Subaru, Prodrive, Colin McRae, Ari Vatanen, Richard Burns. They’re all familiar names to any fan of rally history. A car up for auction this month has a connection to all of them. Not only was it piloted by all three of those title-winning drivers, it was also the first Subaru Impreza to score points in the World Rally Championship (WRC). Now restored, the Group A Subaru will cross the block later this month at Artcurial’s Automobiles Sur Les Champs auction in Paris. It’s a sale full of the funky French and other European cars we love as well as several historic rally cars, including an Alpine A110 and an ultra-rare Group B Citroën BX 4TC. But the blue-and-yellow Impreza, chassis #93-004, is the clear star of the sale.
More than any other carmaker—fight us, Lancia and Audi fans—Subaru built its performance image on the dirt and gravel of international rally. All-wheel drive is a Subie hallmark, after all. But its cars weren’t winners straight out of the box.
In 1989, Subaru contracted with British racing outfit Prodrive to prepare its cars and run the Subaru Rally team. The first weapon of choice was the Legacy, and although it was moderately successful, it wasn’t a title contender. The smaller, lighter, more nimble Impreza that came out at the end of 1992 had a lot more promise. The Impreza went on sale in Japan in November and, hinting at the company’s WRC aspirations, Subaru dubbed the turbo performance version “WRX,” short for “World Rally eXperimental.”
In the second half of the 1993 season, at the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland, Prodrive was ready with a full-on Impreza WRC car, decked out in the now famous blue and yellow colors of British cigarette brand 555. Subaru was fresh from its debut win at the previous round in New Zealand, with a young Colin McRae piloting the tried and true Legacy RS. McRae stayed in the Legacy for Finland, while the Impreza, chassis #93-004, was entrusted to veteran driver and 1981 World Champion Ari Vatanen. He brought it home in second place overall behind Juha Kankkunen’s Toyota Celica Turbo. Not bad for the first time out.
Subaru finished the season third in the manufacturers’ standings, behind Toyota with its Celica Turbos and Ford with its Escort RS Cosworths, but ahead of Mitsubishi with its Lancer Evo I and Galant VR-4. In the drivers’ standings, McRae was fifth and Vatanen seventh, as Toyota driver Kankkunen took his fourth drivers’ championship.
Subaru had an even more successful 1994 season, running Impreza Prodrives exclusively. The blue-and-yellow cars won three rallies, and the team took second place in the manufacturers’ standings, just 11 points behind Toyota. 93-004, on the other hand, had a string of bad luck with nothing but retirements. McRae drove it at the Rally of Portugal but dropped out following a ruptured power steering pipe. It also ran the Indonesia round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship with Richard Burns driving but again had to drop out with mechanical failure. At the Rally New Zealand, Burns again retired, while McRae won the event in an identical car.
Subaru built on the momentum from the 1994 season to win three straight manufacturers’ championships from 1995 to 1997, with Colin McRae becoming the first Scottish and the youngest ever WRC drivers’ champion in 1995. Richard Burns, meanwhile, finally won his WRC title in 2001, also driving an Impreza. A year after that, we Americans who had only ever seen Subaru’s World Rally weapons on the TV screen or in the pages of a magazine could finally buy an Impreza WRX for the street. The most popular color? WR Blue Pearl, of course.
As for chassis #93-004, it sold to Australian rally racer Possum Bourne, who swapped the engine and won several rounds of the Australian Rally Championship from 1996 to 1998. A rally enthusiast then bought it and had it restored in 2017–18 to period WRC specs. It retains the original 1993 body shell.
As the first Impreza to score WRC points, this car is an important touchstone in Subaru history. And in the past few years, that history has proven extremely lucrative at auction. In 2017, Colin McRae’s 1996 WRC test car sold for £230,625 (nearly $300,000 at the time). Last February, an ex-Petter Solberg 2007 WRC car sold for £189,000 ($245,000 at the time), and this May an ex-Solberg, ex-McRae, 2004 Rally Japan-winning Impreza sold for £369,000 ($522,430 at the time). Also sold this spring was the first Impreza 22B STi offered in the United States, which brought $317,555. And just last month, a barn find Prodrive Impreza driven by both Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae sold at an auction in Australia, reportedly for $360,000 worth of Bitcoin.
Artcurial thinks that 93-004’s provenance make it worth more than those other cars: With a presale estimate of €450,000–€650,000 ($523,000– $756,000), it has the potential to become the most expensive Subaru sold at auction. We’ll find out if the bidders in Paris agree on October 24.