The Unglamorous Side Of Project Rough

When we as enthusiasts think about our project cars, we normally aren’t imagining their current state, but rather the idealized versions in our minds.

Because each and every project is a diamond in the rough, right? With enough time, resources and swearing, our visions will easily come to life. This is what I tell myself anyway.


The reality of owning an ‘older’ project car though, is that s**t will inevitably break on you. Up until recently, I’d been quite lucky with Project Rough in this respect. Then I had to pay my dues.


To be fair, I did notice all the warning signs – I was just too busy living in my ideal world to sit back and truly address the problems.

Don’t Ignore The Signs

One of the first things that needed to be addressed was the air leaking from my front tires.


I checked the tires for punctures using a little soap and water, but to no avail. There was obviously something else wrong, most likely with the RAYS Arthur-Exchange wheels that I bought and refurbished back in 2019.

Praying it was an issue with the tire valves and not cracks in the wheels, I flipped them around to spray the soapy water cocktail onto the stems. That’s when I saw how dry-rotted the rubber seals were.


Not wanting to play around with replacing only the seals, I decided to replace all four L-shaped stems. I loaded up the wheels and took them over to my local tire shop.


As the tires came off the wheels, I was able to see how bad the seals really were. The rears were one foot out the door, but the fronts were completely rotted on both sides, which hinted at the cause of the air leakage.

Not only that, but the driver’s side front wheel held a nasty surprise. It turns out that the shop that mounted my tires on the wheels back in 2019 took a shortcut, and instead of replacing the valve stem simply slathered tar on the inside to create a seal and called it a day.


The lesson here is, if you pick up a set of used wheels to restore, don’t be lazy like I was – dismount the old rubber before refurbishing and check the stems. Even if the wheels hold air (which mine did for a long time), it’s worth giving them a look over, as it will save yourself the headache and potential safety hazard down the line.

Don’t Ignore The Squeaking

Brakes are bound to wear out, and it’s a pretty simple job to replace the pads. Just don’t wait till they get too bad, for obvious reasons.


My brakes had been squealing for a while so I knew the pads needed to be changed, but it wasn’t until I finally got around to checking them that I realized just how low they actually were. I decided to park Project Rough for a few days while I waited for my new pads to come in.


I wanted something that had a bit more bite for spirited drives around the mountains and would be up to the task of the occasional track day. Having heard great things about Winmax, I decided to go with their AT3 pads on all four corners.


When they arrived, it was a pretty simple task of taking out the old stock pads, cleaning up the hardware, and putting the AT3 pads in. The only issue that occurred was the shims that help with vibration disintegrating as soon as I tried to remove the stock pads.

I’d heard from a few locals that they run without the shims for better brake feel, so I thought I’d do a little myth-busting until by new shims arrive. So far I can only report that the brakes feels fantastic, but I’m not sure how much of that is the lack of shims or the AT3 pads themselves. There is a little bit of noise though.


There was another squeaking sound that I’d ignored for a good year, which I thought was the clutch pedal simply needing a bit of lubrication. I eventually stopped being lazy and contorted my body to get access to the pedal and spray some lubrication. It helped a little bit, but the squeaking persisted.

Ultimately, the noise turned into a spring snapping sound and gear-shifting became exponentially harder. Fortunately I was able to get home without too much trouble, and once again parked the Skyline while I researched what had snapped on me.

At the time, I thought the noise had come from the transmission area, but searching some old forums led me to believe that my master cylinder had developed a problem. The reservoir read beyond the max brake fluid fill line, meaning there wasn’t a leak in the hydraulic system, but a problem with the master cylinder itself.


Instead of spending nearly ¥20,000 (approximately US$173 at current exchange rates) on an OEM master cylinder, I decided I’d spend a tenth of the price on a rebuild kit. Since I was saving money rebuilding the master cylinder, I decided to replace the OEM slave cylinder, which has a bore size of 3/4″ (19.05mm), with one featuring an enlarged 13/16″ (20.54mm) bore.

With claims of reducing pedal load, providing a proper clutch positioning, and up to 15% reduction in pedal pressure when using a sports-type clutch like I have, I was really keen on seeing whether the claims added up.

Of course, nothing is as easy as it initially seems though, and Project Rough has a tendency to fight me on everything.

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again

First was actually getting the master cylinder out of the car. There’s not a lot of room to work with, and I quickly found out that the nut locking the hard line to the master was rusted tight. The lack of space meant I couldn’t get enough leverage to break the nut loose, and I had bad visions of rounding its edges off.


The solution is to go from underneath the car, disconnecting the hard line from the junction box, and then remove both the master and hard line. It can be done without bending the lines, but you have to be patient and carefully work the hard line out.


With the master cylinder removed, it was time for the slave cylinder, which again is supposed to be incredibly simple and straightforward. Who knows how old the slave cylinder actually was, as it and the master came from a random R33 donor car during the transmission swap long before I took ownership, but the flexible hose did not want to part ways.


Unfortunately, the nut was rounded in my attempts to disconnect the line, thus that too now needed to be replaced.


In hindsight, it probably needed to be replaced anyway. With age, these things will deform a little, causing you to lose hydraulic pressure as you push the piston in the slave. Ever notice that it’s difficult to shift on a hot summer’s day when you’re stuck in traffic? This flexible hose is most likely the culprit.


