Gez Purcell bought this hawkeye Impreza on the understanding that it would serve as a sensible family car. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
There’s an old saying which we’ve always liked: ‘You can sleep in a car, but you can’t race a house’. It speaks volumes – sure, you could spend your readies on bricks and mortar, but where’s the adrenaline?
That’s all well and good if you want to show off in the pub, anyway. But in the real world, your potential romantic conquests will invariably be more impressed if you’ve got your own place. Lovestruck evenings that end up in the back seat of your motor don’t pan out as well as you might think if you then have to sleep there. So it was with a heavy heart but a certain sense of practicality that Gez Purcell sold his beloved Subaru Impreza, many years ago, in order to get on the property ladder.
“As a kid in the 1980s-90s, I always had a soft spot for the Subaru days in the WRC,” he recalls. “Obviously Colin McRae was out of this world, but there was something about Richard Burns in his 2001 new-age bugeye that really left an impression. And the later Solberg hawkeye was just sheer art to me; everything about it was perfect, it was my bedroom wall poster for sure – even when I was a fully grown adult!” The fact that he’d bought an Impreza in the first place was fait accompli really, building up his no claims before he could trade in his 51-plate Celica for a WRX of his very own. “The feeling of boost was mega,” Gez grins. “I’m definitely a boost man, I love forced induction. But sadly with insurance costing over £1,500 there was no way I could afford the STI model, and I remember the tears to this day when I had to part-ex for a boring sensible car.”
So the passion was forced to lay dormant, but we all know that when these childhood dreams are so strong, combined with an early dabbling that’s left an indelible mark, these feelings are always bound to explode to the surface again sooner or later.
“After many years of having OK-ish cars, lease cars and being a train commuter, there came the perfect opportunity to buy something interesting,” Gez explains. “A car I could have fun in. The only restriction from the wife was that the boot had to be big enough for the buggy.” Well, that’s an Impreza in a nutshell, isn’t it? The ultimate practical performance machine. So, with the spectre of that Solberg hawkeye still walking tall in his affections, Gez set about searching for his own one to play with.
“I wanted a totally untouched and virtually new example that I could make my own, and not undo someone else’s bodged modifying,” he says. And at this juncture in the narrative, it makes sense to introduce Tim Farmer to the scene – a name that’ll be familiar to many Subaru enthusiasts as someone who really knows how to dismantle these things and reassemble them in much improved form. “I first met Tim about ten years ago,” Gez continues, “when the car was getting its first basic remap. He was soon round my house doing a service, and he’s pretty much never left! Over the years of helping me build and modify the car he’s become a good family friend.”
It’s thanks in large part to Tim that the engine you see here is as phenomenal as it is, and the inherent nature of it is certainly a talking point among Impreza aficionados: “People always ask, ‘Why the chocolate engine?’” Gez elaborates. “We all know the 2.5-litre boxer has problems compared to the 2.0-litre, but I always ask: have you ever driven a 2.5, let alone a modified 2.5? The torque is amazing. It’s a personal thing but I just love the way the 2.5s feel.”
It’s fair to say, however, that the 2.5 in this car is no ordinary example of the breed. This is actually the third engine he’s had in this car; the first was running around 280bhp, and when the head gaskets let go it seemed silly not to swap in some fully-forged goodness – and the subsequent 370bhp unit was thoroughly amusing until it let go on track. This third engine is in fact a 2.0-litre closed-deck block motor bored out to 2.5 with Dalton liners. It’s sporting all sorts of fancy upgrades too: Finch Motorsport ported and polished heads, Lateral Performance race cams, Cosworth fuelling, it’s a bit of a monster, and the cherries on top of this delicious cake are the MD321V billet turbo and the Syvecs ECU: Tim’s cunning build, when mapped by Rich at Zen Performance, has yielded a strong and reliable 526bhp, which is more than enough to keep Gez entertained.
Naturally it’s all very well to be entertained, but there comes a point when the original focus of the mission can get mislaid. He may have justified this car to the better half on the grounds that it was practical for family use, but with all of this performance readily on tap, was this still the ideal family runabout? “It did get to the point where the car was pretty uncomfortable on normal roads; almost unusable, in fact,” he laughs. “I decided that it was time to retire the Impreza from daily duties, take it off the road and work to make it totally track-focused. Now the real fun could begin…
“Back before the first engine blew, I was introduced to track days through a small Subaru track-focused group,” he goes on. “I was instantly hooked, and even though I wasn’t the fastest or most talented guy out there I certainly had the biggest smile! I was bitten. I wanted more.”
