A Peek Inside My Head

I’ve had a burning desire to build an S13 Silvia coupe as of late. I have always thought it would be really cool to own and build both iterations of the S13 chassis- the hatchback and the coupe. I’ve only seen a few people complete this successfully, but the ones that have certainly make it look like a desirable stable to own.

The idea of trying to achieve this goal of course presents many obstacles, the first of them being the cost. I’m currently at a stage in life where I can barely afford to keep one S13 in the garage, let alone two of them. I definitely do not have the means to build and maintain two of these things right now, but I hope to be at the point one day where I will be able to pull it off.

Which brings me to the next consideration- would I part out my current 180 (I know it isn’t really a 180SX, but it’s so much easier to speak in these terms) to build a Silvia? I think I am getting closer to being OK with that by the day, but at this time I don’t think I could let go of my 180. I would greatly enjoy the process of building an S13 from the ground up again and the build would keep me busy for a while, but once it was completed I think I might feel some regret. The 180SX has a presence that just screams nostalgic and interesting every time you see one (especially with kouki aero), while the Silvia almost looks like any other commuter car in a way. It’s lines are much more basic and simplified. The car just doesn’t stand out in a crowd like a 180 does. This doesn’t necessarily matter a whole lot to me, but a 180 feels more like a car you hold onto until you are old than a Silvia does. (Purely my opinion of course.)

I briefly entertained the idea of replacing my Pontiac Vibe with a Silvia (again, not a REAL Silvia, but a 240SX coupe- but it’s easier to describe it this way) but this option also offers far too many hurdles. This would leave my family with only one usable commuter vehicle, our Toyota Sienna. Should something happen to the Sienna, we couldn’t rely on an S13 as a backup vehicle. While an S13 should in theory be able to complete my 1 mile journey to and from work each day, I am sure there would still be issues that arise. Not to mention I would not have space in my garage for it and leaving it outside would be pretty depressing. Driving it in the winter with all of the snow and road salt would also be a sure recipe for rust. Overall this just is not a viable option no matter how you look at it. A normal, fairly reliable everyday car is essential for me at this stage in life- even if I don’t use it very often.

So- I can’t add another S13 to the stable without sacrificing my 180. I can’t replace or sell my daily driver, even if it does just sit around most of the summer while I either ride my bike to work or drive the 180. What other option is there to make the dream of owning both versions of the S chassis a reality? Well, there are really two approaches from the way I see it:

  1. Wait- Keep my 180SX in the garage the way it sits now. Stop making any further modifications to it and hold off on repainting it until my financial situation allows me to do so, which will likely be many years from now. Hope that an affordable Silvia chassis is still available someday down the road in ten or fifteen years when I have the means to get one, and hope that I can still track down the parts that are needed to do so.

    While I do like the idea of this plan, it seems unlikely for many reasons. I tend to be somewhat paranoid about the existence of these cars and the parts required to properly restore them, so that side of me feels that it will be pretty difficult to find a decent S13 to build from by the time I can afford to do it. Moldings and weather stripping will likely no longer be available from the dealership. Many of the OEM replacement parts will be discontinued which could make the build process much more challenging than it is today. But, in the mean time, I will be able to drive and enjoy the S13 I already have.

  2. The Hoarder’s Way Out- Sell a number of items off of my current 180 in order to buy a Silvia chassis and a number of parts for it that are at a high risk of being discontinued or very expensive by the time I am able to build one.

    This method feels the most risky in a lot of ways. I would essentially sell a number of non-essential parts off of my 180 to fund the bare-bones necessities of a Silvia build. Ideally I would end up with a clean chassis of each variation, all of the necessary moldings and weather stripping for each car, and the OEM optional aero components for each- all piled in my garage. Neither car would be drivable, likely for quite some time.

    Ideally, I would keep the interior and exterior of the 180 largely intact. I would sell any spare parts I have sitting around that are not essential to the build, as well as items that will always be available like the intercooler, exhaust, suspension components, etc. The engine is a point of conflict for me though. Will SR20 engines really still be readily available in 5-10 years? We have already seen a decline in supply and an increase in price for these engines, so I am not so sure this is a wise choice. Keeping the engine in the car would of course be the ideal route to go, but might not free up enough funds to make this plan worth it in the long run. Ideally I’d like to have another blacktop engine in this car again someday just to complete the kouki 180SX feel, moving my red top to a Silvia chassis.

