McRae’s Safari debut in a strange Subaru

While the colors on this Subaru may look familiar, the car that's wearing them might surprise you

Subaru Vivio Girardo

Iconic blue-and-yellow livery? Check.

Subaru badge on the hood? Check.

Colin McRae and Derek Ringer aboard? Check.

But that’s a bit small for an Impreza, isn’t it, never mind the Legacy that was used for most of 1993?

This is the Subaru Vivio that took part in that year’s Safari Rally. Yes, one of the quirky little 660cc ‘kei’ class cars that benefit from various tax and regulatory exemptions on the crowded streets of Japan.

In something of a publicity stunt, Subaru entered three of the tiny cars for the grueling event. Hotshot McRae had one, Japanese driver Masashi Ishida a second, and there was another for local expert Patrick Njiru – who had twice taken the Legacy to Group N victory on previous editions of the Safari.

It wasn’t exactly unprecedented. The Vivio was a common sight on the stages in Japan and a privately-entered version had even impressed on the previous year’s Paris-Beijing marathon.

Safari Rally Nairobi (EAK) 08-12 04 1993

McRae made his Safari debut in the Vivio, and would become a three-time winner of the event during his career

But manufacturer entries on the World Rally Championship? That was something different.

Entered by the factory but run by Noriyuki Koseki’s team rather than Prodrive, these were no ordinary kei cars – they were homologated in Group A! Being Subarus, they boasted four-wheel drive, while a supercharger helped boost power to some 85bhp…

McRae, contesting his first Safari, somehow managed to run fourth overall early on before suspension failure ended his rally on the first day. Ishida lasted until day three before blowing a head gasket. But Njiru brought his home 12th overall. Mexican privateer Francisco Villasenor also reached the finish in his own Vivio, in 15th.

At the head of the field, Toyota took its sixth win in 10 years, sweeping the board with a 1-2-3-4 led by Juha Kankkunen. But the Vivios weren’t the only little cars strutting their stuff on the event. Finishing fifth, sixth and seventh were a trio of one-liter Daihatsu Charades.