Subaru’s racing efforts are famend by fans far and vast, because the underdog Japanese model scored legions of followers—and championships—throughout the 1990s and 2000s as one of many dominant gamers in World Rally Championship (WRC) competitors. (Its vast lineup in the Gran Turismo PlayStation recreation collection did not damage, both.) Briefly order, four-wheel drifting glory grew to become a key a part of its identification, fostering tons of press and boosting world gross sales of the corporate’s all-wheel-drive turbo sedans and wagons.
Far much less ink has been spilled concerning the automaker’s much less profitable bid to shine within the context of a unique motorsports establishment. The truth is, properly earlier than rally ever entered the image, Subaru was decided to focus on its engineering prowess and switch the heads of fans who had largely written off the quirky model—by cracking the ranks of Method 1.
To get began, all it wanted was an engine. Sadly, that powerplant turned out to be the Subaru flat-12, the biggest and finally least-successful design within the firm’s historical past.
Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Bother
The late ’80s have been a growth time for the Japanese financial system, and its auto business celebrated the island’s monetary windfall with all method of pricy expansions, branding schemes, sports activities vehicles, and racing groups. Desperate to become involved, Subaru realized that whereas it could not match Mazda’s upcoming RX-7 or Honda’s nascent NSX within the showroom. But, there was no motive why it could not underwrite a fledgling F1 group as an engine provider.
In fact, ‘provider’ got here with an asterisk. With nearly no expertise on this planet of high-end competitors, Subaru contracted Motori Moderni to function its chaperone into the F1 scene. The agency got here with an open-wheel pedigree established by Alfa Romeo, as Moderni’s proprietor and supervisor, Carlo Chiti, had enjoyed racing success as the Italian marque’s chief engineer earlier than parlaying his popularity into serving as a non-public engine builder for the Minardi and AGS groups.
Though latest rule modifications had Chiti purchasing a 3.5-liter V-12 to F1 groups on the time, Moderni was all too joyful to modify issues up and build a “boxer” engine that would bolster Subaru’s brand at the pinnacle of racing. With nothing however flat-fours and flat-sixes in its portfolio, a flat-12 appeared like the following logical step, as it could embody most of the identical engineering rules (significantly a low middle of gravity) that the corporate touted when promoting its avenue lineup.
The Incorrect Engine for the Incorrect Automobile
Sadly, the three.5-liter flat-12 developed by the Subaru/Motori Moderni partnership ended up emphasizing the boxer engine’s negatives quite than the positives when employed in a high-performance surroundings. The primary difficulty was weight: When totally dressed with its equipment, the motor was almost 250 pounds heavier than a comparable Formula 1 V-8. That difficulty was compounded by the very fact Moderni was by no means in a position to squeeze greater than 550 hp or so out of the unit, which meant it was down by as many as 100 horses in comparison with a few of its rivals on the qualifying grid.
When outfitted to the Subaru works automotive, a Coloni C3B designed by Christian Vanderpleyn, the porky, wheezy 12-cylinder motor posed yet one more downside. It appears that evidently the scale of the engine (which had been dubbed the Subaru 1235) have been such they required using side-pod air ducts quite than the unique airbox the C3 had been designed for. Not solely did the ponderous motor placement disturb the aerodynamics of the chassis, however it additionally made it unimaginable to make the most of venturi tunnels sculpted into the underside of the automotive, additional lowering the Coloni’s downforce.
Predictably, a Subaru/Coloni bundle that was chubby, underpowered, and never almost as sticky because the competitors had great difficulty even making it onto an F1 starting grid. After a mere eight races of making an attempt, and failing, to pre-qualify for an occasion throughout the 1990 season, Subaru would reduce ties with Motori Moderni, leaving Coloni to swap within the earlier 12 months’s Cosworth V-Eight for the rest of the schedule. This, too, can be a failure, leading to a misplaced 12 months for the group and a dodged bullet for Minardi, which had initially examined the engine earlier than its settlement with Subaru fell by way of.
