Fortunately there are many Scooby specialists in the UK who will happily carry out an inspection for you for a fee of around £150. The best buys are to be found with private sellers who have maintained their cars well and have owned the cars for a few years. However it may well be faster to buy from a BIMTA approved dealer. Be sure to get a good warranty that covers any engine problems. It is worth asking the buyer what fuel they are running the car on as ALL classic STis must be run on super unleaded (98 octane plus) without it, engine damage can occur.
A car with this performance is always going to be expensive to insure but there are many Subaru Impreza Insurance specialists who can offer relatively low premiums for modified and imported examples compared to the main high street insurers. Minimum security requirements for these vehicles is likely to be at least Thatcham category 1 but investing in a higher rating security system is likely to lead to even cheaper insurance. It's worth getting a few quotes for insurance companies before buying just to check the premiums are affordable. Parts and servicing are also likely to be expensive so price this into your budget.
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Although STis have uprated engine internals they still need to be cared after in the same manner as the WRX motors. Oil changes should be carried out every 7,500 miles for Classics or 10,000 miles for newage, although more regular changes are not a bad thing, new spark plugs, brake fluid, transmission and diff oil should be changed every couple of years or 24,000 miles and the cambelt should be changed every 45,000 miles.
Listen for knocking coming from the engine as this could indicate piston slap or bottom end damage and the turbo should run quite quietly if the cat is still in place. And last but not least, smoke free. Turbos must also be allowed to cool down after hard driving - ask the seller what he does for the shutdown procedure. Watch for a fluctuating idle which could be a symptom of a blown mass air flow sensor or sticking wastegate solenoids. If a boost gauge has been fitted, check that the boost pressure is not exceeding 17-18psi.
The standard exhausts are fairly long lasting but most owners will have probably have replaced the original exhaust with a stainless steel aftermarket performance exhaust system, due to their performance and their very reasonable prices. Hayward and Scott to name just one. If the cat is removed on the Impreza you are looking at buying make sure to get the old cat from the seller, if it's not available budget this into the price, as you will need one come MOT time.
A powerful car with 4wd is always going to punish the gearbox especially so if it has been modified. It's not uncommon for a clutch to last as little as 40,000 miles. Clutch judder is common on Classic's when the car is cold. The Subaru gearbox is extremely tough but when the gearbox is warm do the usual checks to ensure that all gears engage easily with no crunching, listen out for any whining at all whether it be from the gearbox itself or from the diffs. Popping out of gear is almost unheard of, but accelerate hard from low revs in each of the gears to make absolutely sure.
The OE brakes and pads are not amazing and most owners uprate the pads, discs, lines and fluid to uprated items. DOT 5.1 fluid is common, especially if your going to take the car on track. As with any car brake hard from speed to ensure the car pulls up straight and smooth with no judder. Rear brakes can seize if a car is left standing.
Accident damage is a real possibility on these cars, vulnerable areas include the front end, front and rear wings. Check the underbody thoroughly for rust as a lot of car will not have been undersealed. The bonnet is also vulnerable to stone chips, budget the repair of this into the purchase price.
Wheels and Tyres
Tyres can last up to 15,000 miles but next to no time when taken on track. Check wheels for signs of kerbing.
The electrics are general sound although the cheap interior plastics can look tatty over time. The newage cars have better interiors however the seats become less 'buckety'.
Worn anti roll bar bushes can be diagnosed by knocking coming front the front suspension. It has been said that the best suspension available for the STi is it the original STi set up. So replacing does necessarily mean having to go down the performance suspension route although this may work out to be the cheapest option.
Choosing your Impreza
If you are going to use the car as a daily driver then a fairly standard STi may well be the best choice but if you intend on taking it on track regularly then a Type RA may well be the one for you. Although the Classic Impreza can be had for under £4000 it is best to pay as much as you can afford, £5000 gets you into high quality examples. At the end of the day always buy the Impreza on condition not mileage. Buying heavily modified examples can be a bit of minefield so it's best to get these looked at by a Subaru Tuning Specialist who can advise you accordingly.
Information Source - StikeEngine Tuning Directory, Subaru Impreza Buying Guide (GC8)