The Subaru Impreza – A Legendary Rallying Nameplate
Sporting Success Meets Iconic Image
When you hear the words ‘Subaru Impreza’, what do you immediately think of? We suspect that it isn’t this perfectly respectable family car’s practicality or price. It will, instead, be something that gets the heart racing faster: the special stage, or we should say, the super special stage?
Those who know their rallying terminology will be aware of what we mean. Rallying has always been one of the ultimate tests of man versus machine versus nature, and if there’s one machine that has truly hit that sweet spot between sporting success and an iconic image in recent times, it has to be the Subaru Impreza.
Yes, some cars in the sport have won more rallies, while others may have claimed more world titles – although the Impreza was hardly a slouch in that department, notching up three World Rally Championship drivers’ titles in 1995, 2001 and 2003, as well as the manufacturers’ crown for three consecutive years from ’95 to ’97.
More Than Just A Successful Rally Car
But no less important than the above glories was this formerly highly unassuming Japanese car’s broader cultural impact. You may have ‘been there’, standing by the roadside as Colin McRae or Richard Burns tore through the Welsh countryside while competing for the greatest honour in the sport, or taking the (virtual) wheel yourself when you got home to play Gran Turismo or V-Rally.
The truth is that regardless of the wins, titles or other statistics, the Subaru Impreza mattered, and continues to matter to a generation of ‘old school’ rally fans around the world. The nameplate’s ability to capture the imaginations of motoring enthusiasts hasn’t even been dimmed by the absence of the once all-conquering Subaru World Rally Team from the top tier of the sport since the global financial crisis hastened its withdrawal at the end of 2008.
The Impreza’s achievements in motorsport remain all the more staggering given that until the early 1990s, Subaru was barely even active in a World Rally Championship that had, until then, been dominated by European marques like Lancia, Fiat, Peugeot and Audi. It really was a game-changer.
A Simply Astounding Rise To The Top Of Rallying
As of 1990, Subaru was debuting its Legacy model in the WRC, with problems in obtaining homologation preventing this from happening until the fourth round of the season, the Safari Rally – not exactly the most auspicious of starts. By 1993, however, the manufacturer had claimed its first victory on a WRC round, while also gaining a vivid blue paint job courtesy of its new sponsor, the UK tobacco company BAT.
It’s astounding to think just how far Subarus decked out in blue liveries were to take the marque – and its image – in the years to come. By the end of 1995, with the previously dominant Toyota team having been given a one-year ban by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, over its use of illegal turbo restrictors, Subaru were on top of the world. McRae and his two-time champion teammate, Carlos Sainz, competed for the title at the season-ending RAC Rally, with the Scotsman emerging triumphant over the Spaniard.
Matters were similarly good for the ‘works’ Subarus in the ensuing years, as the Impreza also claimed the 1996 and 1997 manufacturers’ titles to complete the hat-trick started in 1995. After that and the departure of McRae for the Ford team at the end of 1998, Imprezas continued winning rallies, as Englishman Richard Burns seamlessly took over McRae’s leading role in the squad. He finished runner-up in the championship in 1999 and 2000, before going one better in 2001.
2003: A Year To Be Etched In Impreza Folklore
Burns was unsuccessful in retaining his crown, despite a switch to the Peugeot team that dominated the 2002 season – the Finn, Marcus Gronholm, instead scooping up his second world title. However, Subaru had a new young hope in Norway’s Petter Solberg, who served notice of his intent for the coming 12 months by posting his first-ever world rally win aboard an Impreza at the final round in Britain.
It all set up quite a ‘battle royale’ over the next season of World Rally Championship hostilities, in which – with Gronholm and Burns’ Peugeots generally floundering in the second half of the season – Solberg found himself in a fight for the title with Citroen’s own rising star, Sebastien Loeb.
It was to be a classic up-and-down season of top-level rallying, with Loeb drawing first blood in January by winning the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally, as his opponent retired. But Solberg fought back, clinching victories in Cyprus, Australia, France and – once again – Britain, where he won his maiden world championship title by a single point ahead of the impressive Frenchman.
Once A Legend, Always A Legend
Alas, things didn’t work out quite as prettily for the Subaru boys in the years following Solberg’s thrilling outright triumph. The Norwegian may have joined fellow Subaru legends in claiming three wins on the championship’s British round by emerging victorious again in 2004, but three mid-season retirements in a row left him a distant runner-up in the championship to Loeb. He could do no better in 2005, a year marked by the death at the season-ending Wales Rally GB of co-driver Michael Park.
Over the last three years of Subaru’s official involvement in the WRC, the celebrated team – still operated, as it had been since 1989, by the British firm Prodrive – suffered an unprecedented fall down the competitive pecking order. New versions of the Impreza just didn’t have the same old magic, leaving Solberg to collect a solitary podium finish during his final season prior to Subaru’s withdrawal – second place in Greece.
With no signs yet of Subaru seriously intending to re-enter the WRC any time soon, 2008 may mark the anti-climatic end of one of the truly great motorsport stories. But let’s hope that’s not the case, shall we? In any case, the Impreza has more than booked its place down the years as one of the sport’s truly legendary cars.
Now, you get to meet one of your heroes!
Well, sort of. You see, we’re giving you the chance to savour some of that Impreza majesty for yourself – all that you have to do is sign up for our high-octane Subaru Impreza WRX Driving Experience here at U Drive Cars!
While this four-wheel-drive hero of the special stages isn’t quite as powerful as the Imprezas that used to tear across the world’s gravel, snow and asphalt courtesy of Solberg, Burns and co, it still produces a perfectly formidable 230bhp from its flat four, six-valve turbo engine. Oh, and that grip… needless to say that you won’t regret taking advantage of this one.
With our Subaru Impreza WRX package now available from as little as £69, what more excuse could you really need to unleash your inner McRae in a manner far removed from life in front of the PlayStation?