How To Build A True Sleeper
A Guide To Better Sleep

All too often we hear the term ‘sleeper’ being bandied about, almost exclusively about cars that clearly aren’t sleepers.

I don’t fully understand why I care so much, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. ‘Hey man, check out that sleeper!’. No mate, it’s not a sleeper. In fact, it’s not even remotely close. For starters, it’s sitting on large aftermarket wheels and it’s an inch off the ground. Hell, it’s plastered with local performance house stickers that advertise the fact that this car is not stock.

I’m not sure if the definition has changed, but a true sleeper is a car that goes under the radar. It’s not a head-turner; it blends in. In fact, a true sleeper should leave you confused when you hear an angry burble and survey the local traffic. A quick sleeper test: If it’s immediately obvious where the noise comes from, it’s not a sleeper.

When I first heard of Joel Swinnerton’s ‘sleeper’ Toyota Cressida wagon my alarm bells instantly rang out loud. If it wasn’t for the quality of the source, Kristian from Ironchef Imports, I might have opted to find another car and not run the risk of bitter disappointment. Kristian’s judgement’s was sound though; I was amazing underwhelmed when I laid eyes on Joel’s wagon as he cruised to our meeting point. As negative as that sounds, it’s the finest compliment one can offer to a true sleeper.

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While the wagon’s appearance was remarkably average, it was accompanied by a deep and threatening engine note. I was impressed.

The faded metallic blue paint, the patina, the white louvres, the tired looking body and the beige interior – all a ruse and all intentional. The old, asthmatic note you’d expect to hear on start up has been replaced with a deeply satisfying growl, now powered by a third-generation 2.5-litre 1JZ-GTE harvested from a JZX100 Toyota Chaser.

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Apart from a few neat additions that aren’t terribly noticeable at first glance (or a second glance for non-car enthusiasts) the wagon looks stock. Fender mirrors, A JAF badge, some period correct but still small 15-inch SSR Mesh wheels and some fairly well tucked away exhaust pipes. It’s a subtle enough treatment to fool many a fellow driver along South Australia’s Anzac Highway, or the Anzac Raceway as it’s known to locals. Joel and his brother Jesse have bewildered more than a few proud V8 owners and unsuspecting import drivers.

Not bad for a free car, right?

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That’s right, free. Purely by chance, or destiny if you prefer, Joel stumbled upon the MX36 wagon while it was parked at a train station, and couldn’t believe his luck. He was familiar with the front end, but very surprised to come across the ultra rare wagon variant. A note was left on the windscreen and a few days later he was offered the Cressida at no cost. The previous owner, Hamish, mentioned the Toyota had a blown head gasket and that he was planning on sending it to the scrap yard. Phone calls were made, a wagon was picked up and a couple of cases of beer were delivered to Hamish, cold brews being Australia’s currency of choice when cash isn’t an option.

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Why the fascination though? What compelled Joel to stop and make an instant offer on something most of us would dismiss as a rusty junker? Joel explained that he’s been a longtime Toyota fan, and even held a position on the board of Toy Mods, one of Australia’s largest Toyota enthusiast clubs. More specifically, he’s always had a hankering for a older Celicas and Cressidas.

Joel’s the first to admit that the model is a pretty strange dream car, but after witnessing a stock-looking, flame-throwing 2JZ Cressida annihilate its competition in his younger days, he was sold.

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The build plan was fairly straightforward: a shakotan-inspired daily driver that would combine classic aesthetics with as much new tech under the hood as possible. A later-model 1JZ featuring VVTi was selected to exaggerate the ‘old car, new engine’ aspect, and with the motor and auto transmission imported through a mate at Japanese Import Spares, the conversion was underway. A full set of 3-inch pipes were fabricated, along with a larger intercooler and supporting pipe work. The smaller bay made for some interesting discussions when it was time to plan the best plumbing routes.

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Although the majority of the conversion was fairly easy, there were a few of the inevitable dramas along the way. The most notable was figuring out where to fit, hide and run the wiring for one of Toyota’s most technically advanced motors in a chassis that’s little more than seats, rails and wheels. Prayers were answered by a surprise visit to Adelaide from fellow Toymods member Mos, who is widely regarded as something of an auto electrical guru. The title was well deserved, and with Mos advising the team the guys had the package up and running in next to no time.

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Unfortunately, rust had become less of an aesthetic and more of an issue by the time the Cressida had found its way into Joel’s hands, so the wagon was stripped back to little more than a shell and all traces of corrosion were hunted down and dealt with. The guys saw playing Rusthunters as more of opportunity than an annoyance, and after dealing with the iron cancer, attention was turned to the presentation and structure of the vehicle. A new layer of sound deadening treatment was also added throughout the entire cabin, while insulation and a new head liner was applied to the roof, protecting occupants from Adelaide’s 40°C+ summer days.

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New carpets that retain the super-sexy beige and brown colour scheme were made, and instruments that match the original dash and clusters as best as possible added. Check out how neatly the new GPS speedometer and boost gauge blend in with the factory fittings. Finally, a RetroSound Bluetooth receiver retains the original AM radio look while enabling modern convenience of streaming music from a phone or iPod. Air-conditioning was fitted; even new seat belts and locks were installed. Basically, any component that could be replaced without diluting the period correct factory feel was swapped out or refreshed.

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Under the car saw the same treatment. All bushes were replaced with fresher urethene models, and some chassis rail connectors were welded in across the body by Phil at Premium Autobodies, adding to the rigidity of the little wagon. The bars actually needed to be pointed out to me by Joel as they blend in so nicely with the factory rails. The additional links in conjunction with a set of sway bars provide a much firmer ride than one would expect from 1970s econobox.

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RA23 Celica front struts have been mated with a shortened set of adjustable coilovers based on short-stroke units from an AE86, and the rear shocks are paired with an reconditioned leaf setup. The added power from the 1JZ is brought to a quick halt with a pair of front R33 Skyline 4-pot calipers and 296mm DBA discs, while a pair of Volvo 2-pot calipers and 281mm DBA discs keep the rear under control.


And that is how you build a sleeper – understated and almost completely unannounced, but ready to get down and boogie when the lights flash green. I was relieved to hear that all of Joel’s future plans revolve around increasing power and drivability while proudly retaining the rough and unrefined look of his sleeper Cressida.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham

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I’d also like to thank Andrew from PixelswithAltitude who was more than happy to get involved and provided the aerial photography for this story. Andrew has been a pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force for over a decade and is also both a drone and photography enthusiast. Thanks for coming down and helping me share some fresh angles with the Speedhunters crew!

The Cutting Room Floor
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This almost shouts "look out" with the wheels (especially gold?), lowering and front duckbill. To my admittedly ancient perception, a true sleeper uses the widest tire you can fit in a stock wheel well, combined with stock wheel covers. Yes, you will need to stock several extra caps, but the authenticity and extra gitas from match racing the fartcan set will offset the cost. The Cressida is a great choice, right along side the 810 Datsun. Both have become very rare in America and Canada, especially in wagon form. Your site is like a breath of fresh air, highlighting the true craftsmen in your bailiwick, and I thank you for the point of view.


Cressida means Gold and that is absolutely true a vehicle that is indestructible nevertheless absolutely offer smooth ride where no other car manufacturer able to come close by to the quality and unique engineering. Value much thus brand as have experienced 22R Cressida 1996 and this wagon rebuilt is simply a dream. May God bless you abundantly. Regards, elia from Beirut's capital of Lebanon

Matthew Dockery

Mmmm... Now I want to build an RB or nasty 3.1L L series powered 810 wagon.

Matthew Everingham

Do it!

Richard Clayderman

there is to many of big words i cannot understand


If you go really slow, you can sound it out......


Isn't rust like... the exact opposite of cancer? lol

Matthew Everingham

Ummmm, like.... no. lol
Both are an unwanted growth that eats away and destroys the host. Sounds pretty similar to me?


Out of curiosity I wanted to know where Mr Best was coming from, so I looked it up. Apparently, cancer growth is slowed by oxygen, whereas with rust, growth increases with oxygen. I thought that was an interesting bit of info. Anyways, despite that, cancer is a pretty darn good word to describe rust.

Richard Clayderman

Please how do I give cancer to my car? It already smokes a lot more than it should but it has not yet developed the cancer. I do not know what else to do.

Matthew Everingham

Park it under the harsh Australian sun at the beach with no sunscreen.

Reinaldo Gonzalez

to me this is a nice sleeper, check this one too:

Matthew Everingham

Great spot! I remember seeing that little Starlet a few years ago. Pretty wild!


Matt i should have pointed you in the direction of our Local X-Chassis club when you came to Perth recently as the club president has a beautfiul 36 like this but with a manual supercharged 1UZ in it! Proper sleepin. Hope you enjoyed Racewars and all we had to offer too :)


So there's two of these in Australia? Good God, that's magnificent.

