This Ferrari Engine Swapped Subaru STI Is a Real Stage Rally Car
On mute, the video makes sense. Add sound, and no, no it absolutely does not. As a silent film, watching a mid-2000s Subaru STI slide through a series of corners, spraying gravel from all four wheels as it does so, is expected imagery. That looks fun, you might say. Maybe I should take a rally-driving course, you tell yourself. But then you click the little speaker icon and a flat-plane crank V-8 wail causes your brain to melt and start dripping out of your ears and pooling on your desk.
Eyes say rally car, ears say Ferrari. Does not compute. What is going on here? What kind of madman would blend these two ingredients? Is this thing even legal?
“The inspiration? Well, I guess idle hands are the devil's playground,” says Sam Albert, builder and driver of what must be the only Ferrari-engined stage-rally Subaru in the world.
And yes, it's legal. Not only does this Modena-infused gravel-slinger conform to the American Rally Association (ARA) rules for the Open 4WD class, but it actually has street plates on it. It's a requirement for rally cars, and in its last iteration, this 2004 STI is a long-competing stage rally car. It was Albert's introduction to rallying in 2010, and he eventually drove another car to a third overall and second in class placing in the ARA National championship, picking up enough points also racing Canadian events to win the North American Rally Cup.
That effort was sponsored by Dirtfish, so it's only fitting that Albert would trailer his most recent project up to the rally school's Snoqualmie campus for his first shakedown runs. Unfortunately, running in the middle of what should have been an instructor training class, it proved an utter class disruptor.
“It was a total distraction,” Albert says, “People were telling me it was echoing off the mountains.”
Albert is a Special Forces officer, and originally developed the concept for this build when on a deployment overseas in 2019. A restricted turbocharged EJ-series engine makes a lump of torque, but runs out of steam higher in the rev range; not quick enough, and not much fun. In Albert's downtime, he scoured the ARA rulebook and checked out old rally and hillclimb videos of various racing specials. He found a regulation for naturally aspirated engines that was almost totally unrestricted for anything less than 4.5L. An idea began to swirl.
Introduced in 2009, the Ferrari 458 was the first mid-engined Ferrari to feature direct-injection. Its 4.5L V8 produces 562 hp at 9000 rpm, an output-per-liter rivaled only by the likes of the Honda S2000 and the 911 GT3. Unfortunately, a little more research by Albert revealed that a used F126 V8 out of a 458 was going to cost north of $30,000.
As a privateer racer on a budget, that was simply too steep. ARA rallying has been pushing towards R5 or WRC chassis, which are fast, safe, and reliable – but have purchase and maintenance costs that are beyond the grasp of many grassroots racers. Getting a nearly 20-year-old Subaru to nip at their heels was going to take some further creativity.
Enter one of the lamest Ferraris since the Mondial. The Ferrari California was the then best-selling model from Maranello, but that doesn't mean we have to respect its goofy looks or beach cruiser image. Its 4.3L V8 was cousin to the 458's powerplant, but it was clothed in bodywork designed to appeal to Los Angeles wellness grifters.
Commonality and sometimes-inattentive owners meant that the F136IB V8 was a third the price of the more powerful 458 variant. And with 454 hp and a flat-plane crank, the California's engine was more than enough for dirt duty. Albert found one in Michigan, and it was soon crated up and on the way to his hometown of Portland.
At this point, the audacity of this build requires a little underlining. Albert did almost no prior R&D on this swap other than walking over to a neighbor's Maserati Quattroporte, and eyeballing its engine. That V-8 looks like it'll fit. Probably. I'm sure it will. OK, I'm buying the thing.
The engine landed in December of 2021, and the next step would be securing shop space. This took months, but by the summer of 2022, Albert had secured a bay at Oregon-based Primitive Racing, a manufacturer of skid plates and expert in both rally-prepped and lifted Subarus. With the EJ 2.5L flat-four out of the engine bay, test fitting proved that the F136IB would just barely fit, though not with a radiator up front. Albert planned a rear-mounted cooling system like that of a drift or rallycross car, then starting fabricating parts to get Italy's finest to pair up with Japan's muddiest.
Again, this hybrid mutant is less the result of mechanical genius, and more an embodiment of the best kind of insanity you frequently find in the world of rallying. Albert cites his specific inspiration as the Peugeot 306 of Englishman Andy Burton. A farmer from Herefordshire, Burton took an old widebody ice racer hatchback, stuffed an 11,000 rpm Cosworth V-6 under the hood, and proceeded to beat up on the professional teams. The car was eventually banned.
Having picked up some 3D-printing skills during COVID downtime, Albert created a one-off mounting plate and flywheel. This connected the F136 with the sequential gearbox in the Subaru. Much work went into wiring, the cooling system, and building an exhaust system complete with side-exit pipes that pass through the rocker panels. The car lunched its driveshaft on the dyno, but with a factory unit temporarily in place, it put down the power. On the scales, it also wasn't as front-heavy as expected, 57:43 front to rear.
A heavy snowfall in Portland shelved plans for the first shakedown run, so Albert blew off some steam with snowy donuts in the Primitive racing parking lot. Baptism in snow – it was a proper Subaru rally car now.
And then, the moment of truth at Dirtfish. The Ferrari engine stuck out of the hood, its crinkle-finished intake looking like the red nose of a savage male Mandrill. But the STI pivoted through the turns, screaming in an unholy fashion but performing as hoped. The cooling wasn't up to the job until a rear window was removed, but the powertrain held.
Next steps are sorting out adapted cooling that meets with the ARA guidelines – Albert would love a WRC-style sidepod, but he figures that might not pass muster – and then slightly adapting the suspension. The planned debut for the Ferrari-STI is the Olympus Rally in Washington state, held April 22 and 23 of this year.
“First I want it to complete a rally and prove that it's reliable,” Albert says, “But I want people to be excited for this year's rally season. I really hope it draws people to the rally.”
Hoow could you not want to make the trek out into the woods to watch this thing go screaming between the trees? A fan favorite, a car raced by the mad scientist who built it, a car that looks like rally and sounds like Le Mans. A Ferrari engine in a Subaru. Madness. Wonderful madness.
You Might Also Like