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Subaru SVX- Sportscar or Desert Runner? online magazine artical

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Heres a good artical done by one of aussie classic car magazines

A very good read :)

Subaru SVX- Sportscar or Desert Runner?

Words by adam ⋅ June 22, 2010

Let us, for one moment, think of the classic motoring community as a giant quilt. Key patches are formed by the automobiles themselves, with the strongest belonging to the established giants of the field- Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley. These are interlinked by the stiches that represent us, the enthusiasts of the motoring world that make the hobby what it is.

Examining the quilt, you see that some tangents are formed by stitches going against the grain. They lead to an eccentric section a little off from centre- smaller than the big players’ zone but no less finely detailed. It is here that you will find patches dedicated to what the mainstream call ‘quirky’ cars. Chevrolet Corvairs share space with Alfa 75s (I should know where to find that as I just bought one…), Tatras and Australia’s favourite, the Leyland P76.

Please don’t be fooled by the mentality of the pack. These quirky cars create cult followings because of their differences, and because of the opinionated, impassioned discussions they create.

Cars like the Subaru SVX.

Conceived just as Subaru really blossomed into the mainstream market with their Legacy/Liberty series, the SVX (or Alcyone in the Japanese domestic market) was designed and styled, by Giorgetto Giugiaro no less, to be the premier showcase for Subaru’s now-famous Subaru All-Wheel Drive technology.

Giugiaro’s design took inspiration from a fighter jet, the broad, angular glasswork and dark toned roof combining to create the impression that the top-half of the car is a canopy made purely of glass. Inside this runway sense is further heightened- the still substantial glassware allowing the cabin to fill with light, the wonderfully cosseting seats slightly angling the occupants’ vision toward the centre of the road ahead, as if sizing up the tarmac for takeoff.

This image- individual, plush, luxurious, laden with technology- hinted at the SVX’s key target market, the United States, where over half of the near 25,000 production run were sold over six years and included a little known ‘cut-price’ front wheel drive version that was exclusive to this market.

Compare this to the local Australian market, where only 280 were sold from 1992-1997 and you begin to understand why they are such a rare sight on our roads today.

Though they were developing some seriously capable turbo technology, Subaru eventually decided that the SVX powerplant should be less highly strung (more American influence?) and decided on a large capacity, naturally aspirated ‘boxer’ six. This was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission with an early version of the adaptive shift technology that we take for granted today. This altered the changeup points dependant on throttle position and ranged from ‘economy’ to ‘power’ modes. Why no manual? The simple explanation is that Subaru at the time did not have anything that would stand up to the pressures that the big six and all-wheel drive system exerted on the drivetrain.

Displacing 3.3 litres and blessed with DOHC, 4 valve heads, the all-aluminium ‘EJ33’ produced 169kw @ 5400rpm at a time when locals were excited by the return of the V8 Falcon, with its 165kw output from a full 5 litres. Torque wise, the SVX churned 309nm @ 4,400rpm through its intelligent all-wheel drive system, which defaulted to a front/rear torque split of 35/65. If it sensed a split in traction, drive could be redistributed towards 50/50 to restore grip levels.

As befitted large Japanese coupes of the time (consider here the Toyota Supra and Mitsubishi 3000GT) the kerb weight of the SVX came in at a portly 1615kg, which gave its impressive engine quite a workout as it lugged the coupe to 100km/h in around 8.5 seconds. Contemporary road testers complimented the smoothness and flexibility of the engine, but it lagged behind its peers in accelerative terms; in fact one gets the impression that the SVX fell short of the performance expectations Subaru had set. This, combined with a new price north of $70,000 could explain why so few found homes in Australia.

The dynamic story was different when it came to ride and handling, the weight assisting in keeping the car planted when pressing on, the slightly rear-biased drive helping to quell its natural tendency to understeer as the supple suspension tune dialled out the worst of the bumps.

Perhaps it was this smooth yet responsive composure that fed Tony Parle’s obsession with all things SVX. After greeting Tony and his wild, modified SVX desert crusher, I am convinced this is the case. “It’s funny that you suggested we meet in a McDonald’s car park, this SVX is called ‘Pickle Power’ because my business is involved in distributing all the pickles to McDonald’s restaurants!”, he laughs as my boggled eyes try to reset in their sockets.

The ‘Pickle Power’ sobriquet was picked up when Tony entered the car in the Kidney Kar Charity rally in 2008, an annual long distance event that benefits the Kidney Foundation. The 2008 event covered around 4,000kms in 8 days, from ‘Sydney to Mudgee via Mildura’. Turns out this was just a jaunt in the park for Tony and his vehicle, which is currently showing a whopping 540,000kms: “Driving for me is thinking time. There are no distractions and I find it very relaxing. I often take my wife on trips through the deserts of outback Australia to go camping, and I wanted to do it with something that no-one else thought could stand up to the punishment,” he says. Adding credence to this is the fact that Tony had driven from Griffith in New South Wales to Melbourne that morning, at least a 5 hour trip, and a viable explanation for the variety of squashed insect life in its grille. “Where are you staying?” I ask nonchalantly. “I’m not staying; I’m turning around and going straight back home!” is his response. That is true commitment.

