spec C

In the summer of 2003 I started looking for a new car. Nothing wrong with the classic but I'd always planned to sell after three years to avoid spiralling depreciation. Nice idea with one slight flaw: the new cars simply weren't as good as the one I had. Despite the much-needed facelift., I wasn't too impressed by the WRX: it weighed in a hefty 200kg heavier than the current car and, even with a Prodrive Performance Pack fitted, wouldn't have any additional power. Despite a slightly stiffer chassis it felt sluggish.

The STi was even worse: same weight disadvantage, greater lag than the WRX, and appalling understeer. On roads that I had driven many times in the classic, the STi was far slower round the corners and then slower to pick up. According to the salesman, the PPP would improve the acceleration but, at the time, there was no cure for the handling problems (I believe that there are now several handling kits that reduce or remove the understeer). So the choice was to part with a massive chunk of cash to buy a new car that wasn't quite as good as the current one, or to stick with it. So I stuck with it and started on that depreciation spiral.

After Petter Solberg won the World Rally Championship in 2003, Subaru and Prodrive released the WR1: a limited edition based on the STi. The WR1 is an extremely nice looking car and, a first for UK special additions, had a distinct power hike over the standard model it was based on. I was extremely tempted but, according to the dealer, the chassis hadn't changed and the handling problems I felt ruined the STi would still be apparent. This seemed to be confirmed when Top Gear tried the WR1 on their test track and highlighted understeer as one of the main reasons it couldn't match the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII FQ-300; the car that I was now considering buying. The fact that the dealer felt the WR1 being a limited edition meant he could eek a few more quid out of me by claiming that all cars had been registered (I subsequently found out they hadn't been) and that, for a £2k premium over list price, he could 'probably' secure me a second hand one with 'only' 3000 miles on the clock further put me off.

It was looking more and more likely I'd have to swap from an Impreza to an Evo VIII. Following the FQ-300 came the FQ-320, the FQ-330, and the FQ-340 (and the FQ-400, but that was well out of my price range and produced in even more limited numbers than the WR1). Each of these received rave reviews in the motoring press and, in Spring 2004 I finally got the chance to test drive an FQ-340. What an amazing car! Basically, it accelerates like nothing else I'd ever driven (including my classic, a P1, an Evo VI and a Westfield V8) and goes exactly were you point it. Despite my reservations about running costs (service every 4500 miles) and the slightly clinical feel of the car, if there hadn't been a Subaru alternative I'd have bought one. Fortunately, by this point, a few motoring magazines had reviewed the STi spec C: only available in Japan but a small number had been imported and all the reviews claimed that, on UK roads, this was the first Impreza to eclipse the P1. Not only was it as powerful as the WR1 as standard, it also had a significant weight advantage (due to the use of lightweight glass, lightweight body panels, reduced sound deadening, and other weight-saving measures) and, at last, an excellent chassis. The spec C was a homologation model for Group N rally cars; basically a Group N car with a back seat instead of a roll cage.

This was a lot more like it, and further chassis improvements for the MY05 revision made it even more tempting. On the one hand it was an import; slightly higher insurance premiums and possibly harder to get hold of some parts. On the other hand it seemed to me to be the Impreza I'd been waiting for: a power-to-weight ratio of 240-250 bhp/tonne and handling that my classic couldn't possibly match. So I ordered one in Summer 2004 and it arrived just before Christmas 2004.

Some Details

The car's full model name is an MY05 Subura Impreza WRX STi spec C Type RA WR Limited; "spec C WR" or "WR" for short. Subaru produced 'WR Limited' versions of both the standard WRX and the Spec C (but not the base STi surprisingly) to celebrate the inaugral Japanese round of the WRC. The WR comes with air conditioning, electric windows, electric folding mirrors and central locking as standard (these being options on the base Spec C), WR Blue paint, and Subaru World Rally Team logos on the front lamp covers, front doors and the front seats. Other than that, it is a standard spec C, with all the lightweight stuff and spec C parts:

Twin-Scroll Ball Bearing Turbo
Driver-Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD-A)
Equal Length Manifold
spec C Engine Oil Cooler
spec C Anti-Surge Fuel Pump
spec C Water Pump
Front and Rear Strut Braces
Underbody Aero Package
12 Litre Intercooler Water Spray
Lightweight Aluminium Bonnet
Lightweight Aluminium Bootlid
Lightweight Glass
Lightweight Fuel Tank
Roof Vent

