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Souped-up Subarus on the way

UK squeeze: The UK300 Impreza WRX is exclusive to the UK market and just 300 will be built.

Prodrive's purchase of Tickford could be good news for Subaru fans

28 May 2001

UK-BASED automotive and motorsport engineering specialist Prodrive plans to sell its hotted-up Subaru variants in Australia in the wake of its acquisition of Tickford.

And it would like to sell them through Subaru Australia's dealer network, aping arrangements it has with the UK importer, International Motors.

Prodrive has run Subaru's highly successful world rally program since 1990 and has marketed a series of hot Impreza WRXs on the back of that. It also offers performance modifications for the Liberty saloon and Forester compact off-roader.

Prodrive announced last Tuesday it had purchased all Tickford shares, forming a $250 million business called Prodrive Tickford Global Automotive Technology.

Tickford has operations in England and the US, as well as being a joint-venture partner in Melbourne-based Tickford Vehicle Engineering (TVE) and owning Tickford Asia Pacific (TAP).

Prodrive is a privately owned $150 million company that employs over 450 staff in the UK.

It was formed in 1984 by David Richards and has become one of the largest and most successful motorsport businesses in the world, most notably conducting Subaru's world rally program as well as international GT and touring car racing programs. It also conducts confidential engineering and styling work for a large number of car manufacturers.

The TVE co-venture with Ford Australia will continue to concentrate on its development of the XR and T-Series Falcons and Fairlanes, and conversion of Mustang to right-hand drive.

But within months TAP will assume the Prodrive name and be relocated out of the building it shares with TVE in Campbellfield, Victoria.

This operation would liaise with Subaru Australia about the sale of Subaru performance vehicles and parts, as well as aggressively chase automotive engineering, performance and motorsport work in Australia and the Asia-Pacific basin.

But Prodrive Tickford group managing director Nick Fry stressed plans to sell the company's product in Australia were still at an early stage.

"We would like to do both cars and parts, but that's subject to further discussion with Subaru," Mr Fry said.

"Subaru in Tokyo are very clear about what is going on but I have not had any specific discussions with Subaru Australia since last week on this.

"I am aiming to come down to Australia in the next month or so. I've no doubt that will be discussed with them." Subaru Australia general manager Nick Senior confirmed discussions had taken place with Prodrive.

But he said the talks had not progressed because of cost and homologation hurdles, as well as its own plans to develop performance and cosmetic parts through STi Australia, which will be based at Subaru's new super-site in Port Melbourne.

"We're one of Prodrive's biggest private customers because of our rallying here and I think we have had enough dialogue with them to suggest there won't be any misunderstanding by any party on what's happening," he said.

"We have a vision for STi Australia and the factory are totally behind our ideas and they are fully aware of what we intend to do. I don't think there will be much treading on anyone's toes if everyone communicates." Mr Fry, who has already made two reconnaissance trips to Australia, is confident Prodrive's expertise will be useful in helping TVE develop the high-performance Ford Australia range and its V8 Supercar campaign.

"I know Geoff Polites is very keen on V8 racing and the performance versions and we'll be giving every support we can," Mr Fry said.

"Prodrive has expertise on the race side but also vehicle dynamics and four-wheel drive systems, and that may well be of use to TVE in the future." Mr Fry said Prodrive had not been asked by Ford Australia to become involved in its Falcon 4WD project. He rejected any possibility of a conflict of interest over Prodrive's connection with Subaru - which is 20 per cent owned by General Motors - and TVE's 49 per cent ownership by Ford Australia.

WRX mod squad

THE latest example of Prodrive's Subaru expertise came just last week when the UK300 Impreza WRX (above) was launched with various cosmetic mods and the option of a 180kW Prodrive-fettled engine. As the name suggests, just 300 are to be built, exclusively for the UK market.

It is the latest in a long line of modded WRXs which began with the McRae edition in 1995. Then came the Catalunya in 1997 and the Terzo (third in Italian, commemorating Subaru's third consecutive world championship) in 1998.

The RB5 - RB are the initials of factory driver Richard Burns while five was the number of his car - appeared in 1999 and the last of the line in the old bodyshape was the P1.

Based on the two-door bodyshell, it appeared in 1999 and pumped out 206kW, an identical amount to the factory WRX STi. Something of a mix and match car, it combined Prodrive and STi technology.

Prodrive has also engineered a range of performance products for the Impreza, Legacy and Forester ranges in the UK and Europe.

These range from body styling, trim, suspension, wheel and brake packages, to full engine management upgrades, which Prodrive says significantly improve the power and torque characteristics of Subaru's trademark boxer engines.

There is even a WR sport performance pack for the Impreza P1, improving its already high levels of grip and balance.

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