One look at Erin Morely's '04 Subaru WRX wagon and you can tell pretty quickly that it ain't no grocery-getting, soccer-mom, mall-outing-to-Nordy's type machine. Sure, the in-your-face graphics and sponsor decals conspicuously splashed across its matte-silver exterior are a clear giveaway on this rarely street-driven Subie, but it is the low, wide, purposeful, stance and meaty Toyo 888s wrapped around industrial 18-inch wheels that really make you take a closer look at the wagon. And well you should, because the car was built right with a reason for everything, and almost everything for a reason. That said, everyone has their doubts; even we did when we first saw the car. However, any doubts that you might have about what Erin's progressively evolving project has turned into are finally and totally dispelled once you drive the car. And drive it we did-a lot-on the now familiar twists, turns and subtle elevation changes at the Bob Bondurant School racetrack at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix.
Erin, who originally hails from the East Coast and sported a BoSox cap as he drove his more-than-capable wagon down the Bondurant driveway, had wanted an STi when he first went shopping for cool hot rods in 2004. However, even though he is no stranger to the tuner scene, having co-owned a local speed shop in the Phoenix area, Erin is also clearly measured in how he thinks about things, and as such decided to buy the wagon for practicality's sake. As you can see from the pics, though, something went terribly wrong-or right, as the case may be. Practicality and all that such a word implies, gave way to the relentless need to make his Subaru not just quick, but truly track capable.
Erin took his time and looked at the entire performance equation. The 8500-rpm JDM Spec C 2.0-liter currently puts down 350 hp to the wheels, and amongst other things, comes equipped with a Blouch 18G turbo developing an ear-popping 22 psi of boost. To keep the charged air cooler and more efficient at the combustion site, Erin chose a WBR front-mount intercooler. To further handle the prodigious airflow across and out of the 2.0-liter on steroids, Erin went with a Grimspeed manifold and crosspipe and Injen up-pipe. An APS turbo-back exhaust routes the exhaust gases out the back through a gigantic resonator. Although I wasn't a big fan of the look of the borderline obnoxiously huge resonator, the exhaust sounds of the WRX at full throttle and full boost were spine-tingling and worth the look.
Power is only one part of the performance equation, though, and Erin and Goodspeed Performance Lab in nearby Tempe, Arizona, worked hard to not only improve the handling balance of the wagon but also to increase the car's ability to endure the rigors of regular track use. A set of Tein Super Racing coilovers brought the car down to a race-proper ride height with the widened fenders allowing just enough clearance for the 255/35/18 888s front and rear. Erin also added a Whiteline front antiroll bar and a Hotchkis rear bar. To increase track width, camber and caster adjustment ranges and overall parameters, Erin used Whiteline adjustable lateral links and STi sedan front control arms. Finally, a Beatrush subframe was employed to increase chassis torsional rigidity and to reduce weight, and every bushing in the car was changed out to something stiffer and stronger.
To act in concert with the comprehensive suspension changes and improvements, Erin changed all three differentials in the car by going with Cusco products at front, middle and rear. Erin used a 1.5-way diff for the front and rear and went with a tarmac diff for the center. Erin also changed the gearset to the shortened RA gears, a good choice as it turned out, considering the boost lag that the current motor setup seemed to exhibit.
To help the silver wagon shed off the energy developed by the 2.0-liter and to further help the suspension get the job done, Erin replaced the stock braking system with a Brembo GT kit at the front of the car and used a Racing Brake conversion at the rear. Erin wisely went with Hawk blues all the way around and the brakes were filled with Motul fluid. Recognizing the worth and importance of proper lubrication throughout his highly modded Subie, Erin went with Motul fluids in the whole machine.
In addition to the flared fenders and matte-silver paint on the wagon Erin decided on a few other cosmetic and functional improvements to the immaculate exterior of his car. A blend of JDM pieces such as a wagon lip, mid spoiler and grille are all being used. One of my favorite elements is the Seibon reverse scoop finished in raw carbon fiber. Erin also decided to use the diffuser from an STi. As mentioned before, the look of Erin's car makes it very clear that there has been a lot of work, money and thought put into the machine.
