Never meet your heroes, that old chestnut. It often rings true when it comes to cars, though.
I have friends and colleagues that have driven iconic supercars that steer like trucks and muscle cars that wouldn’t pull the skin off warm milk yet were still under-braked. Bad examples? Perhaps, but also a sign that the relentless onslaught of automotive progress takes no prisoners.
So it was with trepidation that I climbed into the driver’s seat of the Subaru WRX 22B STI used for the ‘30 Years of STI’ feature you’ll find in our November issue. I wasn’t writing the feature, I didn’t need to drive it, but Morley (who was and did) wasn’t having it: “when are you going to get another chance?” Fair enough.
A quick refresher. Contrary to popular belief – and plenty of poorly researched articles – the 22B was not a homologation car. The new World Rally Car rules, introduced in 1997, were intended to do away with such nonsense, requiring manufacturers merely to base their rally car on a model of which 25,000 had been produced, of which 2500 had to use the base engine.
From there, manufacturers could go wild, adding turbos, all-wheel drive, flared guards and wings. The only real restrictions were a 2.0-litre engine with a 34mm inlet restrictor, length greater than 4000mm, maximum body width of 1770mm and track widths of 1550mm.
The fact the 22B has a stroked 2.2-litre turbocharged boxer engine should be the first clue as to its lack of homologation intent. It’s also arguably the highlight of the car. Remember how GC8-series STIs needed a fair slug of revs before they really got going? Not the 22B. Lag is minimal and the boost threshold is low, a fat mid-range making the most of the short gearing of the light weight (just 1270kg).
Its boxer burble is spot-on and the flexibility of the engine and sweet gearshift make it a doddle to drive. This car is immaculate, essentially museum-worthy, so no hard cornering is attempted, but there’s so much feedback through the beautiful Momo wheel, the slightest movement eliciting a reaction.
The 22B’s most surprising strength is its ride quality. It may have been firm by 1999 standards but it’s supple, breathing with the road with a fluency a lot of modern cars lack. In short, the 22B is as good to drive as it is to look at, those massively pumped guards, high-rise wing and blue-over-gold scheme turning those of a certain generation (i.e. me) weak at the knees.
Its status and rarity always made the 22B hugely appealing, but having now driven one it has to command a spot in my dream garage. To petrolheads who grew up watching the golden era of the WRC and playing Colin McRae Rally and Gran Turismo it’s the equivalent of a GT-HO Phase III or Torana A9X and I know if I had the means, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend silly amounts of money to secure one.
Engine: 2212cc flat-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 206kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 363Nm @ 3200rpm
Price: $132,000 (new)