“I will get me WRX, oh I will.” It’s been nearly 20 years since my senior quote was grammatically butchered by some pimply faced member of the yearbook club, but I have yet to make good on it. I had been drooling over the GC 2.5RS ever since its introduction for 1998. Adorned with its faux hood vents and prominent shell of a hood scoop, albeit devoid of an intercooler, the model’s 165-horsepower was nearly double that of my 1987 Corolla sedan and its looks were transplanted straight from a WRC stage. First year models featured the signature gold wheels, while subsequent versions switched to silver rollers and the fog lights became more reminiscent of its JDM brethren. A high school buddy saved up what was probably every dollar he ever earned and bought one brand new for his senior transport. It was a black coupe, most likely a 2001 MY given the times, and dumping the clutch at 5,000 RPM resulted in a sequence of events I will never forget – rev, thunk, chirp and go. Respect.
In 2002, Subaru decided the US market was finally primed and ready to receive the WRX for its second generation, the aptly nicknamed Bugeye, and I couldn’t have been more elated. Prior to that car’s release, the only way to get a Subie with a snail was via Gran Turismo. And believe me, I wore out the X button on my PS controller ripping around Autumn Ring in all varieties of the first-gen WRX. While I can’t recall seeing my first WRX on the road, my excitement rose whenever I spotted one. Boxed arches were standard across the line, so it was the functional hood scoop and dinner plate fog lights announcing this wasn’t your standard 2.5RS. In 2003, Sonic yellow was a limited color on both the wagon and sedan and my boss owned a wagon in that hue for approximately three days before he felt it wasn’t the car for him. Shame I didn’t get to drive it. And as for the wagon, while the running gear was the same as the sedan, it wasn’t blessed with bulging fenders. At first I thought it was because the wagon wasn’t a WRC contender, and that’s partly true. Width plays a factor in tax divisions in Japan…the wider the car, the more it’s taxed apparently (this is oversimplified). So while the sedan needed to be homologated for WRC (and its wider fenders), the wagon didn’t, allowing it to maintain its small size passenger vehicle classification.
Back to my plight of WRX daydreaming. Time went on, and I developed a polygamous relationship with Volkswagen instead of marrying that Subaru. But like a hopeless romantic constantly thinking back on his high school crush, I’ve yet to shake the idea that one day I’ll have a clean, unmolested 2.5RS in my garage – preferably painted Rally Blue Mica with giant fogs AND the gold wheels. That day has finally arrived, sort of.
But first, let’s look at all the scaled down options for filling those Subaru voids.
Hot Wheels first introduced a WRX in 2004 in a series I didn’t know existed until I was researching this post. The 2004 World Rally series was a premium release of four castings in licensed WRC tampos. The Peugeot 206 was a one and done casting. The Ford Focus RS only had two other releases in questionable decos. The Mitsubishi Evo 7 is still being used today, although the earlier release had a plastic spoiler in place of the current diecast one. And of course, the 2004 WRX in Rally Monte Carlo livery, driven by Petter Solberg and Phil Mills. The only downside to the series is the lack of Real Riders. Regardless, a brief search on eBay shows they don’t get listed often, but when they do they command a premium. Since I’d rather shell out for more premium CM’s and don’t plan on adding the initial release to my collection, here are some more affordable ones in its place.
The “Blobeye” WRX, as it’s become affectionally known, went through a few changes since being released. In 2010, the body became plastic for reasons unknown to the author. Perhaps to match its already plastic spoiler? (Since this went live, an astute reader informed me the initial WRC had a full plastic body and metal chassis. The deco and ‘paint’ is that convincing.) It returned to proper diecast status in 2014, including the spoiler now, and has been that way since. The best release beyond the first one in my opinion – 2018’s Car Meet 5-pack.
The next WRX to enter Hot Wheel’s catalog was the third generation hatchback, specifically the facelifted model with the broad fenders. Debuting in the 2012 New Models, the blue hatch (and its red recolor) was simple, yet effective. STi text was laid over STi, with the number 12 being placed like a race entrant. The white 10-spokes fit the casting perfectly (the Walmart exclusive Redline 5-spokes, not so much) and it gets bonus points for having sideview mirrors.
