Chat to any turbocharged Subaru driver in Adelaide, and there’s a high chance they’ll mention S&J Automotive as the shop that they take their car to. Even if they don’t, there’s a high likelihood their car has been taken there at some point in the past instead.
Established in 1995 by Sean and Joanne Day, S&J started out as a small family business, and through serving “Subaru people, who are family-orientated just like the business is”, it has grown into being the go-to name for anyone looking to make their Subie that bit better.
Initially an ordinary auto mechanic shop, with Sean telling me that custom-made HT leads were the business’ speciality at the time, it was only when he was looking to buy his first brand-new car through the business that he was just able to stretch the budget enough to get a GC8 Impreza WRX that Subarus became a part of the picture.
At that time, Subarus were just starting to gain the big popularity they still see today in Australia, but other businesses in Adelaide weren’t having as much success modifying the rather quirky flat-four-powered, all-wheel drive WRX as S&J Automotive was. This even led to work being outsourced to S&J from other shops which was what really started to drive the business to pivot towards making Subarus its speciality – although, it should be noted, it does do work on Mitsubishi Evos as well.
Shortly after having driven to Sydney over Christmas in 2000 for a meeting with MRT Performance which led to S&J becoming the company’s South Australian ‘agent’, the business continued to grow as the Subaru performance range also grew after the introduction of models such as the Liberty B4, SG Forester XT, and ‘blob-eye’ Impreza WRX and STI.
Strong business-to-business relationships such as that with MRT is something S&J Automotive has clearly incorporated into its family-minded way of business as well. It has ensured it retains a good relationship with Adelaide Subaru dealers and even used to hot-up cars for the now-defunct United Subaru; it remains the Adelaide go-to for EcuTek ECU tuning; and S&J’s relationship with Bosch is so strong that it even allowed S&J to feature its logo in yellow on the side of SJ22B, when normally it’s only allowed to be shown in red, black, or white.
Speaking of SJ22B, it’s one of two cars S&J races in the many tarmac rallies that operate in South Australia. A real two-door Impreza 22B – build number 047 – that was acquired back when they were still affordable, it started out for Sean as a personal project borne from his love of rallying, and one which he worked on at home like all of his personal projects. However, it ended up evolving into a workshop-focused affair as S&J’s partnerships with Bosch and Pfitzner Performance Gearboxes made it the ideal vehicle to develop and test aftermarket components on.
Painted in World Rally Blue but one shade lighter to make it a little different – the number square on the side is also grey, rather than white, to better complement it – the original driveline has been saved and substituted with a mix of OEM and aftermarket parts, with the latter all being bolt-in or bolt-on. It develops “a true 500hp” from an original 22B block, although it has been fitted with a new crankshaft that takes displacement to 2.35-litres, along with a Garrett turbocharger.
Some hints of originality have remained, though. Sean states he was keen to ensure it kept with a five-speed H-pattern manual gearbox with Group N ratios. The Garrett turbo has been disguised inside the housing from an IHI VF23 to preserve the original aesthetics. Even the wheel track was deliberately kept inside the wheel arches.
“It’s a little quirky, but it means a lot to me… retaining a lot of those things were very important,” says Sean. For those who are real sticklers about originality, however, take comfort in knowing that Sean has another all-original 22B at home as well.
The other of S&J’s racers is SJ1000 – a third-generation Impreza WRX driven by Sean’s son Dan which has been extensively modified to develop, you guessed it, around 1000hp. It won its first-ever race at the Mount Gambier Legend of the Lakes Hillclimb, and to this day continues to take top spot in tarmac sprints and set event/course records constantly.
Clearly, the business is one that lives, breathes, and bleeds Subaru, which is only a good thing for customers. With most of the business’ employees having worked there for over a decade, customer relations are treated with the utmost respect, and mechanics and clients will interact on a personal level throughout the course of a build, as Sean tells me “they love it and they’re good at it.”
To avoid any grey areas which can often come up with modified cars, S&J Automotive matches the manufacturer warranty on stock components as well, with it keeping a sizeable inventory of Subaru genuine parts for that reason.
With times changing in the car industry and EVs starting to become more and more popular, S&J is already starting to think of how it can adapt and stay with the times – something especially pressing with Subaru’s first EV, the Solterra, due in Australia next year. Spending the money to make sure the business has the tools and resources it needs for maintaining and upgrading EVs and hybrids is something Sean notes he’s prepared to do.
“Whatever it takes, we’ll be there,” he says. “We’ll try and pioneer something, whether it be a racecar or something else, we want to be at the front of something in the EV space.”
Sean’s optimism isn’t unwarranted, either, as power upgrades aside, improving items such as tyres, brakes, and suspension will all still be relevant for EVs, and are all key areas S&J won’t lose business in. He also believes the aftermarket “will rear up” eventually as the number of EVs on the roads grows – much the same way the aftermarket support for Subarus has grown in the time he’s been working on them.
S&J Automotive is located at 31-33 Woodlands Terrace, Edwardstown and is open Monday to Saturday. You can find out more about the business at its website: sjautomotive.com.au
Photography by Marcus Cardone and Tom Stuart.
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