My 2003 Subaru Forester

My first attempt at building the ultimate off-road subaru...
My 2003 SG forester was initially purchased as a weekend project car, that would later become the star of my Youtube channel! 
Initially built up as a street car, my forester would later be converted to an off-road weapon, reaching fame on Youtube for its underestimated off-road ability and serving as a test platform for DIY mods that would help the newly emerging off-road subaru community! 
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Lowered Life 

Just like my SF forester, this build started out as a street car. When I lifted my SF, I decided I wanted the best of both worlds and daily drive a lifted SF and have a lowered SG forester as a project car for the weekend. So that's how it began! 

 

First thing I did was swap over my Hokuto Racing wheels as well as make a custom grill, using the highly sought "F badge" from my older forester. Following that I installed a set of BC racing BR coilovers, which allowed me to 'slam' the car and dial in the suspension. 

For the interior I installed WRX bucket seats and installed a genuine STI steering wheel and shift knob for that sports car feeling in the cockpit. 

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To enhance the exterior of the car I pulled apart the factory headlights and blacked them out, as well as adding LED lights for a cleaner look.

To complete the package I added red Rally Armour mud flaps, had the windows tinted to 30% (darkest legal tint), added custom Japanese styled plates and added a custom axle back exhaust. 

The Off-road Forester Project begins!

So the time had come to lift this Forester! I had just replaced my previous lifted forester with a new daily driver, but I now had a lifted Subaru shaped hole in my life and it needed to be filled! 

This time round I decided to do things properly. This was still a time where the lifted Subaru scene was very small, and the bulk of the enthusiast were running around in modified brumbies and L series Subaru's.

Other than the odd forum posts there was very little information available about modifying a Subaru for off-road, so with that in mind, I decided I wanted to document building my off-road Subaru  and share it with the world via Youtube!

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With the steel wheels falling through, I continued my search and finally came across a small company offering custom wheels in Melbourne. The company, OX wheels, had a range of blank wheels that could be drilled out to the stud pattern and offset of my choice so that lead me to the wheel set I still run today. The wheels I purchased were OX Wheels OX817 wheels which were a 15"x6.5" alloy wheel, with a custom stud pattern of 5x100 and an offset of et25. This ended up being an awesome size as the offset would fit flush with the wheel guards and being a 15" wheel allowed for a greater selection of off-road tyres. 

The rims only just cleared the brake callipers however leaving about 1mm of clearance!  

To begin the build I took a lot of inspiration from Tim's lifted SG forester, which was regarded as being one of the craziest builds of the time. 

Gaining the support of Subieliftoz, I decided to go with a 2.5" front, 3" rear lift kit which would give my forester maximum clearance, and matched the size of Tim's lift at the time. 

The next thing I had to sort out was wheels and tyres. Again this was a time where the market was just emerging so there where no options on the market other than OEM Subaru wheels. With this in mind, I started organising a group purchase of custom steel wheels suited to our Subaru' by approaching Dynamic Wheels Australia. Unfortunately this fell through because too many people backed out at the last minute. (One year later Dynamic would release 2 different sized steel wheels suited for the offroad wheel market.)

 

 

 

 

Moving on to tyres, I decided to go with the size 215/75r15. After a lot of research I decided this was the best size that would allow for additional ground clearance (about 18mm extra clearance) , as well as being small enough not to cause too much stress on the driveline.

I ended up opting for the Kumho Road Ventura KL71 M/T which was a very aggressive tyre in that size.  

This combo with the OX wheels ended up weighing in at 23.8kg per wheel, which is a little heavier than I would have liked but gave me a very aggressive and capable wheel setup.  

Touching further on suspension, I ran a number of different setups on this build. As I mentioned earlier, I started with a 2.5" front, 3" rear strut top lift by subieliftoz. This was combined with 3" trailing arm spacers and Whiteline camber bolts to allow me to dial in the alignment settings. For the rear end I also added standard height heavy duty King Springs to assist with weight in the back of the car. I also removed the sway bars front and rear which allowed for an impressive amount of flex from the vehicle.  Unfortunately flex comes at a cost and the handling on the road was reduced as a result. 

 

Later on I changed my suspension setup to a 4" monster lift kit by Subieliftoz. This was a bit of a test to properly understand how the bigger lift works and use my car as a test subject to help others make their own decisions on the kit. 

While the car looked amazing with the bigger lift, I didn't gain any ground clearance and discovered a few problems associated with lifting a Subaru that big, so to say the least I'm not a fan and hence the reason I stuck with a 2" lift kit on my latest build.  

