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enginenerd New Reader
3/25/17 4:21 p.m.

Hi all! I've been hanging out in the shadows here on GRM for some time and decided I would introduce myself with my most recent terribad car project. Like many of you, I have a Craigslist problem and drag home bad ideas from time to time. I had sworn off Subarus years ago due to an awful 2002 WRX, but got excited when I spotted an ad for this:

Enter the world's worst Subaru.

Doesn't look too bad, does it? Sure, it's a bit rough around the edges but it will clean up. I got it for a great price! Should be fun to repair, clean up, and take to a track day or two.

Did I mention it has rod knock?

enginenerd New Reader
3/25/17 4:47 p.m.

Let's back up a bit. A week prior to purchasing the Subie, I owned a 1996 Miata that I had put a ton of work into. I had replaced a quarter panel, repaired rust, painted the entire car, installed a roll bar, restored the interior, and more. (Perhaps that would be another good build thread to share.) Here's a pic:

Anyways, I decided I needed to thin the herd and clear some space in the garage and driveway. Since the Miata was the only car that didn't need work at the moment, I sold it. In a bout of seller's remorse and with a tidy pile of cash burning a hole in my pocket, I pulled up Craigslist as I habitually do. Literally the first ad for a car with a manual transmission was the aforementioned STi. Talk about impulsive.

The seller was a very nice guy who told me he simply didn't want to mess with the engine. I was told he heard it knocking, drove home and parked it and it hadn't run since. There was some obvious cosmetic damage - the front bumper cover was cracked, the rear bumper had some paint damage, the wheels were very gouged, and there were some small dents and scratches scattered around the car. However, he did have all the service records and the car was relatively unmodified - rare for these Subarus! Without starting the engine, we came to an agreement on the price and I was the (proud?) owner of a car I had secretly wanted to own since high school.

After getting the car towed home I had some friends help me push it into the garage. The three of us really struggled to move the thing...this was probably an indication of how long it had really been sitting. I hooked up a battery charger and just walked around the car and stared at it for a while.

Unfortunately I had to immediately leave town for a work trip, but I was able to start formulating a plan of attack.

conesare2seconds HalfDork
3/25/17 9:13 p.m.

Hi. Looking forward to more of this.

enginenerd New Reader
3/26/17 10:21 a.m.

A few days later I returned and began investigating the extent of damage to the car. I had spent the last few days perusing the Subaru parts online catalog and was getting worried about the upcoming costs. I was hoping that somehow the engine knock was misdiagnosed and I wouldn't have to rebuild/replace the short block.

I started off by checking the oil (again) and noted it was the right level and looked very clean. I fit a large breaker bar on the crankshaft damper bolt and with some effort was able to turn over the engine by hand. It seemed to ease up after a few attempts. I wondered how long it had been since it was started.

After checking the charge on the battery, I decided just to try starting it. After cranking over for quite some time, it started up. I was immediately greeted with the unmistakable clatter of rod knock. Unlike other cars I've owned that developed knock under load and higher engine speed, this one was knocking extremely loud at idle. The engine was toast.

I started by removing the radiator, air box, and intercooler.

I started removing the accessories and FEAD belts only to break my first part:

It seemed this car had been through some Michigan winters and as a result, every fastener was a fight to remove. I spent some time soaking every accessible fastener with penetrating fluid and went out and bought myself a MAP gas torch.

I've also never owned a car with so many hoses...most of which were cracked. My parts list was growing rapidly.

TGMF Reader
3/26/17 6:41 p.m.

I've always irrationally wanted one of these STI's. But they hold their value like gold here in Michigan....And..Well as you've found they are far from the robust reliable vehicle the Gran Turismo crowd believes they are. That and...Well, frankly I haven't been impressed with Subarus interior.

enginenerd New Reader
3/26/17 7:17 p.m.
TGMF wrote: I've always irrationally wanted one of these STI's. But they hold their value like gold here in Michigan....And..Well as you've found they are far from the robust reliable vehicle the Gran Turismo crowd believes they are. That and...Well, frankly I haven't been impressed with Subarus interior.

