Prodrive’s Isle Of Man STI

The current (VA) STI has never really done it for me. A car that was cultivated after the relationship between Subaru and Toyota began and it appears too much of the latter seeped into its styling. AFTER /DRIVE described it as “corporate ugly” and I agree with them. The design-by-committee handbook has become the standard for Subaru’s entire lineup. If the new Toyota GT-86 (BRZ) and Impreza are any indicators, the future isn’t looking promising either.

The good news is we can always count on racing outfits and the performance market to show a car’s true potential. Prodrive is a name that’s become synonymous with Subaru and the two have teamed up to produce a car with one goal – set a new lap record at the Isle of Man.


Road & Track were the first to show pictures of the car and it’s a stunning thing.


Three parts WRC, GT and Time Attack, it shows the potential of the VA STI when the right people (Prodrive) get a hold of it.


Driver Mark Higgins will attempt the lap record before this year’s Isle of Man TT. No performance figures have been released, but expect more details about the car in the coming months.

Now if Prodive could just put that aero kit into production, I may rethink my position on the VA STI.

Photos courtesy of James Gibson.

Japan’s Automotive Identity Crisis

List five sports or performance cars under $50,000 that the Japanese automotive industry is producing right now. I’ll get things started:

  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
  3. Toyota 86 (FR-S)/Subaru BRZ
  4. Subaru STI
  5. ???

What else? Anything besides the 370Z which I’ve intentionally not mentioned because no one bought one. Don’t be fooled by unattainable halo cars priced to compete with Ferraris or wishful thinking concepts that will never see a production line – the Japanese automotive industry is in the middle of an identity crisis.


Tokyo Auto Salon continues to be one of the most important motor shows in the world and the 2016 edition just wrapped up last month. It was an interesting glimpse into not only Japan’s aftermarket industry but the country’s automotive industry as a whole. What really stood out in 2016, as opposed to other years, was the lack of new sports cars. A show long celebrated for its variety, has become a showcase for the Nissan GT-R, a car that’s been with us since 2007 and now costs over $100,000 new.

Seeing the finest examples of affordable performance cars has always been what’s made Tokyo Auto Salon so exciting. Historically, the show’s been filled with the best modified offerings from Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. For a nearly a decade now, the focus has begun shifting more heavily towards European cars the GT-R, a fine example of Japanese engineering, now mostly a case of been there, done that. The fact that aftermarket parts manufacturers and tuners are still so focused on this car speaks to the larger problem of a lack of alternatives from Japan’s half dozen automotive heavyweights.

With the exception of the four models mentioned above, there’s been a sharp decline in affordable, performance-oriented cars coming from Japan. In the last decade we’ve seen production end for the Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8 and Mitsuitbishi Evo. Mitsubishi also threatens to pull out of the North American market completely. Honda, who once set the gold standard for their entire market were forced to redesign the Civic after one model year because it did so poorly. Nissan, the Japanese manufacturer with the richest motorsports history has become more known in North America for SUVs, trucks and crossovers. More recently, Korean manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia are starting to take Japan’s place in the automotive marketplace.


Everyone is obsessed with the Ford Focus RS right now. It arrives in North America later this year and will be a massive hit with enthusiasts. Starting at around $35,000 which is cheaper than you can get a Subaru STI for these days, it’s just more proof that there’s a market yearning for this type of car. The Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ was supposed to be the wakeup call to Japanese manufacturers when it became a global sensation 4 years ago. We had all hoped it would jumpstart a second coming of Japan’s greatest hits in the forms of new Silvias, Supras and RX-7s. Instead, Toyota lost money on their LFA technical exercise, Honda gave Tony Stark an NSX that thinks it’s a McLaren and Nismo’s IDx concept pointed at all of us and laughed.


An automotive industry founded on affordability, cleverness and fun is producing more questionable offerings than ever, but it doesn’t have to stay that way:

Understand your customers – If you listen to the media, everyone drives a hybrid or an electric these days. Wrong. The Prius remains the one exception that’s had overwhelming success globally. Aside from it, Japan’s hybrid and electric offerings (think Honda CR-Z) cater to even more obscure, niche markets than their performance cars. How did Subaru make the transition from cult car maker, thought to be from Australia and driven by people in Vermont, to the powerhouse it’s become? They have the Impreza and its loyal owners community to thank. Enthusiast culture continues to thrive and with an entire generation growing up in Japanese cars, the customer base is well established and ready for the next 86/BRZ competitor.

