Tuning Subaru Vehicles is a Family Affair for Chris Brensinger
With a dad who’s a Subaru master technician, an uncle who’s an ace at paint and body work, and a grandfather who may have started the family tradition, Chris Brensinger was pretty much destined to become a Subaru enthusiast.
“I grew up working on Subaru vehicles. I was always going into the garage to help my dad, first handing him tools and then actually working on some projects together,” he recalls.
While bonding with his father and learning how to avoid skinned knuckles, Brensinger accumulated a wealth of automotive knowledge. “It’s to the point now where my dad can say ‘We need to pull that engine, so get it ready’, and I know exactly what to do,” he says.
Growing Up with Subaru
Brensinger learned how to drive on a ’98 manual-transmission Forester and received a hand-me-down ’94 Impreza from a cousin as his first car. “I started making some upgrades on the Impreza,” he recalls, “Just performance struts and a new audio system, but it started a trend.”
“To me, Subaru vehicles are easy and fun to work on. There’s not a lot I won’t tackle. And for those tough projects, I’ve got my dad and my uncle to help.” Case in point: a 2004 Forester that required parts from several donor cars to make it whole.
While Brensinger and his dad work well together, they do have some differences. “My dad is more traditional in terms of what he’ll modify or to what extent,” Brensinger explains, “but I get to share my opinions with him and he’s open to them. I spend a lot of time online with other Subaru owners, trying to sort out the best way to do something. But I also see people take shortcuts that I would never do. My dad taught me that.”
Piece by Piece
The patchwork assembly of Brensinger’s 2004 Forester was circuitous, to say the least, and eventually involved cannibalizing parts from various other donor vehicles. It all started when Brensinger borrowed his brother’s 2000 Forester to go to a job interview. “It had a rebuilt motor, a new audio system, new wheels – everything,” he explains. On his way there, however, the weather took a dramatic turn for the worse. “I got caught in a hailstorm and every single body panel looked like it had been hit with ball-peen hammers,” he recalls.
Out of Many, One
Brensinger felt terrible, but rather than lament his fate, he got to work on what would be a six-month saga. First, he needed a solid donor vehicle. “We picked up an ’04 Forester XT that had been owned by a painter who smoked heavily, so it stunk inside and every single interior piece was cut, scraped, or had paint on it.” Where others might have walked away and searched for a better donor, that’s not Brensinger’s style. “We brought it down to bare sheet metal inside and out – there was nothing inside that wasn’t scrubbed or replaced,” he says. “Right now I could take a Forester interior apart with my eyes closed!”
Then he began to transfer components from the hail-damaged 2000 Forester into the ’04. “I did a lot of online research: Will this piece fit? What do I have to do to make it fit?” explains Brensinger. He swapped the drivetrain and struts from the 2000 Forester – he and his dad did all the mechanical work and electrical wiring – but the front-end and driver’s door were still pretty rough. “I was lucky to find a guy down in Maryland who had Forester doors and a front-end,” Brensinger says, “We even put in heated mirrors and seats using door panels and wiring from a Forester 2.5XT.”
A Family Affair
For the body work, he turned to his uncle, who does paint and body work when he’s not teaching at his local vocational technical school. While it was originally silver, Brensinger decided to go with Arcadia Green Metallic for the repaint, a factory color that wasn’t offered in that model year.
With the ’04 Forester complete, that left Brensinger with a pretty naked 2000 Forester donor car, which led to another component swap-fest. His brother had been in a bad accident with a ’95 Legacy Wagon, so Brensinger pulled the short-block and transmission from that car and put it in the 2000 Forester. “We had to use the Forester heads, but the Legacy block worked fine,” he says. Other components were found and fitted until the original hail-damaged Forester was once again whole. “Far from being a Frankenstein,” Brensinger says, “I call that vehicle a resurrection because it was just about destroyed.”
Brensinger’s daily driver is a 2000 Impreza Outback Sport with a manual transmission and 195,000 miles on the clock. “We put in a rear disc-brake conversion, KYB struts, and a short-throw shifter – I wouldn’t own a vehicle without that.” The biggest modification to this vehicle was an Impreza 2.5RS front bumper conversion. “It was the first time I’d done that conversion, so I went online for advice. Everyone said to cut the bumper beam, but I wasn’t going to do that. I bought a new factory 2.5RS bumper beam and made sure it was done properly.”
There’s always another project in the wings. Brensinger recently picked up a WR Blue ’07 Forester 2.5 XT 5-speed. “From what I understand, it’s somewhat rare,” he says. “That’s my next rebuild.”
Brensinger obviously has a lot of pride in his family’s work, and in Subaru. “I have a huge respect for Subaru vehicles,” he says, “based on everything from the way my brother walked away from his bad accident to how they plow through the snow. Here in Reading, Pennsylvania, it’s great to know you can get there and back without any problems.”
You might need a checklist to sort out where each major part and panel on Chris Brensinger’s cars come from, but the end result is professionally done, and ready for the next family adventure.