Imagine being out for your typical early morning jog through the neighborhood, along the back lanes, cutting through the empty industrial area. You clock the odd interesting shape hidden under a tarp — what kind of car is that? — but it’s usually just an old Lincoln or a mouldering Camry. This time, though, lurking behind a steel fence, is something entirely unexpected. Light pods and a roof scoop. Gravel tires and race decals. A World Rally Blue, blister-fendered hero from your childhood, abandoned and neglected.
It happened to Felix Yuen. And, because he is both very patient and up for a gamble, the best possible outcome occurred. He now has his own street-registered rally car, rescued from a looming fate in some scrapyard.
“It’s what I grew up with, watching Richard Burns rallying the WRC,” Yuen told me. “I have some work to do to get it to full S6 spec, but the car’s still got a lot of life in it.”
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Yuen has a pretty interesting car history. I first met him through a Mini connection, when he owned an old-school JDM Mini Cooper with an Integra Type R B18C stuffed into its nose. He also currently owns a Trans-Siberia style Porsche Cayenne and a replica Cobra. The latter holds a few clues to his personality — he’s owned the Cobra for several years, continually chipping away at any imperfections from the original kit. Yeun is a details guy (literally, he runs a car detailing business as a sideline) and it was that painstaking approach that helped this Subaru come into his possession.
Built on the chassis of a 1998 2.5RS coupe, this is a genuine FIA-spec rally car. The original build was completed by RKT Motorsports of Pennsylvania for a New York-based owner. It competed in a handful of events on the East Coast, then found its way into Canada, where it ran in a round of the Canadian Rally Championship in 2016. However, in that last event, the sequential gearbox threw in the towel.
Things often break in rally, but a sequential gearbox is a big-ticket item for a privateer team. Especially here in Canada, rallying is among the most grassroots of motorsports, with organizers relying heavily on volunteers and teams reaching into their own pockets to compete. Sponsorships and prize money are hard to come by.
In this case, the stricken Subaru appears to have been towed to a warehouse belonging to an independent dealership. That dealership was both the main sponsor and the owner of the car. The place sold and brokered mostly high-end used cars, one of the high-margin, high-risk businesses that populate wealthy and status-obsessed Vancouver. People can make real money at the game, enough to fund a rally car just for fun. Sometimes, though, the plates stop spinning and it all comes crashing down.
For unspecified reasons, the dealership closed, and the principal decamped for China. The Subaru was among the abandoned assets, a hunk of old scrap metal more trouble than it was worth.
At first, Yuen didn’t think much of the Subaru. It was an interesting find, but it was hard to figure out who owned it. A couple years later, through a connection in his detailing business, the story emerged. There was a gamble to be made.
It’s worth noting what kind of sorry shape this car was in. It had been left uncovered, exposed to the elements, and some of the window trim was broken, letting water leak in. Not only was the transmission grenaded, but the engine was missing its coil packs and was suspected to be hydrolocked. There was evidence that animals had been living in the car.
But as Yuen looked closer, he was surprised to see that this was, in fact, a real-deal rally car. It had full underbody protection, a proper FIA-spec roll cage, Motec engine management, a GPS transponder, and even the same Reiger dampers that Ken Block runs on his cars. It was badly neglected, but it was nonetheless clearly something special.
The landlord who owned the warehouse was perfectly happy to consider an offer, but the car was still registered to a dead business. There was no way to know if the entire powertrain would require replacement, and no clear process towards transferring ownership.
Thankfulkly, the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) has a process for registering abandoned vehicles. The tricky part was proving that the Subaru was truly abandoned, as the dealership it was registered to hadn’t formally gone out of business.
A nine-month gestation began. The process was as antiquated as you might expect, a series of hoops to jump through, coming at a rate of about one per month. First, it was a requirement to take out an ad in a local newspaper. Then it was sending registered mail to the address listed for the defunct dealership. At this point, Yuen had paid the landlord a considerable sum, and had towed the car away to be stored indoors, so at least it would be out of the elements.
When the title finally came through, it was time to rectify the damage and see if the car could actually be made to run. The Subaru was towed to a shop in nearby Port Coquitlam that Yuen trusted, and work began. Luckily, a wrecked Version 8 JDM STI turned up locally, providing a source for various parts, including the transmission. Cleaned up, the engine seemed to turn easily by hand. Re-assembled, it fired right up.
As you see, the Subaru is still a ways from being done. Again, Yuen is a details guy, and he doesn’t like the fact that the car is an odd blend of 22B and Colin McRae S5 WRC car. He sourced rare S6 bodywork from a supplier in Russia, but that plan has been unavoidably delayed. The wing and the scoop are correct, but not quite up to Yuen’s standard. There’s some paintwork to be redone. The engine is set up to run on race gas, so a retune for street duty is on the to-do list.
This car has likely run its last race. It looks the part, but most of the safety equipment is out of certification. It would almost be easier to build a new rally car from the ground up. Yuen has plans to go rallying himself, but the idea is to reduce his fleet a bit, find a first-generation Cayman, and make that into an off-road competition car.
But he’ll definitely be keeping the Subaru. It might not run a stage rally again, but it would be perfect for an autocross. Or just for a bit of back-road sliding. Or, if he found a friend with an open field or a construction site who might look the other way on a Sunday morning…
As appealing as a tame, road-registered rally car might be, there’s something even better about the story of this Subaru. Many an old racing car is sent to the glue factory rather than put out to pasture. Most machinery does not get a gentle retirement.
Thanks to Yuen’s persistence, this car still gets to wow the crowds at the local car shows. A happy end to the kind of tale that keeps us all peeking in driveways and back lots, wondering about the shape under that tarp, knowing in our hearts that everywhere, if only we can find it, is hidden automotive treasure.