Subaru manufactures a 2.0L diesel engine called the EE20, a horizontally opposed turbocharged four-banger with a 16.3:1 compression ratio you probably didn’t know existed until now. In fact, it was Frenchman Gregoire Blachon, who now lives in Tennessee and works at the Vanderbilt Medical Center designing and prototyping medical equipment for brain surgery, who introduced this Boxer diesel engine to North America by stuffing it in a $1,200 GC Impreza and racing it to the clouds at the ’13 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
But before Greg was designing equipment for cochlear implantation and transforming a run-of-the-mill Hunter Green Impreza Brighton into a Pikes Peak combatant, he was just a regular kid growing up in the projects of southern France. “At 10 years old, my parents bought me a used chopper-type BMX that had a three-speed stick shift in the middle of the frame. It was badass, but they bought it from Goodwill, so it was far from being new. My dad was probably thinking he would teach me how to fix it, but he passed away that same year. So I had no choice but to change the tires, cables, and brakes myself.”
A few years later, at the moped-legal age of 14, Greg bought a 70cc Peugeot 103. “This was the only means of transportation when you’re a redneck from the south of France! Pretty soon I had mine going over 60 mph. Then, at the age of 18, I got my second car, a red Peugeot 205 GTI. I bought it cheap with an electrical problem that I solved the same day. With my friend Nico, we would go to track days and share the car. That’s when we realized how much stress a track day puts on a car compared to street driving!”
Already capable with a wrench in hand, Greg wasn’t the textbook superstar you might think he was, given his current line of work. Quite the opposite, in fact: “At 14, they kicked me out of general school because my results were too poor. I guess I was too focused on my moped and girls. So they told me to choose a technical school, either engine mechanic or bodywork repair. I wanted to go the mechanic route very badly, but my grades were deemed only suitable for bodywork repair, where the level of theory is very low.”
Turns out Greg was well suited to technical school, as he was at the top of his class, which led to a contract working at a luxury car dealership. As Greg put it, “I had a blast but did not get paid right. So I got motivated by a highly educated friend’s mum who told me I was smart and could get into mechanical engineering school. The step was hard but not impossible. In the meantime, I met my American fiancée, Katie, in France, and she helped me a lot with school. Three years later, I graduated with an engineering degree and landed a six-month internship in the States.”
With his buddy Nico visiting from France, the two went on a cross-country road trip and found themselves at Pikes Peak. “We left from Nashville in my ’06 Porsche Boxster S and went all the way to Montana via Colorado, Utah, the Salt Flats, etc., and during this trip we spent time at Pikes Peak. That’s when a switch was flipped and I told myself I could build a car to race in this event for next year! Then last November, the day of my birthday, I pulled the trigger and paid the $1,500 Pikes Peak registration.”
It wasn’t Greg’s Pikes Peak epiphany that gave birth to the diesel engine swap idea, though. That actually came from one of his other projects, an ’86 VW Vanagon Westfalia he started building a few years ago. “I was looking for an engine for it day and night, all around the world! I found a gentleman who had an EE20 for sale in New Zealand for cheap. I ordered it and started to build my Westfalia Subaru diesel. It should be finished soon, as we are heading to South America next year, just traveling in this awesome van!”
That’s when somebody in the U.S. military noticed Greg’s van build thread on thesamba.com (it had more than 300,000 views) and contacted him about sourcing 10 more EE20s for a military program. As Greg explained, “They called me to ask where I was getting these engines, because they were not able to find them anywhere and were willing to pay a lot of money for 10 of them. The next day, I had already sourced them five engines and also set up a business [Boxeer.com] to complete the deal. I booked a flight to Japan to find the rest of the engines. It was amazing!”
