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Risin’ to the top: Hamish MacDonald’s ’90 Nissan Cefiro (A31)

22 December 2019



There’s a couple of paths to piecing together the perfect track-focused machine on a budget: chucking el cheapo bits and pieces at a car until the required result is achieved, or utilizing a basket of skills, a handful of loyal mates, and a few years of hands-on experience with your chosen platform. It’s not tricky to guess which route Hamish and his A31 Cefiro took

When someone reckons that they’re going to slap together a hack build in the shed, it brings with it a certain set of expectations. First, this is a car that’s going to have the wheels absolutely thrashed off it, right? The priorities generally lie somewhere in the zone of function above all else.

The art of dealing to countless pairs of tyres in the name of drifting seems to provide many with the perfect excuse to build a thrasher. Realistically, to slay a few innocent treads, the requirements are fairly simple: ample grunt under the right foot, a satisfactory chassis set-up, and a few bits and pieces in the name of safety. Looks? She’ll be right — the bumpers are gonna be hanging off or in a billion pieces by the end of the day anyway.

Like it or not, the concept of the ‘track hack’ or ‘drift missile’ has birthed some debatably dubious style choices. With this mindset, form frequently doesn’t breed function — hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but this memo clearly never got through to Hamish MacDonald.

Hamish is a bit of a serial Cefiro offender. Early heartbreak, with his first RB20DET-powered street-driven A31 burning to the ground, led to his acclaimed black Cefiro. Sporting the ‘LMTBSH’ plates, the black A31 was Hamish’s opus, with a 2JZ-GTE wedged between the struts knocking out 420kW. It’s the complete package, rocking a full Bride-themed interior retrim, arrow-straight panels, and glistening Work VS-KFs. Good enough to land the NZPC  214 cover, way back in 2014, fresh from the shed, ready to tackle the world.

Team Cream Cefiro-61-Edit.jpg

As Hamish puts it, “I did the obligatory show things with it, 4&Rotary Nats, Big Boys Toys.” Not having an especially prominent social-media presence meant that the car hit the scene as a bit of a surprise, to a great reception. Examining one of Hamish’s cars, it’s ironic to hear him remark, “I’ve always loved show cars, but I’m just not a fan of cleaning them.” 

Nonetheless, once Hamish had grown bored of the “show thing”, the tarmac beckoned.

“I’d always intended to drift it,” he explains. “Nothing’s too pretty to put on a track.” 

A little bit of street hoonage ensued ­— with him occasionally cooking it, but, thankfully, this resulting in no real damage — before he turned up to his first drift day. 

“It was exactly as I drove it on the street, and it did the damage. I linked the whole track on my third or fourth lap, and never looked back,” he recalls. 

Embracing the sideways life wasn’t in question from this day forward, but, as well as gaining an appreciation for dispensing with a copious number of tyres, Hamish also discovered the camaraderie that flows through the drift crews.

Buckling into the passenger seat with fellow Cefiro pilot and Team Cream stalwart Neal Jackson, Hamish was introduced to the human element of drifting. 

“He took me out to show me the lines, and, if you know him, you’ll know he goes full send. It ended up with us flying off the track and taking out like 20 tyres,” Hamish says of the experience. 

The subsequent unstoppable laughter was followed up with advice from Neal to, “Don’t do it like me”. The experience marked the beginning of something of a bromance, and, ultimately, the recruitment of Team Cream’s freshest member.

Eventually, something had to give. In Hamish’s case it was a clutch, and, in a moment of clarity, he decided that burning 20-plus pairs of tyres in a weekend was getting a bit tough on the wallet. The kicker was the realization that the immaculate Cefiro posed a high chance of meeting its maker on the track. Enter the concept of a track hack, beater, or drift slag — call it what you will.

With all the Cefiro expertise under his belt, another A31 was a given for Hamish. A shed full of Cefiro parts collected over the years meant that costs could be kept down, the core idea being that a track hack would be a cheaper exercise. Fellow Team Cream member Sean Jones put Hamish in touch with Quentin Waratini, whose ex-D1NZ steed was up for grabs. A deal was inked, and the slightly worse-for-wear A31 trailered back to the Waikato. Importantly, the Cefiro already had the requisite homologated cage from front to back and an RB25DE hanging from the mounts.

The game plan was straightforward. “I love a car that looks good and is reliable, so retaining factory parts and looks is key. It’s a plus not having to work on it all the time too,” Hamish explains of the build ethos. 

True to his word, the moment that the shell touched the workshop floor, Hamish stripped the car of its gutted doors and Lexan windows, replacing them with four full-weight factory doors complete with electric windows.

While the shell had escaped the certain doom of a tube-front-end modification, the inner guards had been completely chopped out. Fine for your average hack maybe, but, preferring a cleaner look, Hamish stitched in new tubs, before sandblasting the remainder of the car to unearth any surprises. The rear arches were a bit worse than anticipated, so a pair of Garage 13 widebody quarters were shipped over from Australia to tidy up past sins. With these grafted onto the car, along with full Origin Labo Stylish Line aero, the Cefiro put on yet more trailer kilometres, bombing down to Spray Factory in Palmy for a coat of Team Cream exclusive cream pearl by good mate Greig.

With the exterior look locked in, Hamish and hometown buddy Matt combined their talents to piece together the screaming RB beneath the bonnet. Hamish explains that he’s a man who likes to do his homework, citing parts choices suited to specific power goals, attention paid to heat management, and the use of quality bits and pieces throughout — hack or not. Surprisingly, the core engine is an unopened RB25DE. 

