First Generation (GC8) Subaru Impreza WRX Buyer’s Guide

Without a doubt the first-generation Subaru Impreza WRX is one of the most iconic cars to come out of Japan. It would reimagine the somewhat quirky manufacturer from a company that was more known for producing vehicles for farmers, to an internationally recognised brand that created some of the most exciting performance cars ever created.

The first gen WRX proved to be a monster on rally stages across the world, winning three World Rally Championships in a row. It would also see success in other forms of motorsport as well, claiming class wins at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring. However, perhaps its greatest achievement though was providing incredible real-world performance in a package that was also practical for everyday use.

With all that in mind, it is easy to see why the first gen WRX has become one of the most sought after nineties Japanese classics, alongside the Toyota Supra MkIV, the Mazda RX-7, the Nissan GT-R and the different versions of the Mitsubishi Evolution.

In this guide we are going to be looking at everything you need to know about the first generation Subaru WRX, from its history, specifications and different models that were available. Of course we will also be looking at common problems with the car and what to look out for when buying one.

How to Use this First Gen Subaru WRX Buyer’s Guide

We have tried to make this buyer’s guide as comprehensive as possible, so it is a long piece of content. Use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To start with we will cover the history and specifications of the first generation WRX, along with the different models that were available. Following those sections, we will dive into the buyer’s guide section of the article and then we will go into more general car purchasing advice.

We would like to give a big thankyou to Turners Cars Christchurch for letting us come and take some photos of their 1999 WRX STI RA (plate MTJ810). You can read more about the specific car here.

The History of the Subaru Impreza WRX Gen 1 

While the Impreza WRX is without a doubt Subaru’s most famous rally car, it wasn’t the company’s first foray into the demanding world of motorsport. That title goes to the FF-1 that first competed in the 1971 Baja 500 in Northwestern Mexico. Sponsored by a California Subaru dealership and co-built by Noriyuki Koseki – a man who would play a pivotal part in the brand’s future – the flat-four equipped compact car showed potential. Unfortunately, while performance seemed good, the little Subaru would have to pull out of the event, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

Subaru’s (or Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd. as it was known at the time) head office had released that this pursuit had some major benefits for the company. The knowledge gained from preparing and improving the car for this event could be used to improve Subaru’s future vehicles and they decided to formally team up with Koseki for the next year.

The first official event entered into by this partnership was the 1972 Southern Cross Rally in Australia. Like the Baja 500 the previous year, the FF-1 was Koseki and Subaru’s weapon of choice for the event. The co-driver was Ryuichiro Kuza, another pivotal player in the formation of Subaru’s future motorsport division.

Koseki would once again compete in the Baja 500, but this time in a Subaru GL Coupe. He would return once more with an FF-1 for the 1973 season, before heading back to Japan to further develop Subaru’s rally presence.

Subaru and Koseki would continue to compete in rally events in Japan, however, it wasn’t until the 1988 that things got serious when Subaru Technical international Inc. was setup (STi – changed to STI from 2006 onwards). The new division consisted of a number of motorsport enthusiasts such as Koseki and Kuza, and it would take over all Subaru’s racing activities, with a particular focus on rally events.

Prior to the formation of STi, Koseki and his team had used the Subaru Leone for World Rally Championship events. While the car had some success during this time in the hands of legendary rally drivers such as Ari Vatanen and Possum Bourne, reliability problems were a constant plague on the team.

The first goal of the new motorsport division was to create a car that would be able to better handle the demanding stages of World Rally Championship Events. Kuze, the president of STi at the time, decided to partner with Prodrive, a British motorsport and engineering firm based in Oxfordshire. The first rally car developed under this new partnership would be based on the Subaru Legacy and would become known as the Legacy RS.

Subaru had specifically developed a new series of flat-4 aluminium alloy engines for the Legacy platform, with the EJ20 DOHC 2.0-litre turbocharged version making its way into the RS. With 220 hp (164 kW) on tap and a bodyweight of around 1,180 kg (2,600 lbs), Legacy RS was a serious performer.

STi had big plans for the car and its first major test was to set the world record for 100,000 km (62,000 mile) endurance driving at the FIA’s test track in Pheonix Arizona. A fleet of three modified Legacy RS sedans travelled continuously at an average speed of 223.4 km/h (138.8 mph) for almost 19 days straight to claim the record, stopping only for fuel and routine servicing.

With such a big achievement completed for the Legacy RS’s first test, the team at STi were keen to take the car rallying in 1990. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. While the Prodrive/Subaru pairing managed to claim fourth in the constructor’s title for the year, they failed to win an event, despite having rally greats Markku Alen and Possum Bourne behind the wheel.

The next year was almost as disappointing, however, things did improve at the end of the season. Prodrive hired a young Scottish driver by the name of Colin McRae. He had already competed in a number of WRC events since 1987, but 1991 was his first year as a professional. The fiery Scotsman quickly proved his worth in the Legacy RS, claiming first in the British Rally Championship and making his WRC debut as a pro Subaru driver at the RAC rally later in the season.

Despite finishing further down the field at the RAC event, Subaru and Prodrive were happy with McRae’s performance. He was resigned for 1992 and on his third official outing for the team he managed to take the Legacy RS to a second place finish.

However, the team at STi and Prodrive soon realised that the Legacy platform wasn’t going to be good enough to win them a world title. They needed something smaller and lighter to match their competitors. Luckily for them, Subaru was working on a car that would tick all the boxes they needed.

The Subaru Impreza Goes Rallying

The new Impreza was not in-fact a replacement for the Legacy, but for the more compact Leone that had been the basis of Subaru’s rally efforts for much of the previous decade. However, the car was based on a shortened version of the Legacy’s floor pan and was initial available as a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback, although, a coupe would come later in 1996.

Subaru’s new chassis design gave the team at STi and Prodrive plenty of wiggle room to make a car that would be more suitable for demanding rally stages. The combination of rally legend Ari Vatanen and the compact Impreza quickly proved its worth, claiming a podium finish at the car’s debut WRC event in Finland.

The car would appear again later in 1993, however, the Legacy RS was still the primary vehicle for the season. This would change for the next year, with the Impreza 555 being the main focal point of Subaru’s rally campaign.

Two-time WRC champion Carlos Sainz would join the lineup of McRae, Possum Bourne, and Richard Burns. He would take the Impreza to its first victory at the Acropolis Rally and more wins would come later in the season, with McRae winning the Rally New Zealand and the last event of the season, the RAC Rally.

The next three years would be a massive success for the Subaru team and the Impreza, with them taking three consecutive WRC constructors’ titles from 1995 to 1997. McRae would also win the 1995 driver’s title, solidifying his name in the record books.

The Subaru Impreza WRX Hits the Road (GC8B)

While the Subaru rally team was hitting the rally stages of the WRC, Japanese buyers had already got their chance to get their hands on the new Impreza. The rally inspired road-going Impreza WRX (World Rally eXperimental) launched in November 1992, some nine months before the WRC car made its debut.

The WRX was given many of the same technologies that were featured on the rally car, such as all-wheel drive, stiffer suspension and of course a turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine. Power for this first version of the WRX was rated at 237 bhp (177 kW), giving it more than enough oomph to keep up with all but the fastest cars in the real world (power was less for many non JDM markets).