    So, I sell just about everything aside from the 180 chassis, the complete OEM aero, complete moldings and weather stripping, TE37s, and a full set of brand new OEM lighting. These things just sit around in storage, waiting for life to allow me to give them the attention they deserve. The freed up funds are used to purchase a clean Silvia chassis, complete OEM optional aero, a Silvia front end, and the moldings and weather stripping needed to restore it.

    This leaves me with two large hunks of metal and a pile of parts for each. Neither of them would be running for a very long time. I would essentially be hoarding the cars until I am able to paint both of them, install the complete exterior setups, and finish each with complete suspension and drivetrain components. Perhaps I could even begin to learn the process of doing body work in the mean time, prepping both of the cars for paint during this stage. This feels like an insurmountable goal for me and very intimidating, but maybe the challenge would keep me occupied. Either that, or it would result in me losing hope and selling everything, throwing in the towel on building and owning a project car all together.

    I would not have a “fun” car to drive for several years which is something I have not faced since the Lexus build back in 2014. This would likely be difficult to deal with, but I also feel like I do not get to drive my car nearly as much as I used to with three young kids at home and a very short commute to work each day. The thought of not having a “fun” car to drive at any given time used to give me extreme anxiety, but in looking at my life at this stage I feel like it might not be so bad if the end goal is still in sight. I rarely go to meets or car events anymore and don’t get the chance to put many miles on my S13 during the summer months, so maybe it wouldn’t really be a big deal. As long as I still have the ability to tinker with it at any given time, not driving it may not really be a problem.

I’ve seen a number of people hoard cool S chassis parts over the years, but this mentality always felt a little strange to me. Sure, they always had the coolest and rarest stuff, but they weren’t getting to enjoy or drive their cars at all in the mean time. I’ve always preached that being able to actually drive your project is what makes it all worth it, and I do enjoy having the option to go out to the garage and fire my car up any time I would like. I think when your car is torn apart for many years, you lose the connection with it and ultimately it makes the most sense to move on by getting rid of it all together. Some of these guys are just now finally beginning to paint their cars and begin the reassembly process, resulting in a hefty amount of jealousy coming from my side of the fence. But what were they doing for the last 7-10 years while I was out enjoying my car? They were saving money and hoarding parts. Collecting… and waiting. They did not drive or enjoy their cars during that entire time span.

I’ve had this car for nearly a decade now, and I feel like I am at the point now where I know what I want. The current stage of the car feels the closest to perfection it has ever been in opinion- it feels like the truest representation of my vision. I feel at this point I could probably get rid of the car entirely and feel like I accomplished just about everything I set out to do with the car aside from a proper paint job. If it were to leave my life now, I am not sure what I would really focus my time and energy on from a hobby standpoint, but I would definitely feel a sense of contentment with what I have accomplished.

I don’t know what the future holds for my car. All of these thoughts are likely just a product of boredom and my profound enjoyment of the process of building a project car. It’s no secret that I enjoy the process more than the end result, and maybe this stage of my car and the fact that it feels so complete is pushing me to want to move on and challenger myself in a different way. I don’t think anything will change through the remainder of summer and into the fall, and I for sure won’t be making any moves before my trip to Super D in Shawano, WI next month. But I definitely have a lot on my mind when it comes to what is currently sitting in my garage and where I want to go next.

Anyway, I am not sure how well this post reads, but hopefully it kept you entertained. I am sure many of you put yourself through a similar thought process on the daily, so I thought sharing what’s going on in my head as of late might be relatable for some of you.

I hope you have a great weekend! Thank you as always for reading.


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I Can’t Think of a Title

The last week has been a quiet one when it comes to the S13. I don’t think I really did anything noteworthy with it aside from a couple trips to the grocery store and the usual short trek to and from the office nearly every day. I ended up taking it to have lunch with a friend today and inevitably ran into rain about five minutes into my journey. This summer has felt like one of the driest on record to me, but yet every time I drive this car for any length of time it seems to rain for whatever reason. Upon returning back to the office I found that it had never even rained there, a mere ten miles away. Figures!

