No matter how many flavours of 180SX you’ve come across, you won’t’ve seen one quite as slick as Charlie’s

Everyone has their own flavour. Whether you’re a shooter in the streets for shakotan, throw on a hockey mask to patrol the highways with bosozoku outlaws, smirk as sparks shoot out past your –20 degrees of oni-kyan insanity, hit the local loop to relive all those kanjo videos you’ve watched in years gone by, or a combination of all of these, whatever flavour gets you going, when it comes to applying it to one of the most popular chassis in the world — one that has been modified for more than a quarter of a century — and attempting to make it stand out from the thousands of examples on tap, it ain’t an easy task. 

The humble 180SX has been putting rubber to road since 1988, and, ever since, there have been support groups filled with those pleading with you not follow in their footsteps: sacrificing financial security in the pursuit of uniqueness. Disregarding this advice, Christchurch-based Charlie Lam was determined to embark on that fateful path after partner Andy Gooding showed her Motohiro Taniguchi’s — of Spirit Rei fame — Miyabi-kitted example. She promptly sold her daily-driven and tracked Evo V to get it done. “I was wanting a change from the Evo, and when Andy showed me Taniguchi’s red 180SX, I remember thinking, damn, this is really cool, I really want one, so it wasn’t hard to convince me.”

The search for the right base car would take over six months before the pair would settle on an uncomplied import that had been used purely for track work. Already kitted with D-MAX fibreglass and sitting on a set of big SSR Strusses, Charlie added her own touches by way of

Origin widebody rear guards and licking the panels in luscious layers of midnight purple. But that isn’t the car you’re looking at on these pages. While that first car saw her through six or seven drift days, the urge to street shark grew, and as the import papers had been lost before purchasing the car, it rendered the car uncompliable and instigated the hunt for a new street-legal shell.

What she found was a derelict unfinished project in need of major loving. On the plus side, it included an eight-point roll cage built by Pete’s Customs and Performance — perfect for the track work it would inevitably be seeing — and, most important, it had live tags! The track car was stripped down with intention of simply chucking everything into the new shell. However, as each part made its way over towards the new shell, a reason would be found as to why it should be replaced with something better. 

Charlie tells us that being in the thick of the build on this car allowed her to learn it inside out and is confident enough to do more track days without having to rely on someone else to help out

 

 

“Everything was basically bought new again for the second car. The only big item to come across was the motor — bog standard,” says Charlie, “and when it came out, we decided that I was more confident in my driving and would benefit from a bit more power.”

This power comes via simple bolt-on upgrades such as a re-cored S14 T28BB, Nismo 555cc fuel injectors, Turbosmart 38mm wastegate, and Ultra Spark Performance coils. Meanwhile, underneath, a new SR20DET box was fitted with an Exedy five-puck clutch delivering power back to a Nismo 4.0 two-way LSD, and Parts Shop Max Competition coilovers were paired with a series of Voodoo13 US arms. The hubs were converted to five-stud via S14 examples, and Pete’s Customs tubbed the front arches.

With all this going on, the magnitude of the build that Charlie was undertaking dawned on her, and she decided that, rather than piecing together the remains of other cars, she wanted to create a finished product that she could call her own — one that hadn’t been seen on our shores before.

“It was a personal build for us. We worked every day after work and on the weekends for three months. And, while I was originally happy to run the D-MAX and Origin Labo pieces, I kept changing my mind, as I felt it was too ‘normal’,” says Charlie, “I had already put so much time and effort into it. If I’m doing it, [I thought], I may as well go big.”

Charlie’s Evo was about all-things grip, so it was a big change to switch up to a car that’s about the polar opposite: “I used to run the apex, and now I’m just throwing myself into a corner. Even now, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. There’s a lot more to drifting than it seems”

 

 

This had Charlie thinking back to the 180 that was the original inspiration for the build, and the Spirit Rei Miyabi kit that its owner had created for it. The design enhances the body lines without distracting from its original form, with the front bumper adding a sense of subtle aggression that doesn’t overdo it on the aero, and incorporates a kamikaze front diffuser that brings the 180 into the 21st century. The rear bumper is bulked out with an integrated carbon diffuser and 65mm wide rear fenders to suit. This is proof that the Japanese just get it: the art of doing more with less — the exact reason why Charlie threw her name in the bucket to purchase one.

