Dec 4, 2009 update to the Subaru WRX project car

Taking Stock

We've always liked the look of the early Imprezas, especially in World Rally Blue.
We'd almost forgotten how quiet the stock WRX exhaust is. Look for more noise from this area soon.
Aside from being filthy, everything under the hood appears normal.

When we decided it was time for another Subaru project, we considered a few options. A Forester XT, a 2004 STi and earlier Imprezas were considered, but in the end we decided to use an early WRX. This is the car that really brought Subaru to the fore as a performance-oriented manufacturer in the North American market. Plus, it enjoys as much aftermarket support as anyone could hope for. No matter what our end goal would be, the 2.0-liter terror was sure to be capable of meeting the challenge.

Once we knew what we wanted, we began our search. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right car; we spent a lot of time sifting through high-mileage vehicles with “noisy” engines and salvage-titled My First Tuner turds before we found what we were looking for. We liked what we saw in a simple craigslist ad from nearby Jacksonville, Florida. This example had low mileage for its age—just over 63,000 miles on the odometer—and had been driven since new by a college student. It appeared to have received capable maintenance and regular oil changes throughout that time, and it showed no signs of previous modification other than a set of hideous aftermarket Altezza-style taillights. (Thankfully, the previous owner kept the originals, so it was a 5-minute job to swap back.)

We did notice some evidence of a mild fender bender, and the owner was straightforward when asked about it. The damage had been very slight, but it required one of the headlights to be replaced. Unfortunately, the opposite light had become slightly fogged over. While the discoloration is slight, the difference between the two lights is pretty noticeable. We’ll be trying one of the many headlight restoration kits out there to see if we can bring our foggy light back to life.

The car was sold with the original 16-inch wheels, but the tires were absolutely shot. Normally we would have simply replaced the tires, but since this set of 17-inch Rotas with Nitto NT05s was available from our last Subaru project, we just bolted them up for the time being. Inspecting the stock units also has us wondering if the car could benefit from an alignment, as the wear is primarily on the innermost edge of the tires. The camber looks to be within spec, so we’ll check the toe settings to ensure that we’ll get full use of the Nittos.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Javelin MegaDork
12/4/09 6:06 p.m.

OMG!!! You got a WRC Blue 03 Bugeye!! This is the car that got me to stray from a domestic-only life. I still lust for one. Please, please, please put the Gold wheels back on it. I'd love to see how to turn this into an autocross/track day/tarmac rally terror.

ccarey3 None
12/5/09 2:02 a.m.

Looks great, I'm thinking this may be my next vehicle as well. Might I suggest starting off with some rallycross/autocross then progressively turning it into a Rally America SP class car all the while maintaining street drivability?

socalwrench New Reader
12/5/09 11:17 a.m.

I am also hunting for a nice, used WRX. I would vote for a mild, street friendly rally car. I would also like to recommend a budget suspension article, since many can't afford DSM coilovers.

Tom Heath
Tom Heath UberDork
12/6/09 10:09 a.m.

The gold Subaru wheels we have for the car have a set of corded R-compounds at the moment. You'll be seeing more of them in the future, though.

Thanks for the feedback! We're looking around and listening to readers before deciding what to do with this car. Stage rally is unlikely, mostly because the roll cage would ruin it as a street car.

12/7/09 9:00 a.m.

Listen to this: discreet speed. Stock rims with r-compounds, budget fully-adjustable suspension, small rear spoiler just to give enough downforce, black-tipped performance muffler, and tranny rip-shifter.

Greg Voth
Greg Voth Dork
12/7/09 3:50 p.m.

Listen to this: Full on STI swap. Then give me the engine and tranny to throw in Moniques GC8 Wagon.

Nashco UberDork
12/7/09 8:41 p.m.

Seems like a good car to use to test which is faster: more power or more handling? With most (2wd) cars adding more power is lost as you don't have enough traction to handle it without more tire/suspension. Obviously the WRX has traction to spare, and the turbo powerplant is ready and willing to take easy upgrades. It would be fun to see tests of 1) totally stock + super sticky tires 2) totally stock + power 3) totally stock + suspension 4) All in. We all know that the best performer is handling, tires, and power...but if you can pick only one (power, suspension, super tires), which one is fastest in autocross?

Gearheadotaku PowerDork
12/8/09 7:58 a.m.

I like Nashco's idea of testing each element on it's own.

Tom Heath
Tom Heath UberDork
12/9/09 10:26 a.m.

I'm liking Nashco's ideas too. That sounds like a fun batch of testing!

SilverFleet UltraDork
12/9/09 1:39 p.m.

Looks like you guys picked a nice example of a early "bugeye" WRX. I used to have one (mine was a wagon), and I had a lot of fun modding it. I kept mine on a budget and had a very good all around performing "stage 2" car for not a lot of cash. Keep things cheap, there are a ton of places to cut corners as far as price goes. I am sick of seeing buildups on these over the years where they spend ludicrous amounts of money on things that can be either made DIY-style of bought cheap. Don't be afraid of used parts, either!

One very important word of advice: DO NOT run Mobil 1 anything on these cars! They like to spin rod bearings with this oil in the crankcase, and the transmissions and differentials will wear quicker and not perform as well. Their products are fine in other cars, but the WRX's just don't like it.

Good luck with the car!

Tom Heath
Tom Heath UberDork
12/9/09 10:33 p.m.

Another test I'd really like to do- 150 dollar ebay turbo-back exhaust versus a name brand. Quality, noise level and weight would have to be measured along with performance gains.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
12/15/09 2:54 p.m.

Sweet "round eye" WRX Tom! What's with all these guys talking about Sprites?

Wowak SuperDork
12/31/09 2:20 a.m.

i've had the idea of a pre-"roundeye" WRX as a winter/rally beater rattling around in my head for a while, and while its still not "in the budget" I'm sure I'll be watching this build with interest. Plus the older WRXs seem non-existant in Tennessee.

todraines New Reader
1/3/10 9:20 p.m.

I like beaterworld's idea. But, I'm biased: 03 WRX wagon, stock wheels, Tein coilovers, Helix up- and down-pipes, Tanabe catback (too loud!)

Dav Reader
1/7/10 9:57 p.m.

Very nice. I wanted a bugeye WRX bad when they first came out--but the dealers were gouging and I bought a brand new 1SC Z28 instead. A year later I sold the Camaro and bought a new black bugeye WRX and still have it. I am really looking forward to future articles.

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