I noticed a new clunking sound at low speed that seems to be in sync with the wheels spinning and sounds like it is coming from the rear brakes- possibly something with the drum assembly. I also noticed that one of my front side marker bulbs is burned out up front so that needs to be addressed as well.

Building and maintaining one of these cars bring so many ups and downs with it. I couldn’t wait to drive it to lunch today, only to let the issues that popped up along the short drive to and from the sandwich place put a damper on my experience. I suppose these cars aren’t any different from our actual lives in a lot of ways- we always project the positive aspects of the experience to others on social media. It becomes a running highlight reel of sorts without exposing all of the moments in between where we face challenging setbacks and many forms of anxiety.

I’ve been trying to be a bit more active on Instagram in addition to the blog recently for that reason- to try to be more real with people. While I’ve been a bit burned out about social media the last few months, using it more has resulted in a number of people messaging me and starting some really cool conversations. I even had one person tell me after my post two weeks ago that they ended up trading their S13 for a daily driver as a result and leaving the project behind to get their finances and priorities on track. I can’t say that was necessarily my intent with that post, but it’s crazy that a rambling post could be the tipping point to cause someone to make such a big change in their life.

I really value people and relationships and enjoy having a chance to meet new people and hear them share their perspective with me. It’s fun to post some of the details of owning my car and how that experience has shaped me in an honest way with younger people. Being “real” with people online is difficult, as you walk a fine line between sharing the good and bad sides of something vs. sounding like you are complaining or have a negative mindset. I never want to come off as being ungrateful or someone that consistently complains about their situation without being grateful for what they have- but I think it’s healthy for us as enthusiasts to talk about the trials we face during the course of a build. Just our example in itself can be helpful to others that are just beginning a similar journey for themselves.

A lot of people commented on a short video of my car sitting in the garage that I shared on Instagram earlier this week telling me how perfect it is. It actually made me feel pretty good, as at the time I was sitting in my garage during my lunch break staring at it and contemplating what my next move is. I was looking at all of the car’s flaws and wishing I had the means to fix them like I want to. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been contemplating letting go of it completely as of late, so to hear people share that they truly believe the car is flawless was sort of an eye opener for me. It was a great reminder for me to actually listen to my own advice and not get lost in the pursuit of perfection- because as we have talked about many times, we know that is something that does not exist with a car.

Anyway, here I am overthinking things like I always do! I’ll end this post by sharing a photo of an S13 that my very good friend Jimmy purchased last night down in Texas. It’s a bone stock, one owner zenki S13 with only 91,00 miles on the clock. I’m pretty blown away by the condition it is in and would be lying if I said I’m not extremely jealous. I am really looking forward to what he does with it! Great purchase my friend.

I hope you have a great weekend- thank you as always for reading! I appreciate everyone that takes the time to swing by.


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Back to the Grind

I got some great feedback on my post last week and enjoyed the resulting dialogue I shared with a number of new and old friends alike- thank you for reading my rambling! I am glad people enjoyed it and hopefully it made you think a bit whether you agreed with it or not (I like to think it was a pretty neutral posting weighing in on both sides of the coin- that was my intent anyway!) This week it’s back to your regularly scheduled program.

The gaskets on my catalytic converter were beginning to leak and make the car sound pretty bad, so I took some time to replace them a week or two ago. It always feels nice to solve relatively simple and inexpensive problems!

The constant scraping of the flanges on the cat converter takes a toll on the gaskets.

I also wired up my black Defi Link Meter II gauges. The boost and water temp gauges are hooked up but I still need to install the sensors for oil pressure and oil temp. I’m having an issue where the gauges are always illuminated even when the headlights are off, which I think might indicate there is something wrong with this controller as I am pretty confident I wired them correctly. I might need to try a different controller at some point down the road to verify that is the issue. I’d still almost prefer not to have any gauges at all, but I really like the look of the black version compared to the white right now.

I recently discovered that my car was missing the factory light for the hatch area. I am not sure if this was gone when I got the car or if I lost it at some point many years ago, but thankfully my friend Tony still had his and sent it to me free of charge. Feels good to have this hole in the hatch area taken care of- thank you, Tony! I discovered I am missing a number of clips back here that hold the side panels in place so I will likely try to work on tracking those down next.

