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First-gen Subaru Impreza WRX guide article highlights:

  • The GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX is called ‘Impreza GT’ or ‘Impreza Turbo 2000’ in Europe and the UK, respectively
  • While well-maintained, stock GC8s are reliable overall, age and modifications can take their toll on some drivetrain parts
  • Although special- and limited-edition models cost more, you can often buy a clean GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX for less than $20,000

The later versions are still locked behind the 25-year age wall, but the GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX is officially old enough to import. So, American buyers can finally experience the first-gen WRX that we were denied for so long. But before you sprint to an importer, you should know what you’re getting into with these now-classic rally-inspired performance cars. Fortunately, this guide should help answer many of the most pertinent questions.

Not all GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX imports bear the WRX name

A blue 1997 UK-market GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX (Turbo 2000) in a forest
1997 UK-market GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX (Turbo 2000) | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Although most GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX models are JDM cars, the first-gen WRX wasn’t only sold in Japan. Subaru also sold it in Europe and the UK. However, while the Euro-market GC8s are mostly identical to their Japanese counterparts, they have some crucial differences.

Firstly, because of European and UK regulations, the JDM first-gen Impreza WRX models are more powerful than the Euro ones. While the first GC8A Impreza WRX made 227 bhp in Japan, it made 208 bhp in Europe, Drifted says. And while the GC8B wagon made 217 bhp, no Euro-spec WRX made JDM-level power until the 2000 Prodrive P1.

That brings us to the second notable difference between the Euro- and Japan-spec G8C Subaru Impreza WRX: the name. The ‘WRX’ nameplate didn’t appear on a Euro-market Impreza until the second-gen model. Instead, in the UK, Subaru called it the ‘Impreza Turbo 2000.’ Meanwhile, on the Continent, rally fans got their AWD on in the ‘Impreza GT.’ Interestingly, though, the Australian model was called ‘WRX.’

In addition, owing to Scottish rally driver Colin McRae’s WRC success, Subaru released a few UK-only G8C Impreza WRX models. Some, like the P1 and the RB5, were breathed upon by race team Prodrive. And, mirroring what Mitsubishi did with the Tommi Makinen Lancer Evo, Subaru created a ‘Series McRae’ model with the iconic blue-and-gold color scheme.

Is the GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX reliable?

The first-gen Impreza WRX might be inspired by rallying, but it’s also over 25 years old now. As a result, no matter how well-maintained it is, some parts will need more frequent replacement. Hence why you should get a pre-purchase inspection if possible.

Also, much like the current-gen WRX, the G8C Subaru Impreza WRX was often modified and raced in period. And some never got the proper maintenance they should’ve received. So, while they’re tough and durable in stock form, many first-gen WRXs have lived hard lives. Plus, not everyone who tuned these cars did so properly, Classics World notes.

However, age- and modification-related problems aside, the G8C Impreza WRX is generally reliable. That’s particularly true of the WRX STi and Type RA models, which have upgraded drivetrain components. And because aftermarket support is strong, if something does break, replacement parts are often stronger than stock.

Also, while the interior isn’t luxurious by any means, it can withstand a lot of abuse. So, if the G8C WRX you’re eying has a poor-quality interior, it usually means it’s been through the wringer, CW says.

Common first-gen WRX problems

All GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX models—apart from the 22B STi—use some variation of the EJ20 boxer engine. This motor is fairly robust, but as noted earlier, pushing it too far in pursuit of more horsepower will break it. Cracked piston rings, broken con rods, and as with some modern Subaru engines, failed head gaskets aren’t uncommon sights on tuned EJ20s.

Even stock EJ20s have their flaws, though. Some, such as oil leaks from old camshaft and valve cover gaskets and seals as well as turbocharger failure, are age-related. Others, such as slight oil consumption, are commonly seen on high-mileage turbocharged engines. And turbocharged engines can be hard on their ignition coils and spark plugs.

However, excessive oil consumption or oil-burning usually means your piston rings are worn out. Also, there are reports of EJ20s with poor cylinder #4 cooling. It usually presents as a tapping noise when the engine is cold, which then becomes a constant sound. If you let it go on for too long, you’ll likely have to rebuild the engine.

Moving on from the engine, the GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX is pretty stout mechanically, though early cars’ single-piston brakes can stick, CW claims. Fortunately, replacement parts aren’t expensive and rebuild kits are available. And while abuse often makes shifts notchy, the WRX’s five-speed manual is robust overall.

However, the G8C is susceptible to rust, particularly at the rear and around the wheel arches. And if it reaches the rear strut turrets, it heavily compromises the car’s structural integrity. So, make sure to check everywhere when getting a pre-purchase inspection.

How much does a JDM, UK, or European GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX cost?

A blue 1995 GC8 Subaru Impreza Series McRae in a field
1995 GC8 Subaru Impreza Series McRae | Bonhams

Apart from the 22B STi, which is firmly in six-figure territory, the first-gen Subaru Impreza WRX isn’t terribly expensive overall. Although clean, relatively-stock examples are getting harder to find, they’re sometimes even cheaper than 2002-2007 models.

Today, a good-condition GC8 WRX typically costs $15,000-$20,000 on a site like Cars & Bids or Bring a Trailer. STi models are on the higher end of that range. Type RA/R and V-Limited models are more expensive, but you can still find ones in the $25,000-$35,000 range. This also applies to the UK-only Series McRae, Bonhams says. However, you’ll need to pay roughly twice that for an S201 or P1 once they’re old enough to import.

So, now you know what to look for when browsing GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX ads. Now, who’s ready to rally?

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