Subaru has made more than its fair share of oddball vehicles over the years, from the sci-fi styled SVX to the truly hideous Brat (a vehicle on more than a few "Ugliest Cars in the World" lists). But quirky styling and surprising utility have always been a big part of Subaru's appeal, so in some ways, the '03 to '06 Baja makes perfect sense. Sure, it's a "sport utility pickup," a category few other manufacturers have dabbled in, but if you opt for the XT model and its turbocharged 210hp EJ25 engine, what you get isn't just a Japanese El Camino; you get a truly versatile machine with Japanese build quality and genuine go-fast potential.
For RJ Lane, owner of this '04 Baja XT, it was the combination of boost pressure and a usable flatbed that lured him in. As he explained, "I have been a car enthusiast since I was in a stroller. It blossomed into a religion after getting a '70 Olds 4-4-2 W-30 in high school. There was a big group of us that all had classic cars, and we would go to weekly meets and made occasional trips to the dragstrip. After getting back into the car scene in my mid twenties, I needed a new platform to work with, and I testdrove an '03 WRX. This testdrive changed how I looked at import cars forever. I am the owner of a decking contracting company and needed a versatile vehicle that could haul stuff for work, but I could not live any longer without a turbo. The only answer for that problem in 2004 was the Subaru Baja."
Interestingly, the Baja came into existence because it was the solution to a totally different kind of problem. Subaru's plant in Indiana wasn't operating at full capacity in the early 2000s, thanks in part to the Isuzu Rodeo going out of production. To fill this assembly line void, and to amortize the plant's capital costs over a great number of vehicles, the Baja was born. Part of the beauty of this plan was that the Baja required very little in the way of special tooling, since it shared much of its underpinnings with both the Legacy and the Outback.
Not that RJ cared about any of that when he bought his ultrarare '04 XT five-speed. He just wanted to have some fun playing with boost pressure in his new work truck. "I bought the cruck (half car half truck) new and managed to wait about a year before the mod bug got to me. I started with small bolt-ons and a tune. Stock it put down 175 whp and we got it to 225 whp with very minor mods. I started to take it to the dragstrip and found that no one knew what it was, but people were impressed with what she could do."
What she could do turned out to be a 13.7 at 104 mph, but that's when the notoriously weak five-speed gearbox gave out. This, of course, resulted in RJ swapping in an STI six-speed tranny along with a Group-N tranny mount, an ACT clutch kit, and a DCCD Pro Controller. But after more than 150 passes down the dragstrip, the usual ring wear issue started to plague this hard-working Baja, so RJ new the time had come for a serious engine build.
For this RJ turned to Joe and the gang at Goodspeed Performance Lab in Scottsdale, Arizona, a well-respected tuning shop that works on everything from Subarus and Mitsubishis to all the major Euro brands. Goodspeed's custom build not only included the expected Cosworth pistons, rings and rods, ACL bearings, and ARP studs, but the shop also modified the oil pump and fabricated the cold-air intake and exhaust systems. They equipped the ported heads with BC Stage 2 cams, and the stock turbo setup was tossed in favor of an ATP GT3076R turbo, a TiAL 44mm wastegate, and a Turbosmart dual-port blow-off valve.
Once the motor was run in it, RJ had Clark Turner Tuning work its magic on the Baja's Cobb AccessPort, with pro tunes for both E85 and 91-octane pump gas. CTT even equipped RJ's XT with a switch for quickly swapping back and forth between the two tunes. The end result of all this air/fuel wizardry is a Subie that pumps out a very healthy 380 whp and 350 wtq, making it quite possibly the most powerful Baja on American soil.
What's even cooler than all this power is the fact that RJ has further refined his Baja with road course and canyon road workouts in mind, rather than continuing to beat on it in a straight line. To that end, you'll find Megan Racing coilovers, a Whiteline rear adjustable sway bar with Cobb endlinks onboard, along with a sticky set of 245/40R18 BFGoodrich Sport Comp-2 tires wrapped around 18-inch matte bronze Gram Lights 57-S rims. RJ hasn't overlooked the importance of stopping power, either, having equipped his Baja with Goodrich brake lines, Powerslot slotted rotors, and EBC Green pads.
Cosmetically RJ has left the Baja's unique sheetmetal alone, but he has made some subtle improvements inside and out. Having debadged the hood and tailgate and cleared the headlights, the only real cues to the performance that lurk under this oddball pickup's hood are the custom STI grille and personalized license plate. The Innovate wide-band gauge and Defi boost, oil temp, oil pressure, and EGT gauges are a pretty good tip-off that this is not your standard Baja, though, plus there's a killer sound system built and installed by Stereo Joe.
It's not often we get to take a closer look at a project as off the beaten path as RJ Lane's Subaru Baja XT, both because so few Bajas were produced but also because it's not exactly your typical tuner platform. Its uniqueness is unquestionably a big part of its appeal, but what really puts it over the top is that this is a sport utility truck that fulfills every part of the category, having hauled tools and lumber as part of its utility and truck duties, and having made countless passes down the dragstrip and RJ's favorite winding roads while fulfilling its sport duties. Now that's what we call doing work.
Specs & Details
'04 Subaru Baja XT
Engine 2.5L EJ255 turbocharged flat-4
Engine Modifications Goodspeed Performance Lab custom engine build; modified high-volume oil pump; custom CAI and cat-back exhaust; Cosworth 100mm pistons, rings and rods; ACL main bearings and race rod bearings; ARP head studs; Brian Crower Stage 2 torque spec camshafts; ported heads; TVG valve deletes; Perrin lightweight crank pulley; ATP GT3076R turbocharger; Tial 44mm wastegate; TurboSmart dual-port BOV; AUS 1,200cc fuel injectors; Aeromotive fuel rails; Turbo XS big top-mount intercooler and ceramic-coated downpipe; Cobb cat-less up-pipe; Cusco oil catch can; Mishimoto radiator; STI Group-N engine mounts
Engine Management Cobb AccessPort tuned by Clark Turner Tuning; Clark Turner Tuning custom switch for map switching (E85 and 91-octane)
Drivetrain STI six-speed transmission and Group-N trans mount; ACT Streetlight flywheel and HD racing clutch; DCCD Pro Controller; 550g weighted shift knob
Wheels, Tires & Brakes 18x8'' Gram Lights 57-S wheels; 245/40ZR18 BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp-2 tires; Goodrich SS braided brake lines; Powerslot slotted rotors; EBC Greenstuff brake pads
Suspension Megan Racing coilovers; Whiteline adjustable sway bar (r); Cobb endlinks
Exterior Debadged hood and tailgate; custom STI grille; cleared headlights; custom velocity stack for CAI
Interior Defi Racer boost, oil temp, oil pressure, and EGT gauges; Innovate wide-band A/F gauge; rear seat delete; Alpine head unit, amps and sub; Infinity component speakers (f); Kenwood speakers (r); Stereo Joe custom-ported box and installation
Special Thanks All the guys at Goodspeed Performance Lab and a special nod to Joe; Clark Turner Tuning; Stereo Joe; Rich and D.B. Barry at Wrench Auto Worx; Travis at Snail Performance; Car Street Journal and JDM Fresh for the sponsorships; my close friends Pratt, Dustin, Lark, Justin, Randall, and Javier for helping me achieve my dream for the Baja; and the people on AZAWD and NASIOC and the whole AZ car scene