The second release, first in white and then of course, blue, featured a multicolored asymmetrical line pattern and a stylized number 14. Curiously, only the white one’s spoiler received a tampo pass. That ’14’ would return adorning 2014’s Treasure Hunt, but its origins remain unknown. I reached out to Leeway Chang via Instagram about being the designer of the casting, since conflicting information is posted to the Hot Wheels Fandom. While Leeway Motorsports appears on 2013’s release, he can’t take credit for it. He’s just a big Subaru fan. The casting has lead a prolific life, finally being elevated to premium status for 2019’s Fast and Furious Off-Road series, ironically the only one of that set I passed on.
Mark Jones once again crushed it with 2017’s Cars & Donuts Bugeye WRX STI. And while it’s painted Rally Blue and fitted with bronze wheels, a standard car it is not. Oh no. The hood, front bumper, cup mirrors, rear spoiler and roll cage all indicate this is a decommissioned WRC slayer. Curiously, it’s LHD, so what is it, a French market car, ha. No matter, I bought every one I found (which weren’t many, sadly) and have a nice little stash. It was then released in 2019 as a Gumball 3000 contender, but that pales in comparison.
That blue Bugeye was my favorite Impreza casting right up until the announcement of one of the most legendary Imprezas ever – the 22B STi.
The real car was built in 1998 to commemorate Subaru being awesome at rallying. All 400 units produced for Japan sold out almost immediately. It came in only one color – Sonic Blue (the same as Rally Blue, FYI). The protruding fenders and massive wing gave it the appearance of a retired rally monster. The coupe oozes presence and I was fortunate to be in the same ZIP code as one at a C&C last year. And not to brag, but I even got to sit in the RHD driver’s seat. I’m so cool, ha!
The 22B casting, designed by Ryu Asada, is near perfect. Front and rear tampos are complemented by accurate proportions and appropriately colored 10-spokes, although I can’t help but wonder what lace wheels would have looked like. The only uncertainties I have about the presentation: the rear is a little cartoonish and the lights should be red and clear, not red and amber. Again, Leeway clarified they tried silver (clear), but it popped too much. Of course, it was initially released in HW’s version of Sonic Blue in the 2020 B Case. When it came time to order a case for the GameStop mail-in, I was stoked to find they were B cases. Afterwards, I stopped at my local GameStops and bought all the 22Bs I could find. When Walmart started putting B cases out, I bought more. I’m sure ten years from now, when I have my decennial panic attack that I’ve got too many tiny cars, I’ll open a shoebox to find it full of 22Bs and still smile.
Business 101 states Mattel needs to cash in on a casting by issuing recolors. Thus a conundrum is born. The red and limited Zamac versions are unnecessary to me, but I understand their existence. I still feel it’s like introducing an alternate version of the Mystery Machine. I am, however, looking forward to its eventual premium release. I think a Car Culture Subaru Rally Team would make the world a better place.
The other new casting for 2020 went straight to premium. The 2016 WRX STI, with its body in white (and wheels), was released as part of the Fast & Furious: Fast Tuners series. There’s not much to say of the casting other than its custom bodywork lends itself as a shoe-in for a [hopeful] future rally series. It’s the first of the current WRX to be produced by Hot Wheels and rounds out their repertoire of Subaru’s compact sedan.
Next we move over to the orange brand. Matchbox only has two Imprezas in its quiver, the Subaru Impreza Police (1/61) and a ’15 WRX STI, also specifically a police car. The former, a Hawkeye STI (2005 – 2007), has been issued half a dozen times in its 12 years a casting. Its 2019 outing in the To The Rescue 5-pack reassigns the light bar to become one with the window section instead of being a separate piece atop the roof. It aligns more in design with the ’15 cop car, but doesn’t make it less awkward. On the contrary, it does resurrect a casting that hasn’t been seen since 2014, although I skipped the 5-pack purchase for just one car. I’d prefer adjustment over absence any day. It should be noted this is another from the creative genius that is Ryu Asada.
