RE: Subaru Impreza 22B: PH Heroes

RE: Subaru Impreza 22B: PH Heroes

Thursday 23rd July 2015

Subaru Impreza 22B: PH Heroes

So exclusive even McRae had to pay for his, the 22B stands alone as the ultimate classic Impreza



A weird one the Impreza 22B. In some ways it encapsulates all that was brilliant about the classic Impreza. And yet it stands alone, set apart from the tangled evolution of UK and JDM special editions based around regular WRX and STI Imprezas.

Looks are almost a caricature of fast Scoobys
Looks are almost a caricature of fast Scoobys
Literally plucked from the production line, engorged in bodywork and engine displacement and blessed with the most exotic and hardcore collection of mechanical bits ever offered in a road-going Impreza it was - is - the closest you can buy to those classic two-door rallying Imprezas driven by heroes like McRae and Burns. And yet it's not actually a homologation car at all and, other than the looks and inspiration, has no direct bloodline to those legendary rally cars.

Doesn't matter though. For JDM fanboys this is one of the ultimate in Japanese exotica, a proper celebration of all that made the original Impreza such an icon.

Like all hero cars it's a dedicated ownership proposition though. Most folk won't tell it apart from any regular bewinged, burbly, blue on gold Impreza and yet it costs many multiples more, is constructed from bespoke and expensive parts and is harsh, single-minded and relentlessly full-on to drive.

Bigger engine is just the start of the story
Bigger engine is just the start of the story
Maximum attack
It's the kind of car that begs to be driven hard and yet the thought of putting even a scrape on those probably irreplaceable body panels is enough to bring you out in a cold sweat, especially given the owner of this example has asked us to insure it for Β£50K and is standing nervously beside a twisting Sussex backroad as we circulate for photos, flat-four echoing off the steep-sided woodland bordering a very rally-stage like series of hairpin bends. Basically there is nothing whatsoever relaxing about the 22B, from either an ownership or driver perspective.

The 22B's exclusivity was assured from the start. Originally shown as the WRCar-STI at the 1997 Tokyo show it was offered for sale in production form as the 22B in March 1998 at a Japanese market price of 5m Yen - 2m Yen more than the contemporary two-door STI Version IV Type R on which it was based. The JDM production run of 400 apparently sold out in 24 hours nonetheless, 16 additional cars being built for the UK market, another five for Australia and three '#000' prototypes originally owned by Colin McRae, Nicky Grist and Prodrive's David Lapworth.

Things get blurry rather rapidly
Things get blurry rather rapidly
In a TV interview McRae described it as one of his favourite cars, while admitting "it gets you into bother" by virtue of its character. Mind boggles at what qualifies as 'bother' to a man of McRae's talents and given what he did for the brand you'd have thought Subaru would have been happy to gift him one. But, no, he had to pay for it. "I got a good price but that really hurt, being Scottish!" he said at the time.

Subaru fans will be well versed in what makes the 22B so special but in case you're looking at it and thinking 'so what' here's a quick history lesson. First thing you'll notice is the flared bodywork inspired by the WRC cars of the day and a whole 80mm wider than a standard Type R. Like box-arched Integrales, Quattros, Escorts and the like this puts it in a very exclusive club of rally-inspired road cars. Front and rear valances, bonnet vents and that giant manually adjustable wing were all similarly inspired by, if not exact replicas of, those fitted to the rally cars and on the road it looks a whole lot more purposeful than any comparable Impreza.

Flared arches set it apart from Impreza crowd
Flared arches set it apart from Impreza crowd
A spot of bother
Mechanically it was just as exotic, bored out to 2,212cc from the regular 1,994cc and designated EJ22 rather than EJ20 as a result. It got the same turbo as the 1997 STI but unique forged pistons and other internal components, the super short gearing the same as the contemporary Type RAs but driven by beefed up drive and prop shafts. Official horsepower as dictated by the restrictions of the time was 280hp with 267lb ft of torque delivered in a fat wedge from around 2,800rpm all the way to 5,200rpm. Redlined at 7,900rpm it wasn't as zingy as the most exotic EJ20s but punched a lot harder.

Suspension used unique forged aluminium lower links, rose-joined transverse links, inverted Bilstein dampers and unique Eibach springs and there were bigger brakes all round, fatter 235 section tyres on 17-inch wheels, a faster 13:1 steering rack and a host of other detail modifications. And a lot of STI branding.

