From the ashes: street-sharkin' A31

Posted in Cars, Features


Hamish MacDonald watched his first Cefiro literally melt in an intense fire the first day he drove it, but that didn’t stop him from building something much better the second time around

Hamish MacDonald has always been into Nissan Cefiros. The ultimate sideways taxi has captured this Matamata local’s attention since they first started showing up in the very early 2000s. “I bought my first Cefiro because it had everything I wanted in a car,” Hamish explains. “Plus, Jairus Wharerau and Justin Rood were killing it at the time in D1NZ [in A31 Cefiros].” 

Over the next few years, Hamish built up his first Nissan, and it was soon running an RB20DET, an old Link ECU, and a Garrett GT3037 turbo from Adam Richards’ old D1NZ championship–winning A31. Hamish says, “It was an awesome car at the time, with 230kW at the wheels and tons of lag, but damn it was fun. One night I wrapped the bonnet over the windscreen, so I had to replace the roof. With the new roof on, I fitted a WSR kit — mandatory equipment for a Cefiro at the time — repainted the whole car black, put new 17[-] by 10 [-inch wheels] on it and was planning on drifting it. I’d just replaced the gearbox and I took it out to Aaron and Jock Bennett’s [both ex-D1NZ competitors] place for its first drive — it was fully rebuilt and it was immaculate!"

"Jock had just put the Honda K20A motor in his AE86 and Aaron had an R32 missile — we used to do a lot of street drifting out there, because their farm is massive and the locals were sweet. After skidding round for a bit, I smelled fuel, so I went back to the intersection, and, just as I pulled up, I think it spat a wastegate flame and just erupted — I think I split a fuel hose changing the box. We put five extinguishers on it and nothing would stop it.” Sadly for Hamish, the whole experience was a complete and total disaster. Not only did he not have insurance, but the fire was so intense that literally nothing was salvageable — even the wheels melted into pools of alloy and the gearbox was only a gearset hanging in mid-air. 

“I was gutted-as when I got back home and had no car,” Hamish admits. “But I quickly realized I could build another from scratch and knew Jock [Bennett] had a tidy shell, so I had that in the shed a couple of days later. I’ve come to realize that there are people that enjoy and modify cars, and then there are people that are totally consumed with it. I go to work to fund my habit, and it’s all I ever think about, so I wasn’t about to give up in a hurry.” This time around, Hamish planned to take a much more precise and careful approach to building his new Cefiro, and everything was carefully planned out well in advance. Inspiration was taken from across the world — Japanese drift, VIP and grip, the Southern Californian street scene, and our own way of doing things here in New Zealand. The plan was to have a show-worthy, track-worthy street car, which, as anyone who has tried to achieve this balance before can tell you, is no easy feat. “There are not many cars around that are the whole package front to back — I didn’t want it to be a one-trick wonder,” Hamish says. 

The new car would be jet black, just like his last example, but this time the quality of the build would be through the roof, and although there were originally plans to run a Nissan RB30DET engine because Hamish wanted to keep costs down, and already had a 30 block and 25 head sitting around, he decided to move away from the sometimes-troublesome RB and go to what many people consider one of the best engines to ever come out of Japan: “RBs are plagued with oiling issues, and I’m not a big fan of built motors either, with mates back then going through 30[DET]s like no tomorrow. I had been following Toyota’s 2JZ-GTE motor for a long time, and six years ago it wasn’t a common motor to use for a swap, so I decided to make the change. Being so damn strong, I knew I could get to 500 horse [373kW] at the wheels if I did everything else properly, without touching the internals.” Hamish is right, too, and after custom mounts were made and the motor was fitted, work began towards that power goal. A big Master Power T61 turbo now sits on a custom steam-pipe manifold, accompanied by a TiAL MVR 44mm. Pushing only 16psi of boost, the set-up makes that power easily thanks to plenty of fuel from the custom fuel system, the right intake tract, and a spot-on tune on the Link G4 Extreme ECU from Dave at Dtech in Tauranga. 

"The build took Hamish twice as long and cost twice as much as he had thought it would — anyone who has built cars in the past can identify with that, including us! The results, however, speak for themselves and make all that effort and money worth it."

Times had changed considerably from when Hamish put his first A31 together, so this time a little more thought went into the look of the car, as he wanted it to be millimetre-perfect and aggressive, but still tasteful. That meant picking and choosing the best bodykit parts for the look he was after, and the car was soon adorned with a full Origin kit, a D-Max vented bonnet and roof spoiler, and even Spoon Honda wing mirrors. While the front guards are 25mm wider fibreglass D-Max items, Hamish decided to go with the all-steel route in the back, and hand fabricated the guards to allow for wide, and, dare we say it, very sexy wheels. “I love JDM wheels, and I’ve always loved Work VS-KFs. Most people think they’re just chromies, and Work Wheels only make Meisters, but the real enthusiasts pick it,” Hamish says. “I found the VS-KFs on Trade Me. They measure 18x8.5-inch and 18x9.5-inch, both in +19 offset. Some guy imported a new Mustang with them on and wanted to go back to stock wheels — strange I know — as soon as I saw them, I hit ‘Buy Now’.” The wheels, when sitting high up into the guards thanks to OZ Racing coilovers and a veritable treasure trove of aftermarket adjustable arms, are the absolutely perfect match for the sleek, jet-black A31. 

