Return from Hiatus

About twelve weeks have passed since my last post here- the longest drought in a while. Fortunately the weeks away from maintaining the blog have not been without progress on the automotive front. As I am sure is the case for most of you, life is still fairly upside down due to the continued fight against COVID-19. After spending the last thirteen weeks away from my job as a graphic designer on furlough, I was notified this week that my position has been eliminated. It’s a bit unsettling to get news like that, but fortunately my company is going to some pretty crazy lengths to ensure that employees that have been laid off will be supported during this difficult time. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and I will land somewhere better from all of this, it just might take some time to get there.

In the spirit of making lemonade when life decides to throw you a few lemons, I can say this has been one of the best summers of my adult life. Thanks to the state and federal unemployment support during this global pandemic, I have been able to spend the last three months home with my family during the best weather Michigan has to offer. You would think this would afford me with endless time to work on my cars, but it’s not always easy to get things done with three little girls around. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to reorganize my socket set thanks to Alexi wreaking havoc on it as a distraction while I wrench on the car, but it has been nice to be able to work on things during daylight hours from time to time.

While I have taken it relatively easy on the wrenching front during this time to focus on my family, I do have a fair amount of progress to share. Let’s split things up into months to try to backtrack a bit and keep things organized.

MAY

As you may remember from my last post, I began the month of May with the cash from my AVS Model Vs in my PayPal account and a decision to make. I had just dropped the stock rear subframe from the coupe and was trying to decide if I should use those funds for getting a new set of wheels for the hatch or the suspension overhaul on the coupe. With no real end in sight to the odd state of our day to day lives during COVID, I made the decision to move forward with the suspension overhaul on the coupe. This would not only give me some goals to work towards and keep me busy, but it simply seemed like the right direction to go since I couldn’t really even renew the registration on the hatch and probably wouldn’t be taking it on any road trips this summer anyway.

I began by stripping the rear subframe down and giving it a lengthy cleaning. There were inches of dirt and grime all over it, so this took a lot of time and elbow grease to accomplish. When I finally had it all cleaned up, I hit it with a few coats of Rustoleum semigloss black paint. I probably should have powder coated it, but didn’t really want to deal with the extra cost and wait time with everything going on right now. I did the same with my hatch years ago during the suspension overhaul and don’t really regret it. For a car that sees a decent amount of street duty it just seems to make sense.

I’ve had a couple of new JDM-OEM trunk lock setups sitting around for my coupe build for quite some time now, so I decided to install the rectangular version for the heck of it. Both Silvia trunk locks are super cool and add a lot to the look of the exterior, even if the car hasn’t been painted yet. Definitely one of those small details that I am really geeked about.

I next turned my attention to replacing the aging rubber bushings on the car. I picked up a ball joint press from Amazon that ended up really coming in handy. I used this to remove the rear ball joints as well as the bushings from the rear uprights. I initially wanted to purchase NISMO rear lower control arms, but decided to just install replacement bushings and ball joints to save some cash. This proved to be an annoying decision that likely wasn’t worth the cost savings, but more on that later.

As the month of May continued to fly by, parts seemed to arrive almost every day. A majority of the items were purchased via Rock Auto, which some will likely scoff at. At the end of the day this vehicle is going to remain a basic street car, so this decision made sense from both a cost and practicality standpoint. I elected to keep the factory brake setup on the car since I planned to utilize 15″ four lug wheels, so that kept things relatively simple. I sourced replacement brake rotors, remanufactured calipers, front lower control arms, rear ball joints, a new brake master cylinder, tie rod ends, sway bar end links, and a number of other parts to essentially replace virtually every component of the brakes and suspension. On a chassis with well over 300k miles on it, this was a no-brainer.

For the aftermarket side of things from a suspension standpoint, I went with a number of replacement items from NISMO, including front and rear lower control arm bushings, rear upright bushings, and rear subframe bushings. The majority of the other suspension items I replaced were from Moog as I’ve heard great things about them over the years.

