I’ve just spent the weekend at the Hungarian Grand Prix – more of which anon – but was disappointed to learn that the biggest news story of the week had actually taken place back here in Blighty. All sorts of questions arise – namely, is Michael Schumacher so down on his luck these days that he has resorted to driving a Fiat Ducato for a living?
I want a Subaru Impreza. This is not an unusual statement for anyone of a four-wheeled bent to make: 15 years after launch, the iconic flat-four is still achingly desirable, quick as hell and the benchmark against other sensible-but-loopy cars are judged. But I’m not interested in the weird new hatchback version, nor collectibles like the Prodrive-developed RB5, not even the barmier-than-thou two-door 22B. No, what I’m after is a mid-1990s, bog-standard Turbo. It has got to be clean, and I would prefer it not to be modified. But above all, it needs to be cheap – very cheap – and ready for collection… er, right about now.
I want an Impreza first and foremost so that I can take part in the McRae Gathering – a convoy of Subarus that’s being organised to honour the memory of former world rally champion Colin McRae, who was killed in a helicopter accident last autumn. The Gathering will take place at the end of August, running from McRae’s home town of Lanark to the Subaru World Rally Team base at Prodrive in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The organisers reckon that up to 1000 Subarus could be there. I want to be there too: Colin was my hero and I’d like to meet others inspired by him in the way that I was. And the only way to join the Gathering is to drive a Subaru. Ergo: I want an Impreza.
While the convoy is the catalyst, owning an Impreza is an itch I’ve wanted to scratch for much, much longer – ever since I wrote a preview feature for the Rally Great Britain in 1996, in fact. Our story required me to leg it from my home in north-west London to Kielder forest, on the Scottish borders, and back again in a day. To make this happen, I had a green Impreza Turbo press demonstrator loaned to me by Subaru UK. I just cannot tell you how being entrusted with this car felt to a 23-year-old whose hairiest petrolhead experiences up to that point had been at the wheel of an asthmatic MG Metro. The day is etched in my memory as one of the great driving adventures of my life; by its end, the Subaru had replaced another rally-bred icon, the Audi Quattro, at the top of my wish-list of extraordinary cars that might just about sensible enough to own without losing your shirt (or missus). But I never did own an Impreza, and if I don’t in time for the McRae Gathering I probably never will.
The gameplan for ‘my’ car is straightforward, although it’s fast becoming more complicated than I envisaged. I’m going to buy it in the next couple of weeks, use it for Colin’s convoy – which could mean putting anything from 500 to 1500 miles on the clock, depending on the point at which I join in – and then sell it on to a like-minded soul before its thirst for 98-octane sucks clean the dusty corners of my current account. (At least that’s what I’m telling my old lady. Right now part of me is already making plans to hang on to the Scooby for good, even if I have to stash it somewhere and keep schtum.)
But this is all hypothetical, because I still don’t have an Impreza despite three weeks of earnestly trawling the net for one. To start with I had no idea where the arse-end of the market for used Subes was: I suspected it could be somewhere around the grand mark, but didn’t know what sort of example that sort of cash would buy. ‘Something deeply frightening’, is the short answer. The grubby end of the Impreza ownership is a grim melange of dog-eared grey imports, gruesomely body-kitted Fast and the Furious clones and – worse of all – whistling sheds clumsily tricked up to deliver sphincter-tightening levels of boost (not for long, I’ll wager). My weapon of choice, an un-buggered-about-with first-generation Turbo within touching distance of two grand, doesn’t seem to exist; or if it does, it wasn’t for sale in the London area during July.
All is not lost though. It’s clear that I need to invest a few quid more, so I’m raising the bar to £2500. And while I would ideally like a saloon – because it’s the car Colin drove, and I love the innocuous looks – my budget will buy me a grey import four-door of uncertain provenance or a well-tended (if leggy) example of the oddball estate variant with 10 years under the wheels. I’m leaning towards the latter at the moment: in fact, there’s a clean-looking one on autotrader.com that I’m plucking up the courage to stick in an offer for this week. Wish me luck.