“It’s loud, it smells like E85, and it has its imperfections. But it’s mine. When I get in, it feels like home.”
This is what Michael Buchanan has to say about his 1999 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS coupe, a car that’s been honed over the years into the hardened machine you see here. It’s also a car that was intended from the early design stages to be driven by a spirited owner, and I’d be hard pressed to think of someone who is more spirited than its current keeper.
I first met Michael during a cold, foggy track day at Thunderhill Raceway in Northern California, long prior to my involvement here at Speedhunters. He was a photographer, owned a cool car, and we had some mutual friends, so it wasn’t a surprise that we swapped info and stayed in touch over the years. It’s been some time now (read: a year) since we met up on the backroads outside Santa Cruz to shoot his GC8, but I was really glad that we were able to connect before I moved out of the state.
While imperfect by his own admission, I daresay that Michael’s Subaru is in fact the perfect Subaru. Allow me to explain why.
First, it’s a car that can still be used on the street, evidenced by Michael kindly making the 1hr+ drive to join up with me to take photos of the car. All too often I see cars, perhaps Subarus in particular, that have been modified to such an extent that they can’t actually be enjoyed on any sort of regular basis.
While the ride is indeed harsh, a nice smooth backroad still feels an absolute dream as 300+whp is applied to the tarmac from a later-2000s EJ flat-four. If you’re familiar with the laws in California around engine swaps, you should already be impressed that this car manages to actually drive on the street legally, as well as in relative comfort. I’ll dive into that down below.
Second, in addition to carving canyons, Michael has gotten plenty of seat time on track in his Impreza. Similar to point number one, it seems like people often spend loads of time and money in the garage or buying parts online, but don’t seem to actually tick that final and educational checkbox: the driver’s mod.
As any build should be, the driver and the car have evolved along the way, and in the above photo taken some years back, you can see that Michael has still ordered and found plenty of parts over the years to balance the driving. More on that shortly, too.
Third, which plays into numbers one and two, Michael has carefully chosen where to apply his hard-earned cash to this build. There are some stone chips, zip ties are involved, not all of the panels fit with 100% perfection, the cabin is exceedingly loud, and some additions seem to have been made in a rush the night before a track day. But that’s the entire point of this car: to have all of the financial investment in the right places.
The result? Simply put, it’s a car that goes fast and looks the part. A car that’s in balance with horsepower and sensibility. A car that transfers weight just right around the twisty bits. A car that’s had the factory seats tossed out but hasn’t become impossible to enjoy.
Frankly, I’m not one for Subarus, and I’ve come across plenty, but when you look at the whole package this car just makes sense.
Looking in detail at the aforementioned parts that Michael has sourced means reading over a spreadsheet that exceeds 100 rows. I won’t be able to dive into every last detail here, but let’s cover some of the basics that make this car special…
Pop the hood and the first thing you’re likely to notice is the top-mount intercooler borrowed from a later STI and the classic red lettering that goes along with it. But what you can’t see is the incredible plethora of parts that have gone into and onto the turbocharged EJ205, an engine which was sourced from a 2002 WRX and somehow manages to be California BAR and referee-legal, which, again, is a huge deal if you aren’t familiar.
Essentially, California’s Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) has deemed that any car with a non-standard drivetrain must pass not only an emissions test, but an extensive inspection with a state referee. Compliance is controlled via routine emissions testing that’s required to get your tags to drive the car on the street.
You never want your car flagged to be inspected by this group, so the fact that Michael went about this swap in the right way and had the car cleared is truly going above and beyond, especially when you consider the parts under the hood.
These upgrades include, but certainly aren’t limited to the following: a Blouch 16GXTR turbocharger, JE forged pistons, Manley connecting rods, ACL bearings, ARP studs, a three-angle valve job, a Cobb intake, a Tomei EL header, Invidia cat-less down pipe, a Borla cat-back exhaust, Cobb Tuning 1,000cc injectors, an AEM 320lph fuel pump, a Koyo radiator, a Mocal 21-row oil cooler, a KillerB oil pan and oil pan baffles, a GrimmSpeed electronic boost controller… are you still reading?
There’s more, but that should give you an idea of how, in conjunction an E85 tune via a Cobb Accessport V3, the engine is able to put down 312 reasonably-reliable horsepower to the wheels. If Michael was to circumvent the law and register the car out of state, he could probably squeeze out a bit more, but let’s be honest – is that really necessary?
Being a fairly light car, the power feels that bit extra though the ’04 STI 6-speed gearbox that Michael has fitted. Upgrades to the ‘box include JDM-ratio 5th and 6th gears as well as an ACT clutch, and shifting is further improved with a Cobb short shifter and shift bushings.
Michael has thought this through, though, and recognizes that with great power comes great brakes. At least, that’s the way it should be, and it’s definitely the way it is here thanks to Brembo units for the front and rear that have been sourced from a 2004 STI. StopTech brake lines and Street Performance pads have been fitted in conjunction with DBA 4000 slotted rotors, and the master cylinder is also an STI piece.
Ensuring the chassis stays planted, Michael has deployed a set of Fortune Auto 510 coilovers paired with Eibach sway bars and a plethora of Whiteline goodies. From the passenger seat the car feels nicely balanced through the corners, especially factoring in the much-higher-than-stock horsepower figure.
Of course, you aren’t going ask the queen to live in a shack, and Michael has gone with a tried and true solution to house everything: Volk Racing TE37s. Specifically, they’re Tokyo Time Attack Progressive Model variants in an 18×10.5-inch fitment, refinished in flat black. The forged wheels are wrapped in meaty 285/30R18 Bridgestone RE-71R tires that provide just enough grip that you can’t hide your driving behind them.
And that’s what I love so much about this car. It’s just enough of everything, without any one area being so excessive it overshadows the rest of the build.
A number of JDM parts adorn the front fascia to make things look nice, while an STI-style scoop prompts a double-take, the Karlton flares allow for a wider track and a fatter tire, and the rear wing finishes off the extra-aggressive aesthetic.
Underneath, it obviously has the parts to back up the look. See above, if you decided to gloss over all that.
Meanwhile, the cabin is adorned with Recaro seats (an SPG bucket and SR3 recliner), Takata harnesses for the driver, a Japanese-market KM/H gauge cluster, a dash-mounted RPG carbon fiber gauge pod, an STI shifter boot, and a rear seat delete. Other bits like carpeting and a stereo have been retained, and a Sabelt steering wheel provides the ultimate connection between driver and car.
Inside and out, it’s not one that’s messing around.
And yet, a colorful rad-era JDM WRX trunk badge and the perpetual LaCroix in the cupholder give this GC8 the bit of spunk it needs. Despite being a seriously-equipped and serious-looking build, it’s not a car that takes itself too seriously.
Again, it’s in balance, as all things should be.
Despite the eternal bond between man and machine, Michael has informed me that the time has come to part with his fantastic GC8. Who knows if he’ll really follow through on that, but with a growing family and – I assume – all of the wonderful and associated realities of proper adulthood creeping up, I can’t blame him for wanting to pass this car on to someone who will ensure it continues to receive the care and attention it deserves.
I’m sure he will miss it dearly, but Michael says he just wants to know that the car being driven more often than it is right now. And who can blame the good man for that?
Trevor Yale Ryan
Wind Noise & Grip