With more glitter than a 10-year-old’s Barbie birthday bash, Sam Dennis’ S13 is a true testament to an industry he’s passionate about. With an RB25DET, monster equips, a widebody, and drift-ready interior, it’s one helluva party piece to showcase the work he’s capable of!
Words: René Vermeer Photos: Glen McNamara Instagram: @OmegaPhotography
There’s nothing cooler than when someone comes from a different world, has had a different upbringing, or has cut their teeth in a different scene to the norm found here in New Zealand. Quite a lot of us drove a similar path to our Japanese performance car obsession. However, for Sam Dennis it was a junction that switched tracks, changed back, and switched back again, with his initial love for cars stemming from growing up around hot rods and off roaders.
Now this becomes interesting because our first hit of passion usually ends up defining us to some degree. That passion is chiselled in, baked in, and beaten in with a panel hammer until it’s a part of our inner make up. Sam, no doubt due to a hot rod influence, fell in love with automotive refinishing, impeccable paint, and a finish not all too common on Japanese performance tin here in New Zealand.
“I grew up around hot rods and always loved the crazy paint work. I started at A1 Auto Finish around seven years ago and my boss Brent was the man and would let me go in on the weekends to play around on friends’ cars and my own,” Sam tells us, explaining when that passion first took off in the automotive industry. However, at the time, Sam was driving, painting, and modifying a 1964 Ford Fairlane.
Around this time, he was learning the art of metal flake, with the help of Andrew Wezenbeek and Charlie Chaz Allen. Down the road metal flake would soon become Sam’s signature move, his finishing touch. “I had missed the import scene around this time and sold my 1964 Ford Fairlane. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with cars, but I painted my friend Adam’s Nissan Cefiro and took it to a Chrome event. I was hooked on it, but wanted something matte black and basic to learn with, but it kinda snowballed into a certain S13,” Sam told us, laughing.
Now, if this kind of deal was still kicking around with today’s Japanese car prices, we’d all be fizzing at the bung. Sam simply walked out the back of his old shop, spoke to a fellow named Tony, and struck a deal for what was at the time a very sorry looking S13, complete with a naturally-aspirated RB20 engine, that was apparently “running like a tractor”, according to Sam when he describes the initial purchase. “We started cutting it up almost immediately for a wide body and tube-framed front end with good friend Zak.” Sam’s vision for the S13 was clear at the time, as he just wanted big wheels, bright paint, and for the S13 to be slammed out. However, things got a little out of hand with Zak, and next thing you know it turned into a full-on build, with front tubs, hastily cut rear guards, and an engine bay designed for the future engine package to slot in and out of, with efficient ease.
With the plan to always run a gargantuan wheel set-up, Sam decided clearance was key. Alongside the tubbed front-end and cut rear quarters, +55mm guards were sourced for each corner through Luxury Sports — with BN Style side skirts and bumpers providing the spicy salad dressing. Dennis Panel and Paint 2K direct gloss PPG red provided the bright base colour Sam was after from the get-go, but with the addition of a metal flake from Paint Huffers — when the light hits it, there’s nothing quite like it. Aesthetically, the S13 was almost where Sam wanted it.
The body was bright, the extra clearance allowed for extreme low, but last on the visual list was an epic, wide, square set of Japanese barrels. “Henderson Valley’s finest, Steven Castleton, aka Arah Dawg, had a set stashed away and sold them to me. Swagger sold me the lips and I got Edgar Fab to assemble them,” says Sam explaining how he purchased the, at the time, narrow Work Equips. With the new barrels, the Equips now measured 18×10.5-inches and had more than enough girth to fill the new, pumped out fenders.
“I remember being a kid and stumbling upon a red S13 online, with a big BN Sports kit and chrome wheels drifting, and I was hooked from that moment on,” Sam tells us. Throw the clock through the window, slap your watch 18 times, and jump into a time machine — Sam’s build was visually on point and just as he’d dreamed about as a kid. With the old tractor RB20 now in the scrap pile, an RB25DET with a GTX3076R Gen I turbo was ready to go in, backed by the ever so faithful and humble RB25DET big box. The RB25 cam covers and engine bay got the metal flake treatment too, with Sam’s signature spice signing off the final piece to the puzzle.
Tuned by JT Performance, the low-slung, RB25-powered S13 slider now made a much more suitable 280kW at the rear wheels — ready for a skid or two.
On its completion, Sam’s career and life took a huge turn. Wanting a change, he and his brother decided to make the move to Perth to start their own panel beating shop. The completed S13 was tucked away and Sam did toy with the idea of flying it over to Australia. “The original plan was to ship it over to Aussie, but the shipping was going to be expensive and too much hassle to organise. I was thinking about what to do and my mate Ricky Bobby messaged me and told me he wanted the S13. We talked a bit back and forth, made a deal, and we kept it in the Dorideadbeat family.
“I managed to fly back to New Zealand and took it to GT-R Festival and Mad Mike Drift Force just before lockdown. It was rad! Even street sharked it down Lincoln Road and cruised around West Auckland, catching up with some mates — and did a couple of street slides.”
With the deal done though, it was time for Sam to hand over the keys. With a close friend now behind the wheel, it’s still a special build and one that Sam can no doubt jump behind the wheel of when he’s back in New Zealand visiting family and friends. The kid version of Sam would be utterly stoked with the creation that was now sharkin’ the streets of New Zealand — who would have thought he would grow up obtaining the skills to build his very own bright, BN Sports-equipped, low, chrome-wheel packin’ S13?
This article originally appeared in New Zealand Performance Car issue 295