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 20 Years of Legacy Heritage: World And International Speed Records

20 Years of Legacy Heritage: World And International Speed Records

20 Years of Legacy Heritage: World And International Speed Records


For the 1990 model year, Subaru was launching the Legacy, a front-wheel drive model with optional 4-wheel drive. It was larger than previous Subaru models and had a 2.0-liter, 16-valve, turbocharged engine. Since the car represented a new segment for Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (FHI), it wanted to demonstrate the vehicle’s performance, reliability, and durability. Thus began the quest for the 100,000km (62,137 miles) world record. That represents the distance typically covered during five years of hard driving.


Planning for the record run began in February 1988, when top Subaru management decided to demonstrate the potential of the Legacy. Upon examination, it was clear that the 100,000km world speed record would be ideal to prove and showcase this car. The record to beat was 132.538 mph (213.299km/h), set by Saab in 1986.

> MAY 1988

Preparation for the record attempt began by May 1988. Development and testing for the program included:

  • Confirming engine durability
  • Choosing tires to withstand continuous high-speed driving
  • Verifying which suspension could withstand high speeds for 100,000km
  • Choosing how to train drivers (the car was secret, so drivers were selected and trained among the development staff)

> JUNE 1988

Test runs were done at the Japan Automobile Research Institute test course in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, to check drivers’ capabilities and pit operations. The team also inspected the Arizona Test Center (the site for the record attempt) and local conditions.

> JULY 1988

The engine, body, and driver checks were completed by late June, and a schedule for attempting the record was established. During mid-July, Subaru discussed the attempt with ACCUS (Automobile Competition Committee for the United States). Subaru had to use timers and record keepers approved by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). ACCUS was assigned and expressed doubts about the attempt’s success.

> AUGUST 1988

The 100,000km New World Speed Record project team was formed by August. The team involved 101 people. The record attempt was named “The RA Project,” and a Record Attempt (RA) Project Preparation Committee was directed by the STI administration of president Ryuichiro Kuze.


By late September, USAC (United States Auto Club) was chosen by ACCUS as the official sponsoring organization for the attempt.

> OCTOBER 1988

On October 21, FHI officially decided to attempt the 100,000km world speed record, and by late October it began preparations for four cars, including one spare (FIA regulations allow up to three vehicles to simultaneously challenge records). Modifications included roll cages, front air dams, and short, stiffer springs and shock absorbers. On October 31, The RA Project held opening ceremonies.


On December 10, The RA Project first team departed for the Arizona Test Center, followed by the cars on the 12th, the second team on the 15th, and the third team on the 25th.


January 2

Weather for the start day was cloudy with some rain, 2 C – 18 C (36 F – 64 F), and a light breeze. Because of data logger troubles, Subaru was granted a start-time extension of 30 minutes from the scheduled 11 a.m. start.

  • No. 1 red car started at 11:27:09 with driver Makoto Shikata
  • No. 2 white car started at 11:27:46 with driver Noriyuki Koseki
  • No. 3 yellow car started at 11:28:22 with driver Mamoru Konita

Each car had three nine-hour shifts on the 9.182km (5.7-mile) Arizona Test Center oval, with each shift overlapping an hour and having two drivers and 14 mechanics (along with three backups). USAC rotated six-person teams every 10 hours to monitor timers, do maintenance checks, and inspect the course. The cars ran continuously, stopping every two hours for driver changes, system checks, and refueling (the cars had 37-gallon, quick-fill tanks).

January 3

Cars ran in good form; average speed was 226km/h (140.4 mph). All three cars broke Porsche’s international records for 12 hours, 24 hours, and 5,000km.

January 4

Strong rains began before dawn, usually reducing vehicle speed to approximately 160km/h (99 mph), but 4WD allowed speed maintenance of 220km/h (136.7 mph). The cars broke Porsche’s international 5,000-mile and 10,000km records.

