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Look good, drive better: southern-battler S13

11 December 2017



No one ever said that a functional build has to look like ass. Russell Major’s S13 could teach us a thing or two about how to style track cars

Building a car means something different to everyone. For some, it’s as simple as slapping in a set of Makita one-ways and bolting up whatever set of wheels you had sitting in the back shed, just so you can get that track-day fix, while, for others, it means a series of questionable life choices over the better part of a decade that see you left with one big pile of rad. But, whatever a build may mean to you, for one Christchurch local it was all about the vibe of getting amongst it and being able to say, yeah, I turned that pile of nothing into what it is now.
You could say that Russell Major has been into his Silvias since day dot. He’s owned one since before he had a licence, purchasing his first S13 mere days after his 15th birthday. It was on that particular chassis that he developed his love for drifting, and the humble little CA18DET-powered S-chassis saw him contest more than a few seasons of Drift South before it was all but tapped out on the build front.

“The first one was a mix of a road car and track car which I’d had since I was quite young. After a few years, I wanted to keep going bigger, and better, but it reached a point where it wasn’t worth continuing on that car, and [it was] better to start from scratch,” Russell recalls. “So, while the first was still for sale, I picked up this rolling body from Turners which had been in a police chase with the original owner, and started redoing all the stuff that I didn’t like from the first time around.”

While not a mechanic or fabricator by trade, Russell wanted to really push his skill set and learn all that was possible from this new car. Which is why, where we would normally mention who had done what on each aspect of the car, the short and sharp of it is that mostly everything is a result of his own handiwork. “I just jumped off the deep end and got stuck into it,” he says.

While he told us that he’s pretty happy with how the car is set up, there are always those thoughts on what would happen if the motor went pop or if he decided just to scrap the engine and build something bigger — the build will never really be finished



While the first car proved to be a fun, cheap, and underpowered base to learn to drive in, for Russell, the easiest option for the new car was always going to be an SR20. Although he had briefly tossed around the idea of building an SR20VET heart, the call was made to save some of his piggy bank’s contents and piece together a snarling DET instead. This saw the bottom end refreshed with the usual ACL bearings and ARP fasteners, while the sump was switched out for a GReddy example to house more oil. Up top, the head was treated to a dose of porting and was fitted with a set of custom Kennelly Cams camshafts and valve springs. Sitting atop a Sinco high-mount exhaust manifold, you’ll find a Kinugawa TD06SL2-20G snail, which feeds 16psi of fresh air through a port-matched inlet manifold with an SR20VE throttle body — a combination good for a humble 304kW when running 98 octane.

“The idea after deciding against the VET was to keep costs down, so I could spend more money on expensive things that don’t really need to be there … to me, it was important to make car look good,” Russell says, “I’m a finer-detail type of person; I like things to be quite nice.”

That desire sent Russell trawling through the dark depths of foreign websites to hunt down various pieces of fibreglass and carbon that he had formed in his head. Which led to the purchase of a genuine D-MAX Type 3 bodykit, with a matching D-MAX carbon vented bonnet–and–roof wing combo. 

To add to the list, a pair of Spirit Rei widebody rear guards is fitted down the back, while custom steel widebody front guards take care of the front profile. The raw product was handed to Dick Mike Broughton for everything panel and Matt Southon for the paint, one of the few jobs that Russell decided was better left to the pros. The panels were straightened and aligned to perfection before a fresh coat of Alfa Romeo red-over-silver-basecoat was laid on.

But it’s really the smaller touches that finish things off for Russell, such as the red-chrome-fading-to-black mirror tints, orange tint on clear corner lights, clear covers on reconditioned brick headlights, and D-MAX LED tail lights — the kind of extra pieces that may be missed at first glance yet add to the overall appeal of the build. As for the wheels, well, Russell tells us that he kind of “just fell into them”. The set of 18×9.5-inch (-10) and 18×10.5-inch (-31) Work VS-XXs that the car runs 50 per cent of the time was originally off C’s Garage’s own Joel Hedges’ S13, and the sizing worked so well with Russell’s car that he put in an order for six of the same-sized Work Schwert SC4s straight out of Japan — a just-in-time purchase, as the model was discontinued a short time after. “The Schwert aren’t really that common here, and they reminded me of the kind of stuff you’d see coming out of Japan years ago,” Russell tells us.

“The idea after deciding against the VET was to keep costs down, so I could spend more money on expensive things that don’t really need to be there … to me, it was important to make the car look good”

He admits that he has fallen so deep into the build that he can pick out each individual piece of the car that he isn’t happy with, and forgets at what level it currently stands. “I still think the car’s quite rugged really, but when people come up to you and tell you how perfect it looks, it kind of opens your eyes, and you think, oh, maybe I’ve done a good job,” he says. “It helps having a good group of mates that are good at their trades and willing to show you how to get it done. I owe a few favours, to say the least.”

It may look like something that would otherwise be tucked away safe in the garage underneath a heated car cover, but this bad boy is just as much about cutting laps and chewing tyres as it is about looking good. Underneath, you’ll find a 300ZX five-speed housing a Quartermaster twin-plate and R32 GT-R limited-slip differential (LSD) combo putting power to the ground. Handling is looked after by Parts Shop Max competition coilovers with custom drop knuckles up front and Parts Shop Max examples down back. The rest is a Silvia owner’s wet dream of custom pieces and Parts Shop Max golden goodness. 

