One of the biggest downsides of modern motorsport is the extremely tight regulations that prevent manufacturers from flexing their muscles and showing what they can really do when given a blank sheet of paper.
Another is that racing (and rallying) is hugely expensive. But in recent times we’ve seen a remedy for both of those issues in the shape of Hoonigan’s popular Gymkhana series. Brands get more marketing reach at a lower cost, and with no rules, manufacturers can pretty much build what they want. Fans get entertained, too. It’s a win-win-win.
The latest machine to grace the series is Subaru’s 1983 GL Wagon ‘Family Huckster’ – Subaru and factory motorsport partner Vermont SportsCar’s second purpose-built machine for the franchise since Subaru returned with the ‘Airslayer STI’ for last year’s edition.
Once again, it has been driven by Travis Pastrana – and not Ken Block – in the latest video.
The Family Huckster made its public debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier this year and set the fifth-fastest time in the event’s hillclimb competition. But unlike the Airslayer, which doubled as a hillclimb car, smashing the Mount Washington record and going second-quickest at Goodwood, the Family Huckster is much more of a bespoke Gymkhana tool.
“This car is more [of a] purpose-built Gymkhana car whereas the last car was kind of half-and-half Gymkhana and hillclimb,” Vermont SportsCar motorsport director Dan Anctil tells DirtFish.
“We put a lot of performance into the downforce of the last car, and with active aero, which was more suited to the hillclimb aspect of that car than the Gymkhana side, other than being flashy for the video.
“This car [has] a little less downforce,” he continues. “Yes, it has the active aero, [but] it’s more for braking than anything. But the thing about this car, even though it’s the same engine and drivetrain layout, it’s a shorter wheelbase. So the car is a lot more nimble, which lends itself beautifully to the Gymkhana video that we’re filming.”
It took a full year of development for the Family Huckster to go from conception to reality, through Computer Aided Design (CAD) and the actual physical build which took around five to six months.
Many of the car’s components were actually produced in France, with final assembly taking place in Vermont under the supervision of a dedicated team consisting of staff from Subaru’s mothballed rallycross effort, and with a race team wrenching the car, it was perhaps a given that it would end up competing – even though it wasn’t built to balance duties like the last car.
And one big plus point for the new car in a competitive environment was a new purpose-built engine which took the place of last year’s rallycross-based unit.
“The little secret is last year just with the way the engine department had its program going, we ran the two liter last year with the Airslayer, this is the 2.3-liter for Gymkhana specifically,” Anctil reveals.
“To be honest Travis actually feels a little bit more of the power here. We’re just a little more limited in our ability to get it to the ground, but that said, its a super-fast car, it’s super-competitive.”
While the engine is new, its layout and turbo setup and the intercooler setup are from the Airslayer. Other things under the skin like wiring looms, subframes, dampers and the entire brake setup are mostly carried over from the old car too.
“It’s still the same premise, still the same layout; stick with what you know,” Actil says. “The investment was in the look of the car, the body of the car being full tube frame and full carbon, so that was where a lot of the investment was, a lot of the other stuff was carried over.”
Looks, of course, matter. The car was built to look good on camera and tear up the streets of Miami, and with no motorsport rules or regulations to adhere to, the Vermont SportsCar guys allowed their imaginations to run wild. The first port of call during the brainstorming session was to decide what car to use, which led to the rather left-field choice of the GL Wagon.
“Everybody’s kind of doing that retro thing and when we were working with Hoonigan and Subaru on what direction to go, we did the obvious, the most relevant car at the time last year was that new STI,” says Anctil.
“So then going forward it was ‘let’s try something retro’. Well, the obvious choice would’ve been some two-door GM or GC chassis, similar to the 22B or something like that, but we felt that was a little too obvious.
“[The] Brat was another option, the pickup truck, but Ken [Block] had just gotten done doing the Chinese hillclimb with his truck, so we didn’t want to get too close to that either, so we ended up here.
“This is what the Subaru execs liked, the GL Wagon, and there was a little bit of throwback that we could do, obviously with the ski team that kind of tied it together for us, so that’s really how we ended up on the GL Wagon.”
The attention-to-detail carries over to the inside too, with a number of retro-flavored Easter eggs including a cassette player (that actually ate the tape that was put in, in typical fashion – “We popped in an old cassette, but couldn’t get it out. It’s kind of stuck in there and we ran out of time”), and a brake bias adjuster hidden in the cigarette lighter.
“When you’re building a retro car like this, it’s real simple to just put a flat carbon dash in it and call it good and focus on the exterior,” Anctil explains.
“I’ve really got to give it to the crew for the intricate details they did with drawing out the old school and putting in a new school version of it. I mean, right down to the most minute of details – for instance, the original car in ‘83 had a kind of bluish tint to the dash, so we used a blue carbon weave in the shape of the original dash to create the new dash. So it’s a bluish carbon dash in the shape of the original car.
“So just the small stuff like that is really cool. And then obviously the display being similar, with the way we made the modern display look like the old display is just next level stuff.”
The latest Gymkhana video may be a fresh release, but when Anctil sat down with DirtFish to discuss this car back in June, attention was already turning to the next project.
“The conversations are being had with Subaru right now,” he admitted. “We have at least one more to do.
“Originally it was going to be based around the rally car, like a hyped-up version of the rally car. It made sense for budget reasons and carry-over for parts, but this has been such a big hit, that we’re kind of looking at a lot of options right now.
“I can’t let onto what those specifically are, but certainly it could be another showstopper for us.”
As is the latest film, which Pastrana has described as the wildest film I have done on four wheels, period”.
He said: “I never thought I’d race a fighter jet, do donuts around a Monster Truck doing nose wheelies, skim 100 feet across a six-foot-deep pond, or tandem slide with a helicopter. Definitely not in the same video.
“But here we are, with Gymkhana 2022!”
Check out Hoongian’s latest offering below.