Subaru also introduced a stripped-down version of the car labelled the WRX Type RA for the Japanese market. Targeted for those who wanted to go racing or rallying, the RA version was lighter in weight, with anything deemed unnecessary being removed (sound proofing, air conditioning, electric windows, etc.). RA cars also received stronger engines and a close ratio gearbox.

In the United Kingdom the WRX was labelled the Impreza Turbo 2000, while in Europe it was known as the Impreza GT. Both models featured significantly less power than the Japanese variant at around 208 bhp (155 kW).

1993 Changes (GC8A) and WRX STi

In October 1993, Subaru launched an updated Impreza WRX for the 1994 model year. The biggest change was the introduction of a wagon version of the WRX, however, this model produced slightly less power at 217 bhp (162 kW). All models also received solid brake discs at the rear as opposed to ventilated ones like on the previous year’s model.

Another big change for the model year was the introduction of the WRX STi in February 1994. For these “first year” STi cars, Subaru took 100 regular WRXs of the production line each month and gave them a number of upgrades. Power was boosted to 271 bhp (202 kW) and a lightened Type RA version was once again offered as an option.

1994 Changes (GC8C)

More changes to the WRX line up came in November 1994. The new 1995 model year WRX received a power boost to 256 bhp (191 kW) and larger 16-inch wheels covered new ventilated brake discs on the front and rear.

A special, WRX Sports Wagon version was also introduced specifically for the Japanese market. This car featured a number of additional parts such as a bull bar and trim pieces from the new Outback. Subaru also kitted the Sports Wagon out with a spare wheel mounted on the boot/tailgate that was named the “Impreza Gravel Express”. Unfortunately, the new car was quickly discontinued due to extremely poor sales, however, it did inspire Subaru to make another similar vehicle, the Forester.

The STi version of the car was retained as it proved to be a massive hit. Power remained the same, however, the STi was now built alongside the WRX at the same time, rather than being built from finished WRX cars.

To celebrate McRae’s success in the WRC, Prodrive created 200 “Series McRae” Imprezas for the Japanese market. The cars were numbered from 1 to 201 (13 was skipped) and they were given a special “Rally Blue” paintjob and 16-inch gold alloy wheels. Other features included special Recaro seats that were finished a Le Mans/Avus material. The rear seats and side panels were also trimmed in this material and the car also featured an electric sunroof.

A relatively minor update was introduced at the start of 1996, alongside a couple of new models, the WRX V-Limited Edition and the WRX STi Version II V-Limited. These cars were mechanically identical to their non-V-Limited counterparts, however, they came finished in a special “World Rally Blue” colour, with matching interior trim pieces.

Styling Changes at the End of 1996 (GC8D)

Subaru would bring some bigger updates to the Subaru Impreza WRX line-up for the 1997 model year (GC8D). Rated power from the 2.0-litre EJ20 engine would be bumped up to 276 bhp (206 kW) for all models, but it was later found that the true power figure from these updated cars was actually closer to 296 bhp (221 kW) – Subaru had to advertise the power as lower due to the “Gentleman’s Agreement” that was active in Japan at the time. Along with the mechanical upgrades, Subaru also updated the styling of the Impreza range.

Subaru Introduces the Coupe WRX

In January 1997 Subaru decided to add a coupe version to the WRX line-up. Subaru labelled the car the WRX Type R and it was chosen by Prodrive as the team’s rally weapon of choice. This decision was largely down to the fact that the two-door car was lighter and stiffer than its four-door sibling.

The road-going Type R also features a number of other changes, such as a close-ratio gearbox that is stronger than the standard WRX one. Less sound dampening, improved four-pot brakes and a water-spray nozzle that helps remove heat from the intercooler are other changes that Subaru made to the coupe Type R.

A Type R V-Limited version was also introduced, however, this car lacked the strengthened components of the normal Type R, along with the better brakes. In total, it is believed that around 1,000 Type Rs were produced for the Japanese Domestic Market during the course of production.

A couple of months later, the United Kingdom received another special edition model in the form of the “Catalunya”. Only 200 of these cars were produced, with all of them being finished in black with red flecks in the paint.

September 1997 Updates (GC8E)

Another revision was introduced in September 1997, with the main update being that the STi now received forged pistons. Changes were also made to the interior as well, with white coloured gauges being added and some different interior trim options.

Later in April 1998 another special edition WRX was introduced for the UK market. Labelled the “Terzo”, only 333 cars were produced in a blue with gold wheels (once again 13 was omitted). Other additions included Terzo side and rear decals, floor mates and a numbered plaque.  These cars were created to celebrate Subaru’s third manufacturers’ title.

Subaru Unleashes the 22B STi

The biggest news for 1998 was the introduction of a new WRX model known as the “22B STi”. Produced between March and August 1998, this new car would be the ultimate WRX, and is still regarded as the best Impreza ever produced (Many would say that it is the best Subaru ever produced as well).

The 22B was created to not only celebrate Subaru’s third consecutive manufacturers’ title, but also the company’s 40th anniversary. The car was so hotly anticipated that all 400 Japanese units were sold out within 48 hours (some say it was 30 minutes, but there is no concrete data on exactly how long it took). Other markets didn’t miss out on the fun, with 16 cars going to the UK, while 5 made their way to the “Land Down Under” (Australia).

All 16 cars officially imported into the United Kingdom were modified by Prodrive with longer gear ratios and UK-spec lights. However, as 50 22Bs had already been imported into the UK privately, Subaru had to wait until 1999 to register the 16 cars.

The 22B featured a raft of changes over the standard WRX STi model, with the centre point being the new EJ22G power unit. Displacement was increased by 0.2-litres over the STi engine, and other changes included an air-to-air intercooler, forged pistons, new intake pipes, a new exhaust, and more turbo boost. Despite, all these changes, rated power remained the same at 276 bhp (206 kW), however, maximum torque increased to 363 Nm (268 lb-ft) and come on earlier at 3,200 rpm (standard STi at the time was 4,000 rpm).

Depending on who did the testing, the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time was found to be anywhere from around 4.2 seconds to 4.7 seconds. Testers also found that the car could hit 160 km/h (100 mph) in as little as 13.1 seconds and do a quarter mile in 13.5 seconds.

Changing gears was handled by a 5-speed close ratio manual gearbox that was mated to a metal-and-ceramic clutch that was more capable of withstanding repeated launches and hard gear shifts.

Cornering performance was improved via the addition of Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs, while Brembo four-pot front calipers and two-pot rear calipers handled the stopping part of the job. These were covered by special gold 17-inch BBS wheels that were wrapped in 235/40-17 tyres.

Without a doubt the most noticeable change over the normal WRX models was the exterior. The overall body was widened, with the massively flared wheel arches being inspired by Peter Stevens WRC car. A unique bonnet/hood, front and rear fenders, and bumper were specifically crafted for the 22B, giving the car a much more aggressive appearance. All cars 22B STis were finished in a special blue colour and the final piece of the exterior puzzle was an adjustable rear wing.

1998 Updates (GC8F)

The next updates to the WRX line up came in September 1998, with the main ones being a slight increase in torque to 339 Nm (250 lb-ft) from 328 Nm (242 lb-ft) and a small bump in weight for all models.

The STi version of the car also received some attention as well with a slight change to the engine layout to make it a bit cleaner.

RB5 Launches in the United Kingdom

Another special edition model known as the “RB5” was created for the UK market to celebrate the success of British driver Richard Burns. Only 444 of these cars were produced for the 1999 model year, with the main difference being the following cosmetic changes:

  • Special grey paintjob with colour coded mirrors, door handles, bumpers, etc.
  • Blue Alcantara suede trim and black surrounds on the seas
  • 17-inch Speeline 6-spoke alloy wheels in pewter colour
  • Pirelli P Zero tyres
  • RB5 branded carpets and decals

A performance pack consisting of a new ECU and exhaust was a popular option for many of the 444 buyers, and there was also an optional Prodrive suspension package for those who wanted it as well.

September 1999, Subaru Introduces the GC8G

The last version of the first generation Subaru Impreza WRX would come in September 1999. The car pretty much identical to the previous version, but there were some additions such as colour-coded mirrors and door handles, new alloy wheels, intermittent wipers, remote central locking and more. STi models also received some slight cosmetic changes to make the styling a bit more aggressive.

Prodrive Creates the P1

Some UK-bound versions of the GC8G received a number of changes to make them more attractive over the grey import Japanese variants that were becoming increasingly popular in the market. Prodrive’s team of engineers were given this task, and they selected 1,000 variants of the coupe version of the WRX to be the basis of what would become known as the “P1”.

The main focus of the project was to better match the performance of the P1 to that of the high-performance Japanese variants that were being imported. Engine power was increased to 276 bhp (206 kW), bringing the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time down under five seconds.

Prodrive’s team also installed the anti-roll bars from the European-specification Impreza Turbo, along with firmer springs and shock absorbers, that all together provided better handling for British roads. The P1 was also the only version of the coupe GC chassis that received ABS, and brake upgrades were also made available for those owners who wanted a bit more stopping performance.

All P1s were finished in a Sonic Blue collar with Peter Stevens-designed anthracite 18-inch OZ Racing wheels. Prodrive also fitted a new front spoiler and rear wing as well. On the inside, the car received Prodrive embossed seats and a P1 branded number plaque was fitted just above the gear shifter.

The S201 STi Marks The End of Production

Subaru created one “last hurrah” version of the first generation WRX for the Japanese market. Released in 2000, the S201 STi was a tuned version of the GC8 that featured nearly every single component from the STi catalogue.

Power was increased to 296 bhp (221 kW), while torque remained roughly the same at 353 Nm (260 lb-ft). This bump in power was the result of a number of power unit upgrades, such as a new sport ECU, improved exhaust, and modified intake.

The chassis was enhanced with adjustable reinforced suspension from STi. The rear lateral and trailing links were also changed, and special 16-inch forged aluminium wheels from RAYS covered the powerful brakes.

Visually, the S201 was quite different from the standard STi models with aggressive looking front bumpers, side skirts, and a double-wing rear spoiler giving the vehicle a more race-car like appearance. There was also a massive air scoop on the bonnet/hood and new wing mirrors.

Only 300 of these special edition cars were created and they marked the end of production of the first generation Subaru Impreza WRX.

Subaru WRX Gen 1 (GC8) Specifications

The following specifications are based on Japanese Domestic Market Models.

ModelWRXWRX WagonSTiSTi Wagon
Country/LocationJapanJapanJapanJapan
Year of production1992 – 20001993 – 20001994 – 20001993 – 2000
LayoutFront-engine, all-wheel driveFront-engine, all-wheel driveFront-engine, all-wheel driveFront-engine, all-wheel drive
Engine/Engines2.0-litre EJ20 4-cylinder2.0-litre EJ20 4-cylinder2.0-litre EJ20 4-cylinder2.0-litre EJ20 4-cylinder
Power237 – 276 bhp (177 – 206 kW) at 6,000 rpm217 – 237 bhp (162 – 177 kW) at 6,000 rpm271 – 276 bhp (202 – 206 kW) at 6,500 rpm247 – 276 bhp (184 – 206 kW) at 6,500 rpm
Torque304 – 338 Nm (224 – 249 lb-ft) at 4,000 rpm294 – 304 Nm (206 – 224 lb-ft) at 3,500 – 4,000 rpm304 – 338 Nm (224 – 249 lb-ft) at 4,000 rpm304 – 338 Nm (224 – 249 lb-ft) at 4,000 rpm
Gearbox5-speed manual

4-speed automatic

5-speed manual

4-speed automatic

5-speed manual5-speed manual
Brakes FrontDisc brakesDisc brakesDisc brakesDisc brakes
Brakes RearDisc brakesDisc brakesDisc brakesDisc brakes
Tyres Front205/50 R 16205/50 R 16205/50 R 16205/50 R 16
Tyres Rear205/50 R 16205/50 R 16205/50 R 16205/50 R 16
Suspension FrontMacPherson strutMacPherson strutMacPherson strutMacPherson strut
Suspension RearMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-linkMulti-link
Weight1,200 – 1,270 kg (2,646 – 2,800 lbs)1,290 kg (2,646 – 2,844 lbs)1,200 – 1,270 kg (2,646 – 2,800 lbs)1,290 kg (2,646 – 2,844 lbs)
Top speed217 km/h (135 mph)217 km/h (135 mph)233 km/h (145 mph)233 km/h (145 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)4.9 – 6.2 seconds (depending on who tested and year)5.7 – 6.6 seconds (depending on who tested and year)4.7 – 5.1 seconds (depending on who tested and year)

 

4.7 – 5.3 seconds (depending on who tested and year)

 

 

Subaru GC8 (Generation 1) Buyer’s Guide

With all that out of the way, let’s look at what you really came here for, the buyer’s guide. Unfortunately, more than a few first generation Impreza WRXs have been owned by people who couldn’t afford or be bothered to maintain them properly. There are still plenty of ones available in satisfactory to excellent condition, but you will be paying a premium for them (especially for STi or special edition models). Here are some things to watch out for when looking to purchase a GC8 WRX.