The 16 22B-STI Type UK cars were SVA'd especially for the Scooby mad British market and got a revised 3.9 final drive against the JDM car's 4.444 for "relaxed high speed cruising" (all things relative), mph speedo, Thatcham alarm, MY99 headlights, additional rust proofing and Type UK branding on mats and badging. Priced at Β£39,950 you'd be hard-pressed to buy one for less today, even if you can find one.

More interested in corners than straights
More interested in corners than straights
Our featured car is an import though, badged #84 of 400 and in absolutely immaculate and seemingly completely original condition. No wonder the owner looks a little nervy about handing over the keys, though turning up in the PH WRX STI breaks the ice and helps establish credibility as fellow Scooby fans.

Home truths
If the clatter of the glass within flimsy feeling frameless doors and the almost apologetic cough on start-up are familiar to anyone who's ever driven a classic Impreza the heft to the controls and urgency of response is a bit of an eye opener.

Like many JDM specials of the period the chassis is punishingly stiff on British tarmac but with a bit of pace under the wheels it's not entirely unyielding. And it definitely doesn't take long to get a bit of that going.

New STI feels almost plush in comparison
New STI feels almost plush in comparison
The gearing is bonkers, the acceleration a crazed blur of whooshing turbos, classic Impreza burble and rushed gearchanges. The lightweight twin-plate and part ceramic clutch is racer short in travel and harsh in bite, making smooth getaways difficult. But the gearbox is typically positive and short of throw, which is just as well given how quickly you'll be progressing through the ratios. The extra 10 per cent of cubic capacity and willingness of the engine to rev and boost up means the 22B means even that expanded mid-range is gobbled up very rapidly. And although the redline is nearer to 8K it feels more sympathetic to the engine and the owner's nerves to not venture far beyond the 6,000rpm peak.

Even in fifth gear this equates to rapid road pace, commitment to go much faster than this requiring gritted teeth and considerable mechanical harshness as the engine seemingly begs for the sixth gear that isn't there.

Good job they grip you tight in the corners
Good job they grip you tight in the corners
Basically you need to avoid roads with long straights and fast sweepers because, in keeping with its breeding, the 22B is all about punching between tight corners and shrinking the distance between the bends it really excels in. The brakes are massively confidence inspiring, encouraging you to pile it in, delight in a front end that's far more positive and accurate than regular Imprezas and the agility that comes from the compact dimensions. Traction is such you'd need a lot of denial to start playing with the balance on the throttle, even with the ability to direct as much as 65 per cent of the drive torque rearwards via the diff switch on the centre console. As it stands the 22B feels adjustable, pivots around its middle, encourages earlier and earlier throttle applications and just digs in and goes. If it feels undergeared and a little breathless on open roads it's an absolute killer when things get tight and twisty, helped by the typically superb visibility and sense of compactness.

Proper job, proper hero car
Proper job, proper hero car
And from the outside the sound is pure late 90s WRC, the engine fiercer and more guttural than any production 2.0-litre Impreza with a properly savage edge to it. From the inside that's almost drowned out by the hissing and chuffing of the induction system, seemingly turned up to 11 like everything else in the car.

It's pretty exhausting and you could make similar progress in - picking an entirely random example - a Golf R without raising a bead of sweat. The less exotic and UK specific P1 is probably just as quick point to point, arguably just as capable and a decent one could be had for a quarter of the price. But in looks, manners and reputation the 22B stands apart and deserves its reputation as the hardest of the hardcore. That it makes you work for it just adds to the hero points.


SUBARU IMPREZA 22B
Engine:
2,214cc flat-4, turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 267@3,200rpm
0-60mph: c. 5.0sec*
Top speed: 149mph*
Weight: 1,270kg
On sale: 1998
Price new: Β£39,950*
Price now: More or less the same!
*Figures for Type UK car (with revised gearing), as tested by Autocar in December 1999

Watch Subaru's video here.
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Photos: Anthony Fraser, dodgy numberplate blanking by Dan (sorry Anthony)

[Sources: Subaru, via YouTube]

Author
Discussion

cerb4.5lee

Original Poster:

12,545 posts

126 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
I always thought these were really special and I had lots of lust for them although for me the P1 just edged it for some reason.

nigelonich

991 posts

166 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
The only car I truly miss not having anymore. The brakes were properly rubbish TBH but easy to upgrade.

vtecyo

1,972 posts

75 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
The only Impreza that I'd choose over an Evo given the choice. Beautiful(ish) thing.

em177

2,916 posts

110 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
vtecyo said:
The only Impreza that I'd choose over an Evo given the choice. Beautiful(ish) thing.
Likewise.

