In 2004, I was a student in a hilly, snowy college town, and I needed a new car with all-wheel drive. I had my heart set on an Impreza 2.5RS Coupe, and I searched for almost 18 months for a clean 5-speed, in black, from the 2000 or 2001 model year.
A Simple Start
The 2.5RS I ultimately bought – on eBay® from a used-car lot in New Hampshire – had a few flaws, but to me, it was perfect; it was fast enough to be fun and unique enough to feel special.
For two years, I drove it back and forth to class and swim practice, up and down the hills of my college town, through snow and rain and summer heat, with the car taking everything in stride. I commuted to summer internships in it, took it to Vermont for ski trips in the winter, mounted my bike on the roof for triathlons on the weekends, packed it full of friends and gear for road trips, and always took the twisty back roads to campus. It was all the car a college kid could want.
Mid-2000 was an exciting time to be a Subaru fan. The WRX and WRX STI had first come to the United States just a few years before, and online communities like NASIOC.com and RS25.com were becoming valuable resources for enthusiasts to exchange advice and trade parts. As my little black coupe with the big wing on the back ferried me around, never failing to put a grin on my face, I started to think about the possibilities. I was pretty broke, and I’d never really worked on cars before, but I figured if I took it slow and was willing to learn, I could turn my fun little coupe into something even better.
Appropriately enough, after finishing my graduate program in fall 2007, I was lucky enough to land an entry-level job at Subaru of America (SOA). Fresh out of school, I packed up the coupe and moved from Rochester, New York, to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to start my first real-world job.
With renewed excitement, I dove headfirst into both my new career and the project I’d waited years to begin. I focused first on suspension and brakes, hoping to improve the platform and add power later. The car was my daily ride, so work on the car was crammed into nights and weekends. But the thrill was always there. I was finally going to start making my little black coupe into what it deserved to be.
To my benefit, I discovered a tightly knit group of fellow enthusiasts at SOA who were incredibly gracious in helping me get my project moving. They volunteered expertise, time, labor, and even some extra parts. Without their help, I don’t know that I ever would have had the guts to dive into this project with both feet. It was thanks to this support, and the incredible knowledge and experience they were so willing to share with me, that I had the confidence to embark on this project, despite my limited skills.
After an eight-month stint at SOA headquarters in Cherry Hill, and with the first round of suspension and brake upgrades now sorted, I was reassigned to a regional office in Chicago. Again I packed up the RS, this time to move halfway across the country. I spent two years in the Midwest, learning the business of cars and the skills needed to work on my car on my own.
Hard Work Sounds Good
It was during the winter of 2009 in Chicago, after years of research and against what was probably my better judgment, that I bought an EJ205 engine out of a wrecked 2004 WRX. I was resolved to do my first engine swap. Out came the 125,000-mile stock engine, and – over six frigid months of nights, weekends, broken parts, and busted knuckles – in went the new, turbocharged, 2.0-liter WRX power plant.
I still wince at all the mistakes I made along the way, but the sound of the engine’s first fire-up made every minute of work worth it. That noise! The tightly spaced gears in the stock transmission were perfect for the engine’s turbocharged midrange torque, making it wonderfully eager and responsive. The car felt as though it had been uncorked, like it was finally free.
Once I’d put some miles on the new engine and was confident nothing was going to break, I started taking the car to autocross events and learning how to really drive my new and improved RS. I was more excited about the project than I’d ever been before, and around the same time I had the opportunity to fulfill a longtime goal by taking a new position within SOA’s marketing department. Once more I packed up my coupe and moved back across the country to Cherry Hill.
My Heart and Soul
In the five years since the engine swap and the move back to New Jersey, I’ve continued to work on the car whenever I can, sorting the details and trying new things. I try to take every setback as an opportunity to make the car better and learn new skills.
In 2012, a fender-bender gave me an excuse to have some rust issues cleaned up and finally mount pieces of exterior trim I’d been stockpiling for years. The first WRX engine spun a bearing at the drag strip the following year, so I got the chance to build my first engine and upgrade to a bigger turbo. Again, friends and co-workers were always there with advice, assistance, and bandages.
Over the last 10 years, this car has done everything I’ve asked of it. It’s been everything from basic transportation to cross-country moving van to weekend racer. In that decade it’s worn license plates from three different U.S. states, had three engines and three transmissions, been torn down and rewired, crashed and repainted, broken and rebuilt.
I’ve owned five other Subaru vehicles in the interim, but they came and went. The RS is the one that stayed, the one that anchors me to my past and helps me develop new skills to carry into the future. It’s brought me friendships, experiences, and even a career with the company that built it.
This summer, I made one special modification that I’d been waiting on for a long time. While I was living in London years ago, I managed to acquire a rear wing from my favorite UK special edition model, the Impreza P1. Among all the rear wings that were available on the first-gen Impreza, the P1 wing is unique: It has a carbon-fiber rear blade and an unusual inward curve to the side supports, and it’s rare here in the States. I told myself that if the car was ever done, truly set up exactly the way I wanted, I’d put the wing on as a finishing touch. And a few months ago, celebrating 10 years of owning the best project car I could ever imagine, I finally mounted that wing.