As for coilovers, I once again stuck with my go-to setup from Stance Suspension in Chicago, Illinois. John Kim at Stance has been a huge supporter of my cars over the years and was even gracious enough to include a set of shorter springs up front so that I didn’t have to preload them at all to meet my height goals.

At some point along the line I misplaced my front suspension nuts, so Russell at NissanParts.cc was kind enough to help me out with a set. This allowed me to begin assembly of the front suspension. After painting the factory suspension components I had decided to reuse, I pressed the NISMO bushings into the Moog front control arms and bolted them up to the car, along with Tein inner and Moog outer tie rods.

From an adjustable arms standpoint, I ended up following the tried and true path of SPC tension rods, traction arms, rear upper control arms, and rear toe rods. I’ve used these arms a lot over the years on my hatch as they’re relatively affordable, simple in design and appearance, and utilize rubber bushings instead of heim joints or something more harsh. I was definitely tempted to go with a more old-school JDM solution like Cusco arms, but the cost savings and convenience made sense in this case.

JUNE

With the front suspension bolted into place, I proceeded to installed most of the front brake components. Blank rotors, remanufactured calipers, and StopTech street brake pads were all snugged up to more or less complete the front suspension. The StopTech stainless brake lines were on a lengthy backorder and ironically took a long time to come in despite the fact that they’re located here in the states.

I had sourced a set of front and rear sway bar bushings from the 180SX in Japan only to find that they must not translate properly to the USDM chassis. I was able to make use of the front bushings after I trimmed a small portion of the rubber off of them, but the rears were not usable. I ended up ordering a set of Energy Suspension bushings for the rear as I couldn’t find the proper OEM setup and didn’t feel like waiting again for parts from Japan to arrive. The front sway bar was bolted into place with the trimmed Nissan bushings and Moog end links.

In attempting to press my NISMO bushings at home, I ended up destroying one of the rubber bushings on the rear knuckles that mounts to the rear toe arms. I had to order a replacement from Japan and found that it was backordered until mid July, but decided to order it and wait things out. I ended up waiting to press my bushings until I could do them with my buddy Tim at his shop since he had better equipment to press bushings than I did at home.

While waiting for a free evening to go to Tim’s shop, I decided to mount up the HKS Hi Power catback I purchased locally back when everything hit the fan to see what it sounded like. I found it on the local S13 for sale group on Facebook and the deal was too good to pass up. I had my concerns about ground clearance, but decided to give it a shot. When paired with the Magnaflow high flow cat converter and stock SR20 airbox, the car sounds super tame- a welcome change from what I am used to. I thought my hatch was quiet, but this setup is even quieter. I love the look of the classic canister on the coupe as well. I elected to utilize the same polyurethane exhaust hanger bushings on my coupe to try to maintain as much ground clearance as possible.

I finally managed to find the time to head out to Tim’s shop to press the bushings one night in mid June. The rear lower control arm bushings are a huge pain to remove, but Tim got them out with his air chisel. After pressing the bushings into the rear uprights and lower control arms, we turned our attention to the rear subframe. We tried to just use the air chisel and avoid the whole burning thing, but sadly the bushings were in too good of shape and fire needed to be utilized. Exhausted and ready to wrap up for the night, we hit a snag pressing the first of the four subframe bushings. We didn’t properly clean and lube the subframe causing the bushing to snag and ultimately be destroyed. I ended up leaving the subframe at his work and taking home my other suspension components feeling a bit defeated.

Shortly after that fiasco, I received a small order of items from NissanParts.cc that included small things like front bearing grease caps, some hardware that I needed, and a fresh set of door strikers with hardware. You can’t beat the feeling of a set of fresh strikers- definitely worth it!

