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1997 Subaru Impreza WRC97

The Impreza in which Colin McRae won the 1997 Safari Rally

A Works 555 Subaru World Rally Team entrant in the 1997 World Rally Championship

First registered to Prodrive with the famous registration ‘P8 WRC’

Also raced by the former World Rally Champion Markku Alén and the ex-Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 driver Ivan Capelli

Provenance certified by Prodrive Legends

Chassis no. PRO GC8-97-008

+44 20 3621 2923


The Subaru Impreza WRC97

The legacy Colin McRae and his gung-ho, no-holds-barred, seat-of-the-pants driving style forged cannot be downplayed. Virtually single-handedly, he made rallying a household sport in the 1990s, inspiring a generation. And he did so thrashing a blue and yellow Subaru Impreza.

While Subaru’s exquisite rollcall of drivers over the years – including Tommy Mäkinen, Juha Kankkunen, Petter Solberg and Richard Burns, to name but a few – led the marque to three Drivers’ and three Constructors’ World Championships, it’s the McRae period from 1997, when the new era of ‘World’ cars were introduced, which remains closest to our hearts.

When the World Rally Championship regulations drastically changed ahead of the 1997 season, putting an end to the Group A era, Subaru and its trusted technical partner Prodrive were well prepared. The two-door WRC97, which was styled by the renowned automotive designer Peter Stevens and built using the latest GC8 bodyshell, proved to be a tour de force. It clinched eight victories from 14 events to easily dominate the 1997 World Rally Championship and win the Constructors’ title by a staggering 24 points.

Today, these early ‘World’ Imprezas are brilliant and surprisingly accessible cars to own and use, not to mention significant pieces of history from a time when you didn’t need a laptop and a squadron of electricians and data scientists to start and run them. We’ve famously championed the ex-McRae Imprezas, of which this car is among the most famous…



This Subaru Impreza WRC97

This Subaru Impreza WRC97 is chassis PRO GC8-97-008, which was completed and registered by Prodrive on 7 February 1997, and assigned the now-famous registration ‘P8 WRC’.

Less than a month later, the car made its competitive debut under the works 555 Subaru World Rally Team banner at the notoriously challenging Safari Rally in Kenya. ‘P8 WRC’ was earmarked for the 1995 World Rally Champion Colin McRae and his new co-driver Nicky Grist. It’s fair to say the expectations were high – McRae’s teammates Piero Liatti and Kenneth Eriksson had won the opening two rounds of the season in Monte-Carlo and Sweden, respectively, and the Impreza WRC97 had quickly made itself known as the car to beat.

Oriented around the city of Nairobi, the Safari Rally really was the ultimate test for man and machine, the cars and their drivers having to endure treacherous terrain and sweltering cockpit temperatures on what was then the longest event on the calendar. To make matters worse, new rules for 1997 meant teams were no longer permitted to use service helicopters. That meant if a car needed to be repaired, it had to be done either by the pilots at the side of the road or at the designated service parks.

A shock day-one retirement for McRae’s Subaru teammate Kenneth Eriksson meant the pressure was really on the flying Scotsman. Fortunately, McRae knew how to compartmentalise that pressure. The longest-single leg of the entire season lay in wait for ‘P8 WRC’ early on day two of the rally and, with a noticeable lack of wind, McRae spied an opportunity.

Because he knew the dust clouds caused by the Mitsubishi of Richard Burns ahead of him on the road would cause havoc and drastically reduce visibility, McRae and Grist deliberately left their time control gate late, incurring a 20 second penalty. It mattered little – the two-minute gap between ‘P8 WRC’ and the Mitsubishi ahead ensured a dust-free run.

Knowing exactly what he needed to do, McRae drove like a scalded cat, taking the lead of the rally on special stage five, a position it would not relinquish. Day three was similarly dominant, and by the finish, McRae and Grist had clinched an incredible seven special stage victories and a further four top-three results from only 13 stages in total.

Even a dramatic late scare in the form of a failed alternator and subsequent drained battery couldn’t slow ‘P8 WRC’ down – McRae simply continued without the engine cooling fans and one of the fuel pumps. “Patience and really sensible driving is what brought us the victory today,” commented Grist after the rally. Typically to the point, McRae followed that up simply with “There was no doubt it was going to happen”.

A scarcely believable seven minutes was the margin to fellow Brit Richard Burns at the end of the rally, McRae and Grist scoring their maiden victory together and kindling one of the most famous and successful driver pairings in rallying history. Furthermore, the feat was Subaru’s first Safari Rally victory and third consecutive win with the mighty Impreza WRC97.

