An Impreza Named Kara

7/10/2015

Version 12.2

Shawn Wickam, computer programmer at Carmichael Lynch who is responsible for keeping subaru.com running smoothly, has built the car of his dreams, starting with a very used ’97 Impreza L Coupe.

I like unique cars. I was stopped on an off-ramp this morning, and the guy behind me in a GTI took a picture of my Impreza. How cool is that?

What makes Shawn Wickam’s 1997 Subaru Impreza Coupe so interesting? Probably because it’s the equivalent of a WRX STI Coupe, if such a thing ever existed in the U.S. market. Custom body mods, a stealthy gray paint job, upgraded interior appointments, and 275 hp at the wheels all add up to a pretty rare beast. No wonder Shawn has christened his car Kara – “The car has to have a name. It has such a personality, how could you not name it?”

Ten Times the Charm

To tell the story of Kara, you need to know more about Shawn. A 30-something computer programmer and self-described electronics geek, Shawn works at Carmichael Lynch, the ad agency for Subaru, overseeing subaru.com. “Somehow, I found my way into an ad agency,” he says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be working on the Subaru account – I’ve been a huge Subaru advocate for years.”

In fact, Kara is Shawn’s 20th car, his 10th Subaru, and his third engine-swapped car. The previous two, both Subaru models, were named Sara and Tara, so you can see that Shawn likes to follow a theme. “My other theme is turbocharged all-wheel drive cars,” he notes.

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The Transformation

His current love (“I have a very understanding fiancée.”) started life as a ’97 Impreza L Coupe. About 145,000 miles later and after one previous engine swap, Kara fell under Shawn’s care. To describe her transformation as a makeover would be a huge understatement.

Engine out. Interior stripped to bare metal. All wiring harnesses replaced. Minor chassis holes and rust spots patched and welded. New fenders, bumper beams, and hood. Everything refinished and sealed. And then the heart transplant – a 2.0-liter EJ207 STI engine.

“You have to be really diligent looking for parts and check online every day,” he explains. “I found a company through eBay that I felt comfortable with, and they did a compression test of the engine and sent me a video of it. Four grand later, there was the crated engine on my doorstep.”

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Working Out the Bugs

After lots of fitting, trial and error, and more online searches for power-steering hoses and a few odds and ends for this never-sold-here engine, Kara was revived.

“The 2.0-liter STI engine is amazing,” Shawn says. “The Version 8 that I have has the best heads, with larger intake runners, so it breathes much better. Not only that, but the redline is about 8,200 rpm. It just screams.”

A local tuning outfit helped him work out the bugs, and then dynoed the car. “It’s turning 275 horsepower at the wheels. That’s pretty strong for what is essentially a stock motor.

“I think it’s really cool putting a hot motor in a ’90s-looking car, but, on the inside, I wanted to be more up-to-date,” he explains. Shawn sourced a newer-generation instrument panel, full LED interior lighting, modern gauges, Recaro® front bucket seats, and a 2011 STI steering wheel. “I even got the radio buttons on the steering wheel to work!” he raves.

“Is the car ever complete?” Shawn asks the question for us. “Not really. But then again, I do want it complete enough by the end of the summer. I guess I’ll always be tweaking it. I want to get it to the point where it’s really well-balanced, with some rear-wheel bias so I can bring the rear around on the track.”

1997 Impreza L Coupe.
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1997 Impreza L Coupe.
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1997 Impreza L Coupe.
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Balancing Performance and Reliability

With so much time and money into this project, you might think that Kara would stay in a heated garage during the Minnesota winters where Shawn lives. Instead, she’s a daily driver. “I needed to balance power with reliability. She has to start every day. I know it’s nuts driving the car in all kinds of weather, what with the nice paint job and all, but with snow tires on it, Kara goes great in the snow – lots of fun when there’s no one around.”

The other part of this odyssey that Shawn finds rewarding is the camaraderie. “Everyone I’ve met along the way has been great. It’s a community that you become part of. I’ve made two awesome friends just in the past six months. It’s really cool how people bond over this kind of project.”

A Name That Fits

But let’s go back to that name. Shawn pauses a bit before replying. “Well, Sara was a first love in grade school. And Tara was also an old girlfriend. I wanted something that fit the theme, so then I thought of this cute girl on the TV show ‘Battlestar Galactica.’ Yeah, Kara was just right.”

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