Last Time on Project Overland GR WRX:
RS*R Coilovers, Konig Runlite Wheels, & Yokohama Geolander Tires
SPEC Clutch & Borla Exhaust
The steps so far in beefing up our project overland 2013 Subaru WRX hatchback have been largely familiar - upgrading areas like the brakes and drivetrain - but when it came to stance we were a little giddy with excitement over the novelty of going higher, not lower (still seems weird!) For this installment of the project we stay out of our comfort zone, accessorizing, yes, but in ways we have never done before.
For example, we've never installed a light bar, or mud flaps, but for Part 4 that's exactly what we're getting into; a Rally Innovations Ultimate Light Bar will provide a sturdy base to which we can affix our gnarly PIAA LED lamps, and trailing each wheel will hang a urethane Rally Armor flap. Also on deck for our overland GR Subaru WRX project: Thule roof storage for hauling all our gear off road - let's get into the particulars
Rally Innovations Ultimate Light Bar
Founded by John Pe ano and his father, Rally Innovations is a creator and seller of high-quality engineered exterior parts for the sport compact rally market. Among their product offerings are their branded lighting fixtures that have been engineered for several platforms, including the GR Subaru WRX. When we reached out to Rally Innovations to inquire about which they recommend we use for our overlander, we took the opportunity to also invite John down to our tech center to help us install whatever lighting solution they suggested, to which John said yes.
He showed up with Rally Innovation's Sonny Tigno and an Ultimate Light Bar kit, a setup that consists of the mild steel light bar, an aluminum skid guard, and all the hardware and mounting bits for installation. We went with the textured black powder-coat finish for our Ultimate Light Bar, but they also come in gun metal and silver; additionally, John got the skid guard powder coated in black as well, a piece that usually comes in the raw. If we do happen to scratch the powder coat finish, John says bed-liner spray can be a suitable touch-up paint.
Made in the USA, each Ultimate Light Bar has been designed specifically for its application, using existing holes in the vehicle to install (meaning no new drilling) and requiring just basic hand tools; they go together like Legos. Ours contours the nose of the hatch perfectly, but John warns (and we'll emphasize) THESE ARE NOT BASH BARS; Ultimate Light Bars are made for being a rigid base for driving lights and NOT to protect the front of the vehicle if it should happen to plow into something.
To bolt on our ULB, first the plastic splash guard under the front of the WRX came off, held in place by a handful of clips and fasteners. This exposed the slotted holes on the underside of the radiator core support John and Sonny used to install the lower mounting brace - although the nuts are left loose at the start, as are all installed fasteners, until the other parts of the kit are mounted and the desired fitment is achieved.
The bumper came off next; John says it doesn't necessarily need to, but removing the bumper cover definitely makes installing the Ultimate Light Bar easier. The upper brackets for the ULB secure to radiator support bracket holes and a couple of bumper mounting tabs coming off of the upper crossbeam of the core support.
On the bumper cover, Sonny helped us modify its grille for the Ultimate Bar; when mounted, the upper ends of the bars bolt up to the upper brackets right behind the grille, so our options were to either cut out the parts of the mesh grille where the bars go (and also relocate our WRX badge in the process) or ditch the grille altogether. We opted to kill the grille and do not regret it one bit - the new look is super clean.
John and Sonny returned the bumper cover to its home, up top sandwiching it between the light bar brackets and core support. Then they bolted the skid guard to the lower brace.
The light bar proper is the last piece to tie everything together. For final fitting, with all the hardware mostly just hand tight, John recommends sliding forward as much as possible the lower brace and then securing it, but also pushing back the bottom part of the bars so that they're relatively close to the profile of the bumper.
There are slotted holes under the skid guard that allow for a small amount of adjustability in the event you need more room to mount deeper lights (which we found out later we needed). Otherwise, the completed installation of our Ultimate Light Bar looks pretty buff, even without illumination.
The last step to installing the Ultimate Light Bar is clearing the corners of the under-engine bay splash guard so it can accommodate the bar's brace. With a utility knife, Sonny takes a chunk out of each forward corner of the plastic guard before he and John return it to the Subie.
PIAA LP Series LED Driving Lights
From PIAA, we sourced these universal driving light kits for our Rally Innovations Ultimate Light Bar from their LP Series of LED illumination, the larger ones LP560 and smaller ones LP530. The 5 15/16-inch diameter LP560 lights cast a 6000K white beam while the 3.5-inch LP530 lights throw a 2500K yellow beam. Both kits come with two watertight lights, mounting hardware, and harness with relay, fuse, and switch.