Following its Safari success, ‘P8 WRC’ was rested until May and round seven of the championship, Rally Argentina, held in the dusty foothills of the Andes Mountains. In what was a publicity boost for the series, 1997’s Rally Argentina boasted the strongest line-up of drivers in years, with former World Rally Champions Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol returning for the occasion.

On the narrow,  rough, broken and jagged Argentinian stages, McRae flew, pushing his Subaru to torturous limits, much to the disdain of the differential and steering rack. Alas, despite his best efforts and 11 stage victories at the finish line, more than any other driver, the Mitsubishi Lancer of his championship rival Tommi Mäkinen was simply uncatchable in the mountains. McRae was forced to settle for second place and a less than satisfactory six championship points. It was the Scot’s 17th podium on the world stage.

The third and final event for ‘P8 WRC’ was the Rally of Indonesia in September. Held in the stifling Sumatran heat on stages which traversed jungles and rubber plantations, the rally, which had only joined the World Rally Championship roster in 1996, was an unpredictable one for the teams and drivers.

In a bid to learn more about this new event on the calendar and gain an advantage on its competitors, Subaru conducted a gravel test in the Southeast Asian country, employing the services of ‘P8 WRC’ for the occasion. Ironically, it was McRae’s teammates who did the driving, Kenneth Eriksson taking the reins for one day and Piero Liatti for another three.

McRae was back in the car for the rally itself, at which point it was make or break for his championship hopes. And, despite Sumatran monsoons which rendered the stages virtually entire free of grip, he was on fine form. From stage three onwards, the Scot began to pull away from the rest of the field, winning seven stages and carving out a decent lead. That was until special stage 15, when an abrupt encounter with a tree required McRae and Grist to nurse their ailing car back to the service park, by which point the damage was done and retirement was inevitable.

It was an opportunity to regain control of the title lost for McRae, not that he seemed too phased externally afterwards. “It wasn’t very likely that we were going to continue given the damage, but it was worth a try,” he said. “It was a stupid mistake which was completely my fault. But as we’ve seen today, anything can happen and we’ll keep on trying.” Indonesia was the final World Rally Championship appearance for ‘P8 WRC’. In October, Prodrive converted the car to ‘Customer Tarmac’ specification and employed its services once more, taking it back to Kenya to serve as a recce car for the Safari Rally in 1998.

As was the case with most of the Subaru Imprezas built and rallied by Prodrive, ‘P8 WRC’ was subsequently campaigned in national rally championships across Europe, predominantly in Italy and the United Kingdom.

Girardo & Co. acquired the car in 2018 and promptly sent it to the renowned rally car specialists at BGMsport to be returned back to its exacting 1997 Rally Argentina gravel specification. 

Since the completion of the works, we have orchestrated a major press drive with ‘P8 WRC’. Not only has the car featured prominently in our viral Christmas brand videos, but it was also the automotive protagonist in our film ‘McRae vs. McRae’, when we pitched Colin’s father Jimmy, his brother Alister and his young nephew Max against each other in the car. That video alone has amassed more than half a million views.

Furthermore, ‘P8 WRC’ has starred in features in a wide range of the world’s most popular automotive publications, including Evo, Motorsport, Autosport, Classic Cars and Private Motor Club. We’ve also raised the car’s profile by exhibiting it in a raft of prestigious events, such as Race Retro, Shelsley Walsh Classic Nostalgia, the Chateau Impney Hill Climb and the Prodrive and Subaru 30th anniversary meeting. We don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that ‘P8 WRC’ is today the most well-known Subaru Impreza of them all, save for McRae’s 1995 championship-winning car.

Today, this fabulous Subaru stands as an incredibly significant piece of rallying – and, in turn, Colin McRae – history. It’s a car of firsts this Impreza. It was the car in which both McRae and Subaru won their first respective Safari Rallies, an achievement of epic proportions in itself given how grueling the event is. It’s the first car in which Colin McRae scored a victory in the new ‘World Rally’ era of the sport. And it’s the first car in which he won alongside Nicky Grist, a partnership which would become lore for rally buffs.

Having experienced this sensational Subaru for some time now, we must also point out what an exhilarating and remarkably accessible beast it is to own and drive. ‘P8 WRC’ flatters its driver with the way it’s set up. It’s always welcomed enthusiastically, whether a high-profile event or simply out on the public roads. There’s also an indescribably special feeling knowing Colin McRae sat and gripped the same wheel.

Without doubt, this very car had a hand in inspiring an entire generation of car lovers.

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