I noticed that coolant had been leaking from the pinch rail near the passenger door when I let the car warm up long enough for the thermostat to open for the first time. This was really confusing to me until I finally realized what was going on- the heater core was leaking. I ended up having to remove and dry the carpeting, take out all of the dynamat on the passenger floor (since it got coolant under it,) and rip the whole interior apart again to remove it. Fortunately I sourced a replacement from Rock Auto and it arrived very quickly, allowing me to get it all buttoned up again relatively quickly. What a hassle though- I’ve never had to deal with this before and hope I never have to again.

While the interior was apart once again, I caved and decided to paint my gauge cluster bezel and buttons with some SEM interior paint. It turned out great and matches the shifter trim and center console quite nicely now. I was hesitant to do it before and decided to be lazy, but since I had to remove it again I decided to take care of it.

As June came to a close, I took my Work Equip 40s to my friend Jalen to have the 195/50/15 Advan Flevas mounted up. While Jalen was mounting the tires, I went over to Tim’s shop with the replacement NISMO subframe bushings in hand (thankfully it wasn’t backordered and arrived in less than two weeks) to press it in and finish my subframe. This time things went off without a hitch and I headed home with my fresh wheels and tires and completed subframe in tow ready to make their way onto the car.

Now it was time to get to work- I partially assembled the rear subframe with the SPC adjustable arms and other refreshed components. With the bare minimum of suspension items mocked up, I tossed the subframe back on the car so that I could roll the rear quarters. My fender roller was loaned to me from my friend Greg, so it made sense to just quickly mock it up to get the quarter panels taken care of so that I could return it to him. I elected to just roll the panels flat this time instead of pulling them like I did on my hatch- something I have grown to regret over the years. I also lightly rolled the front fenders to make clearance for the tires.

I was also able to solve one of the few remaining pieces to the puzzle after a lucky score on the local Facebook pages. I found a pair of S14 seats in pretty solid condition for a great price. After a decent amount of elbow grease they turned out fairly nice.

JULY

This brings us to the month of July. After rolling the rear quarter panels, I dropped the subframe once more to undercoat the rear portion of the car. This went fairly smoothly and cleaned things up substantially. I probably should have dropped the fuel tank and undercoated above it, but I knew this would make me want to install a brand new tank- another expense I couldn’t afford at the time. I didn’t let temptation get the better of me and left it all in place for now.

I elected to reinstall the subframe without addressing the factory open diff or axles for a number of reasons, the first being cost savings. I am not sure when I will have the funds for a proper diff setup and a refresh on the CV boots, but I really wanted to be able to get the car on the ground and drive it before the end of the summer. As tough as it was to toss those gross items back onto the car, it was necessary in order to make progress. Hopefully I can address that stuff this winter sometime.

With the diff and axles snugged up to the subframe, Alexi assisted me with bolting it into place for good. You wouldn’t expect a two year old to be very helpful with this tedious task, but it actually helped a lot to have her pump the jack up while I worked to ensure the subframe was going onto the car evenly. From this point I was essentially off to the races. I finished installing the rear suspension and brakes, again choosing to go with blank rotors and StopTech stainless lines and pads.

One item that came up around the time that I discovered the leaky heater core was when I realized that the bearing in my power steering pump had gone bad. I ended up finding a rebuilt one from a fellow named Ivan on Instagram, so I installed that after finishing the rear subframe.

After a long wait, the front Stoptech stainless brake lines finally arrived. After bolting those into place, I was nearly ready to put the car on the ground for the first time. All I needed to do was grease the ball joints and tie rod ends- easy, right? I have never owned ball joints that require greasing before, so this was surprisingly new to me. I picked up a grease gun at AutoZone (first mistake) that gave me a heck of a time getting it to work properly. After taking the grease fitting portion apart about fifteen times, I finally got it to work.

July 6th brought the moment of truth- my first time pulling the car out of the garage. After adjusting the ride height for what felt like weeks, I finally started it up and drove it into the driveway. There was only one problem- I dragged just about everything imaginable under the car when exiting the garage. This sort of surprised me since this is not an area that has every caused issues with my hatch, but I knew things were going to be different with the small wheel setup.

