Words Jarkle Photos Chris Wallbank
The UK has a rich history of jaw-slackeningly awesome company demo cars, and it isn’t so hard to see why! Demo cars don’t just allow companies to showcase their wares in the best possible, real world light, they allow them to connect with their potential customer base in a tangible manner. OK so that perhaps isn’t the most explosive introduction to a feature you’ve ever seen, but it is necessary; y’see the Subaru BRZ you see before you has been built by none other than Pioneer UK, one of the audio industry’s biggest heavyweights and a firm with a keen eye for a stunning project car.
BRZ's beautiful lines didn't really need much in the way of kits or lips - Stickers, stance and rims did the trick!
This isn’t the first time this particular Scooby has graced various media, of course, the first time was back in 2016, though back then the BRZ looked far subtler, understated and, dare we say it, plain. Subtly has its place of course, but you could argue that a stealthy demo car is something of an oxymoron, which explains why, late last year, Pioneer UK set out to double down on the BRZ to make it that bit more extreme.
Previous iteration of the car was a treat for the ears, but perhaps a little too stock for the show circuit
“All of us were blown away by the charms of the BRZ as standard; it’s such a wonderfully balanced, fun car to drive and very forgiving,” explains Mike Haseler of Pioneer UK. “The only problem was the car’s popularity within this country, and it got to the point where we couldn’t drive down a street without seeing another. The final straw was when we lost it in a car park for a few minutes and wound up walking towards another, near identical example!”
It’s worth noting that the Pioneer BRZ was far from standard at this point in time, it’s just that the changes were all well and truly hidden from view – in the boot, to be precise! Open it up and you’ll encounter a veritable treasure trove of cutting edge ICE, namely a pair of TS-W3003D4 subs, a duo of GM-D8601 monoblock amps and, occupying pride of place within the cabin, the AVIC-F88DAB, the first Pioneer unit commercially available with integrated Apple CarPlay functionality. The beady-eyed amongst you will also no doubt have clocked the TS-A172CI front component speakers and a GM-D8604 4 channel amplifier, all of which adds up to a mighty audio wallop!
“That audio setup was, and indeed remains, very impressive,” explains Mike. “We basically cherry-picked parts from the Pioneer range to end up with an install that was the best of both worlds, able to delivery exceptionally sound quality and a huge hit of bass as and when required. We were also at pains to make sure that the resulting setup was still very much a real world one, affordable and not exclusively for those with tens of thousands to spend on their car, and I think it’s safe to say we managed it.”
Enough ICE to run your own club night - and still plenty of room for the weekly shop. Install is neat and useable
Solid foundations on which to build then, which is why the Pioneer BRZ soon found itself up the M1 in Nottingham, specifically LandSpeed. A new name specialist, classic and project car building (and indeed maintenance and restoration), LandSpeed has swiftly carved out an enviable reputation for providing peerless workmanship, and it’s all down to Adam Hornby, undoubtedly one of the best automotive techs in the business and a man able to turn his considerable expertise to any facet of car care. LandSpeed is headed by Paul Cowland, a petrolhead and sometime TV personality (you might have caught him on the Discovery Channel’s Turbo Pickers show?), and the combined expertise of Paul and Adam was soon brought to bear on the diminutive Subaru.
It’s an accepted fact that alterations in wheels and ride height can make the biggest visual difference to a car, so that’s where LandSpeed (with the blessing of Mike and Pioneer) began. A call to ST Suspensions was made, a subsidiary of the mighty KW Automotive and therefore a force to be reckoned with in the ever evolving world of aftermarket suspension, and in days a large, black and yellow box had been delivered to LandSpeed’s HQ.
“In the end we plumped for ST’s ST-XTA coilover kit thanks to its broad spread of abilities,” recalls Mike. “Ride height adjustment was the most important point of course, but we were also keen to play around with the BRZ’s handling, hence why we were so taken with the kit’s adjustable damping rate ability, plus the specially designed top-mounts.”
Said coilovers were soon paired with a new set of alloy wheels, in this case some beefy staggered Rota Grids finished in matt black. OK, OK, the likes of the Rota Grid have been a staple of the aftermarket Japanese car scene in the UK for almost a decade now, but it’s hard to deny that they aren’t a striking bit of kit, particularly this set, just about squeezed under the BRZ’s pert arches.