With its full Bride interior in place, which includes the door trims and rear seat, Hamish’s car has spent plenty of time out on the streets making the most of its ability to not spontaneously burst into flames. “I wasn’t expecting it to drive as nice as it does,” Hamish says. “I thought it would be rattly with no carpet and all the rose joints, but with all new Nolathane bushes and everything else, it’s like a new car. I also stayed away from multi-plate clutches to keep it streetable — my mum could drive it to the dairy, but I don’t think she could handle the wheelspin in the first three gears, fourth, too, if you’re hard up it! Compared to my old RB20, it’s quite incredible with all the torque; you hardly need to kick the clutch to get it drifting, and once it’s sideways, it feels nimble and can just be driven on the throttle instead of having it pinned.” 

All that power and well set-up suspension must have Hamish itching to get on the track, but is there any consideration towards losing that perfect balance between street, show, and track by installing a roll cage and going all-out? Hamish says, “At the moment, it’s just too much fun doing missions with four up. But some track time will answer that question for me, I’d say, so I’m not ruling it out.” 

Whatever happens with this car in the future, you know it’s going to be well executed — after all, there’s nothing like a blazing, metal-melting fire to teach a man to be extremely careful and precise when building his  next pride and joy. It’s a harsh lesson to learn, but one that has resulted in one of the best, if not the best, Nissan Cefiros in the country. ■

Hamish MacDonald
Age: 30
Location: Matamata
Occupation: Director/Contractor
Build time: Five years
Length of ownership: Five years
Thanks: Matt Henderson at M&M Auto Electrical, Bradley Wright, Simon Green, Troy Smith, Graeme Smith, Brian Quinn, Evan at Speedfactor, Mike at Sinco Customs, Roger at Dr Trim, Mum, and Jim

MODEL: Toyota 2JZ-GTE 3000cc six-cylinder
BLOCK: Factory
HEAD: HKS adjustable cam gears
INTAKE: Custom intake manifold, 80mm throttle body, anodized turbo bellmouth, front-mount intercooler, custom intercooler piping
TURBO: Master Power T61 .68 exhaust housing
BOV: Trust Type R
FUEL: Six 1000cc injectors, custom steel 5/8-inch fuel lines, Sard fuel regulator, 2.5-litre surge tank, 500hp Walbro in-tank lift pump, Bosch 044 feed pump, Speedflow -8 and -6 fittings, Speedflow black Teflon braided hose
EXHAUST: Custom steam-pipe manifold, three-inch V-band dump pipe into three-inch straight-through system
COOLING: Redline 50mm alloy radiator, rose-jointed radiator top mounts, twin 305mm electric fans, modified Nissan oil cooler with fan, Teflon braided hose, Mocal oil sandwich plate
ECU: Link G4 Extreme, 2.5 bar map sensor
OTHER: De-loomed engine bay, relocated fuse box, custom engine and gearbox mounts, rerouted brake lines

GEARBOX: Toyota R154 five-speed
CLUTCH: Auto Clutch six-puck single-plate
FLYWHEEL: Custom lightweight
DIFF: Nissan R200
OTHER: Custom one-piece driveshaft

STRUTS: OZ Racing adjustable coilovers
OTHER: Larger sway bars; Nolathane bushes; adjustable caster, toe, traction, and camber arms; solid subframe bushes; steering-rack spacers
BRAKES: (F) Znoelli five-stud hubs, Znoelli dimpled and slotted rotors, R32 Skyline calipers, JIC Magic S2 pads, Hell braided lines; (R) Znoelli rotors, R32 Skyline five-stud hubs, R32 Skyline calipers, JIC Magic A2 pads, Hell braided lines

WHEELS: 18x8.5-inch (+19) Work VS-KF, 20mm spacers; (R) 18x9.5-inch (+19) Work VS-KF
TYRES: (F) 215/40R18 Achilles ATR, (R) 225/40R18 Achilles ATR

PAINT: Jet black respray
ENHANCEMENTS: D-Max carbon-fibre bonnet, AeroCatch flush-mount latches, full Origin bodykit, Dzus clips, R32 GT-R boot-lip spoiler, D-Max roof spoiler, custom Destroy Composites carbon-fibre boot lid, D-Max +25mm front vented guards, custom full steel rear widebody guards, deleted aerial, modified standard JDM grille, Spoon Sports carbon-fibre mirrors, tow hook, facelift tail lights, JDM projector headlights
OTHER: Mirror tints

SEATS: Replica Bride seats, Bride-re-trimmed rear seat
STEERING WHEEL: OMP suede, JDM Works flip-up boss kit
INSTRUMENTATION: Carbon-fibre Auto Meter boost gauge
OTHER: Door re-trimmed in genuine Bride material, removed sound deadening, custom leather gear boot, custom punched and polished stainless floor mats and sill trims,
NZEFI ECU board behind hinged stainless floor mat
ICE: Pioneer head unit, Pioneer component front speakers

POWER: 380kW (509hp),
602Nm at the wheels on 16psi


This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No 212. Grab a print copy of the mag at the link below: