Never Stop Driving #70: Subaru Cocaine

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Larry Chen is my internal-combustion substance dealer. In the latest episode of Capturing Car Culture with Larry Chen, he profiled a Northern Ireland car dealer, KG Motorsports, that specializes in my personal automotive holy grail: rally cars.

Rally machines are production cars that have been massively modified to thrive while running flat-out on any surface—asphalt, gravel, or snow. Perhaps you’ve watched them ludicrously drift around gravel turns or fly over crests and land without damage.

“I told you not to lift.” More than 20 years ago, when I was driving in a Minnesota rally, my co-driver sternly admonished me with these words via my headset because I had removed my foot from the throttle. We were running about 100 mph on a tree-lined dirt road, at night, ascending a hill. The headlights illuminated the sky rather than the road. This was my first rally, the roads were utterly unfamiliar to me, and I had only met the co-driver the day before. I was scared. Understandable, right? My co-driver, however, was unfazed by risk and only cared for speed. These rally folks, I thought, are mental. Bloody brilliant.

Around the same time, I joined World Rally Champion Colin McRae in England for a press junket that included a brief drive in his Impreza WRC rally car. McRae was fearless—with a reputation to either crash out or win any given race. During a quick ride with McRae in a muddy forest, I was not the cool cucumber co-driver and only pride kept me from asking him to slow down. That was when I learned that the best drivers possess an almost supernatural confidence. Even a crumb of doubt can result in a microsecond of hesitation, which can be the difference between the car staying on the road or not.

Subaru McRae Impreza
McRae with his Subaru Impreza. Subaru

I asked McRae where he got his skill. The Scottish-born driver, who died in a helicopter crash in 2007, was known to lay on a thick, indecipherable accent when he wanted to, and I must have failed some test because I couldn’t understand a word. All I remember is me asking, “What?” and McRae looking annoyed. Maybe he was miffed that I got to drive his Subaru, which you can see in this video.

The car was built by Prodrive, which started with Subaru’s entry-level economy car, tore it to the bare metal shell, and then spent hundreds of hours welding and fabricating it into a robust racing machine. The rules at that time dictated about 300 horsepower and four-wheel drive. From behind the wheel, the car felt like a tank and was unfazed as I blitzed over ruts and slid across a field. I’ve long thought that a professionally built rally car is the one-car solution, a Swiss-army knife on four wheels that has the finicky bred out of it. Until Chen’s video, however, I’d cleared my head of the cars, because they’re financially out of my reach. Now they’re high up in the fantasy rotation.

Another fantasy is that I’ll one day live where I’m surrounded by choice driving roads. On the slim chance that might happen, I bought another Mazda Miata last weekend. As I’ve mentioned before it’s a good time to buy, and I was able to pick up a silver 1990 MX-5 with 35,000 miles for 11 grand, a reasonable price according to the Hagerty Valuation Tools. I fear that low-mileage early Miatas, which are still around, will get scarce and expensive and I wanted to lock one in while I could. The early cars came in four colors—red, blue, white, and silver—and fewer than 10 percent were silver. I won’t bore you again with another love letter to the car, but this is my fifth Miata and probably the last car I’d sell.

Late model Mustang wear hood paint peel
Peeling clear-coat on associate editor Chris Stark’s SN95 Mustang. Chris Stark

In other Hagerty Media news, we’re still getting terrific responses from our Patina material. My colleague Joe DeMatio interviewed a materials expert to investigate how the plastics of post-1980 cars might age. His interview provoked rich conversation. There are plenty of folks who don’t admire shabby, preferring shiny metal, and our own Dave Kinney made the case for perfect. Our hot-rod guru Brandan Gillogly beautifully presented this modified “Bat Outa Hell” Model A. There’s so much more on that I hope you check back regularly and sign up for our newsletters.

For many of us, winter is coming so get out and drive this weekend. If you do, stop along the way and talk to people. I fear we’re losing our ability to connect, and cars are ideal conversation starters.

bat outa hell model a coupe hot rod erik hansen
Erik Hansen’s “Bat Outa Hell” Model A. Brandan Gillogly

P.S.: Your feedback is very welcome. Comment below!

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    The rally driver is one of the fearless. The fastest are winners or dead. Well it used to be that way with the high powered cars of the past.

    But still today the ability to overcome the fear and rely on the control skills is right there with the sprint car guys.

    The guys on pavement and with major down force and sticky tires are still good but the dirt guys are on a different level.

    I can’t imagine any good reason for you to use “cocaine” in the title of this article, really inappropriate in my opinion.

    How about “Subaru Holy Grail”?

    I believe the intent was “a risky addictive thing you just can’t let go of”. So “holy grail” doesn’t really translate.

    Yet I see Paul Allen’s point about maybe choosing another word, but then alternatives that sort-of translate (bad girlfriend, Russian Roulette, etc.) probably would upset some as well…

    Some of the spectators in the World Rally scene are crazy jumping in the “road” and then jump back as the cars come sliding by. Just wild.

