2005 Subaru STi – It Lives Again…

by Zach Billings on June 27, 2011

2005 Subaru STi Engine SwapAfter my 2005 Subaru STi’s engine failure in October 2010, the car limped around under 3,000RPM for three more months, before it came off the road at the end of December. The motor swap was expected to be a relatively simple matter of pulling it from the car, replacing the shortblock (the central section of the engine block, which houses the pistons, rods, bearings, and crank) with a new 2010 EJ257 shortblock, purchased from S&R Performance in Florida. Not one thing went according to plan…

The next 6 months were a twisting, turning, roller coaster of emotion for me. Delays, setbacks, and complications stretched my wallet and the generosity of my parents, co-workers, and professional superiors to their breaking points and beyond. As the months without my STi rolled on, I learned to live without it and even became accustomed to its absence. While the STi sat dormant and engineless, under a car cover in the Marlboro Nissan photo studio, I was allowed to drive various cars on the Marlboro Nissan lot on a dealer plate so I would have transportation while my motor was being repaired.

Blown STi Cam GearMy pain was made worse in early March of 2011 when the motor had supposedly been finished. It was installed and started, but two camshafts seized, causing yet another failure. The motor was then pulled again in April and taken back to the shop to be reworked. Another three painstaking months went by as I became more and more frustrated with the various delays that kept the motor from completion. Finally, at the beginning of June, it was finished.

2005 Subaru STi MotorI picked up the motor from Jackal Motorsports (Tony Pinto’s garage) in Middleboro and brought it back to the Marlboro Nissan photo studio, where it was to be installed a few days later. Installation day came and Steve Tumolo, who has done most of the work on my car, came with three of his mechanically-inclined friends. They started by attaching my ACT Heavy Duty 6-puck clutch kit to the motor and then began the installation. We ran into a few stumbling blocks during install, but it went reasonably well. Finally, around midnight, it was ready to start. Steve opted out of starting the car, as he had started it last time and it had failed. One of Steve’s friends volunteered, but after my night of worriedly sitting in near silence, I decided to step up and start my new motor for the first time. I climbed in the driver’s seat, depressed the new, heavy clutch, and turned the key.

The motor started right up and I sat, heart racing waiting for a sign of failure. The last time the motor failed it had made it this far before showing signs of a problem. I simply stared at the dash gauges, looking for anything alarming that I should yell out to Steve and the guys. Meanwhile they were swarming around the engine bay, searching for signs of oil or coolant leaks and making sure everything looked and sounded as it should. As I watched the RPM slowly settle and the minutes ticked by, engine heat slowly rising, I saw in my peripherals that everyone is crowding around one spot at the front of the engine bay. Since the car was sitting in the photo studio at this point, I couldn’t clearly hear what they were saying over the echo of the engine noise, but it didn’t look good. Then I saw smoke rising from the location that they were huddled around.

After a few minutes I gathered the nerve to get out and see what was going on. It was a coolant leak originating from the head gasket. If this persisted, it would mean pulling the motor again, and no doubt many more months off the road. Making matters worse, was the fact that the following day I would no longer be allowed to use a dealer plate. If the STi didn’t drive out of the photo studio that night, I would have to lease a car, tying up all the rest of my money. Steve made a call and confirmed that the car could be driven with the leak, but that I would have to check and top off my coolant levels every morning.

I pulled the STi out of the photo studio, locked up the building, and took it out onto Rt20 in Marlboro. The first time I tried to brake, the rotors made the most horrible grinding noise and despite pushing the brake pedal to the floor, the car was barely stopping. In my side view I could see a cloud of brake dust being illuminated by Steve’s Corolla (his daily driver to his 600WHP ’07 STi). None of this was surprising, since my brake rotors will actually build up a layer of rust if it’s humid overnight. 6 months of this was bound to make things messy and I was confident it would resolve itself within a week.

My instructions at this point were simple. Drive the car nicely for 30-40 miles of initial break in, then change the oil to 5w-30 motor oil. Then drive 500 miles a little harder, change to synthetic 5w-30 then, in Steve’s words, drive it like I stole it. To my great pleasure, the 35 miles I drove that night sealed up my coolant leak. The car was still throwing some Check Engine codes, but we read them and knew what they were. None were of immediate concern. The STi lives again.

As of now, I have cracked 1000 miles on the new motor. The clutch is easy to live with except when starting from a stop and the brakes returned to their old, incredibly aggressive selves. Shortly after getting the STi on the road again, I got my Dunlop Z1 Star Spec tires remounted, and rediscovered the wonders of the STi’s near-limitless grip. Now that my 3 inch, catless (no catalytic converters) downpipe has been installed and my ECU has been flashed to a COBB Stage 2 map, the car is making around the same power it once did, but with only 11psi of boost pressure. The lack of boost is being caused by either a loose wastegate, a stuck TGV, or some combination of the two. It will be resolved sometime soon, bringing me to about 20psi of boost and nearly 400 crank lb-ft of torque. There are certainly some little things still to be dealt with, but the important part is that it’s on the road and running well overall.

My full mods list to date can be found on my car’s Facebook Fan Page ‘Zach’s STi.’ Be sure to like the page for updates on what I’m doing with it and what I’m adding or changing, as well as for future blog articles about the STi.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie March 30, 2012 at 1:47 am

Hey,
Do you mind sharing how much this cost you? I have a 2005 sti with major engine problems and im looking for options regarding an engine swap. Anything is better than bowing to the pressure to sell my baby. :-(

Zach Billings April 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I did not use a professional shop, but instead a friend of a friend who builds STi motors out of his garage. Through a performance car shop I had been quoted $9,000, and that was before a number of additional parts that I found out I was going to need. As it is, I went through S&R Performance for my parts which totaled something like $7,500. There were then complications during installation that drove the cost up. Figure on spending more than $10,000 to get the job done, especially if your problems are extensive (I was able to reuse my heads but you may not be able to).

It won’t seem like it while you’re looking at the small costs, but it adds up like you won’t believe. For example the short block was the major component that needed replacing and I believe it was only around 2k for that on its own. It’s only a matter of time until something else goes even if you replace the motor. My transmission failed 4 months later and I spent another 4k on that. I hate to say it, but cut your losses and save for a new one.

KPAZZSTI September 19, 2012 at 8:15 am

Ive got a similar situation. Im on iwsti.com now. Basically, my rod bearing spun in cylinder 4 causing major problems. I too have an 05 sti. I bought it for my wife about 3 months ago and there has been problems ever since. Anyhow, i’ve been trying to source out a good built short block to slap my head on. Did you use arp studs or the oem head bolts? Im probably going to pick up cometic head gaskets. I at first assumed that the timing belt idlers were causing the loud knocking, but after replacing them, waterpump, belt and tensioner, I found that it was cylinder four which took the shit. Im gonna be pulling the motor soon, but I am in no rush as I have to purchase the block first. When the motors on these cars go, they really go. Was the 2010 short block identical to the 05-07 or was there things that needed to be spliced and wired due to plug differences?

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