The car’s debut was at the 2016 Christchurch round of D1NZ, where Russell had been invited for an exhibition session. “I thought it was a good idea to drive a brand-new car for the first time in front of lots of people,” Russell tells us. “It wasn’t. I sucked and managed to be rear ended by another car in the first session … it sucked big time for all involved.”

The car sat dormant and damaged for months until Russell regained his love for the build, and he has since repaired the damage and run it in a handful of grass-roots events. “I’ve learned that driving in grass-roots-style events is where I have the most fun. Maybe dabble in a couple of different things, not just drifting. Do some hill climbs, that sort of thing, if I feel that way inclined.”

When we caught up with Russell for the shoot on the Sunday evening after Street Meat Glory Daze, where it had just finished two straight days of abuse, you’d have been hard pressed to find a single scratch on the car — a feat that any drifter who has ever fitted fibreglass to their car will tell you is damn well impossible. 

As for the future, he has yet to decide whether or not the reg will be taken off hold, after the inevitable grovelling to the cert man in order to get it street sharking again. He also made mention of fiddling around with a second kit, “to run in series so I can change them like I change my shoes”. Whatever Russell decides, one thing is for certain — his car will never truly be finished, but it will always look the business when it’s getting abused — just the recipe it was built for.

Russell Major
Age: 26
Location: Christchurch
Occupation: Hydraulic engineer
Build time: Three years
Length of ownership: Four years
Thanks: Dick Mike Broughton for everything panel; Matt Southon for the paintwork; Tom and Troy for prepping and painting as well; Harewood Panel and Paint for the booth; Jonny at the Signlab; Simon from Surfab for the roll cage and other bits; and all the lads for helping out or drinking beer where they could; oh, and the missus for being able to entertain herself

1988 Nissan Silvia S13

ENGINE: Nissan SR20DET, 1998cc, four-cylinder (red top)
BLOCK: ACL bearings, ARP rod bolts, GReddy sump
HEAD: Ported head, Cosworth head gasket, ARP head studs, custom Kennelly Cams camshafts, Kennelly Cams valve springs
INTAKE: Four-inch intake, K&N filter, port-matched inlet manifold, SR20VE throttle body
EXHAUST: Three-inch stainless, Adrenalin R muffler, custom four-inch lobster backed tip
TURBO: Kinugawa TD06SL2-20G, Sinco high-mount manifold
FUEL: Fuel Safe fuel cell, custom in-tank surge tank, AEM fuel pump, 6AN Aeroquip Kevlar braided hose
ECU: Link G4+ Storm
COOLING: Koyorad copper-core radiator, GKTech viscous fan upgrade, aluminium header tank,  radiator bleed system, GReddy oil cooler with remote filter, power-steering cooler, water-cooled wastegate
EXTRA: Custom catch-can, de-loomed engine bay, Mil-spec connector

GEARBOX: Nissan 300ZX five-speed, custom adaptor plate, remote shifter
CLUTCH: Quartermaster 7.25-inch twin-plate
FLYWHEEL: Custom lightweight
DIFF: R32 GT- R LSD (4.3:1 ratio)

STRUTS: (F) Parts Shop Max competition coilovers, 10kg springs, (R)  Parts Shop Max competition coilovers, 8kg springs
BRAKES: (F) S14 four-pot calipers, 330mm rotors, GKTech adaptor brackets; (R) S14 single-pot caliper, Wilwood two-pot calipers (handbrake), modified factory handbrake with Wilwood hydraulic master cylinder
EXTRA: (F) Custom drop knuckles, extended lower arms, Parts Shop Max caster arms, braced caster mounts, Ikeya Formula tie rods and rod ends, custom front sway bar, Cusco strut brace, steering rack relocated; (R) Parts Shop Max drop knuckles; Parts Shop Max toe, modified camber, and traction arms; GT-R sway bar; weld-in strut brace; raised subframe; diff lifted in cradle 40mm; front tubs; smoothed chassis seams; six-point roll cage

WHEELS: (F) 18×9.5-inch (-10) Work Schwert SC4 or Work VS-XX, (R) 18×10.5-inch (-31) Work Schwert SC4 or Work VS-XX
TYRES: (F) 225/35R18 Nankang NS2, (R) 235/40R18 Linglong Crosswind 

PAINT: Resprayed in Alfa Romeo red-over-silver base coat by Matt Southon
ENHANCEMENTS: D-MAX Type 3 bodykit, Spirit Rei rear over-fenders, custom steel front wide guards, D-MAX carbon vented bonnet, D-MAX roof wing, Origin Labo boot spoiler, red-chrome-fade-to-black mirror tints, orange tint on clear corner lights, clear covers on reconditioned brick headlights, D-MAX LED tail lights

SEATS: Bride Zeta 3 Sport and Zeta 3, Bride sliding rails, five-point harnesses
STEERING WHEEL: Nardi Deep Corn 330mm
INSTRUMENTATION: Factory cluster, Surface Pro tablet dash display, switch panel for high/low boost and line lock

POWER: 304kW
BOOST: 16psi
FUEL: 98 octane

This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 151 — get your grubby mitts on a print copy by clicking the cover below