Setting Up an Inspection of a GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX

  • If possible, view the WRX in person or get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you – Buying any used car sight unseen can open you up to a bit more risk, so it is usually a good idea to view the vehicle in person before handing over the cash. However, GC8 Impreza WRXs are getting a bit more difficult to find, so you may have to buy one sight unseen if you want a specific model (late model STi, P1, etc.). Alternatively, getting a third party to view the car for you can be a good idea (have a search for somebody who can do this for you). Some websites/auction services will vet the cars they advertise before listing them – bringatrailer.com for example.
  • Take a friend or helper with you – Bringing somebody with you is almost always a good idea, especially if they have a bit of mechanical knowledge and/or know a bit about the first gen Impreza WRX. Your helper can give you their thoughts on the vehicle and whether or not they think it is a good buy. Additionally, they may be able to spot something you missed.
  • Try to look at the Impreza WRX at the seller’s house or place of business – This is something that is often overlooked, but we think it is a good idea because you can see how and where the WRX is regular stored. If it has always been stored out on the road there may be more bodywork issues such as paint fade, rust, etc. Additionally, if you notice oil stains on the ground where the car is regularly stored it could be a sign that WRX has or has had a leaking issue (keep in mind that it could be from another car). One other benefit of viewing the WRX at the seller’s house or place of business is that you can check the roads the car is regularly driven on. Rough roads with lots of potholes could lead to the suspension and steering components wearing faster than they normally would on smooth roads.
  • Inspect the WRX in the morning rather than later in the day – This ultimately depends on you and the seller’s schedule, but it can be a good idea to arrange an inspection for a time in the morning. This will give the seller less time to clean up any potential issues (such as an oil leak) and there will be less chance they have warmed or driven the WRX. When arranging an inspection, tell the seller that you don’t want the car driven or warmed up prior to your arrival (if possible of course). If the car is at a dealer, simply go down without telling them first. Warm engines can hide a multitude of sins, so be cautious of prewarmed cars.
  • Be cautious when inspecting a GC8 WRX in the rain – Water can cover up a number of different issues with the bodywork and paint. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect the Impreza WRX, try to go back for a second viewing before making a purchase.
  • Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
  • Get the seller to move their Subaru Impreza WRX outside if it is in a garage or showroom – Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.

Where to Find a Subaru WRX GC8 for Sale

The easiest places to find a first generation WRX for sale are usually your local auction/classified websites or dealers websites. Specialist auction sites such as bringatrailer.com can also be good places to look if you are wanting to find a really good example.

Another good place to find first gen WRXs for sale is owners clubs. These sorts of clubs tend to attract very enthusiastic owners who are knowledgeable and look after their vehicles properly. We recommend that you check to see if you have any Subaru or Impreza clubs in your area. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Clubwrx.netclub/forum dedicated to all Subaru WRX models from all generations. Lots of great information on here, whether you are looking to buy a WRX or need some advice on modifications, maintenance, etc.
  • North American Subaru Impreza Owners clubClub dedicated to all versions of the Subaru Impreza in North America.
  • Impreza WRX Club AustraliaThe Impreza WRX Club is a car club for enthusiasts of all types of Subarus. Their members vehicles consist Impreza WRXs, STis, Legacys and more.
  • Subaru Owners Club UKFree club with a fairly active user base. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the UK.

You can find a more comprehensive list of Subaru clubs here.

What Should I Spend on a First Gen Impreza WRX or WRX STi

How much you should spend on a GC8 really depends on a number of factors from what model you are interested in, to the mileage and condition, and more. For example, a 1999 WRX STi in excellent condition with low mileage is going to be worth a lot more than a 1993 WRX that has seen a lot of action. What’s more, if you want a special edition model like a P1 or even a 22B you are going to be paying a lot more. 22Bs go for insane amounts of money, so almost all are going to be sold through specialist or exclusive auction services (see this one that is selling for NZ$600,000 or just over US$400,000).

As prices can vary dramatically, we recommend that you jump on your local classifieds and dealer websites to check the prices of ones that are currently for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need to spend to get a first-generation Subaru WRX that you are happy with. Remember to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.

If you want to know how much the GC8 WRX cost new, check out our article here (make sure you check out the 22B STi sale price).

Be On the Lookout for Fake STis  

Watch out for sellers who are advertising their car as an STi when it is not. Some owners like to put STi badges and parts on normal first generation WRXs, but don’t be fooled. Even if somebody has tuned their WRX up to the level of an STi, it is still not going to be worth as much as an original STi model. Some standard Impreza owners will also fit WRX parts to their cars as well, so don’t be fooled by that (should be a bit more obvious).

Buying a First Gen Subaru WRX With Problems

While it is generally a good idea to walk away from a first gen WRX with problems, it is okay if you know what you are getting yourself into. If you are interested in purchasing a WRX with problems, make sure you find out exactly what issues the car has prior to purchase. Make sure you are comfortable with these problems and the resultant expense they may incur. If you have any doubt it is probably best to walk away.

VIN/Chassis Number

Japanese domestic market models do not have a VIN, but a chassis number. The number will be located on a plate that says Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and it should look something like this – GC8-XXXXXX. The plate will also show information such as the engine type and the transmission type.

The other thing is to make sure that the model number matches what the seller is actually advertising. For example, the applied model number GC8F47D in the photo above matches what was on the listing (1999 WRX STi). If the VIN plate says that the car is a 1993 GC8B, and the seller is saying it is something like a GC8D, you should be asking why (unlikely this will happen but it is something to be aware of).

You may also find a 17-digit VIN number if the car was sold new in an export market or if it was imported and then registered. We also recommend that you check the VIN on a checkup website such as Carfax, Autocheck, or CarJam (NZ). If you are in the United Kingdom it is worth doing a an HPI check.

The VIN/Chassis Number should be located in the following locations (along with the one on the Fuji Heavy Industries plate):

  • dash (riveted tag)
  • left front strut tower (riveted tag)
  • driver door frame
  • passenger firewall (imprinted)

If you notice that the VIN/Chassis numbers do not match, it may be a sign that the WRX you are looking at has been in an accident or stolen.

Engine

Almost all first generation WRXs have been thrashed to bits and/or poorly maintained, so you are probably going to come across a quite few ‘bad eggs’ during your search. While the EJ20 inside of these cars does have a few common problems, a well maintained one should provide plenty of miles of trouble-free motoring (just don’t expect Corolla like running costs).

To begin your inspection of the power unit, head to the front of the GC8 WRX and lift the bonnet/hood. While you are doing so check that the bonnet hinges are smooth and that the catch is in good condition. If they look like they have been replaced, the vehicle may have been in an accident.

Once you have done this, give the engine bay a good general look over. Watch out for the following:

  • Obvious issues – oil leaks, worn or broken parts, missing parts, etc.
  • Modifications – are the modifications major or minor, etc.?
  • Cleanliness

An engine bay that is completely spotless is probably a sign of a good owner, however, it may also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up. The seller may have washed the engine bay and underside of the WRX prior to your arrival in the hope that you won’t notice whatever problem they are trying to hide.

Inspecting the Fluids

This is something that we always recommend when inspecting a used car. Incorrect fluid levels or and/or fluids that have not been changed regularly can do serious harm to the EJ20 engine inside the WRX you are looking at.

Have a look at the engine oil/dipstick and watch out for any metallic particles or grit. If you notice this sort of problem it may be worth getting the oil analysed before you purchase the car to find out what material the particles are and where they are coming from (definitely quite a good idea if you are looking at a higher priced GC8). A very small amount is probably fine, especially if the engine has just been rebuilt, but walk away if you notice lots of particles or grit.

Another thing to watch out for is any foam/froth in the oil or on the dipstick. This could be a sign of a number of different issues from condensation in the oil to a leaking head gasket (especially if it is very thick and white), or an engine that has been overfilled with oil.

Don’t forget to check the oil level as well, as if it is incorrect damage may have occurred to the engine and it is a sign of poor maintenance.

