Knockalla is a temple of speed, one of the most iconic stretches of tarmac that Ireland has to offer. Come Donegal Rally weekend, the place comes alive with thousands of excited spectators eager to savour the atmosphere. This time though, things are quiet.
The traffic is decidedly less fire-breathing rally weapons and more camper vans and holiday-makers. But below, a familiar shape loomed into view, complete with a chorus of SR20 noises. For a few moments, all is good – the Zero7Four gang are all here.
Such is the nature of the world right now, that the ‘staycation’ buzz in Ireland is strong. Imagine all the enjoyment of going abroad on holiday, but a bit more expensive and more likely to rain. Still, a chance to just unwind is bliss in itself. Clear the calendar, check the out-of-office email auto-reply option, and take off.
Some choose the relaxation route, enjoying some peace and luxury. I struggle to sit still for long; mile after mile of open road is what stirs my soul, and Ireland’s Northwest, especially Donegal, is absolute heaven. Every twist and turn in my Hyundai i30 N brings better views and a bigger smile.
Last year’s late-summer road trip adventure finished at 2,500km, while this year a modest 2,100km was covered over the course of two weeks. That amount of time the road can get wearisome I know, so it’s important to get a little break here and there.
I had an hour or two to kill in Portsalon one evening around the time Love Island was on the TV, so I reached out to some old friends who I knew wouldn’t disappoint.
The Zero7Four crew are a bunch of mates from the northernmost corner of Donegal (would you believe the phone area code for Donegal is 074…), itself the most northernmost corner of Ireland. When it comes to cars, there’s a huge and diverse passion for all things JDM here.
I first met these guys in 2017, and it was great to catch up four years later and just spend an evening having fun talking nonsense about cars again. Speaking of which, I thought we’d have a look at what turned up…The Elgrand
With such an eclectic line-up, it’s hard to know where to start, but given the shear physical size of Paul’s Nissan Elgrand, it’s hard to miss. This might be a JDM family carrier, but of course it came with a VQ35DE V6 from factory – the same engine Nissan dropped in the 350Z and V35 Skyline.
Sitting on a set of 19-inch Work Schwert SC4s, a set of custom lips front and rear as well as a carbon mid-height spoiler really help to make this Elgrand stand out, if the model wasn’t a rare enough sight here in Ireland already.The MX-5
Sitting almost in the literal shadow of the Elgrand was Shaun’s Mazda MX-5. Shaun built the NB back in the early-’00s as a show car, and over the course of Ireland’s lockdown managed to track it down and buy it back from its latest owner. Even more impressive is the fact that it’s been through multiple hands since being built 13 years ago but has stayed largely true to Shaun’s original vision.
The TRC GT Sports bodykit, a defining feature of the time Shaun built the MX-5, is bolstered with modified bumpers and a custom rear diffuser. The wing is carbon fibre and really finishes off the open-top roadster.
The 18-inch 5Zigen Pro Racer GN+ wheels are a really cool period touch, but as the serious nature of the Sparco-adorned cockpit shows, this is a machine still intended for driving. Suspension upgrades include Tein Super Street coilovers, while a K&N induction kit and 5Zigen stainless steel exhaust help the Mazda’s engine to breathe easy.The Skyline
When I first met the Zero7Four crew in 2017, one of their standout cars was Rory’s ER34 Skyline GT-T. The stunning pearl white paint sparkled then, and it still does today.
From every angle, this machine looks incredible, and even out amongst the Irish countryside it has the stance and style of something you might find parked up at Daikoku PA in Japan.
Sitting on a set of gold flake 18-inch SSR Professor MS1s, the R34 sedan is a showstopper, but don’t for a minute think it’s not used. Like the rest of the gang, Rory is not afraid to drive his Skyline properly.
Under the hood sits the original RB25DET Neo, an incredibly potent setup even in stock form, to which a custom intercooler and 3-inch HKS stainless exhaust have been added. An HSD DualTech coilover setup ensures this Skyline handles the never-ending bumps and crests of Donegal roads, while a Cusco 2-way LSD gets the power to the ground.
Exterior-wise, there many custom touches courtesy of Paul at Pro Fit Kits. While the front lip is a Uras GT1 item, the canards attached are one-off. Similarly, the side skirt extensions and rear lips are custom items.
Inside, it’s the JDM greatest hits with a Nardi steering wheel and Defi gauges. There’s even a subtly-installed PlayStation 2 feeding into the head unit for some classic NFS Underground vibes.The Starlet
While the first three machines are purposeful road cars designed for a bit of spirited driving – I’m going include the Elgrand in that (just) – the final one is a bit different. Martin’s KP61 Toyota Starlet is not only one of the most extreme-looking road cars in Ireland, it’s also an incredible track car. It’s seen years of drift and grip, not only at Mondello Park but even at the Nürburgring in 2019.
This is most definitely not a trailer queen.
Since rolling off the Toyota production line in 1983, the Starlet has evolved from a runaround to a fire-spitting monster in Martin’s hands. This comes as no surprise, as he runs Midnight AutoBody, which has seen countless incredible builds pass through the doors in the last few years.
The first thing that catches your eye are the TRD N2-style arches, custom made in carbon fibre, just like the rear diffuser and window louvre. The front bumper is a repurposed aftermarket AE86 item. Sitting under the carbon arches – one of which sprouts a screamer pipe (more on that in a second) – are a set of 15-inch Advan Oni wheels.
Handling upgrades include BC Racing coilovers, TechnoToyTuning RCAs and extra lock arms up front, providing a balanced setup for both lap-time-hunting and power slides. The rear end features a complete Nissan S-chassis subframe and the sorts of upgrades you’d expect to find in a drift-spec 180SX.
The S13 link extends beyond the suspension geometry though, as under the Starlet’s lightweight fiberglass hood sits a Nissan SR20DET, lifted directly from Martin’s old Silvia. A Tomei ARMS turbo on a Walton manifold, HKS external wastegate, HKS metal head gasket, GReddy plenum, Nismo 555cc injectors and more result in a reliable 370hp setup.
For a car that’s done thousands of road miles since being built a few years ago, it’s clear that the interior was designed for the track above all else. A custom roll cage was built in what is an already small space, but the addition of NASCAR-style door bars is a sign of how well-built this car is.
The dash may look both familiar and out of place at the same time; this 180SX item was modified to fit and then skimmed in carbon. Other interior modifications include Bride seats, TAKATA Racing harness belts, and a hydraulic handbrake.
As the daylight really began to stretch, there were a few minutes to shoot the cars on the way back from Knockalla. As we said our goodbyes, the Zero7Four gang headed north towards home. I only had six more days and 1,200km further to go in the opposite direction. Holidays can be so relaxing.Cutting Room Floor