I started doing some research on kouki 180SX gauge clusters again recently and found a good deal on one with a partial harness attached (which is key for wiring it into a USDM chassis) priced below market value and snatched it up. I never installed this the first time around because I was concerned about keeping my chassis mileage consistent. As the car is about 10k miles from the 200k mark, I am starting to be less concerned with that. I’m still a little on the fence about installing this and the digital climate control so we’ll see if I decide to tackle it this winter or part ways with these items. I still need a few supporting items for each before I can install them properly.

Finally, you may remember from one of my previous posts that I had acquired all of the replacement moldings for my car except for the trim around the rear quarter glass. My research taught me that the only way to purchase this molding is to buy the entire glass and the USDM glass was discontinued. Fortunately I was able to source a pair of brand new 180SX side glass- pretty cool! I’ve always wanted a set of these windows, so to be able to secure them new is really exciting.

Other than these updates, I’ve been doing my best to enjoy driving the car every day I possibly can. You can’t quite feel it just yet, but it won’t be long before the weather begins to change for the worse here in Michigan. I’m looking forward to making use of the car as often as I can before it needs to be taken off the road for the season.

Thanks as always for reading. Have a great weekend!


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The Best Worst Hobby

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely an idiot. And by idiot, I mean a person that has dumped an unbelievable amount of time, money, and anxiety into attempting to build and maintain a project car. But don’t take it personally- you’re in very good company. There are thousands of idiots like us spread out all over this country and the entire world all working towards a similar goal. We might intend to use the cars we build for different purposes or chase this seemingly intangible goal for many different personal reasons, but the overall story is more or less the same.

For most of us, building a car is a terrible financial decision. I would argue that most people in this community (myself included) have no business sinking thousands of dollars into an aging economy car when there are much more important priorities in life- owning and paying for a home, saving for emergencies and retirement, providing for a family, etc. It’s something that we rarely discuss as enthusiasts and I’m not really sure why that is. I think we probably all know that what we are doing (or attempting to do) isn’t a very wise choice, but I really believe (even at the risk of sounding cheesy) that tinkering with cars is an addiction for many of us. Despite our best efforts to be responsible and make the right choice, it’s just something we can’t steer away from. I’ve never done drugs before, but I imagine it produces a similar craving. It feels amazing once you get a taste of it, but the high only sustains you for so long before you need to do it again- pushing the envelope a bit farther every time.

At 32 years of age, not a single day goes by where I don’t consider parting out my car and throwing in the towel on the car hobby all together. It’s not a matter of a lack of passion or motivation, because I typically have a high amount of both of those things. It’s more a constant reminder that I am the sole provider for my family. When my wife and I had our third daughter last August, we decided that the best solution was to have her stay home with our girls and stop working. Switching to living off of only one income has been one of the most difficult things I have had to juggle in life, and while we are more or less getting by (thank goodness), I could cure a serious amount of my daily anxiety and put a nice big padding on my savings account by getting rid of my S13. There’s never a question to me that this is the wisest and most responsible choice. But talking about it and actually doing it are two different things, and I always struggle with taking the plunge. It’s probably one of the most difficult challenges I have faced as an adult, as silly as that may sound.

Why is it so difficult for most of us to fathom letting go of this hobby? What is it about modifying a car that’s so exciting? It always sounds corny and embarrassing to admit, but our cars really do become our identity in a lot of ways. It’s a canvas that allows you to project who you are and what you’re about to the world. Whether we set out to do it from the beginning or not, everyone wants to be known for something- to feel included and to make a name for themselves. Whether you’re into the car show scene, drifting, other forms of motorsports, or just cruising around- you want to be a part of the club. Once you’ve established yourself and have made friends in the community, it’s hard to imagine letting go of that aspect of the hobby. We walk around at car events and barely talk to each other, often shrouded in insecurity. The conversations often flow awkwardly until someone finds the courage to say “I’m *stupid username,* I have the black 199X Nissan with ________ wheels.” Suddenly a light bulb goes on and the conversation is ignited. Two strangers are now conversing as if they have been friends for decades. The gap has been bridged and there likely won’t be a shortage of conversation again. No matter how humble you are or how little the attention might mean to you, there’s no doubt that our cars become an extension of who we are- a way to identify ourselves.

That’s one of the most positive aspects of this hobby that I enjoy the most- people from all sorts of different backgrounds with different interests all come together with one thing in common. I’ve made the majority of my best friends through this hobby and our shared experiences along the way. Friendships morph from simply talking about cars to larger support groups, spinning off into deeper conversations and advice around getting married, having and raising kids, buying a house – even fixing a broken humidifier over Facetime. I’m consistently amazing by all of the friends I have gained through wrenching on cars. It seems for virtually any situation life throws my way, I know someone that’s an expert on the subject that can lend me some advice- all thanks to this hobby. While its core may be rooted in poor decision making, there are definitely many benefits to it that have brought me a lot of joy over the years.

At this point I’m not even sure what I am rambling on about anymore, but I think you probably get the idea. I am often conflicted when young people reach out to me and ask for advice with building their S13s because the obvious answer is to not build one at all. Many of them are currently in high school or college and it’s just so difficult to come up with the time and money to put one of these cars together in that situation. I was very fortunate to have a supportive mother that helped me greatly with putting myself through college as well as the blessing of coming into a little bit of money from a distant relative- this a result of my father taking his life when I was 16. This was essentially the kickstart that allowed me to build my Toyota Solara so quickly, and then funded the majority of my S13 build in the early years. Without those funds I would not have been able to put together a car like mine so quickly. While money is only a small portion of what it takes to build a well thought out and influential car, it’s definitely something that can’t be avoided. I’m forever grateful that I was afforded an opportunity to have the means to express myself through building a couple of cars in my early 20s. It’s not something that everyone has the chance to do.

I’m always tempted to tell young people starting out to wait until they are finished with college, have a career with a consistent paycheck coming in, all of their bills are paid, and they have another car as a reliable form of transportation while building an S chassis. But despite all of those things being taken care of, it still really doesn’t make good financial sense for most of us to build one of these cars. It’s too easy to get lost in the pursuit of perfection, something that can never be obtained. There’s always going to be a flaw, always an unexpected issue that needs to be fixed, always just one more part that’s needed to complete the build. I’ve watched many friends try to chase this goal over the years, explaining that “once I have this all done I’ll be able to just enjoy the car and cruise”- only to see them hold onto the car for years without driving it and end up selling everything, putting an end to their time in the hobby all together.

In all honesty, I am not sure it is possible for 99% of us to ever get to a point where our cars are completed. Because even if we did manage to assemble the perfect car, the journey of building it is usually more exciting than the finished product. I love driving my car, but the thrill of spending hours researching how to do something, coming up with a game plan, tracking down and ordering all of the parts, installing them, and then stepping back to look at what I have created with my own two hands is where the real enjoyment lies. I think that’s why I can never leave my car alone. I’m always looking to reach the next milestone and to be overcome with that feeling of accomplishment. It’s a feeling that is hard to match. When things remain static and there’s no goal I am reaching towards, it begins to lose its excitement. But as I learned with parting out my S13 the first time I felt this way back in 2012, getting rid of the car all together isn’t always the solution.

I’m not really sure where I am going with all of this, but if you’re expecting me to sum this up with “it’s all worth the sacrifice in the end, go build the car of your dreams!” I’m not going to. When you really step back and think about it, this hobby puts a financial strain on almost everyone that’s a part of it. People may never speak about it and it’s easy to think that the grass looks greener on the other side, but we rarely know what is going on behind the scenes. It’s difficult to be a part of the car culture without coming off as having a “Look at me! Look what I have!” mentality since it is a hobby based on being unique, trying to stand out from the crowd, and buying things we don’t need. I would caution you to avoid the temptation to keep up with others around you and focus on your own build and priorities in life. Ensure that you are not living outside of you means or putting unnecessary strain on your life and relationships to build a car. It’s incredibly difficult to focus on the things and people that matter in life, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I do a bad job at it sometimes. But if your car needs to sit on the back burner for a bit while you take care of priorities and get some of life’s details sorted out, don’t feel any shame for that. You’re doing the right thing!

