The World Rally Championship owes more to Colin McRae than it does any other driver. The Scot’s determination to win at any cost – often at the expense of his car, not to mention his own sense of self preservation – set the championship alight in the late 1990s, drawing a legion of fans to the sport. If McRae was the star driver, there’s no question which car was king: none were more iconic than the 555-liveried Subaru Imprezas, and of those, WRC97001 is by far the most significant. And now it could be yours, thanks to H&H Auctions. It’s crossing the block at their Duxford sale with a price tag of £175-200,000.
By 1997, regulation changes meant that Group A cars were no longer competitive, leading Prodrive to create the first Impreza of the World Rally Car era – WRC97001. Led by David Lapworth, the more rigid two-door Impreza shell was fitted with a 1994cc turbocharged engine, an enlarged intercooler and revised inlet and exhaust systems, increasing power to 300bhp with 347lb ft of torque.
“Chassis 001 was the car we unveiled and used as our primary test and development car,” said Prodrive’s Dave Richards. “It was thanks to the many hours Colin and the other drivers spent at its wheel, that when it came to its debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo in January 1997, Piero Latti was able to claim victory and help Subaru go on to win a third consecutive manufacturers’ title.”
And that was just the beginning – WRC97001 helped to pave the way for its WRC97 sister cars to claim an incredible 119 stage wins and eight out of 14 World Rally Championship rounds.
By 1999, the car had been sold to Procar in Italy, and clocked up further wins at the Rali Vinho da Madeira, Rally Cyprus and Aviano Rally, while later that year it was driven to eighth place on the Rally di Monza by nine-times champion on two wheels Valentino Rossi. Mechanical failure put it out of the 1999 Acropolis Rally and 2001 Swedish Rally, after which it was taken to Ireland and raced extensively from 2002-2007.
It was at the end of its competitive career that the car was bought by the current vendor, who promptly took it to Prodrive for a full restoration, in so doing becoming the firm’s first heritage customer. The original shell was acid dipped, while its flat-four was rebuilt with stock closed-block internals and tuned to run on 99 RON fuel. In short, it was rebuilt as it was in McRae’s day, by many of the same people who had worked on the car in period.
“It’s fantastic and nigh-on bulletproof,” says the vendor. “Just fill up with 99 octane and launch. It’s doubtful that there will ever be another Subaru rally car from the same period restored like this one, if only because the correct SRT parts are so difficult to locate. Pattern parts might be produced in time, but WRC97001 is the real thing right down to the last detail.”