The Subaru Impreza chassis has been more successful in rallying than Subaru’s previous contenders. Prior to the introduction of the Impreza into World Rally Championship racing in 1993, the Subaru World Rally Team had fielded its larger mid-size Legacy.
However, with the rest of the rally competition increasingly shifting towards smaller and lighter chassis cars, Subaru introduced the smaller Impreza, immediately achieving a podium on its debut on the 1993 1000 Lakes Rally.
To jump start its early rally efforts, and to develop the Impreza into a competitive rally car, Subaru teamed up with British motorsports company Prodrive, in 1989. Immediately following the first overall WRC event win for both the fledgling Subaru team and its young driver, the late Colin McRae aboard a Group A Legacy on the 1993 Rally New Zealand, the Scotsman’s team-mate and childhood idol, 1981 World Rally Champion, Ari Vatanen of Finland, went on to finish second in the debut rally of the first ever factory Impreza.
New recruit for the following season, 1990 and 1992 World Champion, Carlos Sainz brought the Impreza its inaugural victory on the 1994 Acropolis Rally. The Impreza brought Subaru three consecutive WRC constructors’ titles (1995–1997, the latter season the first for the newly introduced World Rally Car class) and a driver’s championship for McRae in 1995, the late Richard Burns in 2001, and the Norwegian, Petter Solberg in 2003.
So with all this heritage and winning history behind the Subaru marquee, it is understandable that the Impreza has quite a following by fans and fellow competitors alike. Neill Finlay from Mallusk in Northern Ireland is no exception.
Neill has been about rallying for a very long time and as a competitor on and off for around thirty years. Starting off in a 1600 Ti Sunbeam Neill got to grips with rallying as well as rear wheel drive and progressed into a Ford Escort Mk2 before making what I feel was maybe a bold move and getting a front wheel drive “hot hatch”.
This hot hatch was a Vauxhal Astra GTE GrpN car which on Irish shores back in the day must have been a pretty rare sight and being front wheel drive it gave Neill the challenge of a completely different driving experience and handling characteristics as well as a shed load of power and handling to boot.
After a short sabbatical Neill returned with another Ford Escort Mk2 and some time later decided that sprints and hill climbs were the way to go and bought a Westfield kit car, this was until Neill realised the vast amount of precipitation we get here on the Emerald Isle.
Once the Westfield was sold there was only one thing left for Neill to tick off the bucket list and that was to build a “555” replica Subaru Impreza for use on local clubman events. Neill set about sourcing a good clubman spec GrpA car within budget that he could use as a base for the idea he had been mulling over.
Around a year ago the car was left into Bonar Auto Refinishing outside Islandmagee for the preparation work to begin and being in no rush a little spare time was spent on the car to get it ready for paint. A flawless coat of “Subaru 555 Blue” sweeps over every panel and after a visit from Andrew at BlackWater Graphics in Comber, the car is now complete with its ex-works livery.
The spec of this car isn’t huge, but ample for a clubman car and a full Motec management system with anti lag as well as a Prodrive exhaust helps the car get some reliable power which is transferred through a light weight Subaru RA gearbox and Pirelli slick tyres whilst the Avo suspension soaks up the bumps.
Inside these rally cars is a plethora of safety equipment including Sparco Evo 2 bucked seats, Cobra 6 point racing harness, fire eater system and a pretty spectacular welded in full roll cage. As well as these obvious safety pieces a custom switch panel was made in the dash to accommodate all necessary switches etc that keeps them all in one place and within reach of the driver and navigator.
The iconic colour scheme was decided upon as Colin McRae and Subaru made an impact on Neill in his early days of competing and this car’s graphics are based on the 1996 Colin McRae car “N1 WRC”.
Neill even commented “I still have an old 555 coat in the house, they must be few and far between these days” and I would have to admit, it’s likely worth a few quid now as rather than soaked with water at the side of a stage it’s soaked in rallying history.
Neill’s plan for the car is to finish off the project with a brake upgrade and then use the car on a few Sprint and Hill Climb events as a shakedown to see how the car goes and get him into the swing of its grip and handling and thereafter it may well just see a rally stage.
Words & Photos: Graham Curry