Attending a car show sometimes feels like everyone just went to the big blue and yellow store and bought variations of the same flat-packed pieces of furniture. So when we see something that looks like an artisanal handcrafted work of art made from a single Sandalwood tree, you bet we notice. That is exactly what it was like when we came across Hitomi Ishikawa's '96 Nissan 180SX.
Hitomi's 180SX was destined to be an ugly drift missile. Her husband, Masaru, is an autobody repair technician by trade, and he started out by spray painting the S13, which quite frankly isn't good for any car. With a bit of love and persuasion, Hitomi was eventually able to convince her man to transform the build into something she could be proud to show off, not to mention something that'll make her look like a boss when she goes drifting (which she does!).
Masaru didn't intend to build the project as extensive as he did with his police-themed, 1JZ-powered Mark II wagon (featured February 2018), but he came damn close. The plan for his wife's S13 was to just restore it and get it into a condition Hitomi would approve of. However, just like a carpenter with a knife and a piece of Sandalwood, Masaru couldn't let the body stay stock without whittling it a bit. So, out came the cut-off wheel, sheetmetal, and welder, which resulted in a beautifully crafted rolling piece of art.
Masaru chose to keep the original Type X aero package, including bumpers, side skirts, and rear spoiler. The main effort was put into massaging the fenders in order to retrofit a set of staggered 19-inch NISMO wheels, the ones originally manufactured by RAYS Japan and commonly found on the '13-to-'14 370Z. Typically, an S13 comes factory with 15-inch wheels, so this wouldn't be any afternoon job. To accomplish the perfect fitment, the suspension was first set to the target ride height. Then the new wheels and spacers were temporarily mounted, allowing Masaru to determine how much he needed to widen each corner, and in what shape. The fenders were then sectioned off and additional metal was added to extend them outward, resulting in 250 mm wider up front and 400 mm on the rear. That's almost 5 and 8 inches wider per corner, but magically it looks smooth and OEM-like thanks to the hands of Masaru.
Next came the engine compartment, and unlike Masaru's previous builds, this was an area with which he wanted to take a bit more time and experiment. He started by tubing the fenderwells, then creating a combined strut tower bar and rear engine shroud, which hides all the tubing and wiring that runs between the rebuilt SR20DET engine and the cabin. Amazingly, the car still retains ABS and air-conditioning, because summers in Shizouka are hot and humid, and he couldn't let his wife be too uncomfortable. Quite frankly, it's one of the dopest S-chassis engine bays we've ever seen.
To finish things off, Masaru turned his attention to the interior and applied the same strategy by keeping everything as clean looking as possible. Knowing the car would be driven primarily by his wife, he chose a set of reclining Bride seats to provide comfort and easy access to the rear. The fully-padded rollcage is stealth as it hugs as close to the pillars as possible and passes neatly through the dash, blending in with the rest of the interior. Speaking of the dash, the original was swapped out for a newer S15 dash, which is easily overlooked if you're not an S-chassis aficionado.
Hitomi's 180SX is a prime example of what the new age of car builders should strive for. The overall theme is OEM+, but it also showcases the exceptional work and attention to detail of her husband. The S13 maintains its practicality but also has the weapons to transition into a weekend fun car. This build doesn't hide behind off-the-shelf, add-on pieces. Instead, it has been massaged perfectly into something artisanal, and something any wife would be proud of.
Off the Wagon
1991 Toyota Mark II (X70)
Masaru Ishikawa is quite the family man. Not only has he built this incredibly clean 180SX for his wife Hitomi, but he also took on a Mark II wagon project that was built not just to take his entire family around town but also to drift. The X70 featured a unique police theme complete with lightbars, as well as a 350hp 1JZ engine swap.