Mike’s Cortina hides a modern secret between the strut towers, and he’s reaping the rewards

What do you do when you’re a lover of older-generation vehicles, but want something with the reliability, power output, and refinement of a later-model vehicle? If you’re anything like Invercargill-based transmission technician Mike Van Turnhout, you’ll come up with an extremely well-thought-out crafty combination of the two, using the classic shape and class of a 1970 Ford Cortina and the reliability, tunability, and power of a mid ’90s Nissan four-cylinder engine. 

The story of this Cortina dates back to before 2007, when Mike already owned an SR20-converted Ford Cortina. Unfortunately, the body was a bit worse for wear, and, unwilling to give up on the Ford Cortina dream, Mike decided that he’d hunt for another suitable Cortina.
“We found this one in Christchurch: it had 50,000 original miles on it, and it was a half-restoration project. The mechanical stuff was done, but the body wasn’t complete. The owner had around 20 vehicles in a storage building, but the building owner closed the business, which forced him to sell a bunch of his vehicles urgently,” Mike told us. 

With the stripped back, half-restored Cortina home safe and sound — complete with boxes full of original components taking up residence in the back seat — it was time to begin the project. Mike soon found out that his purchase was liberally stuffed with bog in various places, but thankfully his father, John, is an old-school panel beater. After a quick assessment, John was confident that most of the bog was completely unnecessary, and he promptly removed it. With a cautious hand, and a trusted hammer, the steel was beaten and smoothed carefully back into shape — a talent not often seen nowadays. Discussion went on for some time about the paint colours, as John had access to a wide variety of paints. 

“It was always going to be between two colour combinations: orange and green, or orange and purple. It was my old man who suggested I paint all the running gear fluorescent orange, or radioactive orange,” Mike explained. 
A black with Ford Phantom purple was decided upon, and the paint was sprayed by John. To finish the exterior restoration, the bumpers, both front and rear, were sent off to Timaru Electro Platers and rechromed. 

Originally, Mike planned to transplant an S13 SR20 engine into the car, but, when a mate wrote off his S14 Silvia, the VCT engine in the Silvia was the obvious choice to complete the conversion, because of its fuel economy and power advantages over the S13 version. However, simply bolting the SR20 into the engine bay was the easy part. 

“We could get the motor to sit, but we couldn’t have got the brakes, cooling system, or intercooler anywhere in there. We had to start from the front of the vehicle, and engineer absolutely everything to suit, so it would all work,” Mike explained. 

A bit more extra go and good fuel economy was all that Mike was craving with the SR20, so, once it was finally in the engine bay, he set to work bolting on a factory SR20DET manifold and a T28 turbo, and saw that it got a decent tune with a Link G4 Storm ECU. On factory boost pressure, the SR20 now pushes out a safe 138kW (185hp) at the wheels and gets excellent fuel economy. As Mike has already travelled 12,000kms since building the car, he’d have a fair idea.  Getting the power down is currently Mike’s biggest problem. 

He tells us, “It’s having a lot of problem with traction with the turbo engine. Also, the body likes to twist, thanks to the torque it produces. This is something we’ll address with a custom four-link system before the new engine gets installed.” Mike has an SR20VET engine in the build, to be installed in the near future. It will have an estimated power output of 300kW at the wheels.

When you’ve got an old vehicle that can be quite a handful, it’s essential that you have comfortable, yet supportive seating. Factory WRX items fit the bill perfectly, and have been retrimmed and repaired by another family member — Mike’s uncle, Trevor Barber. The factory rear seats received a similar treatment. However, they were reshaped to provide a little more support. New hood lining, new carpet, and a new rear parcel tray conclude the ‘one of a kind’ interior. 

Mike likes to drive the Cortina a lot, so he knew he had to install a decent sound system for entertainment on those long road trips from Invercargill to Nelson or wherever the road might take him and his mates. A four-channel amp powers six-inch JVC rear speakers and 6.5-inch Pioneer components with tweeters up front. A Pioneer two-channel amp provides the required RMS to have the twin 12-inch Pioneer subs thumping — with looks to match, thanks to a custom carpeted and vinyl enclosure. 

As Mike has two other projects on the go — a 1984 Nissan Z31 turbo and a 1989 Nissan Skyline R31 with an RB25DET engine — he sure does have his work cut out for him. However, with the family connections he has down in Invercargill and the mechanical talent he possesses, we’re dead certain some more high-quality all-round showstoppers built by Mike and those close to him will grace these pages in the future. 

Tuning menu

1970 Ford Cortina


  • Model: Nissan SR20DE, 2000cc, four-cylinder
  • Block: Factory SR20DE
  • Head: Factory SR20DE
  • Intake: Simota air filter
  • Turbo: Garrett T28 turbo, SR20DET manifold
  • Wastegate: Factory
  • BOV: Turbosmart supersonic
  • Fuel: Custom alloy drop tank, six-litre surge tank, Carter 500hp lift pump, Bosch 044 EFI pump, ⅜-inch steel fuel lines, Speedflow fittings, RB25DET injectors, RB25DET fuel pressure regulator
  • Ignition: S14 SR20DET coil packs, custom coil loom, VH45DE ignitor 
  • Exhaust: Stainless turbo downpipe, three-inch mandrel bent exhaust, Ford XR6 turbo three-inch high-flow mufflers, chrome tip
  • Cooling: Custom intercooler piping, custom intercooler, custom alloy radiator and piping, 12-inch thermo fan
  • ECU: Link G4 Storm, custom loom
  • Other: Deloomed engine, headlight wiring hidden, unnecessary items removed, battery relocated to boot, washer bottle moved to boot, custom bolt-in front radiator panels, smoothed engine bay


  • Gearbox: Silvia S13 SR20DET five-speed 
  • Clutch: Exedy heavy duty
  • Flywheel: Factory SR20DET
  • Diff: Narrowed Hilux housing, Toyota Surf V6 4.44:1 ratio LSD 
  • Other: Custom driveshaft


  • Struts: (F) Shortened Monroe GT shocks, custom Koni coilovers with King Springs (R) Reset leaf springs and Monroe GT shocks
  • Brakes: (F) Nissan R33 four-pot calipers, TRW pads, R33 GTS25-T discs, custom caliper mounts and five stud hubs (R) Nissan S14 rear calipers, TRW pads, A32 Cefiro discs, custom caliper mounts
  • Other: Nolathane and Whiteline bushes throughout, Factory Cortina sway bar


  • Wheels: 17x7-inch ION 625 black with polished lip
  • Tyres: 205/40R17 


  • Paint: (Body) black with Ford Phantom effect, (running gear) custom radioactive orange 
  • Enhancements: Rechromed front and rear bumpers by Timaru Electro Platers, stripped and repolished alloy trims and grill, XA Falcon GT mirrors, tinted windows


  • Seats: (F) Reupholstered Subaru WRX seats (R) reupholstered factory seats
  • Steering wheel: Nardi wood grain
  • INSTRUMENTATION: AutoGauge Smoke Series gauges
  • ICE: JVC DVD head unit, six-inch JVC front speakers, 6.5-inch JVC components and tweeters, four-channel amp for speakers, two-channel Pioneer amp for twin 12-inch Pioneer subs, custom sub enclosure 
  • Other: New hood lining, repainted door cards, new carpets, new rear parcel tray


  • Power: 138kW (185hp) at the wheels, 0-400M: 15.6-seconds

Driver profile

Driver/owner: Mike Van Turnhout
Age: 27
Location: Invercargill
Build time: 5 years
Length of ownership: 8 years 

Photos: Cory Varcoe 

This article was originally published in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 228. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below:

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.