The Rota Grid choice may not win prizes for originality, but who cares when they look this good? Toyo R888R finish it off
“I was blown away by how it looked when I first saw the car, though I must admit that I was a little concerned that the big wheels and huge reduction in ride height would’ve wrecked the BRZ’s handling, its main selling point in the first place,” Mike muses. “I shouldn’t have worried though; we spent a few hours toggling the damping rates and playing with the ride height, and before long it was back to its stunning best – better than standard in fact.”
This has never (nor will it ever be) a build focused on number chasing and big power hunting, so no, you won’t find an aftermarket turbo conversion, custom manifolds and water-meth injection lurking under the BRZ’s shapely snout. What you will find though, if you can get low enough to see it, is one of Milltek’s finest stainless steel exhaust offerings. A primary cat-back offering, Milltek’s BRZ exhaust is a full 63.5mm in diameter and sports an over-pipe, secondary cat bypass pipe, a resonated centre-section, rear silencer assembly, silencer outlet pipes and, the icing on the cake, a pair of 4.5in stainless steel tail pipes.
The aforementioned Milltek system, mandrel bent, gas flowed and beautifully engineered, was chosen thanks to its ability to strike the correct balance between performance and sound. Mike and the rest of the Pioneer team have yet to put the BRZ on a dyno and so have no way of knowing just how much extra shove the system has imbued the car with, but there’s no denying that it makes one hell of a sound!
“It’s a stunningly addictive exhaust note, that’s for sure,” explains Mike with a grin. “We went for a resonated centre section to eliminate drone and to make it a more driveable prospect on a daily basis, but it can be properly aggressive when you put your foot down!”
First though, a brief motorsport history lesson, specifically Pioneer’s association with it. While it might not be as well-known as some electronic sponsors, Pioneer has actually been a fixture in the upper echelons of motor racing for decades, including spells in F1 (the lackluster Osella F1), Le Mans (the Ferrari 512) and even rallying (Jean-Claude Andruet’s Ferrari 308GTB). Pioneer even inked a deal with none other than Paul Newman, the American film legend having dabbled with the IMSA series in the late ‘70s with the awesome Bob Sharp Racing Nissan 280ZX V8 twin turbo.
Looks familiar? This awesome looking Datsun race livery was the inspiration for the BRZ's similar shape
Why are we giving you a crash course in ‘70s IMSA racing? Because the Pioneer Subaru BRZ’s current war paint pays homage to the visually very, very similar livery found on Paul Newman’s mighty 280ZX. There are subtle differences, not least because they’re totally different cars, and because Mike and the team opted to swap the race numbers, moving from Newman’s 33 to a far more Pioneer-centric ’37. 1937 was the year the Pioneer was founded as a specialist speaker maker, and it’s fair to say that the company has never looked back!
Whether you approve of the design of the wrap depends entirely upon personal taste, but one thing that cannot be disputed is the quality manner in which it has been applied. Russell Joyce of Joyce Design is the man responsible, a company with a massive reputation in the vinyl wrapping scene – you might well have seen his work on everything from show-stopping Players Classic projects to front-running BTCC teams like Power Maxxed Racing, so it’s fair to say that he knows his stuff. The result is wrap that perfectly mimics the flowing contours of the BRZ’s body, even down to highly styled elements like the front valance and rear wing.
The result of these sweeping, wholesale changes to the Pioneer’s BRZ are plain to see. This is no longer a subtle, shrinking violet of a demo car, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The Newman-esque livery calls to mind Pioneer’s extensive motorsport heritage (even if it’s only the die-hard motor racing cognoscenti that recognize the link), the adjusted ride height and mammoth Rotas with sticky Toyos give it enormous presence, and the rasp from its Milltek exhaust has to be heard to be really appreciated. And that’s before we even get to its true trump card, the battery of audio hardware within!
Technically polished as all this hardware undoubtedly is, none of it could accurately be termed eye-catching, certainly not eye-catching enough for a company demo vehicle. No, for that Pioneer and LandSpeed had to turn their attention to the exterior and the vinyl wrap that’s since become this BRZ’s calling card.