I love Subaru because it’s a case where the stranger car won out. As Mitsubishi has long given up on the Evo, it’s the WRX and STI that endure, weird warbling flat-four engine and all.
Welcome back to Auto Archives, the show in which we dive into my personal collection of Car Styling magazine back issues. These issues are packed with never-uploaded-online pictures, sketches, and interviews. I wish I had time to go through every page.
Subaru carved out a name for itself in rallying’s 1990s and 2000s era, a pipsqueak automaker dominating what was then the top Group A class. It was both a champion, the establishment, and a perpetual underdog.
Group A was interesting in that it required a relatively high number of homologation special road cars for a particular race car to be legal. The cars were somewhat more approachable than the cars that came before them.
Those cars, Group B cars, required significantly fewer homologation specials be built, and were correspondingly more unhinged. They were overpowered, overcomplicated, difficult to drive, and dangerous for the grueling stages on which they competed. B7 1986, Group B had been banned for the 1987 season.
This is all to say that while big car manufacturers dominated Group B, companies like Audi (Volkswagen), Lancia (Fiat), and Peugeot, smaller3w4 companies like Subaru found a way to dominate in Group A.
But just before Group B was cancelled, Subaru did show off what kind of car it thought it might enter in the series. In the 1985 Tokyo Motor Show, Subaru showed the F-9X concept, which was explicitly described as a Group B car.
There is a twin-cam, 2.0-liter flat four under the hood, as we have come to expect from Subaru, and it is turbocharged, as everyone but Subaru Crosstrek owners have also come to expect. The engine drives all four wheels, again, as per the Subaru norm. The F-9X, however, was supercharged in addition to being turbocharged, which Car Styling magazine referred to at the time as twin-turbocharging. We’d call it twincharging now, as both super- and turbochargers do the same kind of job, but take different approaches getting there. In the case of the F-9X, the supercharger boosts power low down, and the turbocharger comes on boost up high. Subaru claimed the setup was good for 360 metric horsepower. That was a lot for a company that was mostly making cars that didn’t even crack into the triple digits of HP at the time.
The design of the concept itself is interesting. We think of rally cars, in part because of cars like the Impreza, as being sedans or hatchbacks. We think of them as normal family cars gone berserk. The F-9X, though, is much more in the mold of the Porsche 959 or Ferrari F40, both built with Group B intentions.
The integrated rear wing, the fighter jet cockpit, these are trademarks of a later-era of Group B design that never came to be, cut off before these cars had a chance at production. It might have been for the best.