Braided clutch lines are the perfect solution, so I ordered the non-damper delete kit from GKTech. I’d heard mixed things about deleting the stock clutch damper system, so I decided against going that route in the meantime. That did mean that bleeding the clutch system after the overhaul was going to be a massive pain in the ass, seeing that you have to bleed from the master, slave and junction box, but I’ll get to that in a moment.


With the slave cylinder replaced, it was time to rebuild the master cylinder. To take this apart you simply remove the retaining ring from underneath the dust boot and the piston and spring comes flying out (so don’t aim it at anyone giving you a hand).

You can see how much the old spring had deformed over time, when compared to the new spring. What you can’t tell is how much stiffer the new spring is, meaning that all the force can now be pushed through the system when you depress the clutch.


Before reassembling the master cylinder, I took the opportunity to clean everything out, especially the reservoir.


Putting it all back together was another hassle, as the stiffer spring meant trying to compress everything to get the retaining clip in place was a huge undertaking without an extra set of hands to help. I still had that one hard line attached too, meaning I couldn’t easily put it in a vice to clamp it all down. The solution was to use a zip -tie on the shaft once I fully depressed the piston to hold it in place so I could then use both hands to open and get the retaining clip in place. Lots of swearing was required for this entire process.


Once back into the car, it was time to bleed the clutch, and as I mentioned before, you have to bleed the master cylinder, the damper junction box and the slave cylinder in that order, or you will be chasing your tail trying to remove all the air bubbles.


I ended up using the vacuum system I created for composites to help with bleeding the system. It can’t pull a very strong vacuum, but it helps with the initial bleeding and keeps everything nice and clean. If you find yourself bleeding the system by yourself, like I did, you can use whatever you have lying around to keep the pedal depressed after giving it a few pumps, allowing you to get out and crack open the bleed valves.


As I replaced and changed the whole system all at once, I can’t accurately say what changes directly impacted what, but as a whole, I can’t remember Project Rough’s clutch pedal engagement ever feeling as good as it does now. The pedal also feel lighter as less effort is needed when shifting, something that’s actually taking time to get used to.

Project Rough is now up and running again, but there are a few things that I have been playing around with… Stay tuned for those in my next update.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography



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As we follow you on this project, we also see glimpse of the idealized version of this car. Keep up the good work - and Toby too on that Impreza.


Appreciate it! Def will keep chipping away at the vision


That's what sucks about owning an old machine made of so many parts - something's always breaking, and you have to keep raiding your turbo-and-exhaust-upgrade budget to buy relays, window motors, turn signal lenses or tires.


The "busy work" part always feels like a huge drag because of this, but they eventually all add up to an improved experience!


Agreed! Sometimes you make a huge change that you would have missed if you were only going for the more flashy changes - like my master cylinder lol


Love this! The SH projects are some of the best posts. I'm pretty sure this car (and your journey with it) are very relatable to a lot of people. I definitely relate. I find the more work I put in myself, the more I enjoy driving it :D


Cheers! That's a huge goal of mines with Project Rough - to try to and make it as relatable as possible. Also making my life as chaotic as possible too but that is part of the fun ya lol?


Interesting read about the whole clutch system. Need to bookmark this for my own future works and references.


Glad it could be helpful!


Absolute loving the first Picture. Looks like a scenery from Gran Turismo.
I wish you a lot of strength for your projects. The result will be great, for sure.


Thank you! Moving to the country side has it's perks haha. I'll def do my best to keep moving forward with all the projects (no matter how crazy they are/ end up being)


Oh maaaan, the real world! When I got my new (actually 34 years old) project car, I wanted to change liquids, oils, and filters before bringing it to a performance shop. And it was broken all around during these simple operations. But in the end, 80-s 90-s cars are simpler and way more reliable than modern ones. So when you did something once, it will remain. Also, you can remove most of the "optional" parts if the project is performance-focused and still ride with no issues. Keep up good work! Just don't park it still for more than a month! Let our projects run!


Haha the real world indeed! I honestly should have done that when I first got the car but I had a shop look over everything before picking it up and driving it across Japan. You're absolutely right about the reliability. It has treated me very well up to this point and I'm sure my ignoring the signs / letting life get the best of me is the real reason why everything happen to go belly up all at once


Just to drive a project car by Mt Fuji makes it perfect, Try flare nut wrenches, or grind a smaller open wrench to fit tight, last resort a locking wrench like the vise grip type. Also open wrench with a nut and bolt welded to the end to tighten it. Did you check that your brakes are releasing well and smoothly old calipers can be a bit sticky sometimes adding a bit of drag. Do you have any renders of Peoject rough/perfect. All my projects are rough but still they have their moments then they get rougher and rougher. One day only dreams will hold the rust oxide dust together.


Oh the wrench bolt combo is genius! I need to get a welder and learn to weld ....I checked the calipers and they seemed fine but I need to give it a check again. When they have a little temp in them the squeaking goes away. The morning drives though are a bit loud lol. No renders besides the one that is in my head ( maybe I should get one done to help motivate me ). Yes! One day the world will be all right and we can look back and say

Worth it


Project Rough takes me back to the ground after seeing some other projects here involving cars like a 360 Challenge... :)
Thank you for this.


Hahaha no problem!


Awesome article Ron and that lead photo is brilliant. Great to see some nut and bolt detail about the less glamorous parts of old car ownership too!


Cheers!! We need to celebrate the less glamorous parts to truly appreciate the... Well everything else when they run mint hahah