Although the term may come across as daunting upon first glance, its definition is a very simple one: self-education. To be an autodidact is to be a person who learns a subject without a teacher or a formal education. They believe that the best way to learn how to do something is to simply get in there, get their hands dirty, and just figure it out as they go. They learn by teaching themselves. Chris Shuemake of Fresno, CA, is exactly that kind of person, and the story of how this beautiful blue WRX came to be is a perfect example of that philosophy in action.
When Chris was younger he worked around his father’s shop during his summer breaks, helping out where he could all the while watching and learning from the mechanic employed there. In his spare time Chris would watch the World Rally Championship on the Speed Channel, and it was there that he fell in love with Subarus. He promised himself that he would buy a brand-new one and modify it as soon as he could afford it. In the meantime he took his first vehicle, a Chevy S-10, and did the best with it he could. Starting with a 6-inch suspension lift, he took it up into the mountains and the dunes of Pismo Beach and mimicked the driving he had grown up watching during the WRC, all the while dreaming of the Subaru that he would one day have.
It was in 2005 when Chris had enough money to keep his promise to himself; he went straight to the Subaru dealer and purchased a brand-new WRX wagon. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to mod the car as much as he had initially hoped to due to the car payments. Owning the Subaru was only part of what he wanted; building it was the other part. So Chris decided that it was time to sell his wagon and purchase a car outright that he could build without the hindrance of monthly payments. One day a buddy of his told him about a coworker’s WRX that had gotten repossessed—a potentially good deal to be had. Excited and hopeful, Chris looked into the vehicle and its situation. He talked to the previous owner about the car and its history, as well as which bank carried the loan. Chris went to check it all out. The sight of the vehicle would have made most us do an immediate U-turn and head right back in the direction we came from. The engine bay was missing numerous parts such as the radiator, clutch and flywheel, FMIC, timing belt, and that’s just to name a few. The vehicle had various knock-off parts on it such as the headlights, turbo inlet, and turbo manifold, as well as some Rotas on it in a horrible color. The vehicle’s glass had stickers all over it that said “Daily Driven” in bold lettering, and a broken windshield to boot. The exterior was horrendous, but Chris wasn’t discouraged. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Moving aside the vehicle’s front bumper (that was shoved inside the car), Chris found an interior that was completely trashed. The back seat had spilled soda all over it, and there was a not-so-pleasant smell in there. Alright, so the outside and the inside were in terrible shape, but it’s the heart that truly counts, right?
Chris was hesitant to make the purchase for obvious reasons, but all of those things came secondary to the heart of the vehicle: the motor. If the motor was good the potential was still enough in Chris’ eyes to pick up, so he talked to the previous owner about the engine. He told Chris that the reason the timing belt was off was because they were fixing a leaking cam seal when the car was taken. OK, no big deal there. Additionally, he said that bottom end had been rebuilt and had around 30K miles on it. Thinking that at the very least he had a straight chassis and a functioning motor to begin with, Chris made the purchase.
Let’s stop for a second here. Have you heard of Murphy’s Law? If you haven’t, it simply states that if anything can go wrong, it will. If you are feeling a sense of foreboding after reading that, well, that was the point. Because what he went through to create the vehicle you see before you in these pictures would break the average man. Think I’m being overly dramatic? Let’s get back to the story and you can decide for yourself.
First and foremost Chris wanted a running car, so he got to work addressing the motor issues. Putting the timing belt and gears back together, Chris did a compression test on the motor and the results were clear; the motor was not what he had been led to believe. What do you do when you have a bad motor? You fix it. And although Chris had never done anything of the sort before, he was going to figure it out. He started by pulling the motor and dismantling it, discovering that two of the cam caps had broken bolts and had been RTV’d to the head. Not exactly something that you would want to find, but that could be dealt with. What he found next made him realize that the learning process would be longer and involve much more than he could have imagined. A huge chunk of a ring land was missing from a piston, so a refresh of the bottom end was required. Chris had never done anything like it before, but was determined to get it fixed. Unfortunately, upon completion he realized that the piston rings didn’t seat properly and a rear main seal was leaking. It is obvious by now that once Chris puts his mind to something it is impossible to discourage him, so he pulled the motor right back out and decided that this time around he was going to fully build it. Ordering the necessary parts for the bottom end, Chris got to work assembling everything. When he started the car he was greeted by massive amounts of smoke; something wasn’t right. Chris looked into what happened and after some research found out that the manufacturer of the piston rings sent him the wrong ones. After pulling the motor and disassembling it, he found the forged pistons melted and the cylinder walls were destroyed. The only way to salvage the block was to sleeve it, so Chris opted for a set of Darton sleeves for the bottom end and reassembled the motor to its present state.