Don’t be afraid to take a break. Come up with a detailed game plan to obtain the things you want- maybe even one that breaks everything down into stages so that you continue to feel a sense of progress. Always have an exit strategy should life decide to hit you with something unexpected. Keep a spreadsheet of all of the parts on your car and what they are worth so that you know what you have available in the event that you need to pause and take care of life’s priorities. There’s no shame in it and it is something that the majority of us with cars like this deal with. If you’re going to play the game, you have to keep tabs on where you stand and always be ready and willing to make sacrifices if you need to. Unless you have tons of money, which must be an amazing feeling- but I don’t think most of us do.

For me personally, it’s much easier to write a blog post like this offering advice than it is for me to listen to it myself. I don’t know what the next year or two holds for me or my car, but I do know that I will take a break from it or even say goodbye to it completely in a heartbeat if I need to to ensure that my family’s needs are met. Building and improving my S13 is the only hobby I have at this point and there’s not really anything else that can bring me the same sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that being a part of this community does. I hope to be able to weather what might be one of the most challenging segments of my life and come out with my car intact on the other side, but nothing is ever guaranteed. Just know that when you see my car on social media and it looks like I have everything, I struggle with the same guilt and anxiety about owning and tinkering with one of these cars as everyone else. I am absolutely fortunate beyond measure to have a loving wife, three beautiful daughters, and a nice home- but the car is secondary to all of those things and always will be. It’s a wonderful bonus that I have been able to enjoy for a long time and I understand that at any moment I might need to let go of it.

Thank you for enduring my long-winded rambling. I’m not sure what the end message here is, but I hope that it reaches someone out there that needs to hear both sides of the coin and that it resonates with them. I don’t know the magic formula for finding a way to maintain balance between it all in this hobby, but if you figure it out please let me know. I think my best advice is to enjoy your cars and our community, help others when you are able to, and know when it’s time to check yourself. Take care of your family, because at the end of the day that’s what matters most!

Thanks for stopping by.


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Need a Light?

I received a small order from Nissan last week with a few interior items I was waiting on. The first of those items was a new cigarette lighter assembly and trim ring. My old one was a bit worn and had seen better days, so I decided to replace it with a new factory unit.

The design of the new one is not identical to the old one, but I think it looks pretty nice. The assembly is gloss black instead of matte, and the cigarette icon is not printed in white anymore. This isn’t what I expected, but I like the look in the interior overall. I pulled the part number from a kouki 180SX, so I believe that is why this one looks different than my original one did. Maybe someone with a late model 180SX out there can confirm! I’m considering trying to paint my shifter trim and center console/ash tray to freshen them up a bit, but I am hesitant to make them worse as they aren’t in awful condition right now. We’ll see what happens.

I also picked up new pedal covers for my clutch and brake pedals. My factory ones were pretty worn and dingy looking. The new pads are also much grippier than the aging stock units. If only I could replace the dead pedal and accelerator pedal as well to match!

Finally, I purchased new radio brackets and screws to properly install my Maxima head unit. The screws were pretty difficult to find and took a few weeks to come in from Nissan which was fairly amusing. For whatever reason I have not been able to make this radio produce any sound- so I am not sure if the unit is damaged. I mainly installed it for its clean factory appearance since my speakers are blown anyway, but it would be nice to have something functional. I’ve never really had the means to listen to music in this car so it isn’t a huge deal, but it would probably make it a lot more fun to drive if I finally addressed this. Perhaps this winter it will finally happen…

That’s all for this week! Thanks as always for stopping by.


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Transition to Darkness

Apologies for the late post today- my wife and I took a trip to Texas earlier this week to celebrate our nine year wedding anniversary and my car has been on the back burner as a result. Despite the crazy heat we had an excellent time visiting friends and family in both Houston and Austin. Always enjoy spending time in Texas!

Kev and Jimmy messing around with Jimmy’s R32 in Houston– Pretty awesome machine!

Tourists doing tourist things.

Before we left for Texas last week, I took my two older daughters with me to pick up Chinese food for dinner. I always jump at the opportunity to cruise around town with them- and they seem to enjoy it as well, even if it does mess up their hair.

