You know when your car starts to make unfamiliar noises that you wish you hadn't heard? The kind that have you turning up the music or humming loudly to yourself in denial that they're there? Well I've been doing an awful lot of humming the last couple of months, but it was time to admit defeat.
I went into Impreza ownership with my eyes wide open; I'd spent hours researching what could go wrong with my prospective 15-year old rally hero so I was well aware of potential issues. It doesn't make it any less painful when you have to open your wallet, but at least you can mutter "I told you so" to yourself...
Let's start with the least expensive problem first. Rear damper failure seems to be a common occurrence, so when a clunking noise starting to come from the back of the car, I instantly knew what it was. Or so I thought. Not being someone who replaces parts like for like, I decided it was a good time to upgrade the dampers all round to KYB Ultra SR units along with a fresh set of top mounts. I was tempted to fit slightly lower springs, but thought better of it and kept the Prodrive springs on.
With a premature sigh of relief, I jumped in the car to see how the new dampers felt. Only the clunk was still there. Back up on axle stands and some more considerable force with rocking components about, I eventually diagnosed the clunk to a loose bolt on the rear anti-roll bar drop link. I nipped the bugger up and problem solved. That was an expensive lesson learned; don't jump to conclusions. But at least I had some shiny gold dampers on the car now. Though if I'm honest, I can't feel any difference in ride compared to the OEM units.
Moving on, no amount of double-clutching was going to save me from opening my wallet again to get the gearbox rebuilt. The early Newage gearboxes are known to have weak syncro baulk rings for 4th, 5th and 6th and mine had started to crunch into 5th. Apparently this was rectified in the Widetrack Blobeye that came in 2005, so worth bearing in mind if you're looking to buy a car that hasn't had the work done. I spent hours poring over forums with suggestions to try different oils to resolve the problem. But in reality this would only mask the issue and I'm not one for trying to hide it.
It was only crunching at higher revs when driving more enthusiastically so I was either shifting early or double-clutching to avoid the crunch and preserve the rest of the 'box. After speaking to a handful of specialists and getting some eye-watering quotes, I ended up taking my car down to East Kent Subaru near Canterbury. My 'box was sent up to TEG Sport in Cumbria, where it luckily only needed a set of uprated carbon synchro baulk rings as I caught it early. It still set me back a smidge over two grand, but if I'd left it for longer and caused more damages to gears, forks, shafts and other words I can't remember, then it could easily have started with a three.
So an expensive couple of months all in all with not many miles covered. Luckily for me since I bought the car a year ago, prices for low mileage clean examples have been rising rapidly, which has eased the pain. In fact, unlike fixing issues on other cars I've owned, I haven't resented VK53 NCA one bit. It's still my childhood hero and while it's been more expensive that a trip to the Maldives with my better half, I still love it to bits.
Car: 2003 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Type UK
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: July 2018