In 2019, I decided to save up a bunch of money and buy myself a nice big lens for motorsport duties, something on the edge of 400mm. I got quite far with my savings, but just ended up spending the money on a project car instead. Let me explain how…
My vision of a car builder is heavily romanticized, blurred by the glory of Akira Nakai, Magnus Walker and the like. But armed with only YouTube knowledge, I’m diving deep into the car-building world relatively inexperienced. On the other hand, my theoretical background is quite solid, apart from anything that has to do with electricity. I’m sure that the first few rusted-out bolts will drive me nuts, but I’m determined to succeed and aren’t scared of trying. Because people have to start somewhere, right?
I’ve seen how helpful the car community has been for others, so now it’s time to test the theory for myself.
So how did I get here? I’d been thinking about a project car, specifically one that I could turn into a weekend warrior, for a while. There were a couple of requisites though; it need to be of Japanese origin, of 1980s vintage, and not too rusty. Yes, the Eastern European climate isn’t all that kind to cars, so rust is something we just have to deal with here.
Some of you will know that I already own a Mazda Miata, and that the Japanese roadster is a great base for project car. So why wouldn’t I just build that up? It really just comes down to not wanting to mess with my daily driver; it’s been such a trustworthy friend for over three years now, and I really want it to stay that way.The Search
From my observations, people have a habit of sticking to a certain brand of car once they’ve bought into it. Unsurprisingly then, my search for a project began with Mazda.
The first car that caught my eye was a 1986 Mazda 929 four-door which was up for sale with an asking price the equivalent of US$400. The Japanese sedan seemed like a good base for a serious stance car, but checking it out in person revealed a huge amount of work just to bring it back up to standard condition – more than I was willing to take on.
I wanted a rare car, but something quirky, and not overpriced for no good reason. Eventually, Facebook Marketplace turned up something of interest in all its ’80s pop-up headlight glory.
According to the highly-detailed listing which provided some comfort that the seller was trustworthy, the Euro-spec, left-hand drive 1988 Nissan Silvia S12 was one of only 10 ever imported into Estonia. I slept on the idea for one night and then contacted the owner, Peeter. It turned out that he’d owned another S12 in the past and had accumulated some parts that he was eager to give away with this car, so it sounded like a solid deal.
Before I could even think about bringing a project car home, there was one other thing I needed to sort out: space to store it. My Miata lives in a underground parking garage, not the sort of place I’d be able to do some serious work on a car. I needed to find a proper long-term space, and as luck would have it, an old friend of mine was renting out his granddad’s garage, complete with a whole lot of Soviet tools inside and some cool memorabilia too. It was perfect.
Now, after a few cleaning sessions and some junk removal, the garage feels much fresher.First Date
I woke up on the frosty morning of February 29th, grabbed the Miata, fired up my navigation app, and found a bunch of podcasts to enjoy during the two-hour road trip.
Just a few kilometers from a city called Tartu, I met Peeter and laid eyes on the Silvia for the very first time. To be honest, this was the first-ever S12 road car I’d ever seen person; the only other was the bonkers Super Silhouette Group 5 race car.
My future purchase had some obvious rust hole issues in the right fender and the panel under the taillights, but elsewhere around the car it just seemed to be on the surface. A fresh rear panel was going with the car, along with spare doors, a rear bumper, a set of headlights that work, Mk1 taillights, and another hood with a massive ’80s-style scoop.
By contrast, the interior was in really good condition. I’m totally in love with the shade of blue on the dashboard, while the original three-spoke steering wheel complements the sporty seats perfectly.
The Silvia’s factory-fitted CA18ET SOHC turbo engine seems to be in good shape, but was missing a fuel pump. The fuel tank was also missing, but Peeter believed that I’d have no problem driving the car 200km back home if we found replacements for those things before I left. That felt like a bit of a hassle though, so I opted for a tow truck.
The drive to Tartu was dry, but on the way home we had a snowstorm to deal with. I kept the tow truck driver company and cruised behind him, taking a number of car-to-car photos along the way. Mainly though, I was staring at the Nissan and dreaming of the ways I can customize it.Customize How?
I don’t have any specific plans for the way I’m going to build this car yet; my first actions will be tearing it down, reinstalling the fuel system, and working on the rust-damaged parts to eventually prepare it for a fresh paint job. I wish I could be flamboyant and make the build my own with combinations of color, art and personal touches, but realistically I think it’ll end up more safe and traditional. We’ll see, I guess…
There’s not a huge S12 community around the world, which adds a level of difficulty to this project, but I’m keeping calm and will just tackle problems one by one. Finding an OEM fuel tank isn’t going to be easy, but the S13 equivalent is very similar, so with a few custom mounts I should be able to use this option. Or I could just install a fuel cell. A fuel pump and new fuel lines are on order, and I’ve already picked up some general maintenance items, including oils and spark plugs etc.
The bodywork, and more specifically the fenders, still require some thought. I’m not a fan of over-fenders, but a reproduction wide-body kit of that used on the Silvia GP (Grand Prix) version of this car is something to consider since I have the scoop-equipped hood already.
I’d be more than happy with the original, clean ’80s body sat low over slightly wide wheels, though. I don’t think a wheel bigger than 16-inch will do anything for this Japanese design, so I’m joining the #smallwheelgang for this project.
Guys, I’ll need all the help I can get with this one. How would you build an S12 Silvia given the chance? What tips do you have for me? Perhaps you have some S12 parts or experience with this model? Don’t be shy, drop me a line. The comments section below is the dedicated spot for all your constructive thoughts.