Make no mistake, these kits ain’t cheap or easy to obtain, and the two-month nerve-racking wait to get it here does nothing for keeping mid-build stress levels down. But it arrived safe and sound and has been fitted alongside Origin 55mm front guards and a 326power Manriki wing. The combo has been treated to midnight purple paint work with holographic blue and purple glitter, by way of Charlie and Andy’s own gun, and the work extends to the interior panels, with the cage a contrasting pink. The theme also extends out to the engine bay and many of the replacement components, too, all resprayed to match. “I can’t tell you how much I hate sanding now,” Charlie laughs.

Tucked under the guards is a set of 18x9.5-inch (-7) and 18x9.5-inch (-26) Work Meister M1Rs, wrapped in 215/35 Achilles rubber. These were briefly replaced with a set of slightly larger Work Meister M1s that proved too big to be practical, so were reverted to the former.
Charlie tells us that even with a few touch-and-go moments throughout the build, she’s glad that they did most of the work at home. Not just to save a few pennies, but because it allowed them to get the best result possible. By being right there through the thick of it, if something needed tweaking on the fly, it could be done at the right time rather than once it was too late. 

The end result is a super-slick S-chassis that revels in its own subtlety. The longer you stare, the more you realize exactly what has gone into making it look so damn good. And if you think that, because the 180 now wears lovingly crafted panels with that sweet, sweet paintwork, it won’t be hitting the track again, you’re wrong. Charlie has already pedalled it at two events, full kit and all. All that’s left to do now is put rubber to road and make the most of the benefits that a street-legal car offers!

 Charlie Lam
AGE: 23
LOCATION: Christchurch
OCCUPATION: Assistant bank manager
BUILD TIME: Six months
LENGTH OF OWNERSHIP: Nine months
THANKS: My awesome partner, Andy, for all the support, time, and effort he has contributed; Jesse from Streeter Corporation for always helping me source my parts; Mum, Dad, and my brother, Leo, for kick-starting my addiction to cars; Vinny and the boys from Chachacha; and all my friends who have helped in achieving this dream
 

Heart
ENGINE: Nissan SR20DET, 1998cc, four-cylinder
BLOCK: Factory
HEAD: Factory
INTAKE: GReddy intercooler and piping, A’PEXi filter, RB25 air-flow meter
EXHAUST: Three-inch stainless
TURBO: Re-cored S14 T28BB, Sinco manifold
WASTEGATE: Turbosmart 38mm
BOV: GReddy FV Limited Edition
FUEL: Walbro fuel pump, Nismo 555cc injectors
IGNITION: Ultra Spark coils
ECU: Nistune chip
COOLING: GReddy radiator, Yashio Factory radiator piping
EXTRA: Yashio Factory engine damper, Kids Heart radiator brackets, Garage Defend cooling panel, Weld coil-pack cover, Yashio Factory oil cap, oil catch-can

Driveline
GEARBOX: Five-speed SR20DET
CLUTCH: Exedy five-puck
FLYWHEEL: Factory
DIFF: Nismo two-way 4.0 limited-slip

Support
STRUTS: Parts Shop Max Competition coilovers
BRAKES: (F) BNR32 four-pot calipers, (R) BNR32 twin-pot calipers
EXTRA: Voodoo13 US high-clearance rear toe arms, rear upper camber arms, and rear traction arms; Parts Shop Max caster arms; tubbed front arches by Pete’s Customs; S14 five-stud conversion; Parts Shop Max hydraulic handbrake

Shoes
WHEELS: (F) 18x9.5-inch (-7) Work Meