Although we've seen plenty of STI models from various sources stripped down, powered up, and kitted out for the track, Subaru Performance Tuning (SPT), the company's own go-faster division, decided to head down a road less traveled when it made a special edition of the all-new Legacy sedan for the 2009 SEMA Show. It went VIP, the style adopted by the Japanese mafia (see sidebar).
The Yakuza aren't known for their love of modestly priced sensible sedans, but sister publication Motor Trend calls this all-new 2010 car "the most robust, buttoned-down and serene Legacy to date." So it's as good a place as any for SPT project managers Erik Lukas and Garrick Goh to begin.
Their secret to kicking off a VIP project car? Start with the wheels and let the rest of the choices be dictated by them. Lukas and Goh settled on these custom-made MC3 Enterprises Trinidad 20-inchers, 10 inches wide, with an outrageous three-inch lip and +30mm offset at the front, complemented by four-inch lips and +12mm offset out back. Stretched around these rims, literally, are Falken FK452 ultra-high performance tires, sized 235/30 at each end.
To accommodate this appreciably larger footwear, the fenders had to get some attention. The stock car already has some serious bulges, which have been enhanced here by smoothing them into a continuous curve and then flaring out the lip around the wheel well. While all this was going on, it was decided to fit JDM Legacy front and rear bumpers and a non-turbo hood, one without the big air scoop-even though the engine still runs a turbocharger (ensuring the proper chill factor is a Mishimoto front-mount intercooler with custom plumbing).
The tail end also receives super-subtle low profile spoilers on the roof and decklid, with a couple of cool rectangular exhaust tips in the rear lip, while USDM skirts hit the sides. To get the car rolling with more JDM panache, home-grown HID headlights, coated fogs, and power folding chrome-capped mirrors are added. And for the final flourishes: Subaru puddle lights, a chrome garnish above the rear license plate, and chrome door handles (from a Forester, believe it or not).
Shinjuku Black Plum. That's the name of this gorgeous custom-created paintwork. Under the watchful supervisory eye of "Bombka" at R&B Custom Auto Body of Philadelphia, PA, the car was first sprayed with a base of Crystal Black Silica, then a red-tinted pearl, followed by clear coat. The effect is that it looks dark plum-colored in the sunlight, but completely black in the shade.
Another essential aesthetic element is how close to the ground a VIP car can get. The only way to get so low and still be driveable is with an air suspension. Clear Star Media Group of Maple Shade, NJ, answered the call to fit a Universal Air suspension that can provide adjustable ride heights. Lukas and Goh have some wisdom to impart to anyone with air in their heads: "If you plan to actually drive the car, be realistic about ride heights and angles of approach."
There's a readout between the seat heater switches that shows the level of air pressure in the suspension's bags and reservoir tank. The switches themselves have been co-opted to now control the front and rear ride heights independently. The only other thing SPT has done to the chassis is to fit a front strut brace from an STI, but while the car was at Clear Star's facility, someone went crazy with the diamond stitching. Then again, such opulent effects are in keeping with the bippu brief.
In true VIP style, the interior is where the rest of the heavy lifting took place. Out went the stock rear seats, replaced by two Impreza buckets. Then Clear Star got busy covering all tush-supporting areas, plus door panels, inside the trunklid, and even a section that goes over the engine (hope it's heat-resistant), with a synthetic leather-like fabric colored Togarashi Red (togarashi is dried and flaked red chili pepper, incidentally). Add some contrasting black, the extensive diamond stitching, black privacy curtains for the door windows, and the car looks more like the world's most expensive luxury production cars than a humble mid-size sedan that ordinarily would compete with the Mazda6, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord.
In common with the best in luxury, this Legacy's cabin is all about the rear quarters (how often does that sentence crop up?) The two lucky occupants here are separated by a console that houses a refrigerated beverage holder, plus an acrylic storage pod with motorized open-and-close action. The pod was designed to resemble the pneumatic tubes of drive-through banking.
