Subaru Legacy

The idiots guide to budget rallying

I love race cars, more specifically rally cars, even more specifically, old, built in a shed, no brand name bits… rally cars. There is something special about them, the not quite perfect paintjob, the sound and most importantly their ability to be surprisingly competitive… I would have had the soundtrack of a BDA as my wedding waltz had my wife given me the choice…

However she will never give me the responsibility of making decisions, (probably sensible, given my history of bad choices) and it is this ability to choose the exactly wrong thing to do, that has resulted in me writing this little article now… bear with me, this does end up a car story…

So the story begins with me nagging my lovely wife to let me buy a “pre loved” rally car, you know, the tidy wee Nissan/ Ford/ Toyota to keep in the garage and drive the odd event… just buy a helmet and start racing kinda deal. Her comments I can’t repeat, BUT in a moment of pity (I assume) she did follow it up with, “maybe when we can afford one…” foolish girl.

Sometime later, I was driving to work when I spotted a lovely little red car on the side of the road, after some serious coveting, a few phone calls and some serious begging later… (Long story short) I was the proud owner of a very cheap, kinda tidy (if you squint) 1982 Porsche 924. (Fourth best investment car in the world, so I’ve been told,… liars!)


I know this is not a Porsche story, but it is important to the overall gripping saga…. now where was I?After a little elbow grease, a lot of parts, plenty of frustration and many “beers in the garage nights” I had a very tidy little classic sports car, just perfect for… selling! (Actually I was sick of it breaking down). It sold quite quickly and I made a few dollars profit. Hopefully, now you getting where I am heading…NOW, Karen could NOT tell me we can’t AFFORD a rally car, as I had made the money to buy it!… Cunning bugger eh?Now that I had money burning a hole in my pocket I just needed to figure out whether to buy a car or build a car. I rang around a few places and got prices for a cage, springs, shocks, seats etc… and discovered we couldn’t afford to build a rally car, so on to plan B.

I had my eye on a Subaru Legacy on Trademe.

Legacy track car

Sure it was built for a track, but surely that’s even better right? Caged, not abused on rough roads, good brakes, seats etc….   WRONG… It turns out that track cars are driven by touch, and/ or while blindfolded and Seeing Eye dogs should be mandatory safety equipment.

But I digress; I now had a budget (tiny) a car to buy and someone to deliver the car from New Plymouth toChristchurch. Did I mention the car was in the wrong island, so I had to buy unseen?

About this time I was feeling quite clever! I had done what “she” had insisted was impossible and I had some pennies left over, to buy all the important things like beer and midget strippers…

All this changed very quickly when I spotted the car for the first time, I say spotted, not driven as the car would not start… dead as a dodo. It eventually took 2 days and about $100 in parts to get the car the 50Kms from the transport depot to home. Even a rookie to rally like me knows that is not a competitive time.

A quick note about the budget … all I had to do is: buy a car, get it ready for gravel, get myself some safety gear and do all this for around $4800…. Yep, not a joke less than $5K. To save you reading all the way to the bottom I have overspent the budget. I estimate by about $1.5K but hey so far that’s still a cheap rally car.

The challenge now, was to get this thing ready as best I can, for as close to free as possible, with pretty much no mechanical knowledge… easy eh?

Unfortunately making the care more reliable took the bulk of my precious beer tokens, just to make it do basic car type things… Like start

But it was also now when all the time I had spent ringing and dropping in on workshops paid off. The general sentiment was to not spend another dollar on the car, just to get out and start driving it. I suspect they really meant, don’t spend another dollar on it, take it to the wreckers…

I had to replace a number of bits like an airflow meter and some coil packs (bloody Subaru 2 bolt coils), once this was done I could drive to the end of the drive without breaking down. (Unfortunately I had replaced pretty much everything else before tracking down what the fault was). I had also accumulated rather a large stack of tyres while waiting for a car to buy, (gambling on 15”s) I picked through and managed a reasonable set to mount onto a spare set of rims that followed me home from one of my MANY trips to the wreckers yards. Only to discover I needed taller springs to let the wheels turn without rubbing… even while sitting still!… I fantasised about a spiffy new set of purpose built coilovers, which after a discussion with my wife became a second hand set of Bilstein struts from another model of Subaru and some springs. (I suspect Subaru’s are made by the same people who make Lego, as most parts seem to be interchangeable)

I needed to get the exhaust a little further from the ground as well. Unfortunately I can’t weld to save myself so I had to pay to have a new muffler installed and the intermediate one removed completely, this surprisingly made the car quieter (the car had one of those massive stainless jobbies on it, commonly referred to down here as “possum traps” due to the size of animal that could crawl into the end of the pipe).

Apart from the exhaust and suspension, and brakes, I have tried to keep the car as standard as possible in an effort to keep reliability and fixability (also a word) as high as possible and to keep my hand from Karen’s purse as much as possible… writing this now, it seems I have done nothing to the car, but in reality there has been hundreds of little jobs, all with their own costs and all taking up time. In fact, the budget form consuming garage beers is starting to eclipse the build budget… Jobs like removing the Air conditioning plant including the condenser from under the dash, while I had the dash out repairing the dash lights and heater… fitting a roof vent so I can suppress the dust inside the car enough to actually see where I am going. Under body protection and mudguards (fancy guards I hear you say?, nope conveyer belt rubber), I also had to make up some inner guards out of the same stuff as the originals had been removed and the sound without them was deafening!!

Another cost saving I had to make was to do all my own panel work, which I am only slightly less useless at than welding. However I managed to replace or repair the panels that were too damaged or rusty, during this exorcise I found the car had pre facelift front guards which meant the bonnet overhung the front and looked terrible, instead of replacing the guards, I have replaced the headlights and bonnet so the car has its distinctive pre- facelift looking front. It still has the new rear, I like to refer to it as a bum lift legacy as opposed to a facelift legacy now… I can’t see a best presented award for the car in the near future, but Stevie Wonder would give it a visual pass for roadworthiness.

Every time I finish one job, I tend to find another, but I’m thinking I’ve done enough for a mellowpuff now, so the time has come to declare her ready for action.

I would like to thank all the shit hot motorsport associated folk who have been uber helpful and answered so many stupid questions… especially the good buggers at Palmside. Hopefully just parking on that hallowed soil rubs off on the car and makes her a little quicker…

One comment

  1. Well , if you need any real advice as to where to spend your time and money to make these things work give me a call as when my Impreza started to get good results it was quite simple and probably not much slower than it is now.

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