Rule #1 of project cars is as follows: “Never buy someone else’s project car”. (edit: transparency from the seller helps a lot)

I broke that rule. I swear I had a good reason, so hear me out: my brother’s girlfriend got pregnant last fall, so he had to sell his pride and joy: a 1992 Nissan 180SX that I recently nicknamed “50 Shades of Primer”.

Lookin’ good! The front bumper was not installed when I brought it home.

At the time, I was looking to buy a project car to scratch that itch I had for several years. It made sense to me: I just signed a contract that left me with a very stable job with a prestigious employer. I had nothing better to do than was my money in a toy. The main focus was to compliment my daily driver (a 2014 Ford Focus with leather everything, a manual transmission and sticky-ish tires). I looked at Porsche 944s, Toyota MR2s, even the odd 1980s Chevy Monte Carlo SS (something to do with the old Nascar-y look).


Let’s talk about that car for a second. The car was the second 180SX to be bought by my brother. He picked up the first one at a junkyard for 600$. He brought it home on a trailer meant for farm tractors (a hilarious sight in my middle-upper class government neighborhood). He then took a good look at it. The car was pieced together from a Japanese front clip welded to a boring old North-American 240SX.

The interior was brown, the wheelbase was an inch shorter on one side, and the underside was covered with bed liner spray to hide the rust. So not good. The engine however, was in great shape: a completely stock SR20DET and a functional transmission (more on that later). That thing turned out to be a blessing: a 600$ parts donor, with a perfectly good powertrain worth a solid 2000$ anywhere you look.


Then came the second car: another 180SX. This one an original car imported from Japan. No real rust problem, a complete interior, no real paint job to speak of, and a knocking engine. Nothing my brother couldn’t fix. Keep in mind he’s a gifted professional mechanic.

Over the course of the next year, he rebuild the motor that came out of the donor car with new OE spec parts, and a sprinkling of tasteful aftermarket parts

Sensible work in progress. Hummer for scale.

He then moved on to the car itself. He started by removing all the questionable electrical systems that were added to the car by unknown shadetree mechanics. His day job is focused on electrical systems after all.

He then moved on to the suspension. Which is where to drift tax kicks in. Being on a budget, the thing was fitted with a set of golden ISR control arms and coilovers. The usual 300ZX/Skyline brake conversion was performed, with a nice fresh coat of blue pain the brake calipers. The rest was functional for the time being, so it stayed.

The engine was then installed under a tired carbon fiber hood. Since the project was handled by a qualified tech, boring but critical components were upgraded. No more finger slicing crank-driven fan. A nice thick aluminum radiator was fitted, along with a pair of electric fans. The battery was relocated to the trunk in a safe manner, the intercooler was installed. After a few months, the car moved under its own power and was enjoyed in that state known by all project car owners. You know the one: “It’s not complete but it’s mechanically sound, and it moves. Let’s drive”.

Guess where all the work went.

Mechanics are famous for being too busy to finish their own stuff, so the thing was never completed. It was driven for over a year (a summer really, the car is in Canada after all) with no bumper, no radio, no power steering, no A/C, no windshield washer fluid, no tune to correct for that new turbocharger. So it was loud, smelly, full of rattles, heavy to drive. It pulled to the right, it looked rough, it shook badly from the exhaust downpipe rubbing against the body, but it was fast, reliable, and it had character

Then he bought a house. The car sat for a whole summer, the spring’s first tank of fuel going unused.

Then the news dropped: there’s a baby on the way. The car had to go.

This is where I come in.

Part 2 of the story will cover the first few months of the author’s ownership of the car.