Talk to the seller/owner about how they service their first generation WRX – Do they service the car once, twice a year? Do they service it based on Subaru’s service schedule or do they like to do it more frequently? Do they service it themselves or do they take it to a Subaru specialist or some other mechanic?

Make sure you have a good look at the service history. If the seller can’t or won’t let you see the Subaru’s service history, alarm bells should be going off in your head. While the WRX may have been looked after properly, the opposite is probably more likely. Another thing to keep in mind is that a complete service history will only add value to the GC8 WRX if you decide to sell it in the future.

Most owners tend to recommend that you replace the engine oil and filter every 5,000 – 8,000 km (3,000 – 5,000 miles) or so. If the GC8 WRX you are looking at has not been driven much, oil changes and servicing should have occurred every six to twelve months. Servicing a WRX earlier than 5,000 km/six months is not really that necessary, but if the owner has done this it shows that they probably care quite a bit about their Subaru (Keep in mind that tracked cars will usually need more regular servicing).

Talk to the owner about what oil they use on their GC8. It is generally recommended that you go with something like a 5W or 10W-30 or 10W-40 fully synthetic, but some owners like to use thicker oils, especially if they are running more power.

Common Oil Leak Areas on a First Gen Subaru Impreza WRX

Leaking engine oil is always something that needs to be investigated closely, so check for the following:

  • Oil pump – A leak from the oil pump is usually most noticeable from the front centre of the engine. The leak is usually caused by bad pump seals or the mating area between the oil pump and the block. Another common issue with the pump is that the rear rotor case cover screws can back themselves out, leading to an oil leak.
  • Front crankshaft seal – This is basically the same as above because the front crankshaft seal is located on the oil pump and the crankshaft turns the oil pump. It is often recommended that you replace the front crank oil seal when you replace the timing belt as it will eventually leak, so it is better to do a bit of preventative maintenance (check that the seal was replaced with the timing belt).
  • Oil separator plate – This plate is located at the rear of the engine, so any leaks will occur around there (the oil separator plate is the most likely cause of a leak at the rear). Subaru fitted plastic plates from the factory and eventually with age and mileage they fail. Upgraded metal plates are available, which largely fix the issue, so check if this was done to the GC8 WRX you are looking at. If this leak does occur you could be looking at a very large bill as the engine and transmission must be removed to gain access to the plate.
  • Rear main seal – Leaks from around the rear can also be due to the rear main seal, however, it is far more likely that it is the oil separator plate. If the plate has been replaced than the chances of the leak being caused by the rear main seal are higher.
  • Valve/cam/time cover – Watch out for leaks around the timing cover on both the front and sides of the engine. If you notice a leak here, it is almost certainly the gaskets that seal the valve cover against the cylinder. Alternatively, it may be that the valve cover bolts have loosened slightly, allowing oil to leak past the gaskets. Neither of these issues are a major problem unless the leak is quite big.
  • Oil pan – Watch out for a leak from around the oil pan (bottom of the engine block). This is usually caused by the crush washer if it was not replaced.

If you notice a fairly rapid drip or any puddles of oil underneath the car during your inspection it is probably best to walk away as if it was an easy fix the seller probably would have got it sorted before putting the Subaru WRX on the market.

Make sure you check for oil leaks (and any other leak for that matter) both before and after a test drive, as that shiny, clean engine bay may not be so shiny after a trip around the block.

When Does the Timing Belt Need to Be Replaced on a Subaru WRX GC8

It is important to make sure that the timing belt has been replaced every 80,000 – 100,000 km (50,000 – 62,000 miles) or every four years. Make sure you check for any receipts for work involving the timing belt. It is not uncommon for a seller to claim that the timing belt has been changed when in fact it has not. If the timing belt does fail you could be up for a very expensive engine rebuild!

Failure to change the timing belt and other components at the correct service interval suggests poor maintenance and you should be wondering what else has been neglected. If the timing belt needs to be replaced in the near future make sure you get a hefty discount or get the seller to replace it for you (check where they are getting it done).

It can be a good idea to put your ear up to the timing belt area (front of the engine) and listen for any strange noises such as squeaking or rubbing noises that may indicate a worn belt or failing tensioner.

What Else Should be Replaced with the Timing Belt?

  • Tensioner
  • Aux belt
  • Pulleys
  • Water pump (not necessarily a requirement but a good idea)
  • Front crankshaft seal (again, not completely necessary but it is highly recommended)

Check for a Power Steering Fluid Leak

Overtime the fittings for the power steering pump and reservoir can leak. Power steering fluid can then make its way into the timing belt area and in extreme situations the fluid can come in contact with the belt. This will not only lead to increased deterioration of the belt, but can also cause issues with the plastic front timing cover. The captive nuts for the front cover can then become damaged and will turn when you try and get the cover off. If this happens you will need to break the front timing cover to get at the timing belt.

If you get the WRX inspected by a mechanic prior to purchase, get them to remove the timing belt cover to make sure it is in good condition and also get them to check the condition of the belt/when it was last replaced.

Cooling System

Problems here could lead to total engine failure and some very, very expensive repair bills, so here are some things to watch out for.

Air Bubbles in the Coolant

Have a good look for any bubbles in the coolant in the expansion/overflow tank. It is not abnormal to find bubbles when the WRX is getting up to temperature, however, there should be none once the vehicle is properly warmed up. If the bubbles keep coming it could be caused by a range of different issues from a bad radiator/radiator cap to a thermostat that is sticking, causing the engine to get too hot and boiling the coolant.

The most serious cause of this issue is a head gasket failure, so watch out for any other signs of cooling system failure (overheating, smell of coolant etc.). Another, cause could be a bad flush of the cooling system. If you can’t tell what is causing the bubbles do not purchase the GC8 without getting a proper diagnoses first.

Failing Water Pump

Water pumps on first generation Subaru WRXs aren’t known to fail prematurely, but it can happen so watch out for the following:

  • Coolant leaks
  • Whining noises (usually high-pitched)
  • Overheating issues – When the GC8 WRX is idling and the temps start going up, rev the engine to 2,500 – 3,000 rpm and see if the temps drop fast. If not, then it could be the water pump.

Checking for Coolant Leaks

One of the most important things to do when inspecting the cooling system is to check for any coolant leaks. Have a good look at the coolant lines and expansion tank for any current leaks or crusted coolant which may indicate a past leak. Check that the expansion tank has not cracked and watch out for a leak that looks like it is coming from the bottom (this could be the drain plug). The other components to check include the following:

  • Thermostat
  • Water pump
  • Radiator – check when the radiator was last replaced as if it was a long time ago (or never) it could be the cause of the leak – Leaks often occur around the radiator cap area and a simple cap change may fix the issue.

It is always a good idea to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, along with the coolant level (check for any big changes). Following a test drive of a first generation Subaru WRX, turn the car off and wait for roughly 10 to 15 minutes. Once you have done this, recheck for any fresh puddle of coolant underneath the vehicle. Additionally, watch out for the sweet smell of coolant as this could indicate a leak (even if you can’t see it).

Make sure the coolant has been replaced at regular intervals. Some owners like to do it every two years or so.

Signs of Cooling System Failure

Here is a bit of a checklist to go through when making sure the cooling system is working properly. If you notice any or multiple of these it could be a sign of big trouble (and some expensive repair bills):

  • Temperature gauge on that is on the high side
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • White and milky oil
  • Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Smell of coolant from the oil
  • Sweet smelling exhaust
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it) – usually a sign of head gasket failure
  • Steam from the front of the car

Head gasket failure usually eventually leads to all the problems above, with the most noticeable ones being white smoke and a sweet smell of coolant from the exhaust. Also check for coolant and oil seepage around the head gasket. Quite a lot of first generation WRXs have experienced head gasket failure and many of them have been repaired poorly, so be cautious of a fresh rebuild. If the work has been carried out by a competent Subaru specialist it should be fine, but you never know.

Knocking Sounds and Piston Slap

If you hear a rattling or slight knocking noise when the engine is cold, it could be piston slap. This is quite common on EJ series Subarus and should go away once the engine is up to temperature. Piston slap occurs because there is too much room for the piston within the cylinder, leading to the piston rocking ever so slightly.

If the knocking noise continues when the engine is warm (especially when it is under load) it could be a sign of a much more serious issue such as a rod bearing failure that has been caused by a lack of oil. Do not purchase a first generation Subaru WRX that knocks constantly unless you can find the exact cause of the problem. If it is something like a bottom end failure, you will be looking at a complete engine rebuild and a very expensive bill.

Knocking sounds could also be coming from the exhaust or some other component, so check by putting your ear up to the engine.

Inspecting the Exhaust on a GC8 WRX

Remember to have a good look at as much of the exhaust system as you can, as a problem here could be expensive to fix. Surface rust is fairly common, but it really shouldn’t be any worse than that on a well looked after WRX. If you do see some bad rust, it is probably worse than it appears on the surface and there may be rust elsewhere on the vehicle. A good aftermarket exhaust shouldn’t rust, but a cheap mild steel or low quality stainless steel one (that probably isn’t stainless steel) will eventually in the right circumstances.

Make sure there is no damage to the exhaust (cracks, dents, etc.) or any bad repairs that have been quickly done to get the Subaru Impreza up to a saleable condition.

If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Additionally, watch out for any ticking noises as these sorts of sounds are a sign of a leak.

Aftermarket Exhausts

Many first gen WRX owners love putting fat exhausts on their cars, so there is an abundance of aftermarket options available for the GC8. There are far too many options to cover in this guide, so what we recommend that you do is to find out what brand/builder the exhaust is from, and then check reviews/feedback. If the exhaust is a poor quality one it may be a sign that the Subaru WRX you are looking at has not been looked after properly.

Smoke from a Subaru WRX GC8

Walk away from a WRX that is belching out loads of smoke or steam as the car clearly has issues. It is a good idea to get the seller to start the GC8 for you as you can then position yourself at the rear of the vehicle and check what is coming out the back on initial start-up.

A small amount of whitish vapour from the exhaust on start up is perfectly fine, especially on a cold day. This is usually just condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour is very thick and white or you notice lots of smoke, walk away. Here are what the different colours of smoke indicate:

White smoke – As we mentioned above, a few white puffs is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from a GC8 WRX’s tailpipes indicates that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.

Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, turbo issues and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the WRX. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back (good chance to see how they drive as well).

Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.

Turbo Issues on a First-Generation Subaru Impreza WRX

Turbo failure is a possibility, especially with high mileage and/or poor maintenance, so check for the following:

  • Strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds – when the turbocharger is at full boost (drive at a slow speed and then accelerate moderately up to high rpms).
  • Distinctive blue or grey/whitish smoke – This happens when turbocharger’s housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving a GC8 WRX. If there is a problem the smoke will probably appear around the 3,000 rpm mark. White/greyish smoke could be a sign that the turbo has failed catastrophically. Either way, it is probably best to avoid any first gen WRX with smoking issues.
  • Burning lots of oil – It will be hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner. The EJ20 engine in the first generation WRX does like to drink a bit of oil, but it shouldn’t be excessive amounts.
  • Slow acceleration – Does the WRX you are test driving feel particularly slow? If it does it could be a sign that the turbochargers are failing or have failed. It is important to note that modified and unmodified cars and different WRX (STi, early WRX, etc.) models can feel vastly different in terms of speed, but it should be pretty obvious if there is something wrong.
  • If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost should come on from about 2,500 rpm and be noticeable by about 3,000 rpm or just before. If boost starts coming on much later than late or if it doesn’t come on at all there is a problem.
  • Check Engine Warning Light – Could be caused by turbo issues or something else. Check out this list for more info on how to read a GC8’s ECU codes.

Engine Mounts and Vibrations

The engine will shake a bit, but excessive amounts could be a sign that one or more of the motor mounts are in a bad way. This isn’t a major problem, but it is something to be aware of, especially if the WRX you are looking at is a higher mileage example. Here are some of the main things to watch out for when it comes to bad engine mounts on a GC8 WRX:

  • Excessive vibrations
  • Engine movement – rev the car and see if the engine moves excessively
  • Clunking, banging, or other impact sounds that are a result of engine movement

If the engine is not pulsing nicely and the engine is rocking, it could be a sign of low compression.

Idle Speed & Other Things to Check

Expect the idle speed to be around 1,500 rpm when the WRX is started from cold, however, this should drop to 750 rpm (+- 100 rpm) once the car is up to temperature.

If you notice that the idle speed pulses or hunts more than around 100 rpm at a time or starts to dip low and shake before coming back to 750 rpm, give it a bit of time and then tap the throttle pedal. If the problem occurs again there may be a boost/vacuum/exhaust leak somewhere that will need to be addressed.

Poor idle could also be caused by a range of other different issues as well from something as simple as a bad battery, to coil issues, bad intake components, and more. It will probably be hard to determine the exact cause of idle issues, so assume the worst and hope for the best. If the idle issue was a simple fix, the owner of the WRX probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market. Alternatively, they may simply not have noticed.

Tips During an Inspection/Test Drive of a GC8 WRX

We recommend that you get the seller/owner to start the vehicle for you for the following two reasons:

  1. So you can see what comes out the back
  2. If the seller gives the WRX a whole load of throttle when it is cold you know to walk away

When you head out for a drive, remember to wait until the engine is properly warm before giving it a bit of throttle. Don’t be afraid to rev the car a bit as you need to make sure the engine, turbo, etc. is working okay higher up the rev range. Remember to turn off and on the engine a number of times to make sure everything is okay, checking to see whether any warning lights come on each time.

It is also a good idea to keep the windows down for a period of the test drive, so you can listen to the engine and any other issues that may be covered up by the cabin. Don’t let the seller distract you while driving the car.

Buying a Impreza WRX GC8 with a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine

While some buyers are put off by the words “rebuilt” or “replaced”, there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a WRX with a rebuilt or replaced engine. Many of the first gen WRXs you come across will have had this sort of work done and an engine rebuild will eventually be necessary given mileage and general wear.

If the GC8 WRX you are looking at has had an engine rebuild or replacement, make sure the work was carried out by a competent Subaru specialist or mechanic who has plenty of experience with such work.