Stop trying to be European – Japan has always been great at doing its own thing. Cultural philosophy plays a huge role in the design process and that sets them apart from their competitors. Everyday heroes like the Skyline and Supra took on and in many cases beat some of the best Europe had to offer. Luxury is never something Japanese cars have done very well, but functionality, reliability and affordable performance are. The ever bloating ranges from Acura, Infinity and Lexus have come at the cost of their parent brands and with little to no motorsports pedigree, halo cars priced well into the six figures will always struggle to lure away buyers from the established Europeans.

We deserve your very best – This is an argument that can also be applied to the European manufacturers and something I discussed concerning the Subaru S207. Past arguments made pertained to fears over sales figures and the archaic notion that we’re not worthy. Welcome to globalization. Japanese manufacturers would do well to take more calculated risks with some of their special performance models. The limited production S207 is a prime example of a car that would fly out of Subaru showrooms in America. Japanese manufacturers should have little concern over being able to sell upgraded trim and performance packages abroad. If it’s really an issue, make it a special order option through the dealership. The days of impossible to obtain JDM bumpers should be long gone.

Time to move on from the GT-R – Our collective fascination with all things Nismo, Skyline and GT-R will never wane. The R35 defies what’s possible in a production car and will remain one of the greatest technical achievements of its generation. With an asking price of over six figures however, few will be lucky enough to ever own, much less modify one. That’s unfortunate considering a majority of the Japanese aftermarket caters so heavily to the GT-R. It’s time to build something else!


It could be argued that the late 90s through the early 2000s were the golden age of Japanese sports cars. Nearly every manufacturer had multiple offerings in their respective stables. The aftermarket industry was also thriving at pre-stance movement levels when people still upgraded performance. We can blame stricter emissions globally as a reason for the demise of many of Japan’s greatest hits, but consider the fact the BMW are still putting inline-6’s in their cars with great success and most European and American manufacturers have made the jump to turbochargers, something Japan made mainstream long before everyone else.


Automotive brands are obsessed with tapping into their histories and using them as marketing strategies. How about using history as means of understanding what you’ve always been best at? Japanese manufacturers should challenge themselves to rekindle some of what made them great in the first place. People don’t remember who made the most successful mid-sized sedan, they do remember who built the engines for the most dominant car in Formula 1 history.

Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mazda – it’s time to have some fun again!

Photos courtesy of Subaru, Ford, Lexus, Acura & Nissan.

The S207 Is The Impreza We Need

Subaru have always had a knack for teasing foreign markets with limited production models. Since the days of the 22b and Spec C, the automotive industry has shifted towards making performance and exclusivity more accessible. With North America becoming Subaru’s largest sales market, the all new S207’s 400 unit production run makes little sense.

Set to hit the Japanese market on March 6 of next year, every unit will likely be sold within minutes and that’s kind of a shame. With a reported 328 horsepower and the very best off-the-shelf parts as standard, it’s the car the current STI should’ve been and the Impreza North America needs.


The Impreza is a car that’s continued to gain weight and surface area since its inception. The current generation’s chunkier profile, designed by the most uncompromising of health and safety standards bares little resemblance to the World Rally Championship winning car that started the bloodline. With the addition of all new mesh wheels, a carbon front lip, rear diffuser and spoiler, the S207 wears its sportiness well.

Unlike S20X models of the past, the S207 will come with two different trim levels. 200 units will be available in standard trim while the remaining 200 will be sold with the NBR Challenge package (pictured above) and that’s the one you want.


Why not make the NBR Challenge which includes the additional aero the only option?

Of the 200 NBR Challenge units, 100 will be painted Sunrise Yellow. Additional upgrades include everything you’ve come to expect from these models including fully adjustable suspension, upgraded ECU, turbocharger, 6-pot front brakes, exhaust and premium interior. The latter has always been a major selling point for these special edition Subaru models.




A car with a racing pedigree, built for the backroads, at home on the track, turbocharged with 328 horsepower, AWD, a proper 6-speed manual and they’re building 400 units? It’s kind of a farce to be honest.


Lets consider the price – the top of the line NBR Challenge model will run about $53000 and that’s not so bad considering your average BMW 435i costs about the same these days. The S207 is an enthusiast’s car and there’s little doubt if sold in North America it would be a massive hit even at that price.


The sad reality is that a majority of the 400 will spend their lives tucked away in the garages and showrooms of Japanese car collectors. With STI putting their very best efforts on display, the S207 is a car that’s meant to be driven. Subaru are doing themselves a disservice by continuing to neglect the North American market when it comes to their special performance models. It’s a brand that unlike most, gained popularity through a rich and devoted enthusiast culture. Without petrolheads starting off in WRXs and eventually growing up into Foresters, Legacies, and STIs, Subaru wouldn’t be the fastest growing Japanese manufacturer in the market.

