1999 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Type R Version V
The year is 1994. A new era of rally racing is upon us, with smaller, faster cars and crazy drivers discovering the dominance of all-wheel-drive systems on difficult terrain. It’s a time when many questioned whether rally racing would ever return to the same level of excitement and chaos seen in the early 80s with the Group B era.
The arrival of the Subaru Impreza onto the world rally scene was the catalyst to igniting WRC domination by the small Japanese outfit. The dominance spilled out from racing onto the streets, with Subaru offering rowdy performance cars spawned from the rally winning metal. It sparked a cult-like following for the brand and its cars. This new rally-bred monster was the start of a motoring legacy that enthusiasts for years to come would fall in love with time and time again.
Due to Subaru, and its Subaru Technica International (STI) development teams’ success in the World Rally Championship in 1995, 1996 and 1997, the idea of a lightweight all-wheel-drive platform was forged into a series of famed products. The Subaru Impreza STI, famed in no small part by the winning ways of Colin McRae, became a legend as did the man himself. He was so good in fact that video games would later be named after him, but that’s a story for another day.
During the production of the first generation STI, also known as the Mean Eye STI, there was a seemingly endless array of differentiated STI editions. However, like many other good cars, Japan kept most of them in its domestic market, meaning the rest of the world couldn’t appreciate the best of the STIs. Well, that’s what we initially thought.
Allow me to introduce you to the only car of its kind in South Africa and with one of the longest names in the game. This is the Subaru Impreza STI Version V JDM-spec Type R. Breathe. Only 416 were ever sold, only in Japan, making this car seem somewhat out of place in Mzansi. To many, the Mean Eye STI looks like an older Toyota with a few body modifications, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. This rally-infused rocket was the start of possibly the coolest and most respected name in motoring. With its big hood scoop and bigger rear wing, the STI is one of the most aesthetically distinct cars you can come across. One of the most unique and iconic parts of this Impreza STI, which was a trend throughout the generations, is its unequal length headers, and the unmistakable noise they produce. The tone is a deep rumble which you can feel thumping in your core. It is a sound which every car fanatic is familiar with.
This car is old school cool. The interior is very basic and typically Japanese, where everything has a purpose and not much more. It comes with cloth STI embroidered sports seats, aluminium pedals, a boost gauge and a unique yet functional cluster display layout placed behind a Momo steering wheel. The Type R comes with a few extra touches like an aluminium hood, intercooler water spray, no ABS, a Driver-Controlled Center Differ for customizable power distribution and a shorter gear ratio for better acceleration. Despite only having two passenger doors there is enough space in the back to comfortably fit 2 rear passengers, however it is clear that Subaru designed the back seat area to rather accommodate a roll cage. Passengers look conspicuously out of place - rightly so as they are effectively riding in the back seat in a rally car. Yet it is comfortable nonetheless.
I can see why Christo, the proud owner of the Impreza STI has tried to keep this rowdy little machine as close to showroom quality as it gets. It is stunning in its own right. This car puts the power down with proper old-school vehemence. It carries a turbocharged 2.0-litre boxer engine that is legend. It has, for years, been teaching youngsters around Johannesburg to not mess with the old school. Pushing 206 kW and 347 Nm of torque through a rally-tested all-wheel-drive system, it catapults itself from 0 to 100 kph in 4.9 seconds. For a 90s sports car that is fast, especially with a weight of 1260 kg. In fact, there is a rumour that if a BMW E39 M5 owner was caught racing a STI Type R, their motor plan would be voided as a deterrent to stop the STI owners from thrashing one of the best cars from BMW. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 23-year-old rally-bred rocket, and what I found blew my mind, this car is raw. The way it lays down the power is brutal, once that turbo spools up you become aware of this hidden monster hiding in the higher RPMs. Even the way the steering is set up reflects the focus on raw driving, feeling every little imperfection on the road’s surface.
As the legacy of petrol STIs comes to an end, it comes as a true honour to drive the car which started it all. It deeply saddens me that I missed out on experiencing such an epic era of motoring. A culture which was developed through fierce rivalry on the trails and tracks of 90s motorsport. It’s a shame to see the vehicle that influenced the beginning of my passion for cars end, yet it is so promising to meet people like Christo who will ensure that these names live on. Caring for and showing the world just how incredible the Subaru Impreza STI truly was...and still is - a raw driving machine designed on the gravel and taking names on the streets. The World Rally Experimental Subaru Technica International - you will be missed.