Tokyo Auto Salon: Subaru Rally Legends

Subaru’s headline at the Auto Salon was the Viziv STI Concept, a potential preview of its next Impreza WRX STI. To support it, they also brought out a pair of rally legends that spawned a generation of fans who bleed blue and yellow, including the car that kicked it all off before the Impreza even set tire on a WRC stage. 

Subaru’s WR Blue, or World Rally Blue, is synonymous with its WRX and STI rally-inspired turbo monsters, but the first cars to wear the livery in the World Rally Championships weren’t Imprezas at all. They were first-gen Legacy RS sedans.

The early WRC Legacys weren’t even blue. Until 1993 they were mostly white, some with gold stripes and a blue lower half, or with pink and green squares. It was only when Subaru signed with State Express 555, a tobacco brand, as its main sponsor for 1993 that the cars were painted in a blue base with yellow logos.

The Legacys had bright moments here and there, but success was generally elusive. It finished in the points a few times, but had never won a race outright. By 1993, the Impreza WRX STI had launched and Subaru was ready to replace the aging Legacys mid-way through the WRC calendar.

Before its replacement showed up, though, the team really wanted to go out with a bang. Subaru’s team was still small compared to that of Toyota and Ford, so it strategically planned to focus its attacks on select races. They the first round of 1993, Monaco, but came out strong in Round 2 in Sweden with a 3rd place finish by an unproven but talented driver named Colin McRae. The podium was welcomed, but it seemed to slip further and further away in subsequent rounds as the team finished fourth in Portugal and fifth in Corsica.

For Round 6, Acropolis, the Legacy’s second-to-last race, driver Ari Vatanen and McRae seemed to be in a prime position to secure victory, sitting in first and second place by the end of Day 1. Sadly, Day 2 would not be as auspicious, as both men were forced to retire after “offs”.

Subaru couldn’t go to Argentina for Round 7, but Round 8 in New Zealand would be the Legacy’s final race. Vatanen took off with an early lead but was forced to retire on the second leg, putting Ford and its Cosworth into the lead. With only McRae left to secure the Legacy’s, um, legacy, he pulled out all the stops in a balletic display of driving skill and grace. McRae was able pull away from Ford’s Francois Delecour’s time and cinch the top spot.

It was a beautiful swan song, a first and last win for the Legacy as the Impreza stepped onto the scene and into the history books. Subaru had achieved its first WRC win, and so had McRae. The car on display was that very car.

Of course, it was the Impreza that cemented Subaru’s reputation for rally domination, so it was only fitting that one was displayed as well. McRae would drive this Impreza at the 1996 Rally Sanremo, where he took first place.

Of course, the Impreza had many more significant finishes, including three consecutive manufacturer’s championships from 1995 to 1997. It’s still a treat to gaze upon a WRC car up close.

These days, Subaru’s factory racing activities are limited to the circuit, with a BRZ competing in SuperGT and the rally-bred Impreza taking to endurance races like the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. The livery is still inspired by that 555 blue, though.

Though the Impreza WRX STI is no longer based on any official rally car, the design and themes established by the dirt kickers above still carry over. The Viziv STI concept, which hints at the direction Subaru might go for a future hot-rod Imp, but the squared-off fender bulges, substantial wing, hood scoop, and even its overall sedan shape are an evolution of the rally legends that preceded it. That the humble AWD sedans still continue to influence cars that haven’t seen a rally stage in two generations says something about the legacy they established.

To be continued…

In case you missed it, more 2018 Tokyo Auto Salon can be found with spotlights on the Endless Hino Contessa, Alaska-to-Chile Toyota Land CruiserToyota’s Gazoo Racing booth, the TOM’s KP47 StarletBanzai Sports Sunny Truck, Nissan and Mitsubishi’s boothscars of woman-run tuning shop L-TideYokohama’s reproduction tires for kyushaLiberty Walk’s Advan-livery Hakosuka, Honda’s retro-inspired hatchback, and a Daihatsu Charade De Tomaso.

For past Tokyo Auto Salon coverage, see 2017  Part 01 — Legends of RallyPart 02 — Restomods, and Part 03 — The Classics as well as coverage from the 2016201220112010 Tokyo Auto Salons.

Shota Mori is a photographer whose work can be found at @pgm_works and @pgmworks_official.

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5 Responses to Tokyo Auto Salon: Subaru Rally Legends

  1. Smith'Hot wheels guy' says:

    Hey Subaru! don’t wait around! put out the Viziv now!, and also get a Hot wheels version out!. Thanks.

  2. Prodraw 555 says:

    That particular Impreza didnt “come second in 1998″…it actually won the 1996 Rally Sanremo driven by Colin McRae!!! That is why they had it on display there.

  3. Mark Newton-John says:

    Remember, the squared-off fender bulges came from the original Audi Quattro, which was a game changer in World Rally.

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