I was very excited when the second Subaru was announced during the Gathering (I believe). I’ll admit though, the execution of the casting was a letdown for me. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was until I compared it to the same model from Majorette. The Subie is stubby. The front and rear overhangs look as if they’ve been pinched by an overzealous great aunt. The blob of of a lightbar doesn’t help its cause, either.
2017’s debut livery of Battenburg markings helped to distract the eyes from the poor proportions. The subsequent release in Japanese police black and white probably works better in theory than in practice. It takes a second glance to notice the metallic paint and the bronze accent line. Overall, the casting as a stand-alone is passable. But as a follow-up to the phenomenal Hawkeye, it falls a tad flat.
Majorette made a brief reappearance in the United States in the nation’s Toys”R”Us stores. Unfortunately, the French brand went down with the ship as the Titanic of toy stores sunk. It has a strong presence across the globe otherwise, but its larger scale leaves little room for them in my collection. Before they departed the market, I did pick up a majority of what they offered, including two issues of the same fourth generation WRX STI casting (road and race). While the color is bang on, the scale isn’t (1/58). The gold wheels look the part color wise, but their generic design is shared across the casting catalog. The opening doors sit flush when they’re closed, but bare metal door jams hint at shortcomings in the painting process. The detail of jeweled headlights balance out the blandness of painted tails. If you’re a Majorette collector, you’ll be happy to have these two. For me, I’m content with just having these French Subarus in my collection and not actively searching for suitable stablemates.
CM’s has a reputation for recreating some of the most famous rally cars to ever tear up dirt and tarmac. Of the numerous Imprezas in their arsenal, I have two: the 2003 WRC of Mäkinen and Lindström contesting the Wales Rally GB, and the 2006 WRC of Solberg for the Rallye Monte Carlo. Both are painted up in Subaru World Rally Team colors of blue with highlighter yellow design. And although mine are missing the ancillary antennae, the detail is off the charts. If you’re feeling fancy, there are a few box sets on eBay that will require a large monetary commitment to bring home. Do it for me.
Kyosho has an interesting selection of limited production Imprezas, including the S204, S206 and the only one I have, the 22B. I’ve lavished enough praise unto the car itself, but Kyosho’s interpretation nailed it. The wheels are accurate representatives of the BBS found on the real car. And the unsheathed fog lights portray a rally machine for the street, ready to go. The realism pairs up nicely with my 1/18 AUTOart 22B.
Some honorable mentions before I move on to the main event. Tarmac Works offers both an S207 and an S208, along with various racing versions. I haven’t picked any up yet, but they’re on my shortlist. AUTOart makes a 1/64 version of the “new age” WRX, aka the Bugeye. While it would be a nice addition considering the color, plastic wheels and tampo printed lights are hard to justify the price point (it averages $40 on eBay). I will patiently wait until a bargain rolls up. They also make a 2002 WRC Monte Carlo Rally that looks to be worth the equal asking price. It would be nice to see Tomica Limited Vintage get on board with a standard WRX. And knowing Tomica Premium has a 22B (1/61) and seeing as they just released a contemporary Legacy wagon, I hope that means it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.
If I haven’t made myself clear, the GC Impreza is my absolute favorite version. Gran Turismo 2 for PlayStation offered ample opportunities to pilot a multitude of variations, spread across sedans, coupes and wagons. Beyond my 1/64 collection, and besides the aforementioned AUTOart 22B, I also have two 1997 WRX STi Type Rs (one yellow, one blue) and a WRX sedan in white. I also have a Subaru World Rally Team WRC version (not sure the exact one, as it’s packed away) and regrettably sold a Norisbank WRC and another WRT WRC. I went through a brief, but devastating (to my 1/18 collection, that is) period in which a number of my prized models were sold for pennies on the dollar. Something about trying to please a girl at the time.
So, a round of applause for the opening acts, but it’s time for the headliner.
