­fair com­peti­tor in a fight in which the rules were set in stone.

In hind­sight, tur­bocharg­ing was a step in the right di­rec­tion. Back in the ’90s, it wasn’t un­com­mon for turbo cars to get poorer mileage than their V8 coun­ter­parts, but mod­ern ver­sions have tipped the bal­ance, and we now know that we’re bet­ter off forc­ing some air through the en­gine than adding cylin­ders willy-nilly.

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