WRX Build

My Impreza build started like many car projects do: unplanned and unexpected. A little over a month after I purchased my 2003 WRX from a young, male owner in Ohio I was romping down a country road and heard a nasty rattle accompanied by a flashing CEL. All this commotion turned out to be a spun rod bearing on cylinder two. Even though the car had some important maintenance just completed (timing belt, waterpump) and had the records to show, one has to assume every WRX leads a hard life. The car had 159,000 hard miles to be sure, and it was a gamble. I do have some suspicions about the Mobil 1 oil I put in the car after I bought it but whatever.

I didn't want to ditch the car, especially as it was pretty much worthless now. I could risk a complete, used motor, rebuild the current block, or buy a minty-fresh assembled shortblock from Subaru. After a bit of research, I bit the bullet and bought a shortblock and complete gasket kit from P&L Motorsports near O'hare. Their shop was stocked with mildly worked STis and some full-blown, Group N-type rally cars. Neat stuff and appropriate inspiration as I dive into my first motor build

Even though Subaru has done a lot of the hard work with a fully assembled shortblock, I would still need to pull the motor, tear it down, check for other worn components, clean everything fanatically, then carefully put it all back together.

All of this was no small task but a digital camera, some willing friends (one of whom used to own and run real race cars, meaning frequent engine tear-downs intimidated him not), and a pirated copy of the full factory service manual would come in handy.

I will add this: I will never, EVER, attempt a project like this without a proper lift. It feels as though I've been wrenching with only my right hand for years and just recently discovered my second appendage. Lifts are that helpful.

Pulling the motor was plenty of fun and with a handy digital camera I had slightly less fear of forgetting where the maze of vacuum lines went.

April 2010

After spending a lot of time degreasing, wirebrushing, and generally spending a fortune I am now reassembling everything. It's nerve-wracking but yields a great sense of accomplishment. I'm taking my time to read everything in my 600 page factory engine service manual several times. If I'm careful and clean, all I need to do is follow all the torque specs and I'll have a working motor, no? We'll see how it goes.

A trained eye will notice that the headgasket is backwards in the photo. It was flipped before installation.

I've been overwhelmed with all of the "wouldn't that be nice to take care of now" options on this motor build. Ranging from ceramic coating components to upgraded injectors to a big new turbo. Anyone have a spare VF22 lying around? No? Hmm.

It's no wonder race car builds and full classic-car restorations balloon into the tens of thousands of dollars; there's no limit to what one could do. There's a thread called "10k deep with no sponsors" on the NASIOC forum and it's full of ordinary-looking cars. There aren't bling-bling show cars or full-out Open Class stage rally cars. Ten thou is a few upgrades away on most any "build." I can't wait to get into the big-boy league with something truly nuts (British? Italian?).

April 10

Finished doing a little clean-up work on the TD04-13T. Hopefully I'll get a little quicker spool and not choke out the top end so quickly. I was hesitant to modify the wastegate port too much as I want to ensure it seals.

May 11

In the midst of a possible eviction from my shop, I am making some good progress again on the WRX. Barring any roadblocks, I hope to have it running on June 1!!!

Here are some pretty pictures of what's been going on.

July 28 update:

The owner of the slightly decrepit establishment where I've been keeping the WRX owes the local gov lots of money. Apparently, so much so that the sheriff said enough and is taking the property. Next week.

So despite being 'not quite running' I have to get my stuff out of there, soon. I made furious progress in the last few weeks, completing all my motor-stand work, dropping the motor in, and getting the brakes working again. I can now flat-tow the car down the block to a garage where it won't be suddenly repossessed.

While the remaining work can all be done with the car on the ground, it's going to be a hard (impossible?) transition to go back to working on cars without a lift. I can't imagine having a serious project car without one. I'm working on finding another shop with a lift, or possibly investing in a semi-permanent one for my garage.

All is not so bad, here are some photos of recent progress.
Sept 2 update:

After a big scare involving the clutch, I'm nearly reading to fill the WRX with fluids and give her a crank!

I dropped the motor in and suddenly had issues getting the throwout bearing to engage the pressure plate. The clutch fork just flopped back and forth as the bearing slid freely on the input shaft. Not good. I feared I would have to pull the motor/drop the tranny to reassemble the clutch properly. After some discussions on NASIOC, I realized the parts were assembled correctly, yet the spring clip for the throwout bearing wasn't doing its job.

I was able to separate the clip and bearing, force the clip into the pressure plate, then press the bearing into the assembly. After bleeding the clutch (damn Subaru, putting the bleeder nipple at the LOWEST point in the system) I had a working clutch!

I dropped in the radiator, a bunch of other BS, buttoned up most of the engine harness, and took a deep breath. The only remaining items are wiring the new gauges and creating a new crankcase/head breather system. The two liter EJ205 block has one breather while the STi EJ257 has two. I am ditching the whole OEM setup for a custom, balancing system using air/oil separators but I will retain the Subaru PCV valve.

November 16 update:

The Subaru is finally running, but not running well. It's been one issue after another since I 'finished' the build and started it for the first time.

Somehow the thermostat got bent (??) and was leaking pretty badly. I was able to remedy this before cranking it over, but it cost me a new thermostat and a refreshing propylene glycol shower. Next, once the motor built oil pressure, I had a massive oil leak from the turbo oil supply line. My first thought was a lousy crush washer. No luck. Then I suspected the threaded fitting on the braided SS line I got from Pegasus Racing. No, that was sealing nice and tight. After reinstalling the line about four times (which is fun, laying on the intercooler is the best way to get the fitting into the head) I discovered that the threaded fitting on the new banjo couldn't sit flush against the head. It would always leak.

I had no choice but to use the old hard line, which looks like it will break at any moment. It sealed though, and allowed me to actually run the motor. It ran. But it smoked like hell, and there is another, smaller oil leak on the oil drain from the turbo.

Turns out I botched the lines for the crankcase/head breather system and was building well above 110psi of oil pressure. This lead to awesome smoke and oil spatter all over my bumper. The muffler was literally coated in oil. Gross.
That's oil and soot. All over the place. I dropped the exhaust and cleaned it very well. After addressing the breather system and reinstalling the exhaust I have eliminated the smoke and the oil blow-by.

However, I may still have the breather system wrong as the computer is detecting a load at idle. Mike at Benchmark has been very helpful in getting this thing working right. Hopefully this weekend I can get it running smoothly. A buddy asked me what my dollars per mile are on the car right now. I have put 20 miles on it. That's a scary calculation.

March 2011

After an emotional struggle to get the darn thing working right, a bunch of things changed in my life. I spent some time in Europe and North Carolina and the WRX sat in the cold for two months. After much deliberation (with myself) I decided to sell the Subaru.

Yes, I admitted defeat. I bit off more than I could chew, I took on too big of a project with too little time and money. I might (might!) do another motor build, but decades from now. How about after retirement? Oh wait, people don't retire anymore. Scratch that.

In typical fashion, I've been hunting for something to fill the void. Always torn: do I go for something new and reliable-ish or something old and oozing character? How about a Saab Viggen? They're fast, weird, and full of flaws character. Maybe an old Volvo wagon with a mid-nineties Ford Cobra drivetrain? I could find parts anywhere (even down South). Maybe even an Audi ur-S4. Sure, it's a porker, but it has that blitzkreig 20 valve five complete with that wonderful, terrifying warble.

No, I think I'll go for something more ridiculous. Details to follow.

How about a few farewell photos of the Subaru? She was fun for the 2.1 months I actually drove her.

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