Buying the sensible performance saloon which gave the Cosworth a run for its money. Gold wheels and 555 rally jackets strictly optional… Here’s what you need to look out for when buying one.
Where modern classics are concerned, the bodywork isn’t usually the issue it would be with the ’60s and ’70s favourites, but the first-generation Impreza can rot alarmingly in the British climate.
Areas like the wheelarches will be obvious but as Subaru specialist Nik Baker at Car and Custom Garage (www.carandcustomgarage.com) points out, the killer is rust around the rear strut turrets, where the strut meets the inner arch which is caused by the seam sealant around the joint failing and allowing water in.
It’s difficult to repair properly as the affected area extends behind the wing and as Nik points out, a simple patch repair is unlikely to solve the problem, meaning the strength of the shell is compromised. In really bad cases a repair will involve removing the outer wing and replacing the entire turret, which will require a jig to make sure it’s all lined up properly. This is of course an expensive business which means it’s often not financially viable except on limited-edition cars.
Sills are also susceptible to corrosion, commonly at the rear end and Nik advises that early cars can also suffer rot around the rear screen, while blisters around the windscreen can also mean a costly repair since the glass will have to come out and it’s a specialist job being a bonded screen.
At the front end, rot isn’t quite such an issue but so many of these cars will have seen the wrong side of the hedge at some point that it’s worth checking for accident damage. The chassis legs are designed to crumple and as such are easily distorted so need checking.
In standard tune the Subaru boxer motor is a pretty tough old thing, but as Nik points out, it all depends on the way the car’s been driven – and most Imprezas have been driven really pretty hard. After all, that’s really rather the whole point of them.
The early engines can suffer from bottom end failure if they’re been neglected and driven hard, while the later units tend to suffer with piston slap, but it all depends on the service history: Nik says he’s encountered engines which have started to sound rattly at 50,000 miles but also units which have been fine at 140,000.
That of course is with a standard engine. When it comes to modified cars, it all goes out of the window and it’s really an unknown quantity, depending on the state of tune and the way it’s been driven and serviced. Remapping the turbo engine generally means running more boost and this is fine if it’s matched by suitably increased fuelling, but all too often it isn’t. The result is an engine running too lean under boost and before long a damaged or melted piston.
Nik advises that the con rods can also suffer when even mildly modified cars are driven hard, while engine rebuilds can often reveal cracked ring lands on the pistons. The age of the units these days means that head gaskets are often past their best, but replacement can often reveal other problems related to the age of the castings, like stripped studs and cracked heads. Elsewhere, leaky cam covers can also cause a burning smell.
In a nutshell, try to stick to standard cars or ones with mildly uprated engines to a sensible spec from a reputable firm known in the Subaru scene.
Hard-driven cars can exhibit a notchy shift, although the later ’54’ units used from 1999 are more robust, featuring a larger casing. The nut can come off the back of the gearbox, making it jump out of fifth gear but Nik advises it can be fixed without removing the box, so needn’t be the end of the world.
Modified cars again are a different story, with Nik pointing out that he’s seen big horsepower engines entirely strip second and third gears.
It’s a straightforward set-up with discs at each corner but the early cars use a single-piston caliper which can suffer with the sliding mechanism seizing. Later cars use a four-piston caliper but again they can seize when one piston – usually the lower one – seizes. Replacement calipers are easily sourced though and are around £110 exchange.
Again, very few of these cars are still on their original suspension, most having been replaced with performance kit over the years. That’s something of a shame since the standard set-up is a firm yet civilised set-up ideal for daily use. The age of the cars does mean that worn original bushes will tend to take the edge off the handling but poly replacements are easily sourced to sharpen things up again.
This is the easy part. The Impreza was given stick by contemporary road testers for its hard, shiny plastics and unadventurous ‘generic Japanese minicab’ interior styling but the trade-off is that those hard shiny plastics were durable in the extreme. Drive a well cared-for standard Impreza today and you’ll find a car with no squeaks or rattles and every switch still doing what it’s supposed to do.
It takes a fair bit of abuse to wreck the interior of one of these cars, so if you find a tatty one then assume it’s had a hard life.
One thing you can’t do much about is any holes from alarm and immobiliser installations. These cars were once the joyrider’s favourite and since they came with precious little security from Japan, a decent alarm or immobiliser is essential.
Unusually for a car of this era, parts supply for the Impreza is pretty good – thanks partly to their popularity worldwide. There are loads of used parts around and Subaru itself can still supply many parts too. What can be tricky to source is the import-specific details like graphics sets and specific trim parts.
Values of the early Impreza have yet to rise significantly, with tatty cars at around £1000 to £2000. Unless you want a project though, it’s probably best to walk away from these and budget on around £4000 upwards for which you should be able to bag a nice standard example. The rarer limited-edition cars meanwhile will command much more but in terms of enjoyment per pound spent, a nice standard 2000 Turbo AWD takes some beating.
Subaru Impreza 2000 Turbo AWD
ENGINE: 1994cc flat-four
POWER: 208bhp at 6000rpm
TORQUE: 214 lb.ft at 400rpm
TOP SPEED: 137 mph
0-60mph: 5.8 sec
GEARS: 5-spd man
WEIGHT: 1118 kg