Since then, Greg has grown Boxeer.com into a side business that offers custom parts of his own design for anyone interested in swapping a EE20 diesel into a VW Vanagon or Subaru Impreza. And, of course, he’ll also sell you the engine, either a low-mileage used unit or a brand- new, zero-miles crate engine. And just as you might suspect, his custom parts were developed during the build of his own projects, the Impreza having been transformed into a race car just 100 days prior to the ’13 Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
For starters, Greg ordered up a carbon/Kevlar 22B widebody kit from Aerosim in California, which he installed in his home driveway using those body shop skills he learned during his hood rat years in France. He also completely gutted the car, welded in the Autopower rollcage, and took care of all the other necessary race prep, including wiring up the rather special ECU he stumbled upon.
“Through a customer of mine, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Bosch Motorsports MS15.1 ECU that had been custom-calibrated by Roush Engineering. I thought showing up at Pikes Peak with an engine swap that is totally unknown to the public would have a lot of impact, regardless of how fast I made it up the mountain. People loved it! We ended up being fifth in voting for the favorite car at the event!”
But how strong did Greg’s unique Impreza diesel run during its maiden trip up the 14,115-foot mountain? Keep in mind, this was an untested car with a novice PPIHC driver, so although Greg’s time of 14 minutes and 50.304 seconds was more than 3 minutes behind the Open Class winner, it was still a very impressive debut that showed a lot of potential, while showcasing what 300 lb-ft from a Boxer diesel can do in the most extreme racing environment in the world.
Specs & Details
1996 Subaru Impreza Brighton Coupe
Engine ’12 2.0L EE20 turbocharged diesel flat-four
Engine Management Bosch Motorsports MS15.1 ECU
Drivetrain 2012 six-speed manual diesel transmission, six-speed STI short-throw shifter and shifter cables, ’05-’07 STI clutch master cylinder, ’05 STI brake master cylinder, ’05 STI LSD rear diff with 3.9:1 FD, ’05 STI axles
Engine modifications ’05 STI DBW accelerator with adapter plate, 8-gallon fuel cell with AN fittings, Boxeer.com Subaru diesel ss 2.5-inch DPF delete pipe, power steering bracket and pulley, EGR delete kit and throttle delete kit
Exterior Aerosim carbon/Kevlar 22B body kit, Subaru 22B rear wing
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Dry: Rota 18x9 +30 wheels and 255/35ZR18 Toyo Proxes R888 tires; Wet: Rota 18x9 +30 wheels with 255/35ZR18 Toyo Proxes R1R tires; ’07 STI brakes
Suspension ISC coilover suspension, ’05 STI control arms (f/r), ’07 STI hubs and bearings; Perrin 1-inch sway bar (r),
Interior Autopower rollcage, Sparco Pro-ADV Grip seat and rail, six-point harness, steering wheel and hub; NRG QR, Racepak IQ3 digital datalogging dash, Optima Red Battery with billet aluminum mount, Flaming River kill switch
Special Thanks SOFEC, Transports Biscarat, Casone, Color Deco, Exedy Racing Clutch, Thor, Stohl Racing, MLT, ImportImageRacing.com, Sparco, PST, Katie Fitzpatrick, Nicolas Le Reverend, Spencer Gottlieb, Carl Schulz, Pat & Mike Fitzpatrick, Shane Ligon, John Gallik, Jay Gould, Bob Boileau, Brandon Brown
Video’s worth a 1,000 words?
For a time-lapse video of Greg building his amazing diesel Impreza, jump on YouTube and search “’90 Day Subaru Impreza.” You can also find a bunch of other videos of his Impreza and Vanagon projects on his website, Boxeer.com.
EE20 Diesel Specs
- Displacement cc 1,998
- Maximum power output bhp/rpm 148/3,600
- Maximum torque output lb-ft/rpm 258/1,800
- Compression ratio 16.3
- Bore x stroke mm 86.0 x 86.0
- Bore pitch mm 98.4
- Bank offset mm 46.8
- Deck height mm 220
- Journal diameter mm 67
- Crankpin diameter mm 55
- Effective length of connecting rod mm 134
- Piston pin diameter mm 31