It’s this enthusiasm that fuelled the subsequent improvements, Gez’s efforts laser-guided toward track prowess. He’s very much a fan of the ‘built not bought’ ethos too, always fiddling and fidgeting and thinking of ways to improve the car, and working through trial-and-error mods to see what works. Learning new skills is what pushes him forward, so despite never having developed his own aero or worked with carbon fibre or built an engine, he got stuck in with whatever tasks came to mind and the Impreza naturally evolved in line with these growing accomplishments.
“I’ve been hugely influenced by Global Time Attack and DTM cars,” says Gez. “I love making stuff just as much as driving it on track, and I’ve made all the custom aero parts myself. I get a lot of interest in the car whenever it’s on track, or even when I’m posting on social media [Gez can be found at @addictracing]. One occasion that stands out was at Bedford Autodrome when I was parked next to a McLaren, and the crowd was around my car – they all wanted to know more about it! It was a pretty cool feeling that something I’d built was getting more attention than the £100k supercar right next to it!”
By virtue of Gez’s passion for this long-running build, the Impreza has organically become something of a celebrity in its own right; Addict Racing has a passionate following online, and the car’s well-known for its track exploits. Gez also gets a lot of people asking if he’ll make more of the aero parts for them, something which is extremely tempting although he’s keen to maintain that this car is a hobby, not a business. “I’m just a simple guy who loves cars and tinkering,” he shrugs. “I’m often embarrassed with the Impreza’s attention. I just love driving it, and improving it where I can.” And that’s pretty much the crux of it. From humble roots, blu-tacking a poster of a motorsport Impreza to his bedroom wall, Gez has weathered the storms of reality to build up the Subaru of his dreams. As much as is possible it’s all his own work, supported by the efforts of a strong cast of characters where it counts – not least engine supremo Tim – and it just keeps on getting better. So no, you can’t race a house… but with a long enough timescale, you can have both. Gez’s efforts prove that, ultimately and with patience, these dreams can come true.
Tech Specs: Track Hawkeye Impreza
Built by Tim Farmer (Subbus): 2.0-litre closed-deck block – bored out to 2.5 with Darton liners, Cosworth pistons, rods and 12mm oil pump, nitrided crank, Finch Motorsport ported and polished heads, Lateral Performance race cams, Supertech valves and springs, 14mm stud conversion, RCM gaskets, Tomei adjustable cam pulleys, Lateral Performance MD321V billet turbo, Syvecs ECU – mapped by Rich at Zen Performance, custom wiring loom with mil-spec connectors, Cosworth fuel rails, Sytec fuel pressure regulator, custom OBP 20-litre fuel tank, 2x Bosch 044 pumps, Fuellab filter, OBP swirl pot, All Torques Performance unions with quick-releases and braided Teflon hoses, running 20% methanol, custom 3-inch exhaust system, RCM headers, Milltek 3-inch downpipe, Mishimoto intercooler, K&N filter with custom carbon pipe, OBP oil cooler, OBP fuel cooler, OBP gearbox cooler
9.75×18-inch XXR 527 wheels, Nankang NS-2R tyres, BC coilovers, Whiteline 24mm anti-roll bars, Whiteline drop links, Whiteline anti-lift kit, Hardrace lateral link kit, Powerflex Black race bushes throughout, Vibra-Technics engine and gearbox mounts, Tein strut brace, custom brake-cooling system, K-Sport 8-pot front calipers, Brembo 2-pot rears, Performance Friction pads, Hel braided lines
Stripped and painted, custom carbon dash electrical panel, custom carbon rear firewall, custom Kevlar driver and passenger footrests, Mirco driver and passenger bucket seats, Sparco wheel, OMP harnesses, modified Cusco rollcage, Stack, Innovate and Pro-Sport gauges, fire extinguisher and electrical cut-off
ABW front bumper, ABW arch extensions, custom splitter, custom carbon complete flat floor, custom carbon rear diffuser, custom carbon splitter end plates, dual canards, bonnet and wing vents, wing and rear deflectors, custom aluminium sideskirts, APR carbon wing with custom carbon end plates and aluminium uprights, APR carbon wing mirrors
“Huge thanks to Tim Farmer (Subbus), and thanks also to OBP Ltd, Torques Performance, and Rich at Zen Performance.”
Feature taken from Banzai magazine. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Chris Frosin