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4" lift kit by Subieliftoz. This kit included 4" front, 4.5" rear strut top spacers, 4.5" rear trailing arm spacers and a 2" subframe drop.

Moving on to the driveline, my forester started out with a standard 5 speed dual range gearbox with a rear viscous limited slip differential. This was great because it gave the forester good off-road ability especially coupled with that low range gear set, but things could be improved!

To transform the capability of the car, I went down the line of getting a custom gearbox built for the my forester. Initially I picked up a secondhand gearbox that had already been modified with a low range gear set from an earlier generation forester which offered 1.47 gear reduction (almost 50% reduction!) and a 20kg centre differential by AllDriveSubaroo. Initially my forester came with a 4kg centre diff which allows for a lot more slip in the torque bias of the gearbox. 

With the gearbox purchased, things quickly ramped up when I started chatting to AllDriveSubaroo about purchasing a front LSD which lead to the Frankenstein gearbox build I have today.

For the specific details, I'll leave all the specs at the bottom of this page, but this gearbox combined with the Torq Master Industries R160 rear diff locker has been an absolute game changer! 

Moving on to the rest of the mods, as this was going to be a dedicated off-roader I wanted to make sure I would be able to tackle water crossings with ease. To protect the engine and driveline, I added a snorkel off a Mitsubishi Pajero (with some slight bending using a heathen to make it fit) and diff breathers front and rear. I also sealed the rear vents to stop water flooding into the boot of the forester.

For the exterior bar work I came across a secondhand subaxtreme bull bar made specifically for my model car, as well as purchasing a subaxtreme sump guard and RhinoRoo rock sliders. I also added a cargo barrier for better storage and driver protection. 

Moving to electronics, I added 6" LED spotlights from Adventure Kings and an Oricom UHF. I also installed a dual battery system in the boot hooked into a 600 Watt inverter so I could charge my camera gear on the go. 

Finally to the roof I added Rhino Rack cross beams and initially an Adventure kings roof top tent rack to go with my roof top tent also from Adventure Kings.

I found this setup to be too large and heavy for the vehicle however so opted for a Rhino Rack aluminium tray further down the line. This holds my full sized spare perfectly and has a 2mx2.5m awning attached to it as well.  

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Unfortunately this build ended its life due to an interior fire. After investigating the cause it appeared the sunroof wiring loom shorted out and cause the interior of the car to burn up. I was lucky to get on top of the fire quickly but the damage was done. Yes I could have rebuilt, but it was also an opportunity to move on to even better builds.... The parts were transferred onto my new build and the shell was sold in 2020.  

The Specs

Make:       Subaru

Model:      Forester

Year:         2003

Badge:      XS Luxury 

Engine:     2.5L Natural Aspirated Boxer Engine

Cylinders: 4 Cylinders 

Driveline:  AWD

Gearbox:  Manual Dual Range

Power:      112kw

Torque:     223Nm

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The Mods

Suspension

Subieliftoz 4/4.5" Lift Kit

Subieliftoz 2" subframe drop

Whiteline Camber Bolts (Rear) 

KYB Struts (OEM Replacement)

King Springs Standard Height Heavy Duty (Rear)

Swaybars Removed (Front/Rear)

Wheels

OX Wheels OX817 15x6.5 5x100 et25

Kumho Road Ventura KL71 M/T 215/75r15

Engine

NK Pajero Snorkel 

Transmission & Driveline

Xtreme heavy duty clutch 

Whiteline Transmission Mount Insert

Front/Rear Diff Breather

Torq Master Industries R160 rear diff locker

4.44 final drive conversion

SF 1.47 low range gear set

ADS 20kg centre differential

Cusco RS 1.5 way front LSD

1-2 gear from impreza

3-5 gear from WRX including longer 5th gear

Brakes

(DBA T2 slotted rotors (front)

Bendix 4wd Brake Pads

Electronics

Dual Battery setup 

600W Inverter 

LED Interior Lights 

LED Number Plate Lights

Oricom UHF

Adventure Kings 6" spotlights 

Exterior/Other

Gas Bonnet Struts

Rally Armour Mud Flaps 

Subaxtreme Bullbar 

Subaxtreme Sump Guard

JDM Styled number plate

Rhino Rack Vortex crossbars

Rhino Rack Aluminium Tray

Adventure Kings Roof Top Tent

Adventure Kings Awning 2mx2.5m