Sam's Car





  This page is no longer being updated. After you've looked at the engine swap check out my latest engine swap page.

 My next car... (No kidding either:) One time I asked my father to buy me a car. It was the only time I asked him that because he told me that he had to work for his first car, and I too would have to work for mine if I wanted one. I wasn't too happy about it at the time but I did end up doing exactly what he said: A couple summer jobs and an Internship at a Nuclear Power plant and not only did I buy my own car, but I also paid for it in full without taking out any kind of loan. It may not be the nicest car around, but I like it a lot. So much in fact that some times I will go drive it around just for fun. I created this page to share some of what I like about cars and also point out some of the things I have done to make mine a lot better. I hope you can share my enthusiasm and would love to hear from a fellow car enthusiast about what you did to you car and how it worked for you.
 HOWEVER, I don't want to hear about: 1- How you car is better than mine (good for you, I don't care), 2- Body kits, coffee can exhausts, altezza tail lights, hydraulic suspension, chrome rims, 5000W+ sound systems, etc, etc, etc... I can't stand ricer cars (rice = trying to make you car look "fast" or "pimp" and ending up looking stupid). Check out riceboy's page if you are into that stuff.

Videos are at the bottom of the page.


 The goal:

Cleaning snow off my car after our first snow storm in November. Living in Upper Peninsula Michigan, the snowiest place in the United states, I get about 8 months of winter driving every year (typically it snows from October to May), where driving through ice, deep snow, blizzards, -38F temperatures and having to throw the car out of the road into a snow bank to make it stop before it skids right through an intersection is common place. After two winters I decided that I would absolutely not get a car that was not all wheel drive. I also can not stand SUVs and trucks. I think they are slow, gaz guzzling, rollover prone. It boggles my mind that someone would buy a huge off-road vehicle to drive themselves to work every day; alone, and on strictly paved roads...
 It turns out that there are very few options for an all wheel drive car on the market today:  All Subarus, the Jaguar Xtype, BMW 3**Xi, Audi, Porsche Carrera4 and the new Lamborghini, if you want to count that :)
 Of that list, Subarus are of course the most affordable ones. At the time the Impreza WRX was the car to have, but once I was quoted over $5000 a year for insurance (on a perfect driver's record!) I decided that something cheaper would have to do. The next best thing to a WRX is the Subaru Impreza 2.5RS; introduced in 1998, it is the original "road legal rally car"; aggressive styling, good handling, decent power, and well within my budget. It is also 300 pounds lighter than the WRX, has no turbo lag, more low end torque and arguably handles better. It is also rather rare: It took me a couple of months to find one like I wanted and I ended up having to fly to New York to get it. The car I bought was a '99 being sold on Ebay by a doctor who seemed to have taken good care of it and still had it under warranty... I never actually saw the vehicle until I bought it, nor had I ever ridden in one before, but I was still very satisfied with it. The previous owner even did some of the very same performance upgrades I had in mind.


 The car:

 Women and cars: the perfect mix :) This is essentially the same platform that allowed Subaru to dominate the World Rally Championship for 3 years in a row:
 16 valve 2.5 liter SOHC 4 cylinder boxer engine putting out 165HP @ 5600 RPM 166ft/lbs @ 4000RPM stock,
16" alloy wheels, 2800 pounds, rally tuned suspension with 6.1" ground clearance,
 Full time all wheel drive with 3 viscous coupling differentials (center/front/rear) splitting power all the time between each wheel and transferring the most power to the wheel with the most traction.

 I got a 5 speed manual 1999 black coupe (my favorite:). This is one of the rarest Imprezas around; there are less than one thousand of these in the United States!

Side view







 Rear view.

Car interior. Standard features include:

16" Aluminium Alloy Wheels
ABS Brakes
Fog Lights
Intermittent Wipers
Tinted Glass
Air Conditioning
AM/FM/CD/Cassette Audio System
Bucket Seats (Velour/Cloth)
Dual Front Air Bags
Ground Effects
Leather Steering Wheel
Rear Window Defroster
Sport Suspension
Tilt Steering Wheel
Power Brakes
Power Mirrors
Power Sunroof
Power Door Locks
Power Steering
Power Windows
 Options Installed:
Underseat Subwoofer
Cruise Control
Remotely activated motion sensor alarm



 I must say that modifying one's car is addictive: Making performance enhancements on your car brings back that wonderful thrill of driving something new, and of course makes you want more improvements. Some people seem to like slowing their cars down with fiberglass body kits, big sound systems, stupid looking heavy chrome rims, large dia. wheels, etc. For me, what really does it is adding horsepower; I got my driver's license when I was 18 (legal driving age in Brazil) learning to drive on a 56-horsepower 1L VW Golf, so when I got to drive the Subaru with 165 horses I was thrilled by how quickly it accelerated through the gears, and, of course, excited about the possibility of making it pick up speed even faster. Right now its got around 200 horsepower at the crank and it will peel all 4 tires on a hard 1st/2nd gear change, but as the saying goes, you can never have too much power... Its easy getting used to that kind of power (200HP is by no means a lot by sports car standards) and wanting more. Originally I wanted to turbo it, but for the +- 5000 dollars it would cost I figured I might as well sell the car and buy a car that was turbo to start off with (WRX), plus a lot of people have blown EJ25 engines with turbos and I figured I couldn't afford it if it happened to me. Instead I decided to go naturally aspirated. Here is my upgrade path so far:

 Transmission / Clutch / Flywheel:
 Viscous Coupling Limited Slip Differential (LSD), Whiteline Urethane rear differential bushings, 13lbs lightened flywheel, Exedy pro street clutch, STI Short-Throw shifter,  STI Transmission mount, stainless steel braided clutch line, polyurethane shifter bushings, MOMO shifter knob.
 Stainless steel braided brake lines, kevlar brake pads, Brembo cross drilled brake rotors
 Borla headers, Borla catback, Random Technologies high flow catalytic converter, Injen Cold Air Intake, Unorthodox Racing Under Drive Pulley, Apexi Super Air Flow Converter
 OEM Subaru 20mm rear sway bar, polished aluminum front strut bar, 17 x 7" aluminum alloy wheels with 215 45 17 Kuhmo Ecsta MX tires (summer only).
VIS Racing Carbon Fiber Hood, Carbon Fiber interior trim, Clear side markers, clear corner lens, clear bumper lights, Sylvania SilverStar headlamps and corner bulbs, Sparco pedals, Impreza Trunk Mat and storage bag.

 Oh, and the most important: The Escort Passport 8500 radar detector. I bought it before I even bough a car. It still didn't prevent me from getting tickets in 4 states and 2 countries and having my license restricted, but it definitely paid for itself due to countless other tickets it saved me from. I have a real problem keeping the car under the speed limit, but I'm working on it :-/

 Here is some more info on my upgrades and the reasoning behind them. I have put them in the approximate order I think anyone wanting to upgrade their car should go, and explained why.

Tires / Wheels:

 I bought the car with BF Goodrich Comp T/A 215/50 R16 all season tires. They were nice, but once snow hit I got stuck a couple times and then sliding out on a straight road at 40MPH in winter. I ended up hitting a guard rail and breaking a $140 fog lamp which reinforced to me the well known fact that all wheel drive is not enough; in order to drive safely in snow/ice, you need real snow tires.
 I opted for Dunlop WinterSport M2s (38.5lbs tire/wheel combo); These are used on Porches sold in cold climates and even though they are real snow tires, they are still rated for a top speed of 130MPH, so I assumed that dry traction on them would not be that horrible. During the 15000+ miles I drove last winter I only got stuck once, and it was due to insufficient ground clearance (the tires were lifted off the ground while I was rallying on a unplowed snowmobile trail!). On several occasions I found myself driving right around 4x4 trucks and SUVs that were stuck on steep hills spinning their tires in vain. They stop in snow about as well as a regular tire does in lose dirt or gravel. High speed traction, however, was not so great; at around 60 - 70MPH on a snowy road the car became very "tail happy" and on two occasions where I drove to fast for conditions it fishtailed and almost went out of control. There were other cars on the road driving at similar speeds that did not seem to have the same problem, so I am attributing it to the tires. It has been proposed that this might be due to the stiff swaybar on the back; lowering the pressure on the rear tires did help a bit. All in all, these are definitely superior to any all season tire, but next winter I'm probably getting other tires; perhaps the WinterSport M3s.