Matthew Everingham

Hi Ash! That's a very tidy little unit!
Racewars was a blast! You Westerners have built some amazing cars! I have a strong feeling that I'll be back over in the near future!


About time we saw an X3 wagon on here. Excellent choice!


The 2015 BMW X3 Gets Diesel Power To Compete Against 3-Series Wagon


Rust is just additional weight reduction!

Matthew Everingham

Stage 1 weight reduction I believe. ;)


The lowering, the wheels and the eshaust gives it away. Otherwise its sensational.


As a fellow mx36 owner, I admire this car and it's owner. So much quality work has been put into this car. It's not quite the direction I'll be heading with mine, but props to everyone involved with this build. Love it! #wagongoals


If you want a truly amazing sleeper, here's a Toyota Camry running a twin-turbocharged V6:

Matthew Everingham

Dude! This is ridiculously cool.


Sweet ride, I'm sure it's a blast to drive. But I'm sorry, chin spoiler, visible intercooler, low ride height, deep dished wheels, big stainless muffler= Sleeper Fail.


I don't think this represents a "Sleeper" at all. If you know about cars, then if the wheels, stance or exhaust don't give it away, then the intercooler lurking behind the grille is a dead giveaway. A sleeper looks completely stock, no wheels, minimal height adjustment, if any, standard everything.. its whats inside and underneath, that you cant see, makes it a sleeper. This car screams young car enthusiast .

Matthew Everingham

You can't see the cooler from most angles, certainly not in the rear view or side mirrors when the little blue wagon tailed us between locations. :)


I hope the "super-sexy beige" bit was sarcasm...?

Matthew Everingham

Extreme sarcasm!


That's no sleeper LOL.


Damn! I wish I knew of a location similar to the one you used for this shoot near me.

Matthew Everingham

Me too. This location is about 1200km from home :p


Cool Car, love the look, love the engine bay, but i don't understand the auto.

Matthew Everingham

Joel's elder brother has a prosthetic leg that gets in the way of manual driving.


Yeah, that was probably in the story, need to read it when i get home.


I just want to know what rear end he has. I've never seen it specified.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Love this car and the location is very cool too! Australia really is a goldmine for car culture!


Wish my 1966 Nissan Cedric was worthy of a Speedhunters write up


I think we need a Rusthunters sticker for the older car collectors on here :)

Matthew Everingham

I'm behind this idea!


As a sleeper for me this misses the mark. Is the motor unexpected? Perhaps but would I expect this car to be stock under hood? Heavens no.

That bit of semantics aside great, great car.


Thats not a rusty econobox.. thats a lot of peoples idea of an awesome enthusiast car! More of these please.. heaps of "japanese nostalgic car" enthusiasts out there (especially in aus:) ps.No mention of volvo diff?! LSD? Hopefully have my mx32 sedan on here someday.. thanks for the coverage guys and appreciate the owner sharing his car!


Also interested in rear end! Does Someone know which one is used here? 1031? From which volvo model?

Matthew Everingham

I've got a few vehicles lined up that you might be interested in. :)


Wow, what a fantastic car and build. Makes me feel just a little bit cooler about driving a blue wagon ;)


This is a perfect build. MINT!



Every time i see pics of these MX36s I can't help but picture a Dodge Aspen from the same era.
Cool car though. Love the stance and the wheels.


Love the photos, Matt. I don't know if this is quite 'sleeper' enough for me. Sleepers have stock wheels and a near OEM ride height. This looks proper special!


This makes me so happy


Um, yes?


Is there a build thread for this on Toymods?


That modern speedo in the stock looking dash absolutely makes my day.


I agree with "sleeper" being used all too loosely and it pisses me off. While I think that cres is amazing I really dont think its a sleeper unless you're sitting inside the car. I'll Let you off the hook this time but only because of the love for this wagon.


Perfect with just the right amount of hints of that dual personality. Love it.


Talks about how people throwing term sleeper around annoys. Makes post classifying clearly modified wagon as sleeper. Dope car though


Damn, it looks good!


If a sleeper is defined by something that doesn't turn heads and is under the radar, then this is not a sleeper. I would take a picture of this wagon and do a walk around, lmao. You don't see these types of cars anymore, so how do you not expect to not have my eyes fixed on something this clean and good looking?


Beautiful car. I bet it's a blast to drive. BUT, I personally don't see it as a sleeper. People have posted "better" examples of sleepers in the comments.


By any chance, is the previous owner of the car named Hamish Daud?