Be very cautious of home rebuilds as many home mechanics have more ambition than skill, however, there are some very good ones out there. If the work was done by a business/specialist, find out exactly who did the work and check any reviews (give them a call as well if you are really serious about the car as they may be able to tell you a bit more about it).

It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, a Subaru WRX GC8 with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.

Should I Get a Compression Test Done Before Purchase?

While not completely necessary when purchasing a used WRX, a compression test is often a good thing to get done to help determine the health of the car’s engine.  If you are taking the WRX to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a test.

Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).

Modifications to the Engine

A well-maintained standard engine should be fairly robust and reliable, however, that can all go out the window if the car is running lots of power. A remap is a fairly common modification and is usually fine as long as fuelling is adjusted accordingly. If fueling hasn’t been increased, it can lead to the engine running too lean under boost and some major issues eventually. Excessive amounts of power can also heighten the chances of a big end failure, so keep an ear out for those knocking noises.

We would recommend that you either stick with standard WRXs or ones that have only a mild boost in power. If you are happy with the risks associated with big power boosts then feel free to purchase a first gen WRX with lots of power, but make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.

Tuning that has been done by a reputable Subaru specialist/tuner is usually fine, so check who has done the work. If the owner has done the modifications themselves, try to get a gauge on how competent they are.

Transmission

Subaru sold the first generation WRX with both 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic transmission options. Let’s start by looking at the manual gearbox first.

Manual First Generation WRXs

As the GC8 Impreza WRX promotes enthusiastic driving, don’t be surprised to find more than a few of these cars with ropey manual gearboxes. The gearbox will probably feel quite firm and notchy when cold, but it should soon loosen up. It will still be reasonably firm when warm, but if it feels like a real effort to change gears there is a problem that needs to be fixed.

On the other end of the spectrum, watch out for any sloppiness or extremely loose shifting. Also check that none of the gears pop out of gear under acceleration as this could be caused by something like a bent/damaged shift fork (this can occur if the owner has a habit of slamming through the gears). The nut on the back of the gearbox can also loosen, leading to fifth gear popping out. Not a major issue as it can be fixed with the transmission in situ.

Synchro wear is another thing to watch out for, especially if the car has been thrashed, so check for any graunching or grinding on both upshift and downshifts. While the synchros themselves aren’t too expensive, the labour to rebuild the transmission is.

Another thing you can do is to try and find yourself a bit of an incline and see how the transmission and clutch performs with a hill start. Additionally, lift off after accelerating hard in second, third and fourth. If you notice any strange rattling noises it could be a sign that the gearbox bearings are in a bad way.

Modified first generation Subaru WRXs with lots of power are going to be much harder on the gearbox, especially second and third gears.

It is generally recommended that the manual transmission fluid be replaced every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or so, but some enthusiastic owners like to do it much earlier. Remember to check for any oil leaks from the gearbox as well.

Clutch

The clutch is always going to be something to watch out for on a first generation Subaru WRX, so make sure you check it thoroughly. The life of a clutch largely depends on how well the car has been treated and driven. If the WRX you are looking at has been repeatedly thrashed with lots of hard starts, the clutch will probably not last as long as it could otherwise.

Here are some tests to conduct to make sure that the clutch is working as intended:

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the WRX you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.

Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.

Clutch Drag – Get the Subaru on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.

If the first generation WRX you are looking at is running an aftermarket clutch, make sure you are happy with the feel as a really heavy one can get uncomfortable on long drives.

Automatic WRXs

There isn’t too much to worry about here apart from the usual automatic transmission related issues. One benefit of buying an automatic WRX is that there is a lower chance that it has been thrashed to bits.

Make sure you take the transmission through the rev range and all the gears. Check that reverse works correctly and be cautious of any clunking or jumping when shifting gears/positions. The transmission should be smoothish when shifting and watch out for a clunk when changing gear on the move as this could be a sign of bad gearbox or motor mounts.

Make sure the automatic transmission fluid has been changed regularly. If it hasn’t it may be better to leave it rather than change it. Alternatively, change it and then do another change soon after. Keep an eye out for any red fluid which may indicate that the transmission is leaking oil.

Check For Diff Leaks

While you are looking for any leaks from the transmission, remember to check the diff as well. Oil leaking around the diff could be caused by a range of different things, so it is worth getting the vehicle checked out if you notice this issue. If the diff does fail due to inadequate amounts of oil it could seize, leading to some nasty consequences and an expensive repair bill. Here are some things to watch out for which could indicate diff trouble

  • Whirring, whining or humming noises – usually change when accelerating, decelerating or going around a corner
  • Leaks – as mentioned above
  • Vibration – could be something else as well
  • WRX feels like the handbrake is on when it is not – again, could be something else like a seized caliper but is also a sign of diff trouble

Steering and Suspension

As we mentioned in the engine section, the power steering pump and reservoir can leak, so check to make sure that is not happening (red fluid near the timing belt area). Apart from that, check for the following things that may indicate the suspension/steering components are worn:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (trailing arm bushes)
  • Sagging or uneven suspension
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – usually the front bushings or wheel bearings – watch out for the front lower arm suspension bushes, upper wishbones, and anti-roll bar bushes.
  • Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
  • Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – quite a common issue on first generation Impreza WRXs. Clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well

Don’t be too alarmed if the ride seems a bit harsh, especially on STi versions as this is normal for these cars. However, if the car is running modified suspension (as many first gen WRXs do), be cautious of any ride height changes (too low) and a ride that is set up more for track use as this can be unbearable on longer distance drives.

Make sure you visually inspect the suspension and steering components, especially if you notice any of the problems above. Watch out for any leaking fluid around the shocks/struts, cracks in CV boot and/or excessive grease around the boot, damaged components or modified components.

Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment

Find yourself a nice flat and straight section of tarmac to check the wheel alignment. Make sure the first gen Impreza WRX runs straight with minimal wheel corrections.  If the wheel alignment is bad it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear (costing you more money) and can even lead to a less safe and enjoyable driving experience. Additionally, really bad wheel alignment could be a sign of a careless owner as they should have got it sorted before putting the WRX on the market.

Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.

Inspecting the Wheels & Tyres

Don’t forget to inspect the wheels and tyres as they can give you a bit of an idea of how the Subaru has been treated and maintained. A little bit of curb damage is to be expected, unless the WRX has been garaged its entire life. Lots of curb damage suggests that the vehicle has been owned by a bit of a careless driver.

So many of these cars have been fitted with aftermarket wheels and we feel that is a bit of a shame as the originals are great. If the WRX you are looking at does have aftermarket wheels, see if the owner still has the originals. If they don’t try to use that to get a discount as having the originals will only add value to the vehicle in the future. This is even more important for special edition models such as the P1 as sourcing the original rims can be very pricey and you could be looking for a long time.

When it comes to the tyres check for the following:

  • Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
  • Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the first gen Subaru WRX. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
  • Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
  • Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.

Brakes

Brakes should be more than adequate for regular road use on all versions of the first generation Impreza WRX. If they feel weak or spongy there is a problem that needs to be addressed. It could be something simple like a bad bleed or it could be a more serious issue with the brakes.