Kuhmo Ecsta MX Maximum Performance Summer Tires (205 55 16). "WOW!" Going from snow tires to these was incredible; No tire squeal on high speed turns, no sliding even at twice the suggested turn speed. The first time I tried to send the car into a controlled slide with these the lateral force was so great that my seat belt caught me as I almost slid off the seat! Passengers get very nervous when you approach a corner at speeds that would send any regular car off the road and then take it with complete confidence... These have convinced me to never again buy all season tires; only Max Performance tires on summer and snow tires in winter... For anyone upgrading their car my first and foremost recommendation is to get the best, widest tires you can. Ultimately the only thing holding your car on the road are those 4 small rubber contact patches, so if you don't have good tires, everything else (handling, braking, acceleration, safety) is compromised.
 These lasted me 3 months of "spirited" driving. Most of the tire wear occurred during autocrosses (timed race laps around a relatively low speed circuit) where I was clearly driving the car too hard and making the tires slide with relatively low tire pressure (40F 35R). After maybe 9000 miles the tires were completely bald and the sidewalls were worn down to the beginning of the lettering.

 Kazera KZ-V alloy wheel with Kuhmo Ecsta MX tire mounted.

 Kazera KZ-V 17 x 7" Shot Peened lightweight aluminum alloy wheel with 215 45 17 Kuhmo Ecsta MX tires.
 If your tires determine the handling of the car, obviously you want the best, widest tires you can fit under you wheel well. Right now the Falken Azenis and the Kuhmo MXs appear to be the best road legal tires in autocross events (you can be *much* faster with R-Compound tires such as Hoosiers, if you can afford to be swapping tires around before each event). The Azenis is arguably better on a dry road but I picked the MX because it handles much better in wet conditions, which is important where I live. I also upgraded my wheel diameter so as to have less tire deflection on hard corners; the main reason for my previous tires lasting such a short amount of time. These new tires are also wider. With 53PSI in front and 45PSI on the rear the tire deflection is exactly where it should be (verified by putting chalk marks on the sidewall and doing laps around the circuit, then checking how far the sidewalls rolled), and the tires will not only grip better, but also last longer. These wheels weight one pound more than my stock wheels, (39.1lbs with tires mounted & balanced). Ideally you want the lightest wheels possible for performance driving, but hitting a pothole with a 13pound aluminum rim usually ends up being very expensive, so I went with these because of their greater strength. I also keep my winter tires on the stock wheels, so I can swap back and forth without paying for mounting/balancing.

Safety: Braking

Brembo break kit. Alloy wheels showing the Brembo cross drilled rotors and PBR pads. Before I ever installed any real performance mods I decided to get a new brake system: the stock one had a "mushy" pedal feel that I seriously disliked, and plus the 4 year old rotors I had on were very worn and glazed.  I went for a complete kit: Brembo cross drilled brake rotors, PBR Metal Master semi metallic brake pads and stainless steel braided, Teflon coated brake lines. I could not believe the difference this made! The stock Subaru brake lines are rubber and expand during breaking: with these new lines and the new pads/rotors all I have to do is tap the brake pedal and the car instantly stops. Locking all 4 wheels up requires about 2-3 inches of pedal travel on dry pavement, and even at very high speeds the high temperature brake pads and the cross drilled holes on the rotors ensure fast stops with virtually no fading. I feel *much* safer driving the car now. Brembo makes rotors for Porsche, Mercedes, and other top brands. Highly recommended!