Admittedly, they are fun and quirky but I really can't believe the price they command, especially in MI where they are often rusted out. Agreed on the interior...it is a very blue plasticy rattletrap.

Sky_Render SuperDork
3/27/17 8:38 a.m.

Your avatar makes me chuckle after reading this thread.

enginenerd New Reader
3/27/17 8:58 a.m.

In reply to Sky_Render:

Seemed appropriate at the time

enginenerd New Reader
4/4/17 7:57 a.m.

Apologies for the delay; work has demanded all my attention lately. Still excited by this project, I pressed on removing the alternator and power steering pump. I removed the AC compressor and pulled it out of the way without disconnecting any lines. I disconnected all lines, engine grounds, and emissions equipment that looked to be in the way. After shearing four separate bolts, I removed the intake manifold. I've seen a lot of people pull Subaru engines using the intake manifold as the only lift point, but putting that much load on questionably thick cast aluminum makes me nervous. I removed the turbo heat shield and discovered this:

This isn't a great picture as I only took it for reference, but that's a Cobb catted stainless downpipe. I rolled around under the car and realized the rest of the exhaust was also Cobb stainless. While I'd prefer OEM equipment, as far as Subie-bro mods go this is a pretty nice system.

While I was under the car I removed the downpipe, engine mount bolts, and lower bell housing fasteners. I hooked my hoist up to the engine and began to pull. Nothing happened. No movement, no separation of the bell housing and engine, nothing! Could it really be so crusty that it was hung up on dowel pins alone?

Turns out I missed something obvious.

This picture (not mine) shows a large pin that hides under a plug in the transmission bell housing. I pulled it and before long I had this lump rolling around in my garage:

NGTD UberDork
4/4/17 11:41 a.m.
enginenerd wrote:
conesare2seconds wrote: Hi. Looking forward to more of this.
Plenty more to come. Here's a preview of where this saga is headed. This was yesterday:

Centre Diff? DCCD?

java230 SuperDork
4/4/17 12:07 p.m.

Following along as I too have some weird unnecessary lust for these....

enginenerd New Reader
4/4/17 8:55 p.m.

In reply to java230:

I may just dissuade you. Plenty to come.

enginenerd New Reader
4/4/17 10:07 p.m.

In reply to NGTD:

You got it! I'm trying to track down a driveline noise that's been bugging me.

enginenerd New Reader
4/6/17 6:36 p.m.

After I had the engine out, a few things became immediately apparent. 1) The turbo was completely dead. 2) The exhaust was rotted beyond saving. 3) A lot of the fasteners were corroded terribly to various aluminum parts and would be a pain to remove.

My first heroic battle with this car was removing the turbo. All three nuts holding it on were difficult to access, completely corroded, and rounded off. After 2 hours of trying heat, a BFH and a chisel, a cutoff wheel, and other increasing ineffective methods, I gave up and bought these:

I now call them my Michigan sockets. Removal took all of 10 minutes...I know, I know...right tools for the job and all that.

I researched the cost and difficulty of rebuilding the turbo. There was a massive amount of axial play of the turbo shaft, but the walls of the compressor housing still looked clean. However, this turbo had suffered the famous turbine housing crack. Many IHI VF39 and VF43 develop this crack from the wastegate port and it supposedly doesn't affect operation, but it still bothered me. It looked exactly like this: (not my photo)

I hopped on Ebay and was lucky enough to find an extremely low mileage VF43 for only $300 shipped. Here it is installed (jumping to the future!)

And here is the turbine housing. Note the "lack of crack"

I then removed (or rather hammered until it disintegrated) the exhaust manifolds, motor mounts, oil cooler, some coolant pipes, and then the oil pan. And then I found a huge problem.

Try to ignore the copious amounts of bearing material in the oil. It's difficult to see from this angle, but the base of the oil pickup tube was cracked wide open. Apparently, this is a well known problem with Subarus of this vintage. Vibration over time fatigues that joint and it develops a crack resulting in an obvious loss of oil pressure. Hello spun bearings! What's more is that I don't think Subaru ever really addressed the problem as the OEM replacement tube looks identical. Ugh. I hate when engineers (actually vehicle program finance managers) cheap out.

docwyte Dork
4/6/17 7:07 p.m.

