Baja Bound


A Crosstrek gets the ultimate buggy mod to compete in the toughest of competitions.

Desert racing is punishing. Buggies regularly take an enormous pounding for 1,000 miles or more, and pit stops are scarcer than water. When you’re crossing an environment where the plants have needles and everything that moves is poisonous, the engine has to be as tough as the conditions themselves.

That’s one reason why Grabowski Brothers Racing enlisted Subaru performance pioneer Quirt Crawford for an engine to fly their Class 5 race car over the sand with reliable muscle. “We were competitive right from the first build,” says Crawford. “The first build of this engine was capable of winning races.” The owner and chief engineer of Crawford Performance, Quirt Crawford’s background includes preparing the STI in the legendary Gymkhana TWO video.

Quirt Crawford
The Crosstrek Buggy has to be tough to tackle desert conditions.

The FA Series SUBARU BOXER engine was new to Crawford, who came away impressed. “I wanted the challenge; I’d never done it before,” he says. While the team initially considered an EJ, it was ultimately determined that it would be easier to get 300 hp naturally aspirated with the new FA. The results speak for themselves: “From the first dyno pull, I knew we’d be able to meet our goals,” says Crawford.

Subaru Motorsports was just as amped. “We were pretty excited the first time we saw the project,” says Rob Weir, Subaru of America motorsports marketing manager. As Weir explains, running in Baja is new to Subaru. “A lot of our history has been in motorsports that offer grueling and challenging conditions, meaning either rough tarmac or dirt, and the stuff we find in rallies.” 

Weir points out that Subaru has made a deep commitment to the kinds of racing where its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, direct handling and durable boxer engines excel. “Most of our focus is either in stage rally or rallycross, or maybe hill climb events. For us to get out of our comfort zone and represent a new form of motorsport was fun and challenging.” 

That desire for a new, different kind of racing is how there came to be a Crosstrek-bodied, boxer-powered Baja racer. “It’s a good showcase for us, and our fans really enjoy seeing that kind of activity,” says Weir. 

For Crawford, the Crosstrek is the vehicle that checks the boxes for an off-road build, with its tall cabin and ground clearance. “We chose the Crosstrek because it’s the off-road style vehicle in the Subaru lineup,” says Crawford. “And it’s not turbocharged.”

Everyone is shocked at just how fast this car accelerates. There’s so much power.

With long-travel suspension, fortified bodywork and skid plates, a Class 5 buggy is built to take the punishment the terrain can dish out. The Grabowski Brothers buggy itself had previously been competitive with a different engine, but the SUBARU BOXER made an immediate difference. “Everyone is shocked at just how fast this car accelerates,” says Crawford. “There’s so much power.” 

Core Subaru engineering, Crawford says, provided the foundation of the project, enabling him to focus on power and durability. “Stronger connecting rods, custom piston design, Inconel® exhaust valves ...” says Crawford, reciting his recipe. “Sodium-filled exhaust valves typically transfer heat better, but Inconel exhaust valves have a higher melting temperature, and are a better choice for extreme builds like this.”

The dash of the Crosstrek Buggy.
Inconel exhaust valves, stronger connecting rods and custom pistons allow this Crosstrek-based boxer engine to generate 300 hp.

With decades of experience racing and exploiting the potential of the boxer engine, Crawford knows a thing 
or two about powerful engines and drivetrains that can take punishment. Even so, the Crosstrek-based engine for Baja racing left an impression. “It has a transmission from a Class 1 car,” he says. “Those cars make 700 hp,
but this one is hurting parts of the transmission, the CV joints, parts that are never a problem; there’s just so much torque.”

While the average Crosstrek buyer isn’t likely to go tearing across the desert or over logging roads, participating in racing is a testament to the soundness of Subaru engineering. “It’s a big durability test, so it’s helping us learn things about the car and our technology as well,” says Weir. “We build products that enable people to do things they want to do in their lives and get to the places they want to be. This might be an extreme form of it, but it’s the same form where we want to build a vehicle or support a vehicle that can really tackle anything.”

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All Subaru vehicles sold by Subaru of America are designed and built for normal driving conditions. The Subaru Limited Warranty, as well as the Subaru Added Security program, may exclude damage or failure resulting from modifications or participation in competition or racing events. See the Subaru Warranty and Maintenance booklet for further details.

With an arsenal of LED lamps, the Crosstrek Buggy is ready for action, night or day.
With an arsenal of LED lamps, the Crosstrek Buggy is ready for action, night or day.