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Origins: Subaru in American Rallying – Part 1

  Photo: John Rettie

Driven and prepared by Fred Coyle and “Pete” Petrowsky, this Subaru FF-1 ran four races, after the first body shell was totaled in the 1971 Baja 500. Coyle teamed up with “Judge” Penick in the car’s final race in the 1973 Baja 500 (below), while Petrowsky co-drove with Noriyuki Koseki in the newer Subaru in the same race.

The car still exists, albeit not in running condition, complete with the dent caused when Coyle launched it out of a dip and it landed heavily on its nose in the 1973 race. Coyle donated the car to Subaru several years ago and it currently sits in a warehouse in Southern California. Should Subaru keep it as is or restore it and get it running again?



By 1992, the Subaru factory in Indiana was eager to participate more fully with Chad DiMarco, and he was present to watch his second Legacy body shell being built. Those in attendance remember how important the whole rally car program was to the plant. DiMarco, Tamon Yamamoto (president and ceo of the plant), Alex Fedorak, and other Subaru execs walked the catwalk above the assembly line to watch the car go through the robot welding line.

DiMarco had requested some extra welds and the removal of some brackets to make the rally prep work easier. All was well until the last part of the process, where a gang of robots simultaneously "attack" the vehicle for the final welding process. Sparks flew everywhere like they were supposed to and then the car was to be released and head down the line. 

That didn't happen. Instead, alarms rang, people ran about the car and robots, and after about 15 minutes the vehicle finally released. (Remember that this was an active assembly line!) The whole time Yamamoto never said a word until the vehicle moved again, at which point he turned to Fedorak and said, "Good training exercise Fedorak-san … never do that again." Fedorak thought he was going to be fired on the spot, but instead Yamamoto was most gracious about the whole episode.

In 1972, Noriyuki Koseki brought this then state-of-the-art rally car from Japan to compete in the Mexican 1000 off-road race. He also raced the car again in 1973 with “Pete” Petrowsky as his co-driver.




Motorsports at the top professional level are largely dominated by factory teams. That's of no surprise, since auto manufacturers usually have large budgets and the most to gain in publicity from winning races.


Invariably, though, a manufacturer's initial foray into motorsports comes from outside teams that see potential in a particular car. This was certainly true for the involvement of Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA) in rallying.


That involvement dates back to 1971. The seeds for the current successful Subaru Rally Team USA were first sown when Jack Coyle, who owned the Subaru dealership in San Bernardino, California, built a rallying Subaru FF-1. "Pete" Petrowsky, a salesman at the dealership, first drove it in the Baja 500 off-road race in 1971, when rally cars were still quite competitive.


The following year, Noriyuki Koseki from Japan entered the Baja 500 in a newer Subaru GL Coupe that had been built for rallies in Japan. Fred Coyle, Jack Coyle's son (who also drove the FF-1), recalls that Koseki's team really helped his team in 1972, and a friendship was formed. It was no surprise then to find Petrowsky co-driving for Koseki in the Baja race in 1973, sponsored in part by Coyle's Subaru dealership. Although Koseki worked for Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., parent company of Subaru in Japan, his relatively low-budget team was far from being a full factory effort.


Soon after, Koseki went on to form Subaru Rally Team Japan, and he also entered a Group A Subaru Leone RX Turbo in the famous Safari Rally with various drivers in the 1980s.


In 1988, Koseki helped establish Subaru Tecnica International (STi), and a year later STi formed a partnership with Prodrive to create the official Subaru World Rally Team to compete in the World Rally Championship (WRC).


The Coyle Subaru did not run again after 1973. It was another dozen years before SOA became more formally involved in rallying.

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