RAIN DROP, DROP TOP
SUPER RARE AUTECH S13 ’VERT
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