As we walk around the car and Tony explains the modifications, new stories continue to light up his face, tales of others’ disbelief upon seeing his sportscar spearing through the sand. “I just love these cars. Besides this one I have two more at home, a low kilometre ’92 in White and another that has Targa Tasmania history…and I am keen to get it back there. But it’s this one that turns the most heads, especially when I am using it to tow Land Cruisers out of the Kimberley!”

You can see why it draws the crowds. On top of that extrovert SVX styling, this one is lifted 2 inches on a set of rally-spec DMS struts and sits on 70 profile, puncture resistant rubber. It simply oozes presence, with the big light pod bracing the bonnet and the Terratrip adding to its mystery, a mystery that has seen grown men almost come to blows over the possibility that it could arrive at a rest stop in the middle of the Simpson Desert more quickly than their own dedicated off-roaders.

It is when your eyes fall to the centre console that you become completely sold on the fact that this Subie has what it takes to tackle the Oodnadatta track. “That is an STi six speed manual complete with the Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD). The standard auto is fine for the road, though you want to run a transmission cooler. The manual gives me more driving options, and boy do those STi boys build them tough,” he laughs.

Other modifications include sump and transmission guards along an upgraded, custom built radiator. “Body wise, they are so strong because Subaru built them with thicker than standard steel, hence why they weigh what they do. But it’s great for me- we have hit trees and other objects in the desert, but we kind of just bounce off and keep on going.”

Tony loves the engineering behind the SVX and is well known in the online international community as someone who is always willing to lend advice. When not driving, he can often be found at the farm tweaking parts destined installation into ‘Pickle Power’ so they can be tested and deemed reliable enough for use in the race car.

When Colin arrives in his immaculate, 120,000km ’92, Tony is immediately enquiring as to whether he has had the gearbox cooler fitted. “That was the first thing I did, thanks to the forum,” he replies.

Colin’s car hunkers down on a lovely set of gold STi rims, the centre caps of which he had custom made to say ‘SVX’. Again, Colin was after something different to the mainstream. He had been convinced of the legendary Subaru reliability by a Liberty, and he liked the fact that the SVX was a 2+2 arrangement so he could share time in the car with his young children. “They love coming out in it, because it is such a unique looking thing. It’s so comfortable to drive and has power adjustable everything. I enjoy keeping it for nice weekends, drives to Arthur’s Seat and other scenic drives. It’s a great cruiser.”

He purchased the car a couple of years back after researching online to make sure he knew what to look for. “This one had a dented body, but I bought it for a good price and had it repaired,” he says. “Besides the trans cooling, the rear wheel bearings can cause trouble as they need to be fitted a certain way. If they are noisy they can be costly to fix,” adds Tony. Warped brake discs are another item to watch out for.

Sliding into the passenger seat of Colin’s velour trimmed example, I am struck by how open the cockpit feels, and how relatively cramped the rear seats are in something that is so imposing on the outside. As we pull away I note the muted but cultured flat six burble as it emits spent gas from two small, rectangular exhaust pipes. Pick-up is smooth and it is matched by the ride even on these larger, 17 inch rims (standard wheels are 16 inch). It gives the impression of ironing over the bumps and it corners with a poise that belies its weight, even if you can feel it roll onto the outside front tyre in tighter turns.

After a stop for photos, my return run is as passenger in Tony’s machine. The contrasting car stories are quickly apparent; Tony’s leather seats well crumpled, the floors caked in desert dust, the Terratrip reminding you of this vehicle’ purpose. You of course sit higher, but the ride is so well controlled by the suspension upgrades that you feel a similar sense of bumps being ironed out. The six-speed conversion reveals a keenness to rev that is masked by the auto, as Tony’s car leaps forward more vigorously and is accompanied by a more urgent bark from the exhaust.

Of course, during our travels we are greeted with finger points and questioning looks- people are genuinely interested by these unidentified driving objects. Both owners take it in their stride as you would expect, but does the attention get wearing? “It certainly makes for a good conversation starter. In the outback I tune in the CB radio and the truck drivers are bewildered when they see it closing in. They all say the same thing: ‘That will never make it to the other side!’ but there I am waiting for them to catch up, hours later!” exclaims Tony with pride. Colin, too, has had approaches from people wanting to know what it is: “They don’t believe it’s a Subaru but are usually complimentary,” he says.

As Colin and Tony say their goodbyes and take off into the early afternoon sunshine, I cannot help but be impressed with this glimpse into SVX world. The attractiveness of the styling patch may be subjective, but the passion that goes into making up the stiches is inspirational.

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