The cover read: "Subaru Impreza Turbo, 208bhp, 0-60 in 5.8sec, £17,499."
The party is over...
But like any Empire that burgeoned with breathtaking speed, the demise of the Subaru as the heartland of affordable performance has been brisk and, at times, made uncomfortable viewing. It has been a story of changing consumer demands, increased competition, exchange-rate difficulties and, lest we should forget, a global recession.
I was driving through Wales before Christmas and it suddenly struck me that with sales of new Impreza STIs being so slow and Mitsubishi abandoning the sector to build air-conditioning units, what are these lads going to drive in 10 years time? Who is maintaining the culture of fast Subarus in the UK? Who is nurturing it for future generations? What did John Major say about stuff 'cascading through generations'? OK, I'll stop - but you get the point.
Well, there is a shining beacon of boxer-enthusiam, but sadly for residents of The Principality, it is in Warwickshire.
Cross Roads Subaru is, at face value, a normal Subaru dealership whose name has been slightly undermined by the insertion of a roundabout bang outside the front door. But anyone who drives past this forecourt cannot fail to notice the unmistakable signs of rampant car-enthusiasm. An American police car, a mint RS500 Cosworth and a bevy of various-vintaged Imprezas crowd the forecourt.
Jon Mathers and his team don't just live and breathe Subarus, they appear to subsist on any kind of performance car. Lurking in among the new Subaru models in the showroom is an X-Pack bodied Mk2 Escort with Honda VTEC power and a beautifully adapted rear-axle assembly. Just one look at the quality of preparation on this track-day toy and you know these are people who do things the right way.
To avoid this reading like an advertorial, I won't list the awards that Jon and his team have won over the years, suffice to say they are to Impreza sales what Don Bradman was to the five-day test match. They sell more than any other dealer in the UK.
This makes them culturally important for the survival of genus Scooby, but it is their work supporting the wider community of fettlers, Time-Attackers and also spicing-up the current range of cars that really endorses their role in the support of a great Japanese-British tradition. To prove as much, we are going to drive a limited edition Impreza called a TA 340C, which they have developed. TA denotes Time Attack, the championship Jon won last year in his loopy 600hp race car.
Testing modified Subarus is a sketchy business. It's easy to allow dyno printouts and sundry bullshit to cloud your feelings about how the car actually drives on the road. Added thump normally means compromised power delivery and suspension mods remove the chassis' chances of smothering bumps. The 340C couldn't be more different. After the standard 320 it feels much more responsive below 3,000rpm, then pulls harder all the way to the limiter. This is apparently all down to a re-map and less back pressure in the revised exhaust system, complete with a Scorpion back box. If such mild changes elicit such advantages, you can only assume the car is horribly strangled in standard form.
The chassis is a peach too. Supple, absorbing and agile: it reminded me that, despite your RS4s and 911 Turbos, there will always be something about these cars on damp, scummy UK roads. It feels more direct than the standard car. It's been re-bushed (Superpro), but as is often the case, new Eibach springs and roll bars have slightly tightened everything up but not at the expense of compliance or comfort. They may not have the firepower, but what these cars have - have always had - is that ability to screw themselves into the surface with unrivalled efficiency. And, of course, they just want to be driven fast. To me, this car felt like a very potent version of the original RB5. Those who know it will understand that's a compliment.
But as a car that feels good moving slow and fast, one that will clip you along regardless of weather conditions, the £39,995 340C remains compelling for the committed few. Hopefully enough will be sold so that in five years time, young lads in the Valleys can buy them and drive them at unfeasible speed following Wales Rally GB.
SUBARU WRX STI TA340C
Engine: 2,457cc flat-four turbo
Power (hp): 340@5,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 376@3,600rpm
0-62mph: c. 4.7 sec
Top speed: 158mph
MPG: 26.9mpg (NEDC combined, standard WRX STI)
CO2: 243g/km (standard WRX STI)