Why put on the exact same turbo? An FP Green really wakes up the car, makes it actually have power to redline vs falling on its face at 5000rpm.

Since the COBB system was stainless, I'm surprised it rotted away. They may warranty it if you ask. Its a really nice piece.

I had that exact same car, really the only new car I've bought. I sold it after 5000 miles, I just couldn't take the crap build quality compared to my previous german cars.

enginenerd New Reader
4/6/17 7:23 p.m.

In reply to docwyte:

Well, I planned to sell this car relatively soon after fixing it...and just about every STi I see languishing on Craigslist just had "an entire shortblock rebuild w/ X rods and Y pistons and Z turbo and tune." I figured keeping it stock was best for resale. Were I keeping it as a dedicated track car, I would agree and probably modify power delivery as I saw fit.

Sorry about the confusion. The COBB system was great. I was referring to the exhaust manifolds...they were so trashed.

enginenerd New Reader
4/8/17 2:45 p.m.

The amount of bearing material I saw in the oil pan and oil pickup tube wasn't encouraging. I decided to disassemble the rest of the engine so I would have a better idea of how to proceed.

First I removed the outer timing covers. The timing belt looked to be in good condition.

I then removed the cam sprockets. The bolts securing the cam sprockets to the cams are notoriously difficult to remove; surprisingly I didn't have any problems. As you can see, on this particular year only the intake has variable valve timing, or AVCS as Subaru calls it. I quickly identified another issue I hadn't thought about: the cam sprockets and oil control solenoids were probably packed full of bearing material and would need to be replaced as well.

Next I removed the valve covers. Once cleaned up the cams looked to be in great condition. They actually weren't as bad as I was preparing myself for. The buckets looked to be in good condition as well. I figured I would take everything to a machine shop and see if they would recommend replacement.

patgizz GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
4/8/17 3:45 p.m.

i will argue to the death that my last 02 wrx was the world's worst subaru.

i bought my current 02 specifically because it was not modified, if you find a guy like me you're making the right choice to keep it stock.

CyberEric Reader
4/8/17 6:39 p.m.

Thanks for documenting this, I was just forgetting why I'll likely never buy a Subaru. :)

Nice work though, and you're garage looks top notch, at least compared to my dungeon.

NGTD UberDork
4/8/17 11:06 p.m.

Killer B oil pick up - get rid of the factory one

ssswitch Dork
4/8/17 11:39 p.m.

I hope you got a really great deal on this thing.

A good stockish rebuild is just what this car needs, though. There are a lot of terrible engine builders out there.

The Killer B oil pickup (and pan baffle, if you're feeling flush) is definitely the way to go here. That was undoubtedly part of the cause.

docwyte Dork
4/9/17 12:21 a.m.

Yeah, I agree, keeping it stock is the best choice for resale. Mine was totally stock when I sold it. I had a COBB turbo back exhaust ready to go on the car but I hadn't installed it yet...

enginenerd New Reader
4/10/17 11:53 a.m.

In reply to patgizz:

I think my old 02 wrx could give you a run for its money. I had to replace the engine, center differential, all four axles, and I sold it as the transmission was giving out. This project is giving me not-so-pleasant deja vu.

enginenerd New Reader
4/10/17 11:54 a.m.
NGTD wrote: Killer B oil pick up - get rid of the factory one

That's what I ended up doing. Nice piece, but pricey.

jharry3 GRM+ Memberand New Reader
4/10/17 12:34 p.m.

It seems like a less expensive and aggravating option might be to get an engine/transaxle out of another Subaru, preferably from the southern US with its non-salted roads, drop it in, and resell as soon as possible.
On the other hand you are performing a public service in reminding us that used Subaru's can sometimes be a princess but many times can be like that exciting woman you have been wanting to date only to discover a little too late her long history of being rode hard and put up wet.

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