“I literally touched nothing on the long block,” Hamish says. “These things go well, and I was never going to be pushing it to the limit with the original gearbox.”

A high-mount Garrett 3076R hangs off the hot side, with the external ’gate venting through the guard for flamin’ fun times. Self-fabricated piping runs via an Elwood front mount into an Elwood front-facing plenum, achieving the desired clean appearance. 

Matt wired up the Link G4, with the end result being a stout 275kW at 7800rpm. But that itself was not without trials: the initial dyno tune ended in near disaster, with the flywheel ejecting itself via the bellhousing, firewall, floor, and any other path of least resistance it could find. Hamish admits that some flashbacks of his earlier Cefiro’s fiery demise passed through his field of vision. While the damage was comprehensive — the original ‘small’ five-speed box was scrap — he knuckled down, enlisted the help of some good mates, and had the Cefiro running again in reasonably short order. The battle scars remain on the bonnet and in the driver’s footwell.

Team Cream Cefiro-215-Edit.jpg

Chassis-wise, the Cefiro is reasonably simple. XYZ drift coilovers drape the arches over sparkling 17×9-inch front and 18×10-inch SSR Vienna Courage three-piece wheels. A complement of adjustable arms, lengthened front lower control arms (LCAs), and appropriate steering components means that the Cefiro is a little more driftable than a merely slammed car. Conversely, Hamish is the first to admit that a low ride height takes precedence over ultimate performance.

For now, though, it’s all about driving — that, and deflecting the barrage of friendly banter from the rest of the Team Cream boys over Hamish’s interpretation of exactly what constitutes a ‘beater’: an engine bay that you’d serve a Michelin-star meal from, with an interior equipped well enough not to look out of place in a top-level circuit car.

It turns out that building a track hack doesn’t necessarily mean making it look like a scrapyard refugee. For Hamish, Cefiro number three is the culmination of several years mucking about with the pride of Nissan’s taxi fleet; testament to knowing how and where to spend the money, and that good old Kiwi DIY attitude — with a little help from a couple of cold beers and a handful of great mates.

Hamish MacDonald
Age: Too old
Location: Waikato
Occupation: Contractor
Build time: One year
Length of ownership: Two years

Thanks: Matt at Sparked Auto Electrix; Craig at Sign Tint, Matamata; Greig and Emma at Spray Factory, Palmerston North; Troy at Repco Matamata; Evan at Speedfactor; Nan at The Bling Company; Harvey at Allenco Marine; my partner, Taylor; Sean, Rodney, Mum, and everyone else who has helped along the way

1990 Nissan Cefiro (A31)

ENGINE: Nissan RB25DE+T, 2500cc, straight six
BLOCK: Stock
HEAD: Stock
INTAKE: Four-inch K&N pod filter, Elwood intake manifold, 80mm throttle body, Elwood 600x300x76mm intercooler, Speedfactor silicone joiners
EXHAUST: Three-inch straight-through; dual three-inch shotgun tips
TURBO: Garrett 3076R WASTEGATE: Turbosmart 45mm Hyper-Gate
FUEL: 373kW fuel pump, 1000cc Bosch injectors, Tomei fuel-pressure regulator (FPR)
ELECTRONICS: Link G4 Xtreme, custom wiring loom by Sparked Auto Electrix, NZ Wiring cam trigger
COOLING: Fenix twin-pass radiator, Elwood Parts silicone hoses, dual Spal 12-inch fans
EXTRA: Deloomed engine bay, tucked brake lines, tubbed guards, Isuzu Mu power-steering reservoir, Larson Customs oil catch-can, Dei heat shielding, Speedfactor AN fittings, Garage Zeal engine mounts, steel vacuum lines

GEARBOX: Nissan R33 RB25 five-speed
CLUTCH: Competition Clutch five-puck plate, heavy-duty pressure plate
FLYWHEEL: Competition Clutch billet flywheel
DIFF: Welded Skyline R200 5×1 (4.3)

STRUTS: XYZ drift coilovers (14kg front, 11kg rear springs)
BRAKES: (F) Four-pot Skyline calipers, Znoelli 280mm slotted rotors; (R) Skyline single-pot calipers, uprated pads, hydraulic handbrake
EXTRA: Skyline five-stud conversion; Tomlin Power modified knuckles; Kune RE lengthened and gusseted LCAs; adjustable front castor arms; adjustable rear camber, castor and traction arms

WHEELS: (F) 17×9-inch (+39) SSR Vienna Courage, 30mm spacer, (R) 18×10-inch (0) SSR Vienna Courage TYRES: (F) 215/40R17 Zestino semi slick, (R) 235/40R18 Evergreen

PAINT: Cream by Spray Factory, Palmerston North 
ENHANCEMENTS: Origin Labo Stylish Line kit, Origin Labo bonnet vents, Dmax-style rear spoiler, Garage 13 widebody rear over-fenders, mirror-tinted windows, graphics by Sign Tint, reproduction brick headlights, facelift chrome grille, facelift tail lights

SEATS: Bucket seats, Takata four-point harness
STEERING WHEEL: Grip Royal suede 
INSTRUMENTATION: Auto Meter boost gauge 
EXTRA: Six-point roll cage, Driftworks handbrake, Trust gear knob

POWER: 275kW at 7800rpm
FUEL: 98 octane
TUNER: Brent at Dynopower