I don’t have much else to report today other than my new gauges I recently brought over from Japan. I made the decision to sell my clean set of white Defi Link Meter gauges a few weeks back as they no longer fit the more subtle direction I was taking with my interior. The white faces looked great when the interior was more wild with the Miracle Cross bar and Bride seats, but stuck out like a sore thumb with the factory 180SX seats. I attempted to purchase a clean dash to swap in but found it to be less than perfect despite the way it was described to me.

A bit discouraged and tired of driving around with holes in my dash, I found a complete set of four 60mm Defi Link Meter gauges just like my old ones with black faces for a great deal. This allowed me to both free up some cash and keep my mint factory dashboard in place, so it was a win-win. I still need to wire them up (hopefully that will happen this weekend) but I really like the look of them in the interior!

The forecast this weekend is looking rainy so it might be a good time to try to get some work done on the car. See you next week- have a great weekend!


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A Note to the Future S13 Builder

I recently decided to test out Instagram’s new question feature that they included in this week’s update to the app after seeing some other people use it and was really pleased with the resulting conversations that followed. I have been wanting to post something similar on IG recently offering to answer general S13 questions for people for a number of reasons. As nerdy as it may be, I am really passionate about these cars and always enjoy talking about them in just about any context. I enjoy meeting new people from different backgrounds and hearing their stories and really appreciate when someone comes to me with a question or for advice with their build. It’s a great feeling when someone tells me that the car I have put so much time into over the last 9+ years inspired or influenced their own build. It’s never what I set out to do, but I’m always grateful when someone takes the time to reach out and tell me this.

One of the questions I received was something along the lines of “Do you have any advice for a 17 year old that would like to build an S13?” and I thought it was a really awesome question. Being 32 years old, it’s easy to talk down on the current generation and the way they modify their cars. There’s no doubt that the landscape has changed with the downfall of forums and the rise of social media. Getting attention has somehow become both monumentally easier and more difficult at the same time. Everyone has a desire to be noticed and included, which can sometimes translate into a car being hastily thrown together in order to gain followers- the supposed determinant of success in this day and age. The fact that someone so young took the time to ask this question reminded me that blanket statements like “Kids these days don’t care about building a car properly” are unfair and do nothing to further the scene. I’ve always been a firm believer that taking any opportunity to spread positivity is time well spent.

The day I bought my S13 at age 22 back in November 2008.

As someone that has been building and tinkering with an S chassis for almost ten years now, I thought it would be fun to write a bit longer response to this question than I was able to on Instagram. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, so working through a hypothetical build beginning at age 17 feels like a good way to share what I would have done differently for any aspiring high school age S chassis builders out there.

My first piece of advice for someone in this situation would be to get a hold of a cheap, reliable car to transport you to and from school and work. Having a job in high school (and college if you go) will be key to help fund the future project, so find a vehicle that can get you to and from work reliably and affordably. It doesn’t need to be anything remotely cool- think an old Camry or Accord. Something practical that won’t let you down and will allow you to avoid needing to make a car payment every month. In fact, I would encourage you to find something that you have zero temptation to modify. Even at age 32, my current daily driver is a 2004 Pontiac Vibe with over 200k miles on the clock and an automatic transmission. It’s not remotely cool in any way, but it gets me to work during the winter months and only cost me $1,000. I was fortunate enough to have my mother purchase me a ten year old Camry in high school, so I got a major head start in this arena.

My 1994 Toyota Camry that my mom bought me in high school. I was able to squeeze 150k miles out of this car (on top of the 110k it had on it when it was given to me) as my winter beater during much of my S13 build process.

Save as much money as you possibly can. This will obviously be key to building one of these cars. Try not to purchase any parts until you have the actual car in your possession (something I have not always been able to stick to in the past.) As for the car itself, my personal preference would be to find something as close to stock as possible. Obviously this is what most people would prefer, but it’s obviously not easy in this day and age as these cars are getting older and older. The tales of finding a stock chassis that has been sitting for years are few and far between, but they do still pop up from time to time. Don’t buy one of these cars until you have a place to store it. My S13 spent time at both my grandpa’s house and my cousin’s house until I had a garage of my own. Finding somewhere free, safe, and accessible to keep the car with someone you trust is a huge advantage.

A photo of my car from the original Craig’s List ad in 2008.

