Weird Wheels: Subaru Impreza Casa Blanca

The Moroccan city of Casablanca is one of the economic powerhouses of Africa, home to a rich and interesting history, and most famous to many in the West for lending its name to what is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time.

But there’s also a Casablanca you might not be aware of – the Subaru Impreza Casa Blanca (sometimes referred to as the Subaru Casablanca).

Casablanca (the city) is famed for its beautiful architecture and blend of African and European influences, and at the time of recording Casablanca (the film) Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were two of Hollywood’s most attractive and alluring stars.

The Subaru Impreza Casa Blanca is famed for being one of the ugliest cars ever to roll off a production line. It’s also famous for being so controversial in the styling department that it was a complete flop in terms of sales performance.

In this edition of “Weird Wheels” (see my comment at the end of the article) I’m going to explore the true oddity that is the Subaru Impreza Casa Blanca.

What Is The Subaru Impreza Casa Blanca?

Long story short, it’s a first generation Subaru WRX with a retro-inspired bodykit … and that’s it.

It isn’t some hot performance variant (sporting a lethargic 1.5L boxer engine) and it doesn’t really have any special features; all Subaru did was stick a few different panels and trim pieces on an everyday Impreza and give it an African-inspired name.

The first generation WRX is most famous for the epic (and definitely not forgotten) WRX and WRX STI. However, the car could also be purchased in a variety of more pedestrian configurations.

In 1996/1997, the first gen WRX underwent a facelift, and the Impreza Casa Blanca followed soon after for the 1999/2000 model years.

Differences included:

  • Changed front and rear bumpers/body panels, with custom lights and a new grille
  • Different wheels – ones that look like cheap aftermarket rims
  • A couple of ‘Casa Blanca’ badges
  • Unique seat trim
  • Two-tone steering wheel

A truly compelling package, if ever there was one. Clearly that is meant sarcastically, as Subaru struggled to hit their target of 5000 units and the car was panned by contemporary reviewers (and buyers alike) due to its hideous styling.

The first generation Impreza was a competent, modest hatchback in true 1990s Japanese economy car fashion; robust of build, but lacking much in the way of aesthetic flair and with acres of hard plastic on the interior. The Casa Blanca was an attempt to spice up the recipe somewhat.

What Was Subaru Thinking?

At first glance, you’d think Subaru had taken leave of its senses.

However, to understand the Impreza Casa Blanca you need to consider the context of when and where this car was sold.

The Casa Blanca was intended as a car solely for the Japanese Domestic Market (read our JDM meaning guide here for more information on what this actually means). During the 1990s and early 2000s, retro-inspired cars were popular in the Japanese market, which helps to explain why such a car would have been dreamt up in the first place.

So Subaru’s logic was actually sound, but the aesthetically haphazard implementation ultimately left a bad taste in the mouths of the Japanese motoring public. I’m sue there must be the odd Casa Blanca out there in nice condition, but I imagine many have fallen into disrepair as they depreciated aggressively and became nothing more than unloved, cheap cars.

Casablanca was considered such a triumph of cinema that in 1989 the United States Library of Congress decided to preserve it owing to its being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Somehow, I can’t see anyone wanting to preserve the Casa Blanca, except as a sort of automotive circus freak.

To badly paraphrase Casablanca that has withstood the test of time – “Of all the cars in all the world, you had to buy one of these.”

What do you think of the Impreza Casa Blanca? Would you buy one? Would you refuse to be seen dead in one? Leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.

I’m also keen to hear your thoughts on where you would be interested in more profiles of weird, obscure, all-but-forgotten cars like the Casa Blanca. This site has a regular feature called ‘Forgotten Heroes’ where we write about cars that were considered good in their time, but have simply fallen off the radar. Cars like the Casa Blanca would fall into a different category (name TBC – I’m open to suggestions) being cars that weren’t particularly good – or were perhaps even terrible – but still deserving of being remembered.

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