RAIN DROP, DROP TOP

SU­PER RARE AUTECH S13 ’VERT

NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS: JADEN MARTIN PHOTOS: ADAM CROY

Agrinder is the sta­ple of any car owner’s home work­shop, fact. These trusty spin­ning discs of de­struc­tion are per­haps one of the most ver­sa­tile tools known to man, mak­ing the per­fect so­lu­tion for cut­ting through all man­ner of ma­te­rial, clean­ing back old parts ready for mod­i­fy­ing, hid­ing the ev­i­dence of your shame­ful weld­ing, or send­ing a bolt home when you’ve had enough of it all at 3am. What­ever you use your own for, imag­ine chuck­ing the plug into the wall socket, flick­ing the switch to hear it spin up to full ag­gres­sion, and plung­ing the disc straight through the B-pil­lar of a brand new S13 coupe back in 1988. That’s ex­actly what Autech did af­ter hav­ing been de­liv­ered 600 fresh ex­am­ples from the Nis­san fac­tory.

Now, there was good rea­son for this may­hem. Autech — hav­ing been es­tab­lished in the ’80s when in­ven­tor of the Prince Sky­line Shinichiro Saku­rai re­turned with a com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in con­vert­ing Nis­san ve­hi­cles — needed to make a name for it­self as the new sub­sidiary on the block. With the new gen­er­a­tion of Sil­via re­leased, man­age­ment saw the chance to cash in on the con­vert­ible hys­te­ria tak­ing over the world. Based on an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and CA18DET-pow­ered K’s base, the roofs were chopped off and fit­ted with elec­tric soft-tops. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the struc­tural in­tegrity was sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened, mean­ing that the chas­sis needed to be plated and strength­ened to com­pen­sate. Of­fered with no ad­di­tional op­tions, a hefty price tag higher than the model on which it started, and a de­cent chunk added to the curb weight, the Autech con­vert­ible proved to be un­pop­u­lar within the Ja­panese mar­ket.

De­spite the ini­tial lack of in­ter­est, thanks to their rar­ity, some 30 years later, they’re some­what of a col­lec­tor’s item, and you’d be lucky to find one these days. And for our fea­ture-car owner here, Michael Lu­cas, it was an un­likely dis­cov­ery of this par­tic­u­lar car sit­ting on the lot at a lo­cal deal­er­ship that led to what we see to­day. Back then, the car was a bone-stock ex­am­ple, with just 18,000km on the clock. Michael says, “Af­ter buy­ing it, I re­ally wasn’t sure if I should mod­ify it or not.

Autech has been known to dip its fin­gers in the cookie jar of many pro­duc­tion Nis­san mod­els over the years, al­though the Sil­via Autech Con­vert­ible was the com­pany’s first foray into special-op­tion ve­hi­cles and per­haps the most am­bi­tious, too

But I couldn’t help my­self, start­ing out with a few small mods like coilovers and a set of 15-inch Hoshi­nos. It kind of just pro­gressed from there.”

Hav­ing al­ready dived head first down the rab­bit hole, Michael orig­i­nally thought that meant sim­ply rid­ding the car of the slug­gish auto box and slap­ping a five-speed man­ual in its place. But those plans were quickly aban­doned when the run­ning gear from a re­cently im­ported 180SX Type X was listed for sale — the CA18 was ripped out of the bay in two sec­onds flat.

“I’ve al­ways pre­ferred the SR plat­form over the CA. There’s prob­a­bly not much dif­fer­ence in it, but I thought [that] if I was do­ing it once, and, with the in­ten­tion to cer­tify the box con­ver­sion, I fig­ured, why not do it once and do it right?” says Michael. “It was never go­ing to be a track car or any­thing like that; I just wanted a solid street car, which is why power has never been a fo­cus.”

The only mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the black­top SR20DET are the Blitz front-mount in­ter­cooler and blow-off valve, with a cus­tom 2.5-inch straight-through ex­haust to suit. Ev­ery­thing else re­mains just as it was when re­moved from the orig­i­nal car. Why? The build was al­ways about looks, even from the minute Autech took grinder to steel; it was never go­ing to be a plat­form for power, so there was no need to over-com­pli­cate the sit­u­a­tion. Or so Michael thought.

It wasn’t un­til the run­ning gear had been con­verted, the hubs con­verted to five-stud with big­ger brakes, and nu­mer­ous sus­pen­sion arms switched, out all in the name of a bet­ter drive, that he dis­cov­ered an is­sue come re­cer­ti­fi­ca­tion time. You see, when the car orig­i­nally came into the coun­try, the com­pli­ance of­fi­cer flagged the con­vert­ible con­ver­sion as be­ing an after­mar­ket mod­i­fi­ca­tion and had it cer­ti­fied ac­cord­ingly, and while that’s all well and good, there was one lit­tle note on that cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that said: “No mod­i­fi­ca­tions to be made in any way as not to af­fect the ve­hi­cle’s struc­tural in­tegrity.”

Michael was un­aware of this, hav­ing thought he pur­chased a road-le­gal car like any other. That sin­gle sen­tence chucked a real span­ner in the works, leav­ing him with two op­tions: re­verse all the work that had gone into it, or prove that the con­vert­ible met the same struc­tural in­tegrity as the orig­i­nal coupes. Un­for­tu­nately, that se­cond op­tion was off the ta­ble in the car’s cur­rent form, as struc­tural test­ing showed a de­cent amount of flex.

