Twelve years is a long time to own and build a project car. In a day and age when many projects are built and flipped as soon as they're completed, one has to wonder: Why wouldn't you enjoy what time (aside from money) has afforded you to enjoy? It took Tony Lee 12 long years to get his STI to this level of greatness. What was once simply a daily driver is now the culmination of collecting the rarest of parts and using hard work and effort to build this ultimate project car.
An avid car enthusiast since the mid-'90s, Tony admired the Japanese supercars of those days (like the Mk4 Supra and FD RX-7) from a distance but could only afford to modify an Accord his parents helped get for him. "I religiously watched Hot Version, JDM Option, and Revspeed on DVD," he says. "But my subscriptions to Super Street, Import Tuner, and Modified made me want to really dream big and work hard so that one day I would be able to afford and build a car of my own." Those golden-era import years taught him that nothing was going to just land in his lap; he had to create his own opportunity and put in the work if he was going to get what he wanted.
It wasn't until late 2004 that Tony was finally able to purchase his own car, a brand-new '05 WRX STI, which, in his eyes, was an iconic step forward. "I played a lot of Gran Turismo," he explains. "The game's rally tracks are fun when you play with the STI. But the Team Orange GDB built by Nobushige Kumakubo is what really pushed me to start my Subi build." Tony tried to keep it stock for as long as he could, but we all know what happens next... Old habits die hard, and soon he was modifying it, albeit slowly since he was going to school part time. The simple mods only whet his appetite for more performance and parts that wouldn't be easily attainable (affordably anyway), which meant he needed to make a career move. Once he found the financial freedom, Tony continued working on his passions.
With a goal to have a street-driven STI that was both powerful and reliable, Tony focused on mods centered around cooling, fuel efficiency, and the exhaust. An ATP GTX3071R turbo replaced the factory unit and was mated to a Full Race 1.5 scroll up-pipe and header. Chris "Chinky" Chao helped customize his entire fueling and cooling system and fabricated pieces that were powdercoated and anodized in matching Candy Violet paint to give it a show car "wow" vibe. For two years, Tony's STI was garaged, with parts being installed back to back—to the point where he was unsure if he would ever get his car running again. What made up for it in the end? Church Automotive Testing being able to tune it to a reliable 413 whp and 416 lb-ft of torque on E85 at 21 psi ("I was thrilled about that!" he says).
Over the next few years, Tony shifted his attention to enhancing the looks of his STI. Before the 2017 SEMA Show, he found the inspiration to take his car to another level he didn't think would've been possible. With a set of one-off ADVAN wheels ordered through Mackin Industries and aero pieces from M-Sports, he was able to widen the vehicle while still respecting the factory's body lines. "LTMW massaged and molded the rear fenders into the OEM body to create a seamless flow," he adds. "I also stuck with the factory Aspen White to create a look only true enthusiasts could identify." As a way to pay homage to the Team Orange GDB, Tony added carbon Chargespeed brake ducts, Varis side skirts, and one really trick part: a custom double-stacked HKS Kansai Service/Voltex rear diffuser.
As fate would have it, the first time he brought out his STI with the new widebody, Tony ran into Kumakubo at a local event while preparing it for SEMA. "What are the chances I'd run into my childhood hero at an event he wasn't even competing in?" he laughs. Life is full of surprises, and it just goes to show that when you put in the work, you can make any dream come true.