The LP530 kit comes with an adhesive mounting pad, while a pad is already integrated into the LP560's mounting surface, both to minimize the effects of vibration. The Ultimate Light Bar has provisions for all four lights, each ultimately secured with a nut, washer, and bolt. The lights will eventually need to be aligned correctly but we'll save that for when we're done installing them.
As mentioned, each pair of lights comes with its own harness, which we routed in the engine bay along the driver side front inner fender and the firewall before sending them through the factory firewall grommet to the cabin. The grommet required a strategic slice to accommodate the wires, and to clean up the installation a bit we loomed the PIAA light harnesses together.
Inside, the wires go along the firewall behind the dash back to the driver side of the car. We decided to use the fuse panel cover for mounting the light switches; the toggle for the LP560 lights came with double-sided tape, but we had to drill out a hole for the LP530 switch.
Our Ultimate Light Bar is less naked! PIAA makes this recommendation about aiming your new LP LED driving lights: on level ground parked 25 feet in front of a wall or other flat vertical surface, PIAA suggests measuring from the ground to the centerline of the light face; using that measurement, subtract 1.5 inches (or about 38mm) to plot a point on the wall - that is where the light's beam should be most intense.
THULE Roof Storage
We picked up Thule Evo WingBar racks and a Canyon XT roof basket as sort of our starter kit for hauling crap on top on our overland project car. The Evo WingBar setup includes load bars and rubber feet and is designed for reduced drag and wind noise. The tube steel Canyon XT basket has a wind fairing for similar aero optimization, and Thule also threw in one of their cord mesh Stretch Cargo Nets to keep stuff from flying off our roof.
We had to first take off our factory Subaru racks before we could put on the Thules. The process is fairly easy and pretty straightforward; pop open the little door on each end of the racks to expose the Torx-head screw that secures the end cap. We removed the caps to expose the thumbscrews that lock down each rack; just undo the thumbscrews and the racks come off.
One of the cool things about the Thule system is that it reuses the factory mounting holes for their Evo WingBar racks. Thule includes in the hardware pack tools as well, which we recommend using rather than your own tools for the simple fact we know they've been designed for only a certain amount of torque, thus preventing a lot of us apes from stripping/breaking fasteners during installation.
Thule recommends pre-assembling their Evo WingBar before moving it to the car (versus assembling the rack on the roof). Another neat feature: the load bars come graduated and adjustable so you can center them properly. The install of the Thule Evo WingBar racks and Canyon XT basket was a snap, and now we've got even more space for all of our stuff.
Rally Armor Mud Flaps
Last but certainly not least, since we see a future of kicking up all kinds of dust and debris on our off-roading agenda, it makes sense to minimize the spray however we can out of consideration for those around us. Enter Rally Armor, the mud flap maker out of New York; we sourced a set of their flexible and durable urethane mud flaps in red for our girl, but they also come in black. Their kits include all the necessary hardware and instructions for installation, and we should note that RA mud flaps for the third-gen. WRX hatch are indeed different than the ones for the sedan, so if you're looking, don't get those mixed up.
We started off with the front mud flaps, turning the steering wheel all the way to one side for unfettered access in the wheel well. After removing a couple clips from underneath, the stock side skirt was carefully pulled away from the body and left to hang (there was no need to take off the entire skirt). Next, the body panel right above where the side skirt was pulled away - the small vent piece with WRX badge - was also delicately pulled away, but this panel was completely removed and set aside; Rally Armor recommends keeping the door wide open in order to make pulling off the panel easier.
With the fender liner exposed in the wheel well, we popped off the two clips that held down the corner closest to where we were working. Pulling back the liner, we slid a couple of new clips supplied by Rally Armor over the tabs on the uni-body where the liner was attached. Then we installed the bracket on top of the liner and re-snapped into place the vent and side skirt. The bracket essentially mounts to the uni-body and sandwiches the body panels.
The front flaps stayed put with a couple of nuts and a screw in the innermost mounting point. Nothing gets torqued down until flap alignment is correct, and luckily the brackets come with a slotted center hole so we can line these things up just right. Also, make sure the Rally Armor logos face the back of the car.
Installing the rear mud flaps is a very similar process - first we removed the rear wheels for better access and then crawled under the rear bumper cover and undid the clips that tie the bumper and fender liner together.
A bracket thingy slid in between the cover and liner, as did more clips, in order to secure the mud flap.
Like the fronts, each rear mud flap is held on with a couple of nuts and a screw. Once the mud flap is aligned, we torqued down all of our fasteners.
Lookin' sharp! Our overland 2013 Subaru WRX project is just about complete - next time we get the trailer-hitch bike rack squared away, plus our Tepui rooftop tent, and then we look for adventure! Should be fun - be on the lookout for Part 5!