I spent some time messing with the height and fitment after this but just couldn’t manage to make things work. After talking to some people that run similar setups online, I elected to step up to a 195/55/15 Advan Fleva instead. While waiting for the tires to arrive, I removed the PBM Cobra downpipe from the car and hammered the floor pan a bit to get some additional clearance for the exhaust to tuck up higher on the chassis. For some reason the cat converter hangs lower on my coupe, but the downpipe was hitting the floor preventing me from tucking it any higher. I believe this to be a result of the NISMO engine mounts, but I could be wrong. After massaging the floor a bit I was able to get everything to tuck up nicely.

With the new tires in hand, I took the girls with me to see my friend Jalen once again this past Monday. He swapped the tires out for the 55 series for me, and man what a difference it made. I installed the wheels and tires when I got home before putting it on the ground and bringing it out of the garage once again- this time without any scraping. The new look is perfect in my opinion and affords me just enough clearance to drive the car around.

More photos from the car’s first day on the street coming in the next post…

Alicia and I spent the evening taking turns driving the car around the neighborhood shaking out little issues that come up with a freshly assembled car like adjusting the TPS and timing. I can’t describe what it feels like to drive a car for the first time that you brought home as an essentially bare shell- it’s very surreal. I parked the car in the street, set up my camping chair, and relaxed in the front yard that evening while the kids played with their friends in awe of the fact that it was finally out of the garage and moving under its own power.

I ended up opening my B Craft GTR front grille that I bought about a year ago on Yahoo Auctions to see what it looked like on the car. I definitely like the look and will probably switch off between that and the factory Silvia grille from time to time in the future.

Yesterday I buttoned up the interior by finishing the carpet install and bolting the passenger side S14 seat into place. I added small items that were missing including the door pulls and handle bezels, side mirror trim, and a pair of new window cranks. It’s amazing to see a complete black interior in the car considering what it looked like when I bought it.

I also spent some time swapping out the cracked tail lights for a cleaner pair that I kept from one of my part outs last year. Finally, I cleaned and reinstalled the rear trunk panels and carpeting. So cool to see a totally complete interior in this car!

So there you have it- all of this excitement of course being topped off by me losing my job. It was a wild range of emotions to experience in 24 hours, but life is like that sometimes. I am so glad I was able to get the car on the ground and drive it around before I received this news. I’ll continue to tinker and solve little issues for the remainder of the season, but will now turn my attention to finding a new job as soon as possible. The car will serve as a great distraction to keep me focus and positive in the mean time though.

Oh, and the hatch? Nothing has changed there. It’s still sitting on stands in the garage and will likely remain there until next season. Hopefully I will be able to pick up some wheels for it and address some of the issues it has before then, but it’ll remain on the back burner for the time being.

This is a crazy long post- my apologies! I will do my best to update a bit more frequently for the remainder of the year to keep things more manageable. Thanks to everyone that reached out to me during this time away to ask how the project was coming along and to check on myself and my family- I appreciate it! I hope to keep providing some interesting updates around the two clunkers in the future. Thanks as always for taking the time to read this and I wish you all the best with whatever craziness you might be facing right now.

Damon

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2 Responses to Return from Hiatus

  1. Lawrence King says:

    First off I am glad you finally updated your blog with a new post. Been coming here periodically to see if there was a update lol. Second, love the progress on the coupe, I know it has to feel good to be working on the car and finally getting it on the road. I was never a big fan of 15″ on the S13 until I saw Elvis car and that black one that I think is in Connecticut. After that I fell in love with 15″s haha. Coupe is looking real nice man cant wait to see it one color.

    Sorry to hear about being laid off, alot of people I know are losing jobs unfortunately, tough times we’re in. The bonus is you do get to spend more time with your kids which they will always remember.

    • Thanks Lawrence! Appreciate it man. I felt the same way about 15” wheels until I saw both of those cars. They were a big help with helping me figure out the specs I wanted. Awesome cars for sure!

      I hope things are going well out West. Car looks amazing as always!

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