Con­sult­ing with the orig­i­nal cer­ti­fier, Clint Fields, the pair de­cided that in­stalling a half-cage that ex­tended to the front of the sills and a three-point front strut brace was a bet­ter op­tion than fur­ther strength­en­ing the chas­sis. Chris Wil­moth was tasked with this through Joe’s Me­chan­i­cal Ser­vices, run­ning the side bars nice and low to avoid af­fect­ing the pas­sen­ger’s en­try and exit. The re­sult was bang-on the same as the orig­i­nal coupes, and Michael

Orig­i­nally of­fered in K’s trim, the ex­te­rior is now drip­ping in S13 fac­tory aero op­tions

Gone is the fac­tory CA18DET and auto box, re­placed by a black­top SR20DET and five-speed from a 180SX Type X — be­sides a Blitz front-mount and BOV, it oth­er­wise re­mains fairly fac­tory, as power was never a fac­tor in this build

says that it’s made a mas­sive dif­fer­ence to how the car han­dles. “Al­though it meant a lot of muck­ing around, at the end of the day, I’m glad I did have to get the roll cage. It makes the car so much bet­ter to drive, and, you know, if I were to have an ac­ci­dent, the car isn’t go­ing to fold in half.”

How­ever, with the cage in place, there was zero room for any rear pas­sen­gers, let alone a seat. So Greg at Mid­night Up­hol­stery was called up to take care of car­pet­ing the whole car to cover what had once been the rear seat and mod­i­fy­ing the side pan­els to fit around the gold-fleck cage.

Fi­nally road le­gal once again, the next step was sourc­ing and fit­ting a full swag of the fac­tory aero kit, which proved not only a more dif­fi­cult task than the struc­tural issues, but per­haps more ex­pen­sive, too — peo­ple want damn good money for those old pieces of plas­tic! Luck­ily, Michael, who prefers the fac­tory aero parts over any after­mar­ket op­tion, man­aged to find the front bumper and end caps down in Christchurch and the side skirts out of Dunedin.

And while it cur­rently sits over the stark white Ad­van RGs, the ’vert has worn the likes of R33 GT-Rs, CR Kais, TE37s, OZ aeros, VS-KFs, and the pre­vi­ously men­tioned Hoshi­nos. Michael says that it’s a by-prod­uct of bore­dom and ideas of grandeur, en­joy­ing how a set of wheels can dra­mat­i­cally al­ter the ap­pear­ance of a car, and he found that, while it may have looked good in his head, not ev­ery­thing suited the Sil­via.

But he’s quite sold on how the car looks now, hav­ing chipped away at per­fect­ing his vi­sion over the last four years of own­er­ship, and tells us that the al­ter­ing has all but fin­ished — there’s just the Type X end caps and rear valance to be fit­ted be­fore he’ll be happy and done … for now, any­way.

Even though power wasn’t what he de­sired, Michael rec­og­nizes that de­cent han­dling makes a huge dif­fer­ence, opt­ing for Parts Shop Max Pro coilovers; a gag­gle of ad­justable arms; and, of course, that gold-fleck-painted roll cage

DRIVELINE SUP­PORTGEAR­BOX: SR20DET five-speed man­ual CLUTCH: Fac­tory FLY­WHEEL: Fac­tory DIFF: R180 lim­ited-slip STRUTS: Parts Shop Max Pro coilovers BRAKES: (F) S14 four-pot front calipers, (R) S14 sin­gle-pot rear calipers EX­TRA: S14 five-stud hub con­ver­sion, Parts Shop Max front cas­tor arms, Parts Shop Max rear cam­ber arms, Parts Shop Max rear toe arms, drive­shaft hoops, cus­tom three-point front strut brace, cus­tom half-cage with side in­tru­sion painted by Bradley Smith

SEATS: 180SX Type X STEER­ING WHEEL: Nardi Clas­sic 330mm EX­TRA: Rear-seat delete, Parts Shop Max white and gold gear knob, re­uphol­stered by Greg at Mid­night Up­hol­steryIN­TE­RIOR

POWER: 151kW TORQUE: 275Nm BOOST: 7psi FUEL TYPE: 98 oc­tane TUNER: Nis­san PAINT: Autech TH1 blue EN­HANCE­MENTS: Autech con­vert­ible con­ver­sion, aero front bumper, cus­tom front lip, aero side skirts, aero end caps, brick head­lights, clear head­light cov­ers, am­ber cor­ner lights, clear tail lightsPER­FOR­MANCE EX­TE­RIOR

DRIVER PRO­FILEDRIVER/OWNER: Michael Lu­cas AGE: 24 LO­CA­TION: Auck­land OC­CU­PA­TION: Four years LENGTH OF OWN­ER­SHIP: Four yearsTHANKS: My part­ner Sharni, for put­ting up with me spend­ing so much time and money on the thing, and rid­ing along on count­less parts mis­sions over the years. Joe and the boys at Joes Me­chan­i­cal ser­vices, for do­ing the mo­tor swap, and get­ting the car cert ready. Chris Wil­moth for build­ing the rollcage, Greg at mid­night up­hol­stery, Jesse Streeter in Ja­pan for sourc­ing heaps of parts, Pukekohe ex­haust and au­to­mo­tive, Ad­van­tage Tires Pukekohe, Ben at the Panelshop and Yogi at Sylvis­ton Spray Pain­ter’s in Pukekohe, and all the boy that have helped out over the past few years to get the car to where it is now

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