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Heroic, purposeful

There’s a friend of mine who I despise with a passion. I thought we were good friends. We are both car enthusiasts and shopped for his white 1999 Subaru WRX STI together.

Our understanding was that he would sell it to me when he decided to. And to be fair, he did offer it to me first, but I was teetering on the edge of extreme poverty at the time and he didn’t take my offer to wait a month with the seriousness it deserved. He sold the car off and a few months later, the new owner crashed it into a ditch.

I know Subaru makes other cars, some wonderful, like the Forester and some woeful, like the Tribeca. I also know that the current Impreza is a wonderful car, but Subaru is only Subaru because they made the GC8 Impreza.

They made it because they needed a replacement for the Leone and to compete in rallying but the Impreza, the WRX STI specifically, has evolved to be the flagship offering from Fuji Heavy Industries.

It was light and the AWD system sublime but most definitive was the powertrain. By having a boxer engine, the centre of gravity is significantly lower, increasing stability.

The front drive shafts are also of uniform weight and length, essentially eliminating torque steer as compared to conventional upright engine configurations. This, when attached to a turbocharger, amounted to getting to 100kph in 5 seconds flat and cornering confidence only rivalled by the Mitsubishi Evolution.

When as kids we referred to rally cars as safo, it was the GC8 silhouette in our minds. Of course, we knew there were other rally cars but the Subaru was and still is the quintessential rally car. The distinctive throaty boxer rumble rings in your head weeks after you had heard it in your first rally. You knew they were special cars and when a young Scotsman, Colin McRae got behind the wheel, he turned the GC8 into an icon.

Best of all they were a home run design-wise. I have said it often, Subaru has never made a car as good looking as the GC8. Performance is always there with each subsequent model, but looks are often a miss rather than a hit.

The original Impreza however, is what men with beer froth in their beards would call handsome. It looks like a muscular attack dog thinking of the best angle to rip your throat out from. And if you mess with it, it will.

The first time I drove the STI version I was but a mere lad of 22. I had driven the base WRX versions and the difference was immediately clear. It was nice to know the forged engine internals could take a beating and when you floored it you felt the half-second difference in reaction, the heightened feedback, and the overall package is intuitively organic. It was simply intoxicating.

Every time you place your posterior in the bucket seat you can imagine yourself as a rally driver, zooming through mountain and forest roads, jumping over crests as the tailpipes holler your glories far and wide.

On twisty tarmac, with grippy, semi-slick tyres and a semi-skilled driver at the helm, a GC8 STI will have no trouble keeping up with exotic thoroughbreds like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. In fact, it may be argued that the Subaru has more usable power than the exotic Italians, as the drivers would be starkly aware of the price of the car, and the unforgivable shame in crashing one.

The Subaru STI, past or present, is a blue-collar hero, getting the job done with none of the posh over-powered pretentiousness of luxury cars. In real life and on real roads, the GC8 is an organic car.

You feel intimately connected to the road and the machine, you know that the AWD system is rally-bred and the engine will shrug off abuse and mistakes.

Regular readers are aware I recently switched my daily commute from four to two wheels and have been enjoying that immensely. However, it has also revived my appreciation for driving for the sake of driving, which was dwindling, with every minute spent immobilised in traffic. Now, every time I think of driving, I can think of no other car as pure and as straightforward in its purpose as a GC8 STI, and a frothing hatred simmers for my old friend.

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