It's called Scooby because Scooby Doo sounds like Subaru. And you
thought rhyming slang was dead ...
In March 2001 we traded Scooby in for a Mercedes A Class diesel. Scooby was getting old and high mileage, and wasn't getting enough good driving to justify the high running cost. It was advertised for three weeks and only one person came to see it, so we accepted the terrible trade-in :-(
This was our only fast car and we only gradually - after a couple of trackdays and some trips into the mountains - became able to do the car justice. I didn't realise what an unskilled driver I was, until we got the Scooby! The car performed with such a lack of drama that it's almost disappointing - until you're surprised by the reading on the speedo, or notice the cars ahead getting closer, fast! Obviously the acceleration, exhilaration and sense of speed are nothing like you get on a fast bike, but it's excellent for a car; and the cornering, while again less dramatic than a bike, can (in the right conditions) be at a higher speed. And Scooby is shatteringly fast in the wet ...
Inside, our '96 car was a bit dull. Functional, but without much in the way of toys, which was OK by me: I prefer my money to go into dynamics instead of frills. The standard lighting was terrible though, and replacement of the front fog lights with some decent driving lights was top priority. Prodrive offered a pair of PIAAs, but for half the cost we got some excellent Cibie Oscar Plus's from Scoobysport. This made the lights awesome, and a Subaru dealer commented that the fitting was neater than the PIAAs too!
Also from Scoobysport we got a stainless-steel big-bore exhaust, superbly made and with a fantastic sound. We didn't notice a difference in power or economy until we got a Ramair free-flow filter, but then the fuel consumption seemed to be about 10% better. We had a Thatcham Cat 1 alarm fitted too: partly for peace of mind, partly to get remote door unlocking. That's not a toy, that's an essential!
After driving Prodrive's WR Sport demonstrator, we made our first handling change: a set of Speedline 17" wheels with Pirelli P-Zero tyres. The 17" wheels have 7" rims compared to the 6" for the old wheels, and apparently this allows the tyre to sit more squarely on the road.
From a distance, the wheels looked way sexier than standard, but
close-up the feebleness of the brakes spoiled the image. It's nothing
like the huge disc and red calipers on a 911! Apart from looking good,
the only purpose of the larger wheels is to allow lower-profile tyres.
To keep the circumference the same (so the speedo still works!) the
size changed from 205/55V15 to 205/45Z17. The Z-rated tyres weren't strictly
necessary, but there were very few tyres this size and they're
The lower tyres made a huge difference. Reducing the sidewall height meant there's less of an "air spring", so body roll was much reduced. Another advantage was that the tyre is stiffer so there's less lag between turning the wheel, and the tyre following. The downside to this increased sensitivity was that road bumps, ruts and white lines fed through more than on the big squishy tyres. Due to the higher unsprung weight, the standard suspension had a harder job coping on bumpy roads or when moving fast ...
Another useful handling change came from getting the steering geometry changed to the "sports" settings recommended for Prodrive's suspension. This involves a toe and camber change, and made the car a lot more responsive as well as curing an exciting but ultimately undesirable squirming under heavy braking.
After the SIDC trip to Catalunya, a trackday at Cadwell and a couple of laps of the Nürburgring (Nordschleife), we were starting to hanker after some better handling. Yet more money to Scoobysport provided some sports suspension, adjustable for ride height and damping, and with substantially stiffer springs. As with all suspension, it's a compromise, but leaning towards sporty driving rather than slow travel on bumpy roads. The car was transformed though - with meticulous setting up at Leda, the car was beautifully balanced. The tendency to understeer was virtually erased, pitch and roll were superbly controlled, and the dry grip was astounding. The reduced ride height looked really cool too :-)
The day after getting the suspension fitted we were off to the SIDC trackday at Castle Combe. Ours was the quickest of the dozen Scoobies present, narrowly beating a well-driven STI 4 despite being 20mph down on the straights!
It doesn't take long to get use to the lively ride on slow bumps, but we hadn't anticipated the increase in rattles and creaks as more energy is transmitted to the chassis! The adjustable damping came into its own returning from a trip to France, where a couple more clicks at the rear kept quite a lot of Duty Free under perfect control :-)
Next, Scoobysport found us some STI front seats discarded as part of the preparation of a rally car. They provided substantially better support than the crappy '96 model year seats, although I found the lumbar support to be a bit low. They weren't as good as Recaros but they were substantially cheaper!
Soon after that, we went to a motor-related show and got a Sony MiniDisc player for half the retail price. It's a great improvement over the standard unit, and with some fairly cheap replacement speakers it finally gave us a soundtrack to rival the quality of the Scoobysport exhaust :-)
At 45,000 miles the front discs were worn and warped, so instead of replacing them with standard discs, Scoobysport supplied some Group N discs for considerably less money. At the same time, we had some Goodridge hose, uprated brake fluid and Pagid brake pads fitted. This set-up didn't compare to the Brembo brakes, but at less than half the cost it's a useful improvement. On our October '98 trip to the Nürburgring, the increased power, feel and endurance of the brakes were very welcome!
