Right on the outskirts of Tokyo, roughly an hour away by train, you can find in an unassuming and quiet suburb the headquarters of one of the most revered three-letter combinations in all of motoring: STi. For any diehard Subaru fan, a pilgrimage to the gallery at their headquarters in Mitaka is a must.
Never mind the long and somewhat confusing train journey there. It’s worth it to see the massive complex that houses the gallery. For some stupid reason I decided to walk there from the bus station Google Maps suggested. I have an irrational fear of taking a bus, missing my stop and then somehow ending up on the other side of the country, so it was on foot for me. (Taking a taxi would’ve been more convenient, and is probably more recommended during the hot summer months.)
Anyway, as soon as you arrive at the “Car Do Subaru Mitaka”—no really, that’s what it’s called—it becomes very apparent why it’s located far from central Tokyo. It’s huge. Maybe not compared to other dealerships outside Japan, but compared to showrooms within central Tokyo where you’d be lucky to see half a dozen cars inside, the massive area for the Car Do was a welcome change in scenery.
Basically a massive dealership for new and used Subarus, the important stuff is located on the second floor of the main building. To get there you must first go through the showroom for all the new Subarus. Because I never go anywhere prepared I had arrived during the lunch break for the STi gallery.
To kill time I ended up looking around the new cars. Subaru’s current lineup looks so completely removed from their greatest hits from the ’90s and early aughts. These days few things scream “we’ve won World Rally Championships, honest.” There was no sign of a BRZ or WRX inside at all. Instead, there was a hybrid XV and whatever the Subaru Chiffon is supposed to be.
Just around the corner of the new car showroom was the STi shop in the service department. It had everything you could want with STi branded merchandise from actual car parts, model cars, and t-shirts and caps. I liked the idea of ordering a new Chiffon and haggling the dealers to throw in a Bilstein suspension and a BRZ cap to go with it.
By the time I had a look around the gift shop, it was time to head up to the STi gallery. Because of its distance from Tokyo, and possibly because not too many people are aware of its existence, there were no other visitors. After a while a Subaru fan from Hiroshima showed up to have a look around. That’s about a 10 hour drive away, so he was quite committed.
The gallery itself isn’t huge. There were only four cars on display and the displays themselves change often. Coming up from the “gift shop” you’re greeted by a timeline of STi’s motorsports achievements in 1/43 scale. There’s also a sample of their GT300-tuned EJ20 engine used in the Super GT BRZ cars.
Walk down a bit and you’ll quickly notice a massive Nurburgring map on the wall. Conveniently underneath it was the WRX S4 tS with the NBR Challenge Package
This Japanese model is basically a pumped version of the CVT-only WRX, the car for the rally driver who needs to take his kids to school without hassling too much with stop-and-go traffic. The tS ups the power of the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder to 296 horses.
Other upgrades include four-pot Brembo calipers, an STi strut tower brace, adjustable Bilstein Dampmatic II front suspension and active torque vectoring. Cosmetically, there’s a more aggressive front splitter, 19-inch BBS forged alloys, and Recaro seats. The NBR Challenge Package adds the carbon-fiber rear spoiler and the commemorative badge.
Scattered around the walls were some of the trophies STi have won from various races such as the World Rally Championship, Super GT, and the Nürburgring 24 Hours. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that Subaru and STi are still a formidable force in motorsports, which makes some of their more recent road-going attempts even more frustrating. Speaking of which, the timeline of the Legacy on the wall reminded me just how good the fourth generation car looked. That was peak Legacy.
The piece-de-resistance of the STi gallery is the rally cars from yesteryear. On display at the time I visited was the 2008 car driven by Petter Solberg. Next to it was the 1998 Rally Sanremo car driven by Colin McRae and Nicky Grist. 1998 would be the final year McRae would race for Subaru with the ‘R14 WRC’ finishing third at Sanremo.
Last but certainly not least was the 22B. A limited widebody (no riveted overfenders here) Impreza coupe, it was basically a road-going version of the rally car next to it. Just 400 were produced for the Japanese market with an extra 24 made for export markets.
The holy grail of Subarus blessed with flared squared off arches, larger 2.2-liter turbocharged flat-four engine, and a curb weight of just 2,800 pounds, seeing this up close and next to the competition car on which it was born from was worth the long trip out.
After taking it all in I went back down outside where the STi goodness continued. There was a WRX available for test drives, yet it was equipped with a CVT. Parked on its own near the entrance was a BRZ tS. (You Americans are getting that car soon too.)
There aren’t too many of these on the roads but the STi tweaks certainly added some extra sportiness to its design, if not to its actual performance.
Around by the service area was a unicorn in the shape of WRX STi S207 NBR Challenge Package. The S207 is a limited-run STi with only 400 produced, 200 of which were equipped with the NBR Challenge Package.
Elsewhere, there was an entire selection of used BRZs and WRXs all lined up itching to be driven on a touge. As I made my way out a pink shape caught my attention—a Subaru R1 on the used car lot.
For those unfamiliar with this car it’s the two-door version of the R2 kei-car, a coupe version of it if you will. Like all kei-cars it’s powered by a 660cc three-cylinder engine. Depending on the configuration, it can be had with 46 or 54 HP. Those seeking to lose their licenses can go for the supercharged STi version with a whopping 63 HP. Please be careful where you aim that thing.
Yet the pink metallic example here was not the STi version, but was instead the 54h R model with all-wheel drive and a CVT. All of this magnificence with its “Honey I Shrunk the Tribeca” nose can be yours for ¥863,000 (or roughly $7740).
You could spend a good hour or so at Car Do Subaru Mitaka from taking in the history and achievements of STi to imaginary car shopping around the used car lot. That is unless of course you’re interested in a new Chiffon. Yet going this far just for STi and then heading back to Tokyo doesn’t really make much sense.
Luckily, there are more car-related things you can do in the immediate vicinity. Stay tuned for that.