January 5

All three cars ran at 230km/h (142.9 mph) and broke Porsche’s international record for 10,000 miles.

January 6

The cars continued driving through strong winds and scattered showers.

January 7

The No. 2 car broke Alfa Romeo’s 25,000km record at 1:57:33. All cars had 25,000km periodic maintenance.

January 9

All cars passed 40,000km, and strategy was revised. The No. 2 car was selected as the leading contender for the new world record. The No. 1 and No. 3 cars dropped speeds below 230km/h (142.9 mph), while No. 2 car remained above 230km/h. On the 9.182km (5.7-mile) course, that meant the slower cars were lapped every two hours, which proved helpful for communication between the drivers.

January 11

All cars received 50,000km maintenance work. The No. 2 passed the 50,000km mark at 16:50:28. Its average speed of 225.857km/h (140.341 mph) broke Alfa Romeo’s international record. At 18:34:46 the No. 1 car passed the 50,000 mark with an average speed of 224.087km/h (130.241 mph), followed by No. 3 car at 19:10:07, boasting 223.56km/h (138.914 mph).

January 12

Arizona desert sand collected on the course, impeding the cruising speed of 230km/h (142.9 mph).

January 13

Strong winds blew tumbleweeds onto the race track, obstructing the course of the cars.

January 14

The No. 2 car reached speeds up to 240km/h (149.129 mph).

January 16

All cars were given their 75,000km maintenance work.

January 17

The No. 2 car broke the 50,000-mile world record at 12:13:24 with an average speed of 223.049km/h (138.780 mph). The No. 1 and No. 3 cars also broke the old record at 15:16:42 (221.182km/h – 137.436 mph) and 15:22:21 (221.111km/h – 137.392 mph), respectively.

January 21

At 1:20, Noriyuki Koseki took over as the last driver in the No. 2, with 450km remaining. At 2:00 the entire staff gathered in the pits, in anticipation of the record. The new 100,000km world speed record was set at 3:11:56 by No. 2 with an average speed of 223.345km/h (138.780 mph) and took 18.5 days (447 hours, 44 minutes, 9.887 seconds).

The last driver for the No. 1 took the wheel at 8:28, with 180km remaining, followed by the No. 3 at 9:00 with 380km left. The No. 1 car broke the old 100,000km world record at 9:15:26 with an average speed of 220.358km/h (136.924 mph). The other two cars rejoined the No. 3 car on the course as it drove its last laps. The No. 3 car finished at 10:42:43, still breaking the Saab world record with 219.664km/h (136.493 mph).

The 100,000km world speed record remained from January 21, 1989, until April 19, 2005, when it was broken by Mercedes-Benz with a diesel-powered engine. Since the Mercedes-Benz cars had diesels, Subaru Legacy has retained its Category A, Group I, Class 7 international records for 12 hours, 24 hours, 5000km, 5000 miles, 10,000km, 10,000 miles, 25,000km, 25,000 miles, 50,000km, 50,000 miles, and 100,000km.


Setting speed records helped launch the 1990 Legacy sedan and wagon lineup 20 years ago.

On April 9, 2009, Subaru of America, Inc. introduces another Legacy – the all-new 2010 model. Read more about it in future issues of Drive and sister publication Drive Performance magazines.

Legacy Record Attempt Facts

Youngest driver: 21
Oldest driver: 48
Maximum speed: 241.3km/h (149.9 mph)
76,700 liters of fuel (all three cars)
797 pit stops (all three cars)
32,673 laps (all three cars)
Tires replaced every 72 hours

Car Nicknames

No. 1 (red) – tortoise for its steady advance toward the speed record
No. 2 (white) – hare for its impressive pace toward the new record
No. 3 (yellow) – chick for its color

Types of Speed Records

FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) specifies three types of speed records:

