Every other full moon, a fun project car comes around seemingly out of nowhere and simply wins the hearts of the internet.
I’m thinking Rusty Slammington, I’m thinking Riley Stair’s Firebird, I’m thinking even the Hoonicorn. These are all cars of different calibres, built for different purposes and different occasions, yet are connected by a deep, intricate passion and enthusiasm between the builds themselves and us, the community that gets to watch, enjoy and share in the joys of them.
Cars like these are bigger than the internet itself and more often than not don’t require any introduction. Just by having a look at some of these photos already, you can probably hazard a guess as to why today’s protagonist fits this bill perfectly.
Dear readers, if you’ve not met before, I’d like to introduce you to Kevin. A van, built by the lovely gents behind the Nightride YouTube channel.
You join us on the day before Next Level Drift‘s main 2023 event (story coming soon). I’m running on three hours of sleep as I had to catch a 6:00am flight from the UK to Poland. But the mood in the air is chipper with excitement as the boys crack on loading the trailers up with their drift cars ahead of what is set to be a very busy weekend. They’ve left me to my own devices, with Kevin neatly cleaned and tucked away in the corner of their unit.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let me just dive into some blunt basics: Kevin is a sixth-generation Daihatsu Hijet, originally purchased by Nightride in 2019. Back then, the van was green in colour and relatively original, used by the previous owner as a hunting vehicle. It’s funny to picture that seeing as it’s not designed for the speeds of high pursuits, but it’s got plenty of space for a few pheasants in the back.
Or at least it used to have plenty of space.
Kevin‘s main caretakers, Sam and Marek, originally bought the van with intentions to use it irregularly for simple motoring fun. “Occasionally I’d take it to the shops, but it didn’t get used too much,” says Marek. With a background in media work focusing on low, fun drifting cars, the boys started to tinker with the van. At first, they wrapped it red and lowered it a little.
Next came the wheels, where a set of narrow, period-correct SSR MK-IIs were chosen. From here, the plans slowly grew. Having a big affiliation with Mazda MX-5s, the boys came up with an idea.
“The original plan was to put a 1.6L Miata [MX-5] engine in Kevin,” says Marek. “We even bought an engine for Kevin, which currently lives under this workbench. As you can tell, it never came to be. We measured it up and quickly realised that the length of the engine and gearbox was basically longer than Kevin. So, those plans went out the window.”
A year of Kevin ownership came and went before another plan came to light.
“We just wanted Kevin to work so, hey, we decided to put a motorbike engine in it,” Marek explains. “Hundreds of millions of people have already done it; it’s a well documented, common swap. It would fit perfectly under the front seats where the original engine was, and it was going to be an easy job. Maybe a month’s worth of work we thought.”
I look at Marek with a slightly kinked eyebrow, and ask how the idea progressed into what we have here today. As it turns out, it came somewhat out of the blue during an evening get-together. “I said to the boys ‘listen, we need to buy a motorbike anyway, what’s the point of taking that engine out?'”
And just like that, Kevin‘s most recent iteration started coming to life. It would have been real easy for the boys to take this idea and execute it sloppily, but they figured if they were to do this bike idea for real, they would give it a proper go.
They sourced a Yamaha Fazer 600 to be the main power plant… or more accurately, the main engine room for the plucky little Daihatsu, and went to work.
The main transformation to turn Kevin into what you see today took place in the last year. The wrap came off, and the original green paint was replaced with a lovely lick of gloss red. Touches were completed around the van to finish it off, such as the smoothed rear taillights, black pin stripes and rear wing, which is a direct fit from a third-gen Honda Civic hatchback. The Yamaha Fazer destined to be Kevin‘s new heart was originally white, so that also became red to match the rest of the van.
Kevin‘s cabin wasn’t left alone either. Two metal buckets were fitted, helping to overexaggerate the home-built, skunkworks nature of the project. The steering wheel was replaced with a red Grip Royale item, and the passenger window received a red Sparco safety net. Sam’s favourite part of the project is the roll cage, which he fabricated, fitted and painted himself.
My personal favourite part of the inside has to be the red floor mat running throughout the whole van. Custom-built by a good friend of the team, its flamed design can be seen everywhere, from the front badge to a little extended carpet on the dashboard.
“What’s this?” I point at a lever coming out of the roof. “Oh, that’s the ‘Australian handbrake’,” jokes Marek while yanking on it.
As the van was essentially being caricatured, the SSR wheels needed fattening up to complete the image. To make them fit, bolt-on arches were fitted. Dare I say it, they suit the build very well, and are a neat nod to Japanese performance cars of Kevin‘s era.
So, the bike. This is the project’s real work of art. Fabricated to fit directly into the van’s bed, it’s been left relatively intact. The goal was to literally have the whole bike in the van powering its rear wheels, and that’s precisely what the boys have achieved. The front wheel still sticks out between the front seats, with the engine, handlebars and running gear all still attached to the bike.
A network of extended cables were linked up so the Daihatsu’s throttle pedal controls the bike engine, which is mated to the bike’s sequential gearbox controlled by a good old fashioned gearstick aligned in parallel to the ‘Australian handbrake’. The rear wheel of the bike has been replaced by a chain-driven fixed beam directly connected to Kevin‘s rear wheels.
Suspension is, err… limited. The boys have told me that sorting some sort of rear suspension is on the cards for the next phase of the project, but for now “the rear suspension is exactly like a go-kart.”
“And that’s probably the best way to describe how it drives. It drives just like a go-kart,” says Marek.
Yes, Kevin does move. The front is on a bit of a Frankenstein suspension setup, utilising a pair of old airbags from “an old truck” hooked up to a TATechnix compressor, and powered by Air Lift Performance management neatly controlled via the van’s key fob remote.
The boys kindly invited me to sit inside and start Kevin up. It’s not the largest of cabins, and a tricky one to get in and out of, but it’s full of character. That beautiful manifold running out the back is functional, making a unique, fast-revving motorbike whizz paired with a deeper, car-like tone.
Finished just in time for Ultrace 2023, the Nightride boys managed to bring Kevin out for his first outing with the rear bike plumbed up and working. When the van made it to the Top 16 of the show, the crowd was chanting “Kevin, Kevin” in unison, in the hope he would get the number one prize.
After the awards were handed out, Kevin and the other Top 16 cars made their way to the drift track for a quick photoshoot. A crowd of people rushed to the barrier to get a better glimpse of the van on the move, with the sound from its exhaust echoing off the carpark’s walls.
This plucky little van has transcended being just another car, or even just another project. It’s more like a rockstar starting their world tour, or an athlete entering their prime. For an inanimate object, it has a distinctive, lively and charmful aura permanently surrounding it. Marek and Sam have given the little Hijet life and the ability to entertain and make people smile. Now if that’s not something worth writing about, I don’t know what is.