Attempt, Attempt Once more
The Subaru 1235 story did not finish in F1 ignominy. As with every unique powerplant deserted by the higher echelon of motorsports, there was no scarcity of suitors recreation to leverage the automaker’s enormous funding to their very own achieve.
The primary was Alba Engineering’s Giorgio Stirano, who counted himself fortunate to stumble throughout a viable 3.5-liter powerplant for his Group C prototype program in a 12 months the place latest rule modifications from the FIA had pressured out many producers and groups. The identical issues that had plagued Coloni would additionally hang-out Alba all through 1990, with poor aero and a horrible power-to-weight ratio rendering the Alba Formula Team entry regularly 20 to 30 seconds off the pace earlier than imploding at Spa.
Group C can be the ultimate nail within the competitors coffin for the Subaru 1235, however there have been nonetheless potential shoppers on the market on this planet of bespoke luxurious cars. Each Dome (famed builders of the Zero, in addition to quite a few Toyota race cars) and Christian von Koenigsegg would give the flat-12 a try-out within the Jiotto Caspita and the original Koenigsegg prototype, respectively.
Constructed for Jiotto Design Studio, Dome’s mid-engined marvel really pre-dated the Subaru engine’s F1 look, with preliminary fashions geared up with the three.5-liter engine proven off at the Tokyo Auto Show in 1989. Subaru axing its F1 program rapidly put an finish to Dome’s curiosity in repurposing the flat-12 for the Caspita, with Jiotto boss Kunihisa Ito turning to a more conventional V-10 power plant.
Divorced from its disastrous on-track returns, the engine had a significantly better likelihood in Sweden, the place it caught Koenigsegg’s consideration due to an opportunity encounter with a pal of Carlo Chiti. Bored out to three.Eight liters, the engine was now pushing out 580 hp at 9,000 rpm. After placing a cope with Motori Moderni, the unit replaced the Audi V-8 that had motivated the original Koenigsegg prototype in 1996. The dying of Carlo Chiti quickly after the flat-12 was put in within the automotive spelled an finish to Motori Moderni and Koenigsegg’s provide of engines. Whereas Koenigsegg purchased designs and tooling for the Subaru 1235 at public sale, he finally deemed it too sophisticated to supply in-house.
F1 Stumbles Breed Rally Success
For Subaru, staying on-brand meant sacrificing any likelihood to be aggressive in F1. The problems surrounding the 1235’s weight and tough placement within the F1 monocoque of the period may have simply been predicted, to not point out the very fact it had been almost a decade since some other group had efficiently fronted a flat-12 engine. Ignoring all of those particulars and selecting to manipulate the Coloni group by decree quite than the realities of the game assured a poor exhibiting for Subaru and made its boxer design the laughing inventory of the circuit—the online reverse of what had been hoped for by firm executives.
Though the 1235 flat-12 stays a sore spot in Subaru’s historical past, it may very well be argued that the corporate acquired off simple in comparison with a few of its in-country rivals throughout the bubble period. Subaru would by no means once more fee a bespoke engine or compete in something resembling the higher echelons of open-wheel racing. Then once more, the corporate didn’t must cope with the fall-out from growing luxurious manufacturers that by no means noticed the sunshine of day, or dump enormous sums into high-tech sports activities vehicles that have been rapidly crushed by the rising yen after which hollowed out by the crashing financial system.
Three years after the F1 catastrophe, Subaru would debut its Impreza-based rally team and uncover that showroom-based vehicles provided a way more profitable outreach into motorsports. Particularly, rally racing tied the corporate on to prospects who may present up at a vendor following the newest victory and drive residence in almost the identical automotive that they had seen on TV the weekend earlier than. Embracing this profitable philosophy guided the following twenty years of Subaru’s product planning and competitors, and took a little bit of sting out of the flat-12 debacle.
Coloni C3B photograph by way of Pascal Rondeau/Getty Photos.