Buying someone else’s project can be a headache, but sometimes buying a car that doesn’t run can be much more affordable. If you can find a chassis that is in good shape without any rust, includes most or all of the body and interior panels, and has a few modifications that are easily reversed it might not be a bad buy. Buying someone else’s unfinished project might help you get a good deal if they need the cash fast or are frustrated and just want the car gone. You also might be able to sell some of the parts they installed if they aren’t what you would personally choose to recoup some of your funds. For example, I bought a rusted out and smashed up S13 coupe back in 2014 as a donor car for rebuilding my own S13. I paid about $2600 for the complete car but was able to sell the coilovers, 2 way differential, and some other items the car came with to get some of my investment back quickly. I was left with a complete SR swap that I knew was in OK shape (since the car was running when I bought it) for about $900. Stay away from anything with a tube front end, ruined rear quarter panels, or the chassis harness removed. A car that has been stripped to a bare shell will likely be too difficult to get back on the road. Find the best balance of affordability and completeness possible.

The donor S13 I purchased to source an affordable SR20DET swap.

Once you have the car, try to work in stages of the build: exterior, interior, chassis, drivetrain, etc. Come up with a solid plan for what you want to achieve and a parts list for each area. Focus on one portion of the build first, then execute it. If you can start with a car that runs and drives, keep it that way for as long as possible. For example, if you find a mostly stock S13 with a running KA, take time to enjoy driving it before you tear it down. Collect all the items you need for each stage and install them as complete modules as you go. You could begin with the suspension and brakes by replacing bushings, adding coilovers and adjustable arms, upgraded brakes, and a five lug conversion with some decent wheels and tires. Enjoy driving the car in this simple state, then work on piecing together an SR20DET swap. Wait until you’ve sourced everything needed for the swap and have sourced a place to complete the work, then try to knock it out in a week or so. Obviously this is easier said than done and takes a huge amount of patience, research, and money. It’s definitely not easy!

My grandfather’s garage wasn’t the cleanest work environment, but it sure beat letting the car sit outside in the snow all winter. Circa 2009.

Being able to actually drive the car is a huge motivating factor in completing a build like this. I learned the hard way when trying to piece together my 2JZGTE swapped Lexus GS400 from a rolling chassis I purchased that it’s tough to stay motivated with a car you have never even driven. There’s no connection with the car and it makes it easy to want to give up. Keeping the car as complete as possible through each stage will allow you to enjoy it a bit during the process and hopefully keep your dedication alive. Far too man S13s are stripped down to a bare shell never to see the road again because the time and funds are not available to complete them. The task becomes too daunting and it’s easy to just give up. It’s much easier to strip a car down to begin a “build” than it is to put it all back together, so it can be tempting to fall into this trap just to make some progress. Try to avoid it if possible.

Remember along the way that the car won’t immediately represent the end vision you have for it- that’s OK. Don’t let what others are doing around you push you to cut corners or make sacrifices to your vision. You can live with the imperfections in the mean time knowing what the finished product will hopefully look like once completed. Enjoy the build process! It can be really stressful, but I almost enjoy the process more than the end result. Remain humble and appreciative for what you have because you never know when it could be taken away. There are aspects of my car’s paint job that drive me bonkers to this day, but I have to take the good with the bad and enjoy the car for what it is knowing that I’ll hopefully have the opportunity to paint the car properly one day like I originally had planned.

Building a car is a ridiculous expense that makes no financial sense whatsoever. It’s incredibly difficult to achieve while still in college or high school, which is partially why I didn’t take on building a chassis like this until I graduated from college and started my career. It’s a balancing act that is very hard to maintain. It’s paramount to take your time and realize that it could take years to achieve your vision. It’s no fun to wait in the mean time, but make sure you don’t let life pass you by while you’re chasing down the goal of building a car. A good balance of your time is important to maintain. It’s not going to happen overnight, so make sure you take care of life’s priorities and yourself as you go. Be sure to capitalize on the more important aspects of a hobby like during the process- traveling to new places and meeting new people. The car will always be there when you get back.

I hope someone out there finds my two cents useful. I can’t say I have always followed my own advice, but this is what I have to offer after living the journey myself. I wish you the best with your S13 project!


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