Subaru Queens Crew Wakes Up New York City And We Tag Along
By Richard S. Chang
Photography: Richard S. Chang
A yellow WRX sits curbside on Mott Street in New York Cityâ€™s Chinatown, invisible to the tourists who walk by it with their heads cocked the wrong way, gazing hypnotically at boba tea menus, displays of roasted chicken, and buckets loaded with squirming baby turtles. Itâ€™s 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and the narrow street is jammed on both sides. Parking is a premium in the city, but much more so in Chinatown.
â€œWeâ€™ll bring them in in twos,â€ the owner of the WRX tells me with a stern look thatâ€™s all business, as if heâ€™s briefing me on hostage recovery. His name is Alan Lew and he is my point man for the night. Weâ€™ve been hitting each other up on the cellie for the past couple of weeks, ever since I spotted his WRX. And he said that there were more like it (and some more hooked up than his own). Apparently, theyâ€™re all parked a couple of blocks down on Grant Street right now, just waiting for his call.
A family crawls with post-feast sloth into a Jeep Grand Cherokee thatâ€™s in front of the WRX. A couple of minutes pass before the SUV slides out. Further down the road, another car leaves its spot, and Alan lifts up his Nextel. â€œBring in two,â€ he says, calmly. â€œItâ€™s wide open.â€ A minute later, two WRXsâ€”spraying four headlamps eachâ€”turn the corner and rumble down Mott Street. Five minutes after that, a few more enter in a line and park.
Traffic in Chinatown is a mess and the lights are short, so to get that many cars through an intersection together, you either have to run the light or hold up the intersection. I donâ€™t ask which law they broke. All I know is that in half an hour, the entire street is cluttered with WRXs and a turbo Impreza RS. Under the colorful squiggles of neon restaurant lights, the 17 members of the Subaru Queens Crew have assembled the most impressive collection of WRXs this side of Prodrive.
W, R, and X. Here are three letters that carry an enormous weight and the meatiest word of any sentence theyâ€™re in. Next year, the star acronym may be replaced by Evo, but for now it is the letter combination that stands for everything good in a car: turbo, all-wheel drive, motorsports. And buried somewhere in all that technology and race history is the essence of potential. The turbocharged 2.0L boxer engine is measured by more than its 227hp figure and the carâ€™s 6-second 0-to-60 prowess. The list of proven partsâ€”parts that have been available in Japan for yearsâ€”creates limitless performance figures that, when describing the WRXâ€™s power numbers, you might as well say it can be whatever you want it to be.
Right now, these cars along Mott put it down harder than Shaq Diesel in the paint. Sizing me up on one side is a Blitz front mount, a carbon-fiber hood, and STi headlamps. Behind me is a 3-inch Kakimoto titanium exhaust and Volk Racing TE37 wheels. These are members SQC 010 and SQC 003, respectively. Subaru Queens Crew identifies each ride with a simple sticker no longer than a small Nokia, comprised of the crew initials and the member number. Usually, it is the only sticker on the car. SQC floss their cars clean and keep them on the D.L. And even though the Saturday night Chinatown crowd doesnâ€™t really know what these cars are, they can feel the power. And people stare.
Tokyo highway is the thread that runs through nearly all of SQCâ€™s cars (there is one WRC-inspired WRX, owned by a Brit, of course). Nearly all of the cars have a turbo upgrade, all the right pipes, and monster exhausts. But building a daily driver, which all of these are, for the battlefield conditions in New York City requires strategy. â€œMy car changes with the seasons,â€ says Willie Yap, one of the co-founders of the crew. His car bears the sticker: SQC 000. â€œIâ€™ve tried almost every body kit. The FOERST one I got was the C-West and it wasnâ€™t good for New York because the front piece and the side skirts are all made of fiberglass, so when you drive the car into a gas station or to get an oil change, the side skirts can crack. I went back to the OEM kit from the Subaru dealer, and I thought it was too plain, so I switched to the Syms [front end] and kept the factory side skirts. And now, I have no issues. Thatâ€™s the main point when you hook up a car [for New York]. Itâ€™s not just for looks. You need a look and at the same time you need to be able to drive everywhere.â€
Willie, who had previously owned a BMW 328i, estimates an investment of over $30,000 in parts alone. Alan, SQC 001 and once the owner of a road-ruling 11-second Mustang, adds, â€œWeâ€™ve gone through many renditions. Weâ€™re probably at Version 4.0 right now.â€ Thatâ€™s saying a lot because the cars are barely a year old.
The thing about driving around New York is that youâ€™re always a glimpse away from a famous landmark or structure. From Chinatown, we rip up Bowery Street, past the birth place of punk, CBGBs, into the Midtown Tunnel. Emerging in Queens, we are a short drive away from Shea Stadium, where the Mets play and where we park, directly in front of an army of blue barriers in front of the empty stadium parking lot.
Closing in on 1 a.m., nearly half of the SQC contingent is still somewhere on the Long Island Expressway. They took a wrong turn and are held up by road work. That leaves nine WRXs rumbling and growling around me, which is loud enough. Officially, SQC is close to 50 strong, but the 17 here tonight represent the core members. Three of them, Willie Yap, Alan Lew, and Jon Kng, started the crew just over a year ago after spying each otherâ€™s cars on the street.
And thatâ€™s how the crew has expandedâ€”on the street. The three founding members placed contact cards on Imprezas and WRXs throughout the city. They put up a Web site (www.sqc-ny.com
), made T-shirts, and set up monthly meets.
These days, SQC membership is skyrocketing and is at a point where other WRX owners are chasing the crew down. Earlier in the evening, Alan sat through a Q-and-A from, of all people, an Australian woman on the yuppy-and-puppy Upper West Side, and then later from a fellow WRX owner, who ran down the street, leaving his girl in the dust, just to catch up to the yellow car.
â€œBuilding the community is the mission of SQC,â€ Alan tells me. â€œPart of our drive is teaching people about the [WRX], teaching them how to work on the car, and just helping [them out.]â€ Jon agrees. â€œThe crew is more about the people than the cars,â€ he says. â€œFrom member 1 to 50, we know all their names. I have all their numbers in my phone.â€
But membership in SQC provides more privileges than a sticker and a T-shirt. FOERST, thereâ€™s the depth of mechanical knowledge. Over the past year, the SQC cars have gone through nearly every possible engine and suspension setup available for the WRX; both Willie and Alan have over 24,000 miles on their cars and can drop some serious science on the performance of any aftermarket part.
Then there is the crewâ€™s knack for getting Japanese parts in a timely manner and the group discounts SQC gets from its network of vendors across the country.
Recently, the crew has even been toying with the idea of opening up an SQC shop and garage just for the members. That shows how much they work on their cars. Or maybe it shows how much the city takes its toll on daily drivers. My experience tonight however, revealed that sometimes, if youâ€™re in the right car, it can go the other way around. To learn more about Subaru Queens Crew, check out their Web site at www.sqc-ny.com