Everyone knows and, presumably, loves the 1st generation Subaru Impreza. It looked cool, had a bunch of terrific boxer engines, featured Subaru’s excellent AWD transmission and had rally racing bona fides to boot. So why did they do the complete opposite of the Impreza with the (thankfully) limited edition retro-styled Casa Blanca?
The Impreza was launched in late 1992 as a four-door saloon and five-door wagon; in 1995, a coupé joined the family. The big Subaru was a hit at home and abroad and featured a variety of flat-4 engines (from 1.5 to 2.5 litres, some turbocharged ones being particularly potent) that were fitted depending on the market. The JDM Imprezas, as well as South American ones for some reason, could be had with the smallest boxer four, a 1493cc unit delivering only 95hp.
For some unfathomable reason, this 1.5 litre base model was the one Subaru picked (only in long-roof form, mind you) to give it the in-house retro treatment. After all, the firm’s kei offerings, i.e. the Sambar van and the Vivio hatchback, were given very successful retro variants in the mid-‘90s, so why should the Impreza be spared?
Subaru displayed an initial prototype at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show and figured that a limited run of 5000 cars ought to be able to shift a few base model Imprezas before the model went out of production. So the Casa Blanca (in two words, as far as I can tell) hit the showrooms in December 1998, available in two or all-wheel-drive, with that wheezy 95hp engine.
They apparently managed to sell the 5000 units – at least, that’s what Subaru claimed – before the new generation was ushered in during the summer of 2000. And they even shipped a few (how many is not clear) body kit to the other Impreza production line in Taiwan. Compared to the Mitsubishi Flying Pug, the Impreza Casa Blanca was a relative success. But compared to Subaru’s own Sambar Dias and Vivio Bistro, it was a major dud.
The “angry bug-eyed alien” look was not everyone’s cup of tea, obviously. Adding more front overhang did the Impreza no favours at all, either. But it seems Subaru were halfhearted about the whole thing anyway: inside (apologies, but I was not able to capture that), the only concession to the retro / limited edition spiel was a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Otherwise, it was just a very plain Jane wagon. Pretty weak sauce compared to the gadget-and-bling retro affairs made by the likes of Nissan or Mitsuoka.
And it is a real shame about that face, because the rear end really isn’t bad. If you feel there’s a salacious tinge to that sentence, I think that says a lot more about you than it does about the Casa Blanca.
Strangely enough, the second-gen Impreza that came right after this unfortunate Casa Blanca kid of echoed it, with its large oval headlamps. That peculiar face only lasted a couple of years, earning the 2000-02 Impreza the nickname of “bugeye.” Personally, those bug me a lot less than the Casa Blanca. Given that there were only 5000 sold in Japan, they’re not a common sight. But I seem to attract oddball retro-atrocious contraptions (my Mitsuoka post count is off the charts), so I’m bracing myself for another encounter. Living in Tokyo has its ugly side.