Make sure you test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions, with some repeated high to low-speed runs being a good idea. Additionally, Listen out for any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use as this could indicate anything from worn/bad pads to disc issues and more.

If you feel shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied it is probably a sign that one or more of the discs are warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking and is more likely to occur if the WRX has been regularly tracked/driven hard.

Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one).

Seized calipers are a possibility, especially on earlier versions of the GC8 Impreza WRX. If one or more of the calipers are seized, you may notice the following:

  • WRX pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
  • Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
  • Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
  • You find that the Impreza WRX doesn’t want to move at all
  • Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time

Remember to conduct a thorough visual inspection of the brake components. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is perfectly normal and should go away with a bit of use. If the pads and/or discs need to be replaced make sure you get a discount (especially if the discs need replacing). Make sure the brake fluid has been replaced every two years or so on the WRX you are inspecting.

Check the ABS on WRXs that Have It

Make sure the ABS warning light is not illuminated while you are driving the car. It should come on when you first start the vehicle but should go off once the engine starts. If the light is on it could be caused by a range of different things from a faulty sensor to a bad connection or a failed motor. Be mindful that not all first generation WRXs have ABS.

Bodywork and Exterior

These cars are getting old, so expect to find many of them with exteriors in less than satisfactory condition. This is only made worse by the fact that quite a few of these cars have been owned by people who try to do their best Colin McRae impersonation and ultimately wind up in a ditch. Here are the main things to watch out for.

Accident Damage on a First Gen Subaru WRX

Crash damage is arguably going to be one of your biggest concerns, so watch out for the following on the Impreza WRX you are inspecting:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the Impreza WRX has been in an accident.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Subaru you are looking at may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the WRX you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the GC8 WRX has been in an accident.
  • Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage.
  • Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue, but more likely due to a respray. Check the seller’s shoes as well as we went to look at a used car once and the terrible respray job matched the specks of paint on the owner’s boots (more of a joke, but once you’ve seen it once you can’t help yourself during future inspections).
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).

Many owners/sellers will try to cover up accident damage or downplay the severity of an incident, and in some cases, you may come across somebody who claims their car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has.

While accident damage and repairs are a very serious issue, we wouldn’t necessary walk away from a first gen Subaru WRX that has been in an accident. Light to moderate damage that was repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is often okay and can usually be used to get a nice discount.

If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.

Rust

Rust/corrosion is always something to watch out for, with the following locations being the main areas to check on a first generation Subaru WRX:

  • Around the wheel arches and inside the wheel wells (especially the rear ones) – replacing just the outer arch is usually not enough as these cars tend to rust from the inside out
  • Rear tower turrets where the rear shocks mount – Very serious if this has occurred as it will be costly to repair. In some cases the problem can be so bad that the entire turret needs to be replaced.
  • Around the windscreen and rear window – check along the top, bottom and sides
  • Sills – look from underneath the car and check with the door open as well. Rust in this area can often be hidden and will only be noticeable when its really bad
  • Jacking point – this is especially so if somebody has jacked the car up improperly in the past and done damage to the area.
  • In the boot/trunk under the spare wheel – We had a friend who had this problem and it was completely rusted through (check for any dampness while you are doing this).
  • Rust can occur in other places as well, however, these are the main areas to watch out for. Rust is usually more serious than it first appears on the surface, so it could be a good idea to take the car to a panel beater/body shop to find out a rough estimate of the repair cost before purchasing the car.

Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on a GC8 Impreza WRX

  • Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
  • Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • Always kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
  • Old or no underseal – check to see if underseal was put on if the car was an import and that is has been reapplied on a regular basis

Looking for Rust Repairs

It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Interior

Luckily, Subaru used quite durable plastics for the interior so you shouldn’t find too many problems here. Rattles and squeaks shouldn’t be too much of an issue, especially if the car has been well maintained. If the interior is in a really bad way you know the car has had a hard life as most things inside the cabin are fairly durable.

Check the seats for any rips, stains or wear (especially around the bolsters). Make sure that they are nice and firm and that all of the adjustments work as intended. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.

Thoroughly check the interior for any leaks or dampness. Check the boot and under the spare tyre. Feel the carpets in both the front and back and turn over the floor mats. If you notice water residue on the bottom it could be a sign of a past or present leak. Leaks from strange locations could be a sign of an accident.

Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Subaru Impreza WRX you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.

Electronics, Air Con, Locks, Etc.

The first generation WRX is a magnet for joyriders and many of them are stolen for parts. As this is the case, most owners will fit some sort of immobiliser, which is only a good thing in our mind. However, make sure the immobiliser works as intended as aftermarket alarms can be a nightmare when they go wrong.

Make sure that all the door locks, windows, etc. work properly and remember to check that the seller/owner has the original keys. If they don’t have the original keys, try to use that to get a discount.

The electrical system on these cars is fairly robust and reliable, but do make sure that you try all the switches, buttons and knobs. Make sure the lights and indicators work as intended as well.

If no warning lights appear during start-up it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on you need to investigate the issue further and possibly take the car to a Subaru specialist to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase.

Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning works as intended  if the WRX has it and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).

General Car Buying Advice for a First Gen Subaru Impreza WRX

How to Get the Best Deal on a GC8 WRX

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research heavily –  Prior to starting your search for a first gen Impreza WRX, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage STi version or do you not mind a base WRX that has travelled a bit further.
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Subaru sold a fair few of these cars, so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple WRXs if possible – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad first generation Impreza WRX.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a WRX for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project vehicle).
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage –  Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner –  While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers –  If you are looking at multiple GC8 Impreza WRXs, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away –  If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.

Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Service History and Other Documentation

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Subaru specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.

The service history will give you a good idea of how the Impreza WRX you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • When was the timing belt and water pump last replaced?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • How are the speakers
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a GC8 Impreza WRX

Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems or blown head gasket
  • Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Subaru Impreza (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the first generation Impreza WRX and the model they are selling (WRX, WRX STi, P1, import vs non-import, etc.).
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Subaru Impreza.

Importing a First Gen Impreza WRX from Japan

The GC8 Impreza WRX was a popular performance car in Japan and the country also got the most powerful models. While first gen WRX numbers are dwindling in the country, there are still quite a few available for export.

How to Import an Impreza WRX from Japan

While importing a GC8 WRX from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually relatively simple. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import GC8 Impreza WRX” or “import first generation Subaru WRX”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.

Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.

Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:

JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.

Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.

Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.

Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!

Use a Private Importer

While the websites above are a handy way to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Subaru WRX, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable first generation Impreza WRX for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.

You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.

How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work? 

The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles

They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.

Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.

While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.

Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.

Use the grade to reduce the number of WRXs you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).

The Auction Check Sheet 

Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a particular Impreza WRX and where any problems are located.

Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.

What Does the Number Grade Mean? 
  • Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
  • Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
  • Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
  • Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
  • Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
  • Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
  • Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
  • Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
  • Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
  • Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade

As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.

The Car Map 

The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

Our Guidelines for Importing a First Gen WRX from Japan

  • Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
  • If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
  • Try to go through a private importer
  • Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
  • Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
  • Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
  • Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
  • Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
  • Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
  • Avoid cars with unknown mileages
  • Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
  • Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws 

Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.

Leave a Comment