Exterior Looks:

Car at night. Xenon HID lookalike lamps:

 These are not actual plasma discharge lamps, but these 7200K halogen bulbs are about as close to blue HIDs as you can get without spending 400 dollars on a complete kit (I bought headlamps + foglight bulbs for $36 on ebay). They looked great, and really helped with night driving, but after 3 months using them both low beams burned out simultaneously, and they chose to do so when I was an hour away from home, during one of the foggiest days of the year. A lot of people have complained about these bulbs not lasting very long, and now I'm joining the general consensus that they are not worth buying. I am now using Sylvania Silverstars, which are not quite as blue, but are 30% brighter than stock bulbs. My last pair lasted me about 6 months. When they burn out again I will probably buy PIAA. I am starting to decide that aftermarket blue tinted bulbs simply don't last as long as regular ones. I still think the benefit in night driving is worth the more frequent replacements though.
 Note: It is illegal to have blue fog lights in some states.



 VIS Carbon fiber hood, Sparco Hood Pins, Clear Corner lens, clear signal lens, PIAA driving bulbs, Silicone Wipers, HELLA Dual tone horns:

 To compliment the Silverstars I got clear bumper lens and clear turn signals. The driving lamps on the corner lens are PIAA Plasma White; they compliment the SilverStars very well!
 I also bought PIAA Silicone Windshield Wipers; my stock wipers kept freezing to the window during winter; Silicone rubber retains its properties at a much greater temperature range than regular rubber and thus works a lot better in winter. I find that when my windshield is treated with RainX (RainX is a silicone base in alcohol which coats glass and gives it water repellent properties) the wipers glide even easier along its surface. Snow and ice don't seem to stick to it, and rain bounces right off. Unfortunately RainX produces a lot of glare, so I avoid it if I know I'll be doing a lot of night driving.
 Behind my front grill the dual Hella horns can be seen installed in front of the radiator. They draw 20A and put out over 130DB. The stock Subaru horn was pathetic and needed replacement. Michigan leads the United States in vehicle/animal collisions and one of the advantages of these horns is that some times they are loud enough to get deer to jump out of the way when they freeze in front of your headlights. They also feel very appropriate when someone cuts me off in traffic.

Carbon fiber hood and sparco hood pinsCar front at night

Car side picture







Car front in garage.









 Underside of car showing Borla muffler, Borla Stainless Steel downpipe, Polyurethane exhaust hangers, Differential protector and Rear Sway Bar. (all aftermarket). Rear Differential Protector: Since I drive a fair amount off-road, this was my first mod. I had it done at the Subaru dealership: an 80 dollar steel plate that will save a 800 dollar part :) In the picture you can also see the 18mm rear sway bar, the stainless steel Borla exhaust downpipe and my SS Borla muffler.





 Under the hood: Sway Bar, Short Ram Intake, K&N Air Filter, Under Drive Pulley and an European "Impreza" badge.

 Originally the car had an Amsoil high flow air filter. I removed it and installed a Rallitek Short Ram Intake with a K&N Air filter: Subaru's original intake has two air boxes, two filters and a resonator to quiet the entire intake down. The short ram intake was lighter and less restrictive, but it made a *lot* of noise at high RPMs with the throttle wide open; it was louder than my aftermarket exhaust, the wind rushing past the car at high speed, and the cd player on all at once. It got very annoying The intake also leaned the engine out horribly; the engine would go into fuel cut at 5500RPM and I was forced to install an air fuel controller and run 22% extra fuel at redline. I ended up removing it installing another intake system in its place.

 The "I" Badge is used on the European Imprezas.  Here is an older picture of the engine. The aftermarket front sway bar stiffens the car body and reduces body roll during sharp turns.

Engine bay.

 This is a more recent picture of my engine bay (after my best efforts at degreasing and power washing) with the intake I am currently using; an Injen Cold Air Intake. It is a lot quieter than the J tube intake, and it requires a lot less air/fuel correction to run the engine at its optimal ratio. Cold Air Intakes also provide more power than conventional intakes by pulling in denser colder air from outside the engine bay. I originally worried about the intake sucking in water to the engine, but with the current filter positioning I would have to drive through over a foot of water to do that. I also plugged the resonator hole in the fender well to further quiet down the intake and ensure only cold air gets sucked in. Also seen in this picture is my Primitive Racing aluminum radiator shroud; the radiator foam broke down so I installed this shroud to ensure optimum air flow over the radiator. I later painted the belt cover since its paint rusted off. To be added still: Magnecor spark plug wires, Optima yellow top deep cycle battery and grounding kit. I run my hood vent covers open to keep the engine cold (all the Subaru cars at the SCCA rally do it, so I figured it couldn't hurt), so it takes a lot of work to keep it this clean.
 A note on intakes; On most cars installing an aftermarket intake will never yield much gains unless you can adjust the air/fuel ratio for the new intake. On this particular car installing and tuning an S-AFC makes a huge difference (see further down).

