While other kids were watching Jordan dunk, I impatiently waited for my family’s 56kps modem to dial up what passed as ’90s YouTube—RealPlayer—to watch a living god fly through the air with the grace of a Wallenda in his Group A Subaru Impreza WRC: Colin McRae.
In those days, I waited for what seemed like months to watch 45-second recaps from World Rally Championship stages like Mexico or Spain or Monte Carlo, where McRae was the de facto emperor. And although McRae’s precision, lightning-fast reflexes, hawklike vision and expert foot control made him one of the greatest drivers of all time, it was his flame-spitting, high-jumping, blue Subaru Impreza WRC that expanded the legend of his greatness and solidified my love for rally. But through all my travels, I’ve never been introduced to the car that drove home my love for the sport—the car that made McRae my hero. Or rather, its road-going incarnation: the Subaru Impreza 22B STI.
Built for less than a year—from the months of March to August 1998—the Subaru Impreza 22B STI was meant to not only commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary, but to celebrate Subaru’s third-consecutive WRC title. A minuscule production run of just 424 Impreza 22Bs rolled out of Subaru’s Yajima plant. Of them, 400 stayed in Japan, five went to Australia and 16 to the United Kingdom—imported, and subsequently modified, by rally legends Prodrive. The remaining three were kept by Subaru as experimental vehicles. None made it to the United States. As such, I never thought I’d meet my hero. And I likely never would have if not for Renner Racing Development of Carson, California.
But first, non-Subaru geeks might appreciate a primer on what makes this thing so special. The Impreza 22B STI’s exterior was fashioned to emulate the Peter Stevens-designed World Rally race car, though toned down for road usage. The 22B STI was widened more than 3 inches compared to the stock Impreza. Each 22B had a host of unique exterior parts to further differentiate itself from the base stock: a new hood, the widened fenders, a WRC-like front grille, an adjustable rear wing and so on.
Underneath the WRC looks beats the heart of a rally master: Subaru’s EJ22. The 2.2-liter turbocharged flat four-cylinder engine generated 276 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque, sent through a manual transmission to Subaru’s dominant all-wheel-drive drivetrain. The 22B hit 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds and tackled the quarter-mile in only 13.5. To put that performance in perspective, a 1998 Lamborghini Diablo VT took 4.5 seconds to hit 60 mph and 13.3 seconds to cross the quarter-mile’s finish line.
The 22B STI fostered a fervent fan base through not only its blistering supercar-shaming performance, but also through McRae’s rally abilities. Those original cars—the 421 that made their way into collector’s hands—are now worth their weight in gold. In one recent auction, a 2,500-mile example sold for more than $90,000. And given the car’s rarity, the limited-production numbers and rally history, and the upward market trend for now-classic 1980s- to 1990s-era automobiles, these cars won’t likely see a decrease in price anytime soon. They’re effectively out of reach for the average consumer.
Enter Ivo and Peter Tuchenishki. The brothers immigrated to the U.S. from Bulgaria and created Renner Motorsports. In those early days, as equal-opportunity gearheads, they welcomed all makes and models on the shop floor. Yet McRae and his Subaru made an impression on both young lads, too, and they not-so-secretly wanted to modify Subarus exclusively. Maybe even build at least one Impreza 22B tribute.
One brother never saw that dream realized. At a December 2015 track day at Buttonwillow Raceway, Ivo died in a crash. Everyone at Renner Motorsports, especially his brother and his nephew Damyan, were brokenhearted. Further, Ivo was the only one at Renner with a mind for business—the only one who understood how it worked behind the scenes. Ultimately, Ivo’s wife sold the name and shop to outsiders who ran it into the ground.
From the ashes, however, Peter and Damyan Tuchenishki and chief mechanic Brandon Schaal began Renner Racing Development, just a stone’s throw from where Porsche’s Los Angeles offices now sit. And not only have these three passionate enthusiasts resurrected the business, they’ve also realized Ivo and Peter’s dream of building Subaru Impreza 22B tributes.
When I arrive at the shop, I am greeted by my hero—my childhood dream incarnate. In fact, there are two of them. One is getting ready for a fresh motor to be installed; another idles with that signature Subaru unequal-length header chop exhaust note while guarding the garage door. Although it has been finished in BMW’s tanzanite blue, not Subaru’s World Rally blue, all I can do as I approach the 22B is utter the immortal word of the always articulate “Ted” Theodore Logan: Whoa!
These aren’t factory-built Subaru 22Bs, of course. They never raced in Monte Carlo or through the forests of Scandinavia. Colin McRae never touched them. They’re tributes, cars built to satisfy enthusiasts who don’t have millions in the bank (though Renner can accommodate the well-heeled). Make no mistake: These aren’t 1:18th-size replicas meant to collect dust on your desk. These are full-size, weapons-grade rally and tarmac monsters built by enthusiasts with an exacting attention to detail.
The cars start as standard Subaru Impreza GC8s. Renner originally used a body kit developed by H T Autos out of the U.K., which was molded from an original Subaru Impreza 22B. Since H T Autos ceased the kit’s production, the guys at Renner switched to Aerosim Research. Clients can opt for the standard fiberglass kit or jump to carbon fiber. The white 22B out in the front lot currently waiting for its 500-hp heart features the carbon kit.
“I wish it was done,” says Damyan Tuchenishki, who’s showing me around. “You’d flip. It’s going to be absolute insanity.”
22B reproduction isn’t what Renner Racing is all about—it’s still primarily a shop devoted to making all manner of Subaru faster. As Tuchenishki walks through the bustling shop floor, he gives me stats on the in-progress cars. “Five-hundred-fifty wheel horsepower for that one,” he says of a last-generation WRX STI sedan. “That one will have 600 when we’re done with it,” pointing to another car. Schaal chimes in and points to his own personal Legacy. “I’m only going mild with this, maybe 500 wheel.”
Both men then walk up to the first 22B Renner Racing built. It doesn’t share much with the street car it started life as—hell, it’s not even a 22B tribute anymore. It’s a time-attack nightmare that’s one of the fastest cars around Buttonwillow. “It makes 800 at the wheels. Far cry from the front-wheel-drive car we started with,” says Schaal.
Its tributes are what drives a lot of interest in the shop. “We get a ton of calls for 22Bs. But few spring for the car because of the cost,” Schaal says. For the body kit install, and the donor Subaru, you’re looking at $12,000. “But that’s it,” Tuchenishki adds. “You’re still stuck with a stock Subaru.”
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