Riverside Foreign Car Club

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Chieh Cheng

Computers and cars: two of my favorite things in life. While in high school, I made two decisions. One, I would study and work in the Computer Science field. And two, I would own and drive a Corvette. My first decision has already come true. I graduated with a Computer Science degree from the University of Kansas and have worked in the field for over fifteen years. When the World Wide Web (WWW) was first invented in 1994, I was one of the first pioneers to jump on the web-site development bandwagon. After ten years of developing various web sites for personal and commercial purposes, the web technology still excites me.

My second decision . . . well . . . I am still working on it. Despite having owned and driven many different vehicles, my dream car still evades me. The Corvette has both performance and style. However, due to its two door, two seat configuration, it is not a practical daily driver. And for me, I would like to have a little extra pocket change before owning such an impractical performance machine.

"Being a practical man, I may never buy a Corvette, but I do want my sedan to be sporty."

A few years ago, my brother asked me why I had chosen to purchase the top-of-the-line 1995 Mazda Protege ES, even though it was a little more costly than the base model. Well, other than the slightly bigger engine, the slightly larger wheels, the lower-profile tires, and the included accessories, the Protege ES is not exactly a performance machine to talk about, but was all I could afford during my college years.

While working as a Software Engineer in recent years, I became involved with the company's M-Car racing team. The M-Car is a specialized go-kart that looked like a miniature Indy racecar. The racing team participated in local charity races benefiting, among others, the Ronald MacDonald House. During the course of these race events, I became aware of the importance of power, weight, handling, and driving skill. From this experience I have learnt what real performance is all about; I have learnt how to race.

Although my life has changed over the years, my philosophy toward cars stayed the same: four-door sporty sedan, wanted. In late 2000, I was again out shopping for a new car. This is the same year that the car manufacturers had finally succeeded in convincing the American population that there ought to be at least one SUV in every family's garage. Although most southern Californians do 99.9% of their driving on paved city streets in a hot and dry climate, SUV sales proliferated. It was quite a boring year to shop for a performance automobile. The sport car market was dying and many car manufacturers had decided to stop production of their flagship sport cars, such as the Mazda RX-7 or the Toyota Supra.

Not to be discouraged, I picked up a copy of the Consumer Report hot-hatch comparison. The cars reviewed in this article were a lot of fun to drive and had fabulous bang for the buck. Out of the eight or nine cars reviewed, only one was a four door, and only one was AWD instead of FWD: The 2001 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS.

The first generation Subaru Impreza models existed in Japan since 1992. The very first WRX version had a turbo charged 2.0L engine with 240 HP. The later versions were improved to approximately 280 HP. Approximately because, back then, 280 HP was the highest horsepower a car manufacturer can quote their engines legally in Japan. Most people speculate that the engines were closer to 300 HP.

Prodrive, a tuner closely tied to Subaru, further enhanced these cars by improving reliability and handling technology in order to compete in the highly challenging World Rally Championship (WRC). STi, Subaru's in-house tuner, on the other hand, tuned these vehicles for the average enthusiasts. At least five Prodrive versions and five STi versions were built prior to the second generation Subaru Impreza being born.

The Subaru Impreza won three World Rally Championships consecutively in the late 1990's. When I read the history, I decided that I had to have one of these ultra performance sedans. In the year 2000, the highest performance Impreza sedan that is available in the United States was the 2.5 RS. It had a naturally aspirated 2.5L horizontally opposed engine producing 165 HP and 166 ft/lbs of torque, fairly weak compared to the WRX available in Japan. The body and suspension, on the other hand, was on par with the Japenese WRX. In fact, many stock body and suspension parts on the 2.5 RS were STi components. Ever since purchasing my 2.5 RS, my goal has been to modify it into a performance machine that is equivalent to a Subaru Impreza WRX STi version 5.

Today, year 2004, the high-performance sport car market is again flourishing. I have never seen so many great foreign and domestic performance cars on the market: Mazda RX-8, Nissan 350Z, Corvette Z06, Mitsubishi Evolution, Caterham Super 7, and Honda S2000. Although the Subaru Impreza WRX and Subaru Impreza WRX STi that are in the U.S. now are built on the second generation chassis, they are quite competitive to the older body style. The first-generation body style is lighter and smaller, while the second-generation body style is 150% stiffer and a little bigger.

My timing has always been off by a few years. If I had to buy a new vehicle this year, it would definitely be the STi. But luckily for me, my girlfriend was in the market to buy a new car this year. Between the Nissan 350Z and the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, she chose the STi; perhaps, with a bit of my persuasion. The only problem now is that she will not let me touch it!

With all seriousness, my thorough background in computer science and my passion for fine automobile makes a great combination when generating automobile web-sites. Therefore, it was a great honor when the Riverside Foreign Car Club board members asked me to help create the club's web site. I look forward to evolving this club site, meeting new club members, and talking about fine automobiles for years to come.