This is quite a rare car. Although the WR Limited edition wasn't restricted in numbers like the WR1, it was only for sale for a limited amount of time (from July, when the MY05 was introduced, to September when the WR Limited stopped being sold), and most of the WR Limited cars sold were the standard WRX. I found one MY04 spec C WR for sale in the UK and know of one other MY05 WR that was imported a couple of weeks before mine. Since I got mine I've heard of a couple of other people importing them. If you have a spec C WR I'd love to hear from you

Full Specification

Model Code cGh-GDB
Total Length (mm) 4415
Total Width (mm) 1740
Total Height (mm) 1425
Interior Length (mm) 1890
Interior Width (mm) 1380
Interior Height (mm) 1180
Wheelbase (mm) 2540
Kerb Weight (kg) 1390
Gross Vehicle Weight (kg) 1665
Steering Ratio 13.0 : 1
Front Brakes 4-pot Brembo, Ventilated Disks
Rear Brakes 2-pot Brembo, Ventilated Disks
Engine Type EJ20, 2.0l DOHC16 valve AVCS, horizontally opposed boxer
Turbo Twin Scroll Turbo
Displacement (cc) 1994
Compression Ratio 8.0
Fuel Tank Capacity (l) 50
Transmission Type 6-speed Manual
1st Gear Ratio 3.636
2nd Gear Ratio 2.375
3rd Gear Ratio 1.761
4th Gear Ratio 1.346
5th Gear Ratio 1.062
6th Gear Ratio 0.842
Reverse Gear Ratio 3.545
Final Drive Ratio 3.900

Modifications

Japanese tubo-charged cars are a modder's dream but, for some reason, I've never been too keen on heavily modifying my cars. However, as time has gone on I seem to have acquired a few choice extras.

These mods are good for peak power of 400bhp; 285bhp/tonne

Importing From Japan

This was the first time I'd ever considered buying an import and I did some research on import companies before I went ahead. Buying a brand new import is significantly different to buying a new car from a UK dealer in one important respect: with a dealer you are buying the car direct from their franchise, with an import you are privately buying the car from Japan, with the importer acting as your agent. There is a vast range of different types of importers, from those that basically provide you with advice and contacts in exchange for a fee; to those that act more like a dealer: buying the car in Japan; shipping it to the UK; sending it for SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) testing - required for the car to be legally used in the UK; paying the UK taxes; and registration. Even in the latter category there is plenty of variation in what the importer offers. New rules in Japan mean that most cars have to be registered in Japan before they can be exported. This means you are effectively buying a second-hand car even if it is brand new as there is a Japanese 'owner' who immediately sells it on to you. But some importers have a good enough relationship with Subaru Japan that they can act like a franchise and export the car unregistered, so you are officially the first owner of the car. Some importers also carry out additional work on the car to prepare it for use in the UK: additional rustproofing is a must and an ECU re-map is advisable as the map it comes with will be optimised for Japanses 100 RON fuel. Most insurance companies will also insist you have some form of tracker in addition to a CAT1 alarm to cover an Impreza.

In the end I decided to buy through Litchfield Imports. Litchfield were the suppliers of most of the cars reviewed by the motoring magazines and were establising themselves as a Subaru specialist with the launch of the Type 25. They also provided the most comprehensive service of the importers I'd researched with fitment of alarm and tracker, full ECU remap and rust proofing in addition to unregistered car import and handling all the tests and taxes. However, even with an almost complete 'value add' service the buying process was still very different to buying from a dealer. First, you pay a deposit on the car which means they place the order in Japan for you. Once the car has been secured in Japan (which took eight weeks, somewhat longer than normal due to the car being a limited edition) you pay a much larger amount; effectively buying it for its Japanese Yen value. At this point the car is yours, it just happens to be on the other side of the world. Litchfield send you photos of the car's certfificates and of the car itself sitting in the docks holding area which is kind of nice but also a bit frustrating as all you want to do is drive the thing! The car is then shipped to the UK which takes anywhere between four and seven weeks depending on how long the car sits on the docks waiting for the next ship, and what the weather is like for the journey. Once in the UK it then has to be SVA'd, registered, and have the additional rustproofing and alarm/tracker fitment. You can then pick it up which means paying the balance on the car: effectively you're paying the taxes and the importers fee for their service at that point. Then, after 1000 miles of running in, it goes for its 1000 mile service and has any modifications made and the ECU re-map.

In my case, the import process took just over four months. For other models it might take less time but I would guess there is a minimum waiting time of two months. If you're considering importing a car, and want to find out more about my experience, please feel free to contact me.