Guvernator

10,556 posts

111 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Had a 2 door Type R which was very similar to this car. It was absolutely brilliant and one of the few cars I still miss. I always lusted after a 22b though as although the Type R was near the top of the tree in terms of classic Impreza's, the 22b was definitely the King.

Unfortunately though this is yet another 90's hero car that seems set to appreciate into the stratosphere. As the article alludes to, that and the fact that you can't actually get body panels for them any more mean they've now become too precious to use properly too. If I owned one I'd certainly think twice before letting some journo's rag it (no offence smile).

If you want one as a collectors item then obviously the 22b is the one but to actually drive you'd be better of with a Type R\P1 with some minor mods. Will be 90% the driving experience without all the worry.

Ares

8,705 posts

66 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
vtecyo said:
The only Impreza that I'd choose over an Evo given the choice. Beautiful(ish) thing.
The Subaru always edged it for me. I had 2 in the late 90s. UK one for 9 months then too tempted and bump up to an STi Type R.

Drove Evos, loved them, but lacked personality and a little too clinical. Subaru's just exuded character....especially with Pete Croney's Scoobysport exhaust to give that proper Group N style off-beat warble.

Halcyon days.

j666eds

642 posts

95 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Saw one driving around Southampton a few months back. The owner needs to be shot as the car was in a state. Love the 22B

Pomsteroonie

76 posts

141 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Had a few Scoobs and Evos but this is one of the "should have owned one" cars - I think, like my CSL it would have been one of the hardest cars to let go of . . . . . proper icon. There is one that parks up at my gym every Saturday morning, every time I walk by it I can't help think . . . . should have!

Edited by Pomsteroonie on Friday 24th July 07:06

PHMatt

603 posts

94 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Remember when they came out, some one near me had one and used to sporadically see it driving around. Think the no. plate was close to 22B as well.
To this day I think it's one of the most special cars around just because it's such a ridiculously rare version of such a common car.
There were ordinary Scoobies of every variant everywhere at the time. Even the rarer specials were just ordinary bodied ones with a few stick on bits. This was properly bespoke and special.

I'd have one in my 100k garage.

s m

17,908 posts

149 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
nigelonich said:
The only car I truly miss not having anymore. The brakes were properly rubbish TBH but easy to upgrade.
No ABS either.

I remember Stef Reader and me following one round Donington in a spirited and enthusiastic fashion and the 22B driver locking up the wheels on a couple of sections.
They look lovely though

Motorrad

6,727 posts

133 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
I always thought these looked great.

Every time I went to the Subaru specialists I used they always had one in being rebuilt.

Still at least it was better than a P1. biggrin

marcgti6

1,230 posts

159 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Definitely my favourite of the Jap rally specials.

I wouldn't think twice about placing one in my lottery win garage smile

NelsonP

239 posts

85 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
A mate of mine had one of these back in the day. The lucky git!

He blew the engine due to oil surge on a track day - not what you'd expect from a car with such strong links to motorsport, but I guess they don't have a baffled sump. Subaru agreed that it shouldn't have happened and fixed it.

Then it got nicked and was recovered in Lockerbie (presumably on the way to leaving the country via the the back roads?). Think he took the insurance money.

I'd wager it is still around somewhere.

St John Smythe

6,003 posts

163 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Looking at this reminds me of the time a mate of mine test drove a P1 when they were new. Sitting in the back it seemed bloody quick.

rb5er

11,657 posts

118 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Love it. The gear ratios would annoy me on the Jap ones though.

Poopipe

600 posts

90 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
rb5er said:
Love it. The gear ratios would annoy me on the Jap ones though.
Actually barring motorways I quite liked the short box on my RA. When pottering round in town you could basically just pop it in third and leave it there whereas a more normal set of ratios means up and down between second and third all the time. Its the only car ive driven that didnt sound pissed off in a 20 limit too.


soad

30,393 posts

122 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
I didn't know McRae had to pay for his! eek

These look great though. biggrin

JMF894

2,947 posts

101 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
I've only ever driven a standard UK wrx and I was impressed with how it felt but ultimately i don't find scoobies very special. For the money you seem to have to pay for one of these there are much, much more desirable machines out there for me.

Sorry.

Jimbo

epom

6,412 posts

107 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
Still my number 1.....some day smile siiiiiiighhh frown

Escort3500

5,117 posts

91 months

Thursday 23rd July 2015
quotequote all
em177 said:
vtecyo said:
The only Impreza that I'd choose over an Evo given the choice. Beautiful(ish) thing.
Likewise.
Same here. And the pics show how the 22B still looks great after all these years whereas the current model looks utter pants IMHO.