In August '99 we'd towed our bikes to the Ring. One morning I started a gentle lap to show friends round the track, and some odd noises started. It turned out that two big-end bearings had gone. We were 1,000 miles over the 60,000 warranty, and just a week inside the three years, but Subaru honoured the warranty - eventually. It was November before we got the car back, and we missed the October Ring trip :-(
If you're interested in why we chose the Scooby skip to the end.
We told ourselves that £15,000 is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a car. Which, of course, it is. After all, a fast car gets stuck in traffic the same as a slow car ... so why not, we thought, get a car just a bit newer and just a bit better than the Rover. So we looked around and decided our best bet was a 2-year-old Rover 220: a hatchback instead of a boot, a bit bigger engine, a bit firmer suspension, a more interesting colour this time (more interesting than grey - not difficult), and a few less miles. And then we'd have about £7,000 from the MR2 fund to spend on skiing holidays and bikes, and other good stuff.
The trouble with making sensible decisions like that is that it's very difficult to work up any enthusiasm for executing them. So instead of trawling all the Rover dealers in the region, we just didn't bother. After all, the 416 was still very reliable, nothing really wrong with it, and we'd save a further £6,000 by keeping it. Loads more bike money!
And so it came to pass that one Sunday morning in November we were browsing the local paper while we ate our toast, and saw that a nearby garage had a '96 420GSi. Not exactly what we wanted, but close enough (in both senses), so we wandered up to have a look at it. There it was, very tidy-looking and resplendent in a British Racing Green paintjob. Unfortunately, standing next to it and also sporting BRG paint was a '96 5-door Scooby. We had a drive in the 420. It was slightly better than ours - what else is there to say?
We had a drive in the Scooby.
WOW! From the moment we accelerated down the slip road onto the motorway, felt the push-in-the-back and heard the turbo whistle, we were sold. Remembering not to get too excited, we went back to talk turkey with the dealer about prices on both cars. The Scooby was stolen-recovered, which was a bit worrying (although it all checked out through HPI, and the AA had done their used-car check and pronounced it healthy), so we offered a low price and asked for an alarm and cast-iron warranties. Subaru, understandably perhaps, wouldn't honour the warranty because it had been stolen. (What do they do if your car is recovered before the insurance pays out, and you decide to keep it? Do they void the warranty then?)
So began a long week of bargaining, arguing and insurance-quote shopping of just the sort to drain the enthusiasm from the most determined purchasers, and by the weekend we were ready to give up. And then! ... we did give up - there was too much doubt over the car to pay the asking price (£16,250 on the screen, we offered £15,200 to include a cat 1 alarm and a full warranty; they said for that price we'd to take it as seen).
Feeling despondent on Monday morning, I did a query on Exchange and Mart and found a couple of dozen Scoobies listed, most hundreds of miles away but one just 20 minutes from home. I phoned up and made an appointment to view that evening. The car looked immaculate, particularly in the opulent farmhouse setting. Despite being only 13 months old, the car was on its second owner, this farmer's son having had it for just 3 weeks before sadly deciding that he couldn't afford it after all. His asking price was £1,500 more than the green Scooby, but it was the more desirable 4-door and totally above board, with 2 years of factory warranty and roadside recovery, full service history etc. We spent Tuesday thinking about it (and trying to get a perspective on all that dosh in terms of N skiing holidays or M trackdays) and collected the car on the Wednesday ...
Subaru won the 1997 Top Gear / J. D. Power Customer Satisfaction Survey, and although they were "only" second-best manufacturer in 1998, the survey showed that the Impreza boasted the most satisfied owners of any car in Britain.
But all cars get old, and when we tried to sell ours in early 2001, we had very little luck. The book price was around £10k, but we got zero calls when we advertised for £9k ... or £8k. In the end we accepted that no-one wanted it, and traded it in for £6,500 :-(
Before that we had an '83 Renault 9, which was cheap. We bought it the winter we finished college to save our bikes from the road salt. And to keep us warm and dry, which it failed to do when the heater matrix broke in the dead of winter and spilled the radiator water into the footwell soaking our feet, freezing us, misting the windows and overheating the engine. When the wheel bearings went a year later we sold it to a more mechanically-minded friend.
None of the above. We sort of lost interest in performance cars, mostly because in the South of England you get very few opportunities to notice the extra performance over, say, a 90hp diesel. We still enjoy passenger rides at the Ring, and if we lived in the mountains we'd definitely get another, but in the end we replaced Scooby with a 90hp diesel :-)