In a in more sheltered past it made sense for Japanese manufacturers to keep the very best for themselves. However in this growing global marketplace, making their very best accessible to the masses may be just what Japanese manufacturers need to be doing to regain relevance with consumers largely looking elsewhere.


Photos courtesy of Subaru.


Original Runduce Imprezas

It doesn’t get much better than these classics, the Original Runduce GDBs.


It’s a coin toss as to which car is better. Where looks are concerned, it’s hard to argue against Voltex aero, but the STI in the foreground is sporting a very unique and slightly insane 500 HP HKS twin-turbo EJ25.

The twin-turbo STI was wearing Voltex aero and up for sale on Global Auto back in 2010. These two make me seriously miss the golden era of Japanese demo cars, before everyone was on Rocket Bunny’s payroll.

Photo courtesy of Original Runduce.

‘Fast & Furious’ Is To Thank

Furious 7 is out this weekend and it will likely be the last (good) entry in the Fast & Furious franchise.


I’ve heard the departure of Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner is handled with particular care so it should be a fitting sendoff for the character and the actor. It seems with any film series, the longer it goes, the more nostalgic we all feel about its different entries. While I have my favorites and least favorites in the series, 2 Fast 2 Furious stands out in particular, not because of the film but because of what I encountered on my way into seeing it and how that has impacted everything since.


I remember 2 Fast 2 Furious being a big deal because it was the sequel to a film many people considered a cult thing. Sure car people loved it, but the general masses had no interest in blow-off valves, nitrous or 10 second cars. The local movie theater was doing a special promotion for the film’s release and upon reaching the theater’s front doors, I was greeted by a silhouette which will be ingrained in my memory forever.


I had only laid eyes on the Subaru Impreza WRX one other time before and it was at the Cincinnati Auto Show in 2001. The car hadn’t yet gone on sale in America but Subaru were beginning to take orders and promote the turbocharged, road going rally car. I remember sitting in the driver’s seat, steering wheel in my left hand, gear stick in my right, transfixed on the OEM boost gauge – an optional extra. I proudly told my dad I would have one and a year later I was once again greeted by the same World Rally Blue WRX headed into 2 Fast 2 Furious. The theater was raffling the car away to some lucky owner who has probably since ruined it, crashed it or both. I remember telling my friend Ben who is close friend to this day how much I wanted that car. Half an hour later as the Universal Pictures logo morphed into a gear stick to David Banner’s ‘Like A Pimp’, I was still thinking about the WRX outside.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Had I not seen 2 Fast 2 Furious at that theater on that night, I may have never cemented my love for the Subaru WRX. The Fast & Furious series is a generational benchmark. It’s shaped the way so many of us in our 20’s and 30’s think about cars and about action movies. The original is by far the most quoted movie in my social circle and amongst car enthusiasts everywhere. Say “I live my life a quarter mile at a time” or “no one likes the tuna here” and people are immediately in on the joke. Say what you will about the ridiculous plots or over the top characters, the Fast & Furious series is a commentary about how much cars can mean to people and how they can bring people together. Cars are where I found my closest friends and have been a constant source of happiness in my life.


My love of cars has always been there but in so many ways it was the Fast & Furious series that made them a part of my life rather than an admiration from afar. 14 years later, I’ll be driving my WRX to see Furious 7.

Photos courtesy of Universal.


The GRB is the most recent iteration of the STI that I actually like. The newer sedans just aren’t cutting it – not that you ever see them in the wild anyway. Has anyone actually seen a modified GVB driving down the street or at the local meet? The newer generation of STIs don’t seem to be getting the love from owners and one of the reasons could be a lack of decent parts from manufacturers. In recent years, the STI hasn’t really been a big hit with tuning shops in Japan. Most are still deferring to the Evo and many of done away with AWD sedans completely to focus on the 86 and GT-R. This lack of attention has left a hole in the aftermarket, add to it the fact that hatchbacks are a far more popular option in Japan and Europe (hence the GRB) and it really has been an uphill battle for new generation of STI sedans.

Luckily this problem is much less so for the model’s hatchback counterpart and the GRB remains the best looking of the new generation of STIs. My friend Nat’s car is definitely no exception.


I love the car’s simplicity and the way it appeals to people who know, while remaining fairly anonymous to everyone else.