The interior was gutted and sported the same matte-silver paint from the exterior painted on the raw metal interior from the seats back. A set of simply fantastic Sparco EVO seats replaced the stock units complete with harness and sub belts. A suede-covered and well-sized NRG steering wheel stared me in the face and was at an excellent angle and position. A center gauge pod housed a clean and clear set of Defi gauges for boost pressure, oil pressure and oil temperature. I used the factory tach for revs.
We decided to break the drive into several drive sessions. It is always a good idea, especially in a highly modded car, to take an easy session to make sure that everything is functioning properly before really putting some stick to the car. In this case, it was an especially good idea because a line feeding the maze of engine plumbing happened to be resting on the throttle cable housing, and as we started to develop more lateral grip in the car, the line added tension to the throttle. Not a big deal really, just a spike in revs as I depressed the clutch between shifts. It was easily taken care of, and then we drove a couple sessions at speed.
Power output from the Spec C motor was noticeably stronger than stock, propelling the sliver Subie down the straights quickly and pushing me back firmly into the Sparco seats. The power delivery was predictably peaky, with anemic response below 4000 rpm that quickly built up to 7800 rpm, which I decided to use for maximum revs for the test. Although Goodspeed told me that the motor was good for just over 8000 rpm, I didn't want to risk hurting the pristine Subaru. The flat-spot below 4000 rpm, although certainly something that might not be the best for everyday street use, was tempered by the shortened gears, and was not much of a factor on the track.
While the power was certainly decent and offered a nice pull in just about every gear, it was not the strongest suit of the car by any means. You can give that title to the suspension, braking and differential setup. Erin's car carved corners with agility and confidence, totally belying the fact that I was in a station wagon! Spring control from the Tein coilovers was excellent with spot-on compression and rebound settings. The Toyos, which had been through a few heat cycles prior to me driving the car, were predictable and offered decent grip, but the Tein/Whiteline/Hotchkis combination would have benefited from a fresh set of 888s or something with even more grip.
The Cusco diffs were excellent as well. In general, vehicles with differentials set-up aggressively, especially in AWD formats, have a feeling of resistance to them. There is almost a binding that is more evident when the car is going slower, or when there is a high angle of steering dialed in. Break though that feeling of the car somewhat at odds with itself by simply pushing harder, and a whole new world of performance is available. Certainly, Erin's Goodspeed built and prepped car fit that category, and the harder I drove, the better the car felt. The silver wagon put power down exceptionally well and in a controlled manner, but the diffs changed the entire dynamic of the car, making it a power-on oversteer machine when driven with too much steering dialed in at point of throttle application. Not something that one would typically feel in an AWD car, and a handling element typically reserved for higher-horsepower RWD machines. It was something that made Erin's Subie great fun to drive, and kept me on my toes.
To me, the greatest single element of Erin's '04 Subaru WRX wagon was the steering feel and the incredible improvement over stock. The characteristic slightly vague feel that plagues the WRX and STI was completely gone and was replaced by a level of steering precision that bordered, dare I say, an EVO. Erin's car allowed me to really practice economy of motion with the steering and allowed me to place the car exactly where I intended. The crispness of turn in was so good that it allowed me to also induce corner entry oversteer by simply increasing the rate with which I added steering input. The car really approached, and in many respects, met the feel of a properly set-up race car.
While it is arguable that Erin knew he was going to mod up his Subie the day he bought it, I'm not sure he expected to do this much and for it to come out quite so well. Success is addicting though, and Erin has further plans for the car with Goodspeed's help. The next order of business for them is to add a more linear power producing turbo, and the members of this collaborative effort feel that a twin scroll unit, specifically a 30r unit might fit their needs. They also want to shed further weight and begin to really work on the aerodynamic side of the equation as well by increasing downforce, especially at the rear.
Of course, time will tell of their success in making this already potent package better still. I am hoping that they can continue on their current track of doing it right, and hopefully we will get to sit at the controls of this unique wagon again. Until then, if you are at a NASA time trial or Super Lap Battle time attack in the area anytime soon, be sure to check Erin's car out. I can pretty much promise it won't disappoint.