  • World records have no limits on engine types, displacement, or production quantity: the speed of the fastest car or distance is accepted
  • International records observe engine type and displacement: the highest speed in each class is accepted. Subaru ran Category A (non mass-production models with less than 5,000 units), Group I (free turbocharging gas engine), and Class 7 (1,500cc-2,000cc).
  • National records are valid for the country where competition is held

1990 Subaru Legacy Specifications (from press kit)

1990 Subaru Legacy “At a Glance”


  • 2.2-liter, overhead-cam, 16-valve, 130-hp horizontally opposed 4-cycle engine
  • Liquid-filled engine mounts and front suspension bushings
  • Multi-point, electronic fuel injection system
  • Front-wheel-drive or full-time 4-wheel-drive
  • 5-speed manual or 4-speed electronic automatic transmission
  • 4-wheel independent coil-spring suspension (air suspension 4WD/4EAT LS Wagon)
  • Stabilizer bars, front and rear
  • All-season radial tires
  • Power rack-and-pinion steering
  • Four-wheel, power-assisted disc brakes
  • Hill-Holder® system on all manual transmission cars


  • Unit body construction
  • 5-mph bumpers, front and rear
  • Low-profile halogen headlamps
  • “No-lose” gas cap with retaining strap
  • Rear body vents for easy door closing
  • Protective side molding
  • Three-brush window guides for smooth, rattle-free operation
  • Double side-window seals
  • Rear window defogger
  • Rear wiper/washer on wagons
  • Tinted glass


  • 5-passenger vehicle
  • Complete analog instrumentation including tachometer
  • Automatic passive restraint system (front seats)
  • Trunk/fuel filler door inside release
  • Retractable drink holder
  • Adjustable head restraints (front seats)
  • Five dashboard vents for air conditioning and ventilation
  • Four floor-mounted rear heater outlets
  • Side window defroster/defogger vents
  • Rear three-point shoulder belts (left and right), with center lap belt
  • Rear seatbelt storage pocket
  • Fold-down seat back on wagons

L Equipment

  • Power windows/door locks
  • 60/40 split, fold-down rear seat (wagon)
  • Digital clock display in radio
  • Dual, remote-control electric rearview mirrors
  • 40-watt ETR® AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers
  • Intermittent windshield wipers
  • Passenger-side vanity mirror
  • Memory tilt steering wheel
  • Retractable cargo area cover on wagon

L Options

  • Full-time four-wheel-drive
  • 4EAT automatic transmission
  • Air conditioning
  • Cruise control

L Value-Plus Package

  • Air conditioning
  • Cruise control
  • Combination 8-watt AM/FM stereo ETR cassette with preset equalizer

LS Equipment

  • Air conditioning
  • Electronically controlled air suspension on 4WD wagons with 4EAT
  • Electric sunroof
  • Alloy wheel on 4WD cars
  • Cruise control
  • Power door locks, two-way
  • Power windows
  • Variable intermittent windshield wipers
  • Electric remote control antenna
  • Driver’s seat height adjuster
  • 2-way adjustable head restraints
  • 60/40 split fold-down rear seat
  • “Trunk Through” features (sedan)
  • Rear seat center armrest (sedan)
  • Dual-illuminated vanity mirrors
  • 80-watt AM/FM stereo ETR with cassette/preset-graphic equalizer on 4WD cars

LS Options

  • Antilock brakes (four-channel system) on FWD/4EAT cars
  • Alloy wheels (4WD cars)
  • 80-watt AM/FM stereo ETR with cassette/preset-graphic equalizer on 4WD cars


  • Alloy wheels
  • Luggage rack
  • Bicycle attachments
  • Mud flaps
  • Classic cassette player with logic control
  • Stereo combo with two-speaker system
  • Rear deck spoiler (sedan)
  • Air conditioning
  • Security system
  • Cruise control
  • Floor mats
  • Graphic equalizer
  • Fog lamps
  • Rear deck luggage carrier (sedan)

1990 Subaru Legacy Sedan and Station Wagon EPA Fuel Mileage Ratings

* Sedan/Wagon

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