Hobby Japan is a 1/64 scale brand that wasn’t on my radar more than a year ago, even though from what I gather they’ve been in business (maybe not diecast) for more than a half century. Their website isn’t the easiest to navigate, even with Google Translate. The first I recalled hearing of the brand was when they introduced the third generation Honda Prelude last year. I missed out adding that one to my collection before values went up (they average $50 on eBay in various colors). If memory serves me right, the next release was a Toyota Soarer, another one worthy of a spot in anyone’s JDM collection. Those two are great, but I’m here to pour praise on their latest (to me, at least) wonders – the GC Subaru Impreza.
Hobby Japan’s Subaru Impreza GC8 comes in three flavors: standard WRX, STi Version II, and the STi Version II Type RA. As an added bonus, an additional Sports Blue is adorned in rally decos.
There are five colors, including Cosmic and Sports Blue, Fether [sic] White, Active Red, and Light Silver. With the exception of the blues, each color gets a standard WRX issue and an STI version. Initial impression is great, especially considering the cost and quantity of my purchase.
Visually, the display box is nearly the same as INNO64 and Tarmac Works. A cardboard sleeve surrounds an acrylic case attached to a plastic base, all wrapped up in cellophane. There is a marking on the back of the sleeve denoting the specifics of the contents, which is helpful if you buy all of them, detach them for photos, and then wonder how you’re going to return them to the correct packaging.
Once they’re out in the open, further inspection can commence. While the treaded rubber tires aren’t as jammed into place as an INNO64 or certain Tarmacs, they wouldn’t make it very far down a track or even pushed across the counter. Behind the wheels, either silver split 5-spokes or gold 5-spokes, you’ll notice detailed calipers and rotors. A tab on the rotor assembly prevents that part from moving with the wheel, but I’m sure that’s causing the rolling resistance. I’m not about to grease the brakes, but if anyone more hands-on than I takes a stab at it with any success, let me know.
Further distinguishing the STi from the standard WRX are a taller spoiler and fog light covers. The Feather White STi Version II Type RA and the Sports Blue STi both have roof scoops, as does the rally example. The badging is also specific to each model, with STi’s receiving the pink grille emblem, fender token and more artistic ‘WRX’ script on the trunk. Otherwise, the differences are conducted by paint application, or lack thereof. The Type RA has painted side skirts and front/rear lower valences, but black door handles and mirror caps. Inside, the front seats seem to share the same shape, but the pattern within the mold is different.
As for the quality of the paint, it’s mostly hit, however there are some defects that should be addressed. The Active Red STi has an inexcusable discoloration on the driver’s door. The silver WRX front passenger wheel has an extra ring of foil on it, reminding me of the early UT Models and how you could scrape off the silver on their wheels with your fingernail. It also has deep scratches on the fender/door. Finally, it looks like someone keyed the white WRX under the passenger mirror. Minor, but noticeable. And I understand statistically I was bound to see some QC issues.
When parked next to the Kyosho and CM’s, it’s apparent the 1/64 scaling is correct. I can overlook the oddity of the Hot Wheels and Matchbox (although they’re not far off), but if I’m paying top dollar for accuracy, I expect it. The Majorettes, on the other hand, look like monsters in comparison.
I don’t know why I’m such a stickler for scaling, either. I don’t currently have any dioramas to display the cars on. Yet. I did preorder a TLV parking lot and am excited for Mini GT’s mat as well. One day, maybe, when I have a spare room, I may build a little town. I enjoy the realism of scale, even if it’s just on my desktop.
I still take issue with the plastic chassis, but I understand the development costs are presumably detoured towards their display boxes. I suspect many collectors will keep them MIB and that’s fine. But I still think these boutique companies should cater a bit more to the DLMer and invest in the chassis, too.
Overall, despite the trivial flaws, I couldn’t be more happy with this conglomeration of Japanese super sedans. Today’s diecast collector has such a wide range of subjects they can add to their cart, so it’s exciting when a lesser known model gets produced. I hope Hobby Japan goes the distance with the casting and continues to offer up more Imprezas. And is often the case when researching my posts, I traveled to the ends of the Internet and stumbled upon and purchased a book on the WRX and its complete history (through 2006). I definitely don’t need anymore reading material given the stacks of magazines I’ve yet to conquer, but for my wife’s sake, at least it’s not a 1:1. Though I will get me a WRX. Oh, I will.