Each has their own Myron & Davis display screen set into the headrests of the front seats, so they can watch DVDs courtesy of a JVC KD-AVX77 head unit that can also play CDs and good old radio, has a touchscreen, and is Bluetooth enabled and compatible with iPods and iPhones-kind of expected these days, but still good to know.
Sending the JBL GTO628 6.5-inch speakers, GTO608C 6.5-inch speakers, GT5-402 four-inch speaker, and two GT5-10 dual voice coil 10-inch subwoofers shaking are a couple of JBL amplifiers. One is a GT5-A604, four-channel model for the highs, the other is a GT5-A3001 for the lows. We're told it sounds freaking awesome. A custom-made "carputer" (running the ubiquitous Windows) manages all infotainment functions.
The trunklid is a great thing to be under when it's raining. There are two umbrellas attached to its inside. Also in the trunk are a couple of acrylic panes providing a glimpse into the wonderful world of air suspension.
Just to make the general air of luxury even more rarefied, there's bespoke interior lighting, illuminated tread plates on the sills, and a light-sensitive rear-view mirror. And in the interest of full disclosure, the drivetrain is virtually stock, with only an SPT billet oil cap and billet battery holder, along with the aforementioned Mishimoto cooling equipment joining the 265-hp, 2.5-liter flat four engine under the hood. The six-speed manual transmission employs a few STI parts-pedals, a short-throw shift lever, and a shift knob fashioned from Duracon.
Now here's the big shock: the whole build took one month. Work began in October of 2009 and was completed for the SEMA show, which opened the following November. According to Lukas and Goh, some parts took longer than expected to come from Japan, so there were some long stints put in as the deadline loomed. One thing the pair learned during the course of this venture is that "it is possible to utilize the creativity of smaller local shops on a high-profile project. It injects a certain style that we might not have achieved otherwise, if we had built the car using only our ideas within the company-an extra dose of East Coast flair." There they go, looking to the East again.
Hometown. Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Occupation. Importer Of Subaru Cars
Build time. One Month
Hobbies. Making crazy stuff for SEMA shows, making crazy stuff for Ken Block
Quote. "Every year we build three to nine vehicles just for SEMA, so keep an eye out for what surprises we bring next."
Engine Mishimoto front-mount intercooler; custom piping; SPT billet oil cap, billet battery holder; custom engine cover.
Drivetrain STI short-throw shift lever
Suspension Universal Air adjustable air suspension; STI front strut brace
Wheels/Tires MC3 Enterprises Trinidad wheels (20x10 +30mm offset front, 20x10 +12mm offset rear); 235/30-20 Falken FK452 tires
Brakes Brembo calipers with Rotora 13-inch slotted rotors (front); Brembo calipers, rotors (rear); Project Mu B-Force pads; SPL stainless braided brake lines
Exterior Custom flared and rolled fenders; custom Shinjuku Black Plum paint; JDM Legacy front bumper, rear bumper w/accessory skirt and exhaust tips, non-turbo hood, HID headlights, accessory coated fogs, power folding mirrors, vent shades; Subaru puddle light kits, chrome trunk garnish, Forester chrome door handles, low-profile lip spoilers (roof and decklid)
Interior Impreza bucket seats in rear; STI Duracon shift knob, pedals; Subaru interior illumination kit, illuminated sill plates, electrochromic mirror w/transflective display and Homelink; custom rear center console
Electronics Myron & Davis displays (2); JVC KD-AVX77 head unit; JBL GT5-A604 amplifier, GT5-A3001 amplifier, GTO628, GTO608C, GT5-402 speakers, GT5-10 subwoofers; custom infotainment "carputer"
Clear Star Media Group:
The VIP Trip
The kaleidoscopic world of Japanese car culture knows it as bippu, a kind of bastardization of saying VIP as a word instead of a set of initials. It's a style that sprang up in the 1980s among guys who lived their lives on the more interesting side of the law. Their esoteric Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series cars were attracting the unwanted attention of police and rival gangsters alike. So they bought less showy, larger, rear-drive domestic sedans-such as the Nissans Cima and Cedric, and Toyotas Celsior and Crown, usually in black-slammed them lower than a dachshund's nutsack and filled them with luxury goodies. Although why they might think that this would throw cops and competition off the scent is a mystery. Perhaps that's why they weren't rocket scientists or brain surgeons and turned to crime instead. According to urbandictionary.com (it's on the Internet, so it must be true), a gang called The Black Cockroach from the Wakayama Prefecture started the trend. A newly set up shop called VIP Company began doing all the mods. Then it just caught on from there. Purists might perceive an all-wheel-drive '10 Subaru Legacy as maybe too new-school to be proper bippu, but everything eventually becomes old-school. We think The Black Cockroach would have approved. "Each year for SEMA, we try to build some project cars that are unexpected and stretch the limits of Subaru's platforms," says company spokesman Dominic Infante. No kidding. This is an eagle that rocks.
