After going through two shells and having nothing to show for it, most would have given up, but Elliot Brown was determined to bring his vision of an LS-powered Rocket Bunny Type X to life
There tends to be a natural order to things, especially when building a car. Take one that’s stock, or thereabouts, and promise yourself that it will be kept in one piece and used for regular driving duties. But, inevitably, that promise will only last until the undying urge to tinker takes over, and you find yourself spending almost every waking hour dreaming about all the rad shit that you want to install, switch out for, and fabricate — and dreaming it right down to the finest of details.
So, buying perhaps the most sought-after and recognized bodykit in the world for a car that you don’t even own and equally optimistically dropping stacks of cash to own a motor never intended to be fitted to said car — well, that all falls a bit outside the natural order. But Elliot Brown didn’t take such decisions lightly, and, as he tells us, he knew three things: (1) he had always wanted to own a 180SX; (2) he had always wanted to own a V8-powered example; and (3) since he had first laid eyes on the Rocket Bunny V2-kitted 180 of Bad Quality fame, he had known it would be the only kit to adorn the exterior of a car of his, and, of course, he knew that, as per Rocket Bunny artisan Kei Miura’s own recommendation, the arches would be filled by suitable-size Work Wheels. And all that while keeping it street legal, with the intention of also seeing it driven like hell out on the track. Simple ask, right?
It was a pretty damn big roll of the dice, and perhaps one that many others would never see started — let alone finished — thanks to the sheer magnitude of the work involved, but Elliot had built up a vision of exactly what he wanted to achieve, and nothing was going to change that. So, he cracked open the piggy bank and checked under every couch cushion to pony up the funds for the first big purchase, a Rocket Bunny V2 kit. It came courtesy of Aaron Mai and James Mangin (Super Shakotan, NZ Performance Car Issue No. 241), who did things old school and, instead of flicking a few emails back and forth, flew to Japan to sit down to dinner with Kei Miura and hand over cold hard cash with a firm handshake. Elliot was originally meant to be on that trip, but couldn’t make it due to his army commitments; however, knowing that it wasn’t a cheap copy and that it was made to order kept him happy.
The second big buy was a set of Bad Quality–spec Meister M1s in 18x9.5-inch (-21) and 18x11-inch (-40), while an LS was yanked out of the local wrecker’s, all before Elliot even owned the
It may have taken three different shells to get the package to where he wanted it, but Elliot has been left with one badass Bunny, with a hearty whack of torque to back it up thanks to the LS1 heart
Now that all the bits he lusted for were on order and making their way from around the globe, a suitable car was needed. His searches turned up an import living down in Christchurch that seemed to be the perfect base for the vision. Not 10 minutes after it arrived in his hometown of Palmerston North, Elliot was tearing it to shreds in anticipation of the serious amount of work he had planned. He admits that, at the time, he was still learning the ins and outs of the dark art that is building from scratch, but that didn’t stop him from whipping up a roll cage and pair of front tubs in no time at all.
Many late nights were spent in the shed, fitting the build around studies and work, all while trial-and-erroring his way through different aspects to work out how he was going to keep it all street legal.
He was nine months into that shell when he said to himself, “I could build things better”, and he took another roll of the dice by swapping the original one for another shell. Unfortunately, that gamble didn’t pay off, as what was promised as a mint, straight shell was riddled with rust, and so bent that you’d need a goddamn miracle to bring it back. Elliot was forced to make the hard decision to get rid of shell number two and then made the trek up to Auckland to purchase his third and final shell. “At this stage, I felt frustrated, and like I had just wasted a lot of time, effort, and money,” Elliot says, “so I got stuck straight into it, keeping the end goal in mind.”
Elliot describes the car as, “a Japanese car with Japanese styling, mixed with mighty American muscle power, and a touch of German class from BMW”
Eight months of little-to-no sleep followed, and, since all the figuring out had been done for the first shell, it was easier for Elliot to fab the third. This saw it once again home to an eight-point roll cage of his own design, and a combination of suspension components including Hakon coilovers with Stealth Ride air cups. In the rear, a set of D2 air jacks were installed to make life easier later on, but turned out to be the hardest job of the entire build as Elliot tells us, “The most annoying and painstaking job of the whole build was welding in those air-jack holders underneath the car. The driver-side holder warped, and, needless to say, at 4am, there were a few words said … but now I can change my wheels without having to remove any of the kit, etc., as the car is so low. It’s up and done.”
The interior also features a few modern comforts, mixed in with the NZKW FIA-approved seats and harnesses. There’s a dual USB charger to make sure your phone and Megaboom (not-so-built-in stereo system) stay juiced, and the white LED interior lights help you to see where the hell you dropped your wallet during those late-night mishes through the Macca’s drive-through. All the controls now reside on a carbon-fibre switch panel in the centre of the retro-fitted S14 dash — Elliot trimmed the dash and door cards himself and tells us, “It took me five attempts and five different fabrics to get it right … it’s still an ongoing battle with the stretched fabric wanting to lift, but I’ll win one day.”
As the build went on, Elliot continued to develop his vision for what the final product would look like, and he describes it as, “A Japanese car with Japanese styling, mixed with mighty American muscle power, and a touch of German class from BMW,” which is where he took the colouring and carbon-fibre cues from. The colour choice took well over a year, a year which he said consisted of “Printing a bunch of cars with different colours and putting them all over my walls. Whenever I eventually got sick of looking at a certain colour, I’d rip it off and the last one that remained was the one I didn’t get sick of … so that’s how ‘Yazi’ [the 180SX] got painted in the BMW Yas Marina Blue.
“For the graphics, I wanted to do something wild, but, because the car is also a street car, I didn’t want it to be anything too out there, so I kept it how I fell in love with it, like the first pictures of the V2 Bunny parked at the gas station were, with a small twist to add my own flair to it.”
The car is known as ‘Yazi’ among friends — thanks to a late-night, and possibly beer-fuelled, discussion of the Yas Marina Blue colour-work and how it may have been pronounced in the car’s motherland
And while what lies under the bonnet — a fairly standard LS1 packing a Kelford 282/290-degree camshaft and valve springs — may stir up a few angry comments from the purists, Elliot opted for the V8 swap to keep things simple. “It’s super reliable, packs a punch, and who doesn’t love the sound of a screaming V8 on the track or down the motorway?” That’s a philosophy you can’t really argue with when everything looks like it was meant to be, and that includes the engine bay.
Now that the combination is completed, street legal, and able to turn a wheel under its own power, all that’s left to do is give it a proper shakedown — you’ll find this specific example of badass Kiwi craftsmanship invading your local meets and carving up your nearest tracks soon, as Elliot intends to put in some serious seat time in the coming sunny months. Not a bad way to spend summer, we think.
Location: Palmerston North
Occupation: General engineering
Build time: 19 months
Length of ownership: Seven months
Thanks: Massive thank you to my partner Marika, for being so patient with the early mornings and late nights, you can sleep in now; Mason Lockyear from The Torque Shed; Jason from NZKW; Brent from EFI Supplies; Brendon Guy; Karl Mist; Chase Shearman and Nick Shearman from Glass Art; Shane Rutland; Bradley Grapes; Peter Crawford; Josh Mangin; Jurnee Hotene; Helmut Modlik; Steve Kerr; Hayden Reid; the Speedmagnet family; also to my family for the support and keeping my ego in check and my feet firmly planted on the ground
ENGINE: GM LS1, 5665cc, V8
HEAD: Kelford Cams 282/290-degree camshaft, Kelford valve springs
INTAKE: Four-inch pod filter
EXHAUST: 1.875-inch primaries, three-inch collector, three-inch system, Flowmaster muffler
FUEL: NZKW 2.0-litre surge tank, Bosch 044 fuel pump, Aeroflow fuel rails, Tomei fuel-pressure regulator, NZKW micro fuel filter, NZKW stainless braided hose and fuel fittings
ECU: Wolf V550
COOLING: Fenix radiator
EXTRA: Mil-spec engine wiring by The Torque Shed; alloy catch-can; Fuelled Racing engine mounts; Moroso sump, oil pick-up, and dipstick; oil-filter relocation kit; Rod Shop left-hand starter motor
GEARBOX: Tremec T56, six-speed
CLUTCH: RPM Heavy-duty
DIFF: Cusco R200 two-way LSD
EXTRA: Fuelled Racing drive shaft, Fuelled Racing gearbox mounts
STRUTS: Hakon coilovers, Stealth Ride air cups
BRAKES: OBP pedal box (F) Nissan four-pot calipers, 296mm rotors; (R) dual Nissan two-pot calipers, 297mm rotors
EXTRA: Hakon castor arms; gusseted LCAs; Hakon rear camber, toe, traction, and lower control arms; Parts Shop Max rear drop hubs; eight-point roll cage; front tubs; rear subframe locking collars; D2 air jacks
WHEELS: (F) 18x9.5-inch (-21) Work Meister M1 3P, (R) 18x11-inch (-40) Work Meister M1 3P
TYRES: (F) 255/35R18 Evergreen, (R) 305/30R18 Achilles ATR Sport 2
PAINT: Resprayed BMW Yas Marina Blue by Karl Mist
ENHANCEMENTS: Rocket Bunny V2 bodykit
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance car issue No. 251 — get your grubby mitts on a print copy by clicking the cover below