With the heart of the motor rebuilt and finally good to go, Chris could take a moment and breathe before addressing other aspects of the build. That was until he came back from running some errands one day and he used the remote start on his alarm to warm the car up. When the vehicle was cold it would idle around 2,500 rpm, which was just enough to power through the e-brake. Yes, that’s right, the car took off right when it was started. Chris ran to the car and damn near got run over as he held onto the ’cage, hit the brake, and shut the car down. Unfortunately, the vehicle hit various wood and metal parts and there was damage to the front end and the left side of the vehicle. “My only option was to learn how to do body and paintwork,” he says. “I ended up fixing all of the damage and respraying the whole car.”
After going through all of that, Chris finally had a completely redone and rebuilt vehicle. Finally able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, he settled in and drove the car but it was only a matter of time before he decided to take the build to the next level. A buddy of his purchased a legitimate righthand-drive Silvia, and after driving it around Chris decided that he was going to do the conversion to his vehicle—even though there was virtually no information out there. When the complete front clip arrived, Chris sat there and stared at it, wondering what he had gotten himself into. But as with everything else, he continued with his self-directed philosophy and DIY mindset and went to work. “The first cut was nerve-racking, but everything began to fall into place,” he says.
Autodidact, the definition is simple—a person who teaches himself something—but the process by which one goes about attaining that knowledge may not be so simple. The story of Chris and this amazing WRX build is testament to what one can achieve when applying this philosophy in combination with willpower and determination. “When I first got the car I had minimal knowledge of Subarus,” he says. “This car was my automotive school. I learned as I went and succeeded in the process.” We couldn’t agree more, Chris.
Behind the Build
saltwater aquariums, cars, golf
To have a cool car
2002 Subaru WRX
Output: 310 whp/340 lb-ft
Engine EJ257 engine; STI IHI VF39 turbo; Synic EL turbo exhaust manifold; GMS silicon turbo inlet; Brian Crower cams, valvesprings, titanium retainers; Darton sleeves; CP pistons; Eagle formed H-beam rods; Perrin V1 fuel rail, FMIC, and piping; JDM STI pink 565cc/min injectors; Walbro 255-lph fuel pump; SMC methanol injection; Group N motor mounts; GMS lightweight crank pulley, silicon after MAF hose; HKS super mega flow intake, 3-inch catless downpipe, and Twin Power ignition; APS catless up-pipe; JIC non-resonated titanium cat-back exhaust; Mishimoto radiator; Samco Sport hoses; ARP headstuds; Hondata 8mm TGV spacers and ported deletes; Cosworth cam angle sensor adapter, oil pump; ARC blow-off valve, pulley cover, radiator cap; Blitz header tank cap, oil cap; Crawford air/oil separator; Cusco cooling panel; NGK LFR7AIX spark plugs; Optima Red Top battery; Sun Auto hyper voltage; powdercoated white valve cover, intake manifold, TGV bodies, air/oil separator; Hallman boost controller; tuned by Equilibrium Tuning
Drivetrain ’05 Subaru STI six-speed transmission and R180 3.9 differential; Group N transmission mounts; Cusco twin-disc clutch and flywheel; Cobb double adjustable short shifter; Redline lightweight shockproof transmission fluid
Suspension KW V3 coilovers, 455-lb/in spring rate (front), RCE linear spring conversion (rear); Cusco camber plates, OS front strut bar, H-brace, rear subframe brace, six-point rollcage powdercoated white with optional carbon bar, spherical rear lateral links, spherical trailing arms; Cobb tubular 25mm front sway bar, adjustable rear sway bar, HD adjustable sway bar mount, billet endlinks with spherical joints; Turn In concepts Klunk Killer, Sexy Rearend, tranny X-member bushings; Kartboy front and rear shifter bushings; Whiteline anti-lift kit, steering rack bushings
Wheels/Tires Advan RCII wheels (17x8.5 +45mm); Falken Ziex 912 tires (255/40-17); Project Kics caliber heptagon lug nuts
Brakes ’05 STI OEM front and rear Brembo calipers powdercoated silver; StopTech slotted rotors and pads (front and rear); Goodridge front and rear stainless brake lines; JDM STI OEM master cylinder; ATE Super Blue brake fluid
Exterior C-West front bumper and side skirts; JDM STI OEM HID headlights and ballasts with TSX projector retrofits, grille, power folding mirrors, Spec C roof vent, side markers, rain guards; RHD window wipers and cowl; rolled and pulled fenders with ’05 STI wheel arches, rear bumper, taillights; APR carbon rear diffuser