For Daniel Fong, deciding between a sixth-generation Civic Si or an Integra Type R wasn't easy. Two hours after test-driving both, he ended up with a 2002 Subaru WRX.
The prologue of Fong's automotive biography reads predictably: Most of his friends were already modifying Hondas, periodical influencers like Turbo magazine cosigned the brand, and events like Import Showoff reinforced in him how siding with any other make would only relegate him to the industry's outskirts. "The first car I ever wanted was a 2000 Civic Si," he says. "I was [also] in the market for a 2000 Integra Type R [until] my high school friend Aaron Tressell came by with his WRX, which he'd just bought and [began] modifying. My eyes opened [up] to a whole new idea of what [kind of] car I wanted."
Factory turbochargers, all-wheel-drive layouts, and World Rally Championship-derived chassis have that effect. "It was a another realm," Fong says, reflecting on the Subaru and the front-wheel-drive, 160hp Civic he'd once thumbed the classifieds for. Fong bought his own WRX soon enough and began advancing his Subaru sensibilities online and through friends like Tressell who was among the few to have successfully swapped the Japanese-spec EJ207 engine into place. "I started hanging out with him whenever he worked on his car or added a new part to it," he says. "[That] helped expand my knowledge of Subarus and it also gave me ideas of what path I wanted to take."
Fong followed the obvious path that was made up of a larger turbo, more fuel, and more precise engine management but wanted more. "I wanted an engine platform that was solid from the beginning," he says, reflecting on the factory-issued EJ205's shortcomings. He wanted more than what strengthening his current engine could yield and wanted the revability that he felt a 2.5L STI swap couldn't provide. For all of this, he once again looked to Tressell.
Lucky for Fong, another friend's EJ207 swap—complete with the more durable six-speed transmission—was for sale. "When he parted out his car, all [of] his Cusco suspension parts and Project Mu brake system went onto my car," Fong says. "It was only appropriate that his engine and transmission were now in my car. His car was somewhat reincarnated." Despite the sale that included just about every bracket and hose he'd need, the transplant wasn't easy. A pre-existing engine management system along with bungled-up wiring made integrating the EcuTek system challenging. Between Fong and nearby shops GST Motorsports, LIC Motorsports, and AutoHQ, though, all was sorted out.
Never mind the engine swap; Fong doesn't abuse the WRX as much as you think he does. An engine program that's limited to 100-octane fuel and frequent law enforcement encounters mean the 50-mile round trip to work and back is a whole lot more expensive than you might imagine. "On the previous EJ205 setup," Fong says, "I would drive it every day. Nowadays, it's like every other weekend." Less time nestled into the Bride-themed interior doesn't mean anything's being neglected, though. "There have been times where I've thought about selling or parting it out, but too much work, time, money, and dedication have [gone] into this car," he says. Besides, he's already promised it to his daughter.
Part of what's made Fong's WRX so special and one that he's not soon to let go of is its no-nonsense approach to only fitting it with the appropriate parts, like the Mature Japan aero pieces and front bumper, of which Fong surmises is the only one in the U.S. A 2006 trip to Subaru's homeland for the annual Tokyo Auto Salon was what prompted that philosophy. "[That] was the peak of Subaru enthusiasm, and we wanted to see in person how Japan modified [its] cars," he says of what led him and Tressell to the industry gathering. He's been back five more times, all in an effort to discover new trends and stay abreast of what may be looming for fans of the rally car-inspired brand.
"This car is a methodically modified progression of the past 10 years," Fong says as he attempts to sum up what it all means to him. "Some of my closest friends have come from the Subaru community, which, in my opinion, is one of the tightest car communities out there." So tight in fact that Tressell went on to serve as Fong's best man along with one of many technicians who'd helped sort out the Subaru early on, his groomsman. "I've always thought [about] stepping away from the scene," he admits, "but the modifying bug has hit me too hard. [Soon], it'll be on to the next project car." Perhaps this time, that '00 Civic Si.