When Colin McRae powered his Subaru to world championship victory in 1995 it begun a legacy that engraved the GC8 Group A Impreza 555 in the annals of world rallying.
Impreza 555: a world rally icon
Ask any motorsports fan to name one car that is synonymous with the rally sport, and the Subaru Impreza 555 will surely be among the top five, if not number one.
It is also the car with which Colin McRae won his first, and only, drivers’ world championship in 1995 at age 27. This made him the youngest competitor ever, and also the first Briton to achieve this.
The Impreza story began in 1992 when the first-generation WRX 4WD road car was revealed. Before the Impreza, Subaru used two other models in world rallies – the Leone and the Legacy. The Impreza was essentially a replacement for the Leone, and being smaller than the Legacy, it had the potential to be a more successful car.
Longstanding motorsport partner Prodrive and Subaru Technica International (STi, later STI) developed the Impreza according to Group A regulations. While it used the same engine, chassis and suspension as the Legacy RS, it received a new turbocharger, intercooler and cylinder heads. Additionally, it was the first rally car with active differentials.
For the 1993 World Rally Championship (WRC) season the Subaru team introduced a distinctive blue-with-yellow colour scheme. It was a reference to its sponsorship deal with State Express 555, a cigarette brand from British American Tobacco (BAT), and the team opted to name their competition model the 555. This colour scheme has been iconic in the minds of Subaru fans ever since.
“ The 1994 car was similar in specification to the 1993 model but featured a cockpit-adjustable hydraulic front differential, and later a fully active centre differential ”
The new Impreza 555 debuted late in 1993 with Ari Vatanen finishing second in the car’s inaugural race at Finland’s 1000 Lakes Rally. The 1994 car was similar in specification to the ’93 model but used Pirelli tyres and featured a cockpit-adjustable hydraulic front differential, and later a fully active centre differential.
Carlos Sainz joined Subaru to partner McRae for a full World Rally programme in 1994, and the Spaniard achieved the first outright win with the Impreza 555 on the ’94 Acropolis Rally. This was followed by five more victories in the WRC and Asia-Pacific Championship, and Subaru ended the year as runners-up in the manufacturer’s championship.
The year 1995 was to be the team’s turnaround. McCrae and Sainz dominated the season, taking victories at the Catalunya Rally, Rally of New Zealand and Portugal Rally. At the last event, the RAC Rally of Great Britain, the Scotsman clinched the Drivers’ World Rally Championship title.
This set the pace for another manufacturers championship in 1996 with the 555, but McRae lost the drivers’ championship to Tommi Makinen. An entirely new set of regulations forced Subaru to release the wide-bodied WRC97 for subsequent seasons.
During the four years that Prodrive and Subaru campaigned the Impreza 555 only nine distinct number plates were assigned to the WRC works cars. All bar one featured the numbers 555, the exception being N1WRC as used by McRae in 1996.
Note: GC8 is the model code for the first generation Impreza WRX.