Driven: '10 Legacy 2.5 GT Limited
By Carter Jung
MSRP $29,995; $34,146 (as tested)
Engine 2.5L, turbocharged 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder Boxer engine
Power Rating 265 hp, 258 lb-ft tq
Configuration front engine, all-wheel drive
Transmission 6-speed manual
Curb Weight 3,477 (as tested)
Suspension MacPherson strut (front), double wishbone (rear)
Whees/Tires 18-inch alloy wheels; Bridgestone Potenza RE050A 225/45R-18 tires
Brakes dual-piston with 12.4-inch ventilated disc (front), single-piston with 11.4-inch rear disc (rear)
Epa Fuel Economy 18 city, 25 highway
Drive Impression Me likes. Fast, respectable in the handling department and with refinement expected of a car in its class, it's a model I would consider purchasing if I acted more my age (and had a salary commensurate, thereof).
Tunability See above.
At first glance, the '10 Legacy looks like it went through a growth spurt-it seems huge compared to its previous sibling. But it isn't as dramatic as it seems; overall length is increased by a scant 1.4 inches but overhang takes an arctic-like shrinkage with the wheelbase gaining 3.2 inches. Another dimensional improvement comes by way of a 3.6-inch wider track, but at the cost of a 3.2-inch taller profile. Headroom, schmeadroom. More than tape measurements, what does give the Subie a larger presence are the new headlights that arch back toward the A-pillar, blistered fenders, and strong shoulder line that wedges out to the trunk. To completely take in the aggressive styling, one need not look further than the modified Legacy in front of you.
So the new bippu'd Legacy looks sick, how does it drive in stock form? For a full-on sedan, very well. Driving the six-speed manual, turbocharged 2.5L flat-four found in the 2.5GT Limited trim, the car drives similar to that of a WRX-under light throttle, mild mannered. Stomp on the gas and all 258 lb-ft of torque from the turbo kick in with a quickness and the drivetrain spits out 265 hp to all four wheels, propelling 3,400-plus pounds of Subaru from standstill to 60 in under six seconds-wicked fast for an upscale four-door that starts under $30k.
More impressive is how something so midsized can feel so planted. Driving the Legacy to our cover shoot, packed with Leianna Kai (model), wardrobe, and camera and lighting equipment through the hills of Santa Clarita, north of LA, the Legacy trotted through twisties without so much as a wheeze. Instead of the mushy feeling you'd get from most sedans, the Legacy's suspension were taut and the 18-inch wheel and tire combo offered generous grip. While an STI this is not, it's miles from your Pappy's Sebring.
My only complaint with the '10 Legacy is with its navigation unit; the interface took a bit of getting used to and it tended to spit out weird routes. The tunes from the nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio, however, are the best I've heard in a Subaru, yet.