    Patina, I knew her well, that is another story. I have had my 84 Mustang since brand new 200,000 some miles, it has dents, scratches, nicks, etc. I know every one of them and when I got them. Especially when I was practicing my golf swing and whoops there goes the club right into the car. Kind of like the old pair of your favorite jeans, rips, fades, stains, yes, great. But “fake” patina, not my bag.

    Larry, I just got a “wind blocker” for my 560SL and will be driving until my cold fingers can’t grip the wheel. Nothing like driving top down in the fall and winter, People think you are crazy, hmm…..

    Regarding getting the car out while there is still some good weather (and socializing), I’m doing my part. Two weeks ago there was a show in the pouring rain (a chance to show off how well the water beads up on my Turtle Wax shine, last Saturday was a picnic for our automotive lobbying organization (, Sunday was a cruise-in at a local Sonics, tonight is a Friday the 13th show at a nearby pub, and next weekend is the first of several Trunk-or-Treat events that I’ll attend. I’m naturally outgoing and I love talking to others about their cars or mine – which generally leads to some friendly interchange not related to world, national or local “issues”. The other day, I began talking to a guy about his Camaro build and that led into a gab session lasting more than 45 minutes about BBQ grilling (even got his recipe for tri-tip)!

    After letting them sit in the Pontiac for pictures, I had two ladies ask to go home with me at Friday night’s show. Trust me, had NOTHING to do with me, and everything to do with their loving the car (and perhaps a tiny bit due to the fact that alcohol was being served at the pub’s outdoor bar)! 🤩

    Now that Texas no longer approximates the surface of the sun, temperature-wise, it’s big time car show season here. There are some shows that occur monthly throughout the year, but October is the time for the big, annual shows. I think there are 4-5 this weekend alone. Also, I just got my F100 running with its rebuilt engine, so plenty of driving to be done!

    When I met Hurley Haywood, I asked him if he ever drove a prepped pro rally car. He said no, but Walter Rohrl gave him a ride into the woods and it scared the shit off of him! Loved the story!

    Oh, actually your original “off of him” might be just as correct. I’ve ridden in a full-tilt Subaru WRX Rallye Car and frankly, I can’t swear as to where all the “stuff” went…

    Mr. Webster, I’ve wanted to write for a few weeks now about your article on EVs. First, I don’t own an EV but I do support them as legitimate autos. But, the decisions being made to aggressively push the public to EVs isn’t as simple as some folks think it is. We are all aware of the range anxiety issue, and the fact that EVs are expensive. So far, very few governments have addressed the need for charging stations. Obviously, that is a limit on EV adoption.

    It’s also incorrect to say that EVs are better for the environment. The truth is more complicated. The metals and other minerals required to build EV batteries all have to be mined. Most environmentalists agree that mining isn’t great for the environment. Take lithium mining as an example. Nevada has a very large deposit of lithium. The mining rights have finally been given approval after being tied up in court. One group of environmentalists wanted the mine to proceed so the USA can meet the mandates for in-country production. Another group of environmentalists opposed the mine because it damages the environment. Again, just saying EVs are the answer isn’t that simple. The other current problem is the need for cobalt. Most of the world’s discovered supplies of cobalt are in China and Africa. My understanding (perhaps wrong) is that China has purchased the mining rights to the cobalt in Africa. So, China controls a critical element needed for EV batteries. The USA is currently at odds with China which makes it hard to get cobalt and for reasonable cost. As far as I can tell, as long as people want stuff, we are going to use Earth’s resources to make them. Since there are fixed amounts of elements (the Law of Conservation of Matter) we will begin to use up resources and have to make difficult decisions for what we use or do not use. Oil, water, lithium, cobalt are just current examples. EVs have a place in the category of transportation but they aren’t the total solution to a cleaner environment.

    The link is an interesting read.

    I’m not a toyota fanboy.

    But their logic on hybrid (30-35 on the road vs. 1 EV for same costly battery materials… most people’s driving in hybrid commuting would be EV mode… therefore fastest way to ramp up environmental improvements if that is the real goal) makes sense.

    Their longstanding investment in hydrogen… which will be big vehicles, trains, heavy industry if governments follow through on banning fossil fuels seems prescient.

    and if they are doing solid state (for some time many pundits “best future battery” hope) I believe it will really happen.

    They have even found their “sporty” car heritage in the last few years and made some things much better looking (i.e., Prius) than anyone thought possible 10 years ago.

    Larry, I am trying to keep driving. We just got back into NE Ohio from the Porsche Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca. We drove my 2021 Cayman GT4 6,200 miles about half of which were beautiful back roads. Tomorrow we are headed out on a scavenger hunt that will take us into unknown parts of West Virginia. I have a spare tire mounted to my rear window on suction cups and have declared my car to be a one-off GT4 Dakar. Keep up the great flow of information.

    Larry–in that video that you linked where you said you got to drive that Scottish guy’s Subie, could you please indicate at which point in the video you were driving it?

    Spare tire on rear window? Wow. You’re not worried about overloading the glass? In any case, enjoy that car and that magnificent engine!

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