Nat’s EQ tuned STI is putting out over 300whp on E85 with stock internals, turbo and drivetrain. The perfect setup for a daily driver.


What really sets his car apart for me are the beautiful matte black Volk CE28Ns. While the wheels are certainly aggressive, it’s the tires that really finish off the looks, especially in person.

To drive, it’s a great street car. A bit of understeer in the corners (most Subarus are) and extremely responsive at the exit. Compared to my WRX with a VF34 and FMIC, there’s virtually no lag and excellent midrange torque. I can’t wait to drive it again with the new E85 tune.

Nat claims to be done with this build. I doubt it.

D Language R205 Impreza

It’s been a few years since D Language came onto the scene with their R205 Impreza. According to their website, they’re a cooperate IT design and consulting company that started a motor sports division. The whole thing sounds very Japanese and it’s still unclear whether D Language is an actual tuning shop and retailer or just a team of individuals who compete in racing – apparently Tarzan Yamada is (was) one of their sponsored drivers.

Their R205 time attack racer has certainly evolved over the years and is looking more sporty than ever in the latest Varis aero.


The carbon under tray looks particularly good paired with the canards on the front bumper.

Imprezas have become increasingly less common at Tsukuba Super Battles so it’s nice to see cars like the D Language R205 staying relevant and challenging the competition.

Photo courtesy of Varis.


The Journey, Not The Destination

It’s not about the destination, but the journey we take to get there. No truer words could be said about Chris Fontecchio’s 2006 WRX Limited.


Something has been happening the last few years in the Subaru community. What was once bought solely for a lack of other options has now taken on a legendary status amongst Impreza owners. The GDA was the first iteration of the WRX to be sold in America and for many, the car’s love-hate looks were a point of heated debate. Now however, the car has aged like a fine wine and the bugeye has become one of the most sought after Imprezas. As newer models have gotten chunkier and more cumbersome, the aggressive rally styling of the GDA has put it in the discussion of becoming a future classic. The thought of owning a bugeye is easy enough, but finding one that hasn’t been used and abused is another matter entirely.

What if you didn’t need to find one though, what if you just built your own? That’s exactly what Chris set out to do.


What started life as a daily driven 2006 WRX Limited has become a track car in the making and the passion project of an owner who does things the old school way. By day, Chris is an engine tech and he’s put all of his knowledge and skill to use building the car himself.


It’s hard work and the drive to produce a truly unique Impreza that has seen Chris’ car with 2 engine builds and a complete JDM bugeye front end conversion.

What we have here could be the ideal GD Impreza – bugeye looks with an updated interior and all the benefits of a built (2006) STI EJ257.


Under the hood lies an EFI Logics tuned EJ257 short block with 255 heads and 257 cams. A Garrett GTX3076R aids the car in achieving 341 whp and 326 tq at 19 psi.

The attention to detail on Chris’ Impreza is truly stunning and the selection of parts even more so. It’s a conversation we’ve had time and time again on ACLASS and in this age of knockoffs, taking the time to source the real deal deserves proper admiration.


For now the interior remains fully intact with some upgrades including a very plush Prova alcantara steering wheel which Chris calls the best mod, hands down. The alcantara trimmed, full interior may eventually give way to a roll cage as the car takes on more track day duties.


As nice as the interior is, it’s the exterior that really sets off this Impreza’s looks. The car has been repainted with 3 coats of European WRB for a shine that’s a slightly darker than standard. To protect the new paint job, Chris has had 70% of the exterior wrapped in clear bra to prevent rock chips. Up front an STI V2 front lip has been custom molded to be seamless, while JDM side spats round off the new look. At the back, a Do-Luck carbon trunk adds subtle sportiness.

It’s the kind of exterior I love because it’s a car that truly appeals to enthusiasts. To the untrained eye, Chris’ Impreza could be just another sports sedan, but to those who know, the car is full of details waiting to be discovered.


So where does the journey go from here? It continues forever of course. Chris will never sell the car and probably never finish it. The exterior is on pause for now while he focuses on power and handling. Despite it’s flawless condition, this is a car that gets used both on the street and at the track.

I’m always going on about the complete build – a car that perfectly blends looks with performance because one cannot exist without the other. Chris continues to succeed with this in a way few other Subaru owners are. This is a project both old and new Subaru owners can be excited about for many years to come because like wine, it will only keep getting better with age.

A big thank you to Chris Fontecchio for reaching out over Instagram and sharing his car with me! Check out the comments section for the full parts list.

Photos courtesy of Serg Rangel.