Unorthodox Under drive lightened racing pulley. Unorthodox Racing Under Drive Lightweight crankshaft pulley (and associated belts): a smaller diameter pulley then the standard one that is installed on the the engine: it transfers slightly less power to the alternator, power steering and AC system. It is also 4 pounds lighter than the stock pulley. Manufacturers claim 2.7 horsepower is gained for every pound lost at the engine crankshaft, and an extra 15% more power for under driving. A lot of people claim this helps a lot; I found that adding a lightweight flywheel helped much more.


 Limited Slip differential, Whiteline polyurethane differential mounts, Stainless Steel Braided Clutch Line, Short Throw Shifter, Polyurethane Shifter Bushing, STI hardened Transmission mount. These provide the car with a very short, precise, crisp shifter feeling. It will basically go through gears as fast as the synchronizers will allow it to.

Exedy Pro Street clutch kit (clutch plate, throw out bearing and pressure plate): I managed to burn out the clutch at less than 55 000 miles, and got quoted $600 for a stock Subaru replacement clutch. Exedy makes the stock one and also makes one that costs a lot less and handles 45% more torque than the stock clutch, so that was my option. The initial break in process made the car a lot jerkier, and it also likes to bounce a bit when it is very cold, but otherwise it drives like the stock clutch. It still cost a lot (7 hours of labor) to replace it and I wasn't planning on having to do this, but at least I should be set as far as the clutch goes.



Act Streetlite flywheel (13lbs) After I broke my transmission I figured I'd help reduce the stress on the gears during gear changes. As an added bonus, it also makes the car a lot snappier when accelerating from low speeds in the first 2 gears. This proved to be a great advantage at autocross events. The drawback was making the car jerkier as well. Still highly recommended.


Limited Slip Differential and polyurethane differential bushings: I swapped out my rear viscous coupling differential for a viscous coupling LSD from a 2000 Impreza RS. The car now feels a lot like a rear wheel drive vehicle on low traction surfaces; the back end will swing out very easily by applying the throttle. It is also harder to get stuck, since the LSD will force both rear wheels to turn even if one of them is in a completely slick surface. The white line bushings on the differential mount eliminated the loud "thump" sound Subarus make when you shift hard.

 Full Stainless Steel Exhaust:

Borla Exhaust HeadersBorla Catback Exhaust.














BORLA Exhaust Headers and Catback Exhaust System, Random Technology High Flow Catalytic Converter, Magnaflow Resonator, polyurethane hangers: I had the entire exhaust system of the car rebuilt with all stainless steel parts. The piping is all 2 1/4" diameter; larger than stock, but not so large as to remove all backpressure and kill the low end torque. The headers optimize gas flow and give the boxer engine a deep mellow rumbling sound. The high flow catalytic converter and Borla down pipe with straight through tip free up gas flow and add more horsepower. Once I was all done I decided I did not like the raspyness of the metallic core high flow cat, so I added a 3.5"x14" stainless steel Magnaflow resonator to the downpipe, and that quieted down the exhaust tone and removed the raspy sound. The whole system weights less than stock, but I still have it held by heavy duty polyurethane hangers to minimize movement during heavy cornering. Modesty aside, this is one of the very best sounding cars I have ever heard, and the full exhaust system provides the engine with a very noticeable power increase, both at the low and high end.
 On sunny days I like to turn the CD player off, open the windows, and let the engine rev up on straight ways just to listen to its sound :) Make sure to check out the videos at the end of this page to hear what it sounds like.


Apexi S-AFC on gauge pod. APEXI S-AFC Fuel Air Controller: I bought it installed in a carbon fiber faceplate on the optional Subaru gauge pod from someone that had the same car as mine. Almost looks like Subaru put it there themselves :)The Air Fuel Controller intercepts the intake manifold air flow sensor signal and connects to the engine Electronic Control Unit, allowing me to change the signal going to the ECU from -50% to + 50% in 500RPM increments. By tricking the engine ECU into thinking there is more or less air going into the engine I can make the car run leaner or richer, not only taking full advantage of the improved "breathing" ability of the new intake, headers and exhaust, but also being able to run a more aggressive air/fuel curve that is optimized for power, torque and performance. It also monitors and displays my throttle position, engine RPM and intake manifold pressure...
 One very neat trick to do with the S-AFC is to connect the second input sensor wire from it (normally destined to a MAP sensor on MAP-equipped cars) to the oxygen sensor in front of the catalytic converter. This allows the S-AFC to read and display the oxygen sensor voltage, from which the air/fuel ratio can be deduced. This makes it possible to tune the fuel curve at different RPM points to stoichiometry (+-0.840V).

Sparco racing pedals and dead pedal: Excellent for heel-toe driving; they also look and feel much better than the stock ones and slip a lot less when wet. I can't wait to get some Sparco racing shoes to go with them.







Shredded 2nd gear.

 The upgrades above allowed the car to make around 200crank horsepower; perhaps a tad under. It could spin all 4 off the line in the dry, and spin them again in 2nd if the pavement was wet. It felt very fast, and very much fun. It also broke the transmission twice; the 5th gear hub nut backed off the first time (there is a service bulletin out on this; I tried to get it taken care off as soon as I realized what was happening, but it broke on the way to the dealership) and it sheared off every single teeth in the 2nd gear when I power shifted 1-2. I also spun a rear axle bearing. The best part of course is that my engine blew up. See at the bottom of the page.


Sliding the car sideways under full power around a fast corner.

 I've also been getting involved in autocrosses; it is a LOT of fun and a great way to improve my driving skills. Auto-x was the main reason behind me buying kuhmo tires. I was able to come 2nd at my last autocross event, beating cars such as a Corvette Z06, a modified Dodge Viper, a Golf GTI anniversary edition, a Golf R32, Audis, other Subarus, etc... and hope to do even better next summer once I am further down the upgrades path. Here are some pictures and videos of my last auto cross in Appleton, WI.









Ice racing in Wisconsin.


Wet Launch (5MB): easy clutch slip on 1st gear, ride 1st to 6000RPM, slip clutch at redline into second. You can hear all 4 tires lose traction and spin as the car slides going from 1st to 2nd. Very nice display of power. The road was wet though, so it doesn't count. Still, its pretty impressive to see how fast it accelerates from a standstill on completely wet pavement; you can hear me go into 3rd gear at the end of the video; by then the car is going around 60mph.
Flooring into the finish line (3.2MB): 2nd gear, going through a slalom, then around a corner and wide open throttle towards the finish line. Probably going 50MPH or so.
Interior sound (.5MB): Going from about 4500 to 6000RPM in first gear in one second, filmed from inside the car.
Wipeout! (8.2MB): Coming around a slalom on wet pavement too fast; I give the car gas, tail comes around, try to overcorrect, the car spins out of control and out of the road. This was actually a pretty good run before I lost it. I come back to the road by giving it gas and doing a long burnout (I actually tried to do a doughnut but it didn't work).
Donuts: (10MB)Now with a positrack rear differential it will do donuts on command, just like a rear wheel drive :)

Donuts in reverse: (1MB)Works just as well as going forward. Try that in a RWD car...

Donuts in parking lot: (15.3MB) This is a good one :)



 Top speed: On a slight decline it will bounce off the rev limiter in 5th gear. This is about 144MPH (Just don't ask me how I know this...:)


 The end:

 With under 200 miles to go to 80K my engine spun a piston rod bearing. This engine had been perfectly maintained and run on Mobil 1 Synthetic 10W30 changed every 3500 miles every time and allowed to warm up before hard driving but apparently it just didn't like to live at high RPMs all the time. As a result, I am now swapping in a Japanese 300HP racing motor into it.

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Last updated 11/02/10

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