Capturing the spirit of a car build solely through written word and photography is a challenge. It’s one I enjoy, but a challenge all the same.
And that challenge is only made harder when the vehicle owner is very passionate about their finished project. One would assume there would always be passion behind every build, but trust me, that sadly isn’t always the case.
Throughout my interview with Kevin Legaspi, his openness was refreshing. He didn’t overstate the build or make it out to be anything it wasn’t. He did a great job of selling me the idea of the car, even though I was already very much a fan.
I’ve been sold on the car from the first time I saw it sneakily tucked away in some of Keiron’s Instagram stories back in 2018. Amidst the double-digit negative camber, chassis-mount wings, and debauchery of Ocean City 2018, this car stood out. It stood out because it looked as though it had been plucked from a casual car meet in Japan and air dropped into the American coastal town. Its fish-out-of-water look is of course by design, and the result of an owner who’s spent years obsessing over Japanese car culture.
Kevin has been a Japanese car fanatic ever since pixelated R32 GT-Rs made their video game debut in the late ’90s. Cliché perhaps, but as a child of the same era it’s something I can relate to.
Kevin’s interest in Japanese cars only continued to evolve as he grew and started driving for real. Eventually, that passion deposited him behind the counter of Japan Parts Service in Richmond, Virginia where he worked for six years. Japanese Classics, the sister company to JPS gave access to vehicles never sold new in North America.
With the resources to import both Japanese market cars and parts, you can see where this story is heading…
In 2014, while still employed at Japanese Parts Service, Kevin decided to import a Skyline – as you would. The plot twist here is that unlike most people importing Skylines at a time that R32s had just become legal, Kevin didn’t want an R32, he wanted an R31.
A R31 sedan to be exact.
R31s are a little bit quirky, and as Stefan touched on recently they don’t share nearly the same admiration as their younger siblings. The front ends in particular seem to be 100% love or hate; the ‘Iron Face’ is iconic to some and terrible to others.
The lack of B-pillars – a brave styling choice no matter the manufacturer – also makes the four-door R31 models look particularly unique.
Unique looks and comparatively lesser performance means that there are not many R31s to be found in the United States. Keeping one running, much less hopping one up takes plenty of dedication. This is not the sort of car you import on a whim and simply hope for the best.
For starters, when it comes to parts almost everything has to be sourced from overseas, namely Japan and curiously Australia where R31s were also sold new. When all else fails, a few odd parts do transfer over from the Infiniti M30.The Right Touch
Kevin’s R31 arrived in the US nearly bone stock. There was some CB radio equipment in the car, but the rat’s nest wiring and different operating bands meant it was first to go.
Second to go was the original suspension. On the drive from the port to Kevin’s house, the setup revealed itself to be very well used, continuously bouncing long after hitting bumps in the road.
To remedy the problem Kevin took a trip to Fortune Auto who supplied a custom-valved kit for the car. The sedan has been set up lower than this, but the height it’s at currently seems to be where the Skyline is happiest.
Wheel selection is always one of those choices that can make or break a car. It is, probably, completely possible to fit wheels larger than 15-inch on an R31, but when 15s sit this good under the fenders why would you?
Measuring 15×7.5-inch at all corners, the SSR MKIIs have been adjusted – via spacers – to an offset of +6 in the front and -6 in the rear. The tires spec out at 185/55R15 all around.
There’s enough sidewall and section width to support spiriting driving, but not so much that the tires and fenders fight for the same space.Aural Bliss
Despite not being the most powerful motor in the world, the R31’s ‘Red Top’ RB20DET “makes all the right noises,” according to Kevin. “It’s not that fast, but it feels fast and brings a smile to my face every time”.
Like its more famous RB26DETT sibling, the RB20DET is a turbocharged six, but this one is 2.0L versus the RB26’s slightly larger 2.6L displacement. To wake the smaller motor up, the stock turbo was swapped for an RB25DET 45V4 unit, and an R32 GT-R intercooler was added.
The factory turbo elbow and outlet have been replaced with aftermarket HKS items, the wastegate actuator and 3-inch down-pipe coming from the same Japanese manufacturer too. A Trust GREX oil cooler and oil filter relocation kit were also installed.
Coming off the HKS piping is a 3.25-inch cat-back exhaust with custom dual turn-down pipes that stick out a hair past the rear bumper.Motoring Fashion
Calling the visual treatment of this car distinctive would be underselling it. If the Skyline was straight white it would still be clean, but not quite as interesting. And the same could be said if it had the livery but was without the collection of period correct, rare modifications.
It’s the combination of the two that make the car noteworthy.
What details you might ask? Well, for one the functional ventilation blinds that cover the rear window. The car actually arrived with these from Japan, but Kevin immediately sold them as the look wasn’t for him at time. However, when the R31’s current guise came together he knew he needed them, and luckily was able to buy the blinds back from the person he’d sold them to.
Other rare details include the OEM option mirror visors which took two years to find, and the ADThree roof spoiler. Searching for the various unique items to add to this car was not a quick process, but it’s proven to be a great return on time investment in the final product.
Others often try to buy these accessories from Kevin whenever he posts pictures of the car or brings it to events, the rare in-grill OEM fog lights being the most sought after. Those fogs pair well with the removable headlight covers handmade by Andrew Clarke.
An R31 House GT-R style front lip finishes off the front end and body modifications outside of the paint. On the topic of paint, this car is not base white with vinyl laid over top; both the blue and white have been done with paint.
Four OEM color codes were used to create the look the car now has: Midnight Purple, Gun Gray Metallic, Black Pearl Metallic, and of course the base Cristal White.
The paint scheme was done freehand by Andrew Clarke based on designs that Kevin made himself.
The finishing vinyl design was carefully applied by Andy Vasconcellos and includes nods to the brands used on the car, and the culture that influenced the build to begin with.
The interior has been fussed over just enough, with the original seats, door cards, and dash all remaining largely untouched. There’s a Momo Prototipo steering wheel and to the left a Mr. Grip Black Bleeding Cherry 6-inch shift knob with matching cigarette lighter.
For tunes, a Kenwood head unit has been added along with Kenwood speakers front and rear. Low end thump is provided by a Pioneer Carrozzeria 8-inch subwoofer.
A purple dash light and authentic JDM roadside flare further sell the idea that this car was imported as it sits to those who are willing to poke their head around inside. Kevin also found an optional OEM air purifier.
Despite its head-turning appearance, the Skyline managed to fly under the radar of the Ocean City Police Department in September last year, but drew plenty of attention from fellow enthusiasts.
As it sits today, the R31 is incredibly usable and even daily driven when Kevin’s other cars have been in various states of repair.
Four minutes down the road or four hours down the highway, it’s fun either way. Though on the longer drives, more often than not Kevin turns the radio down to listen to the turbo spool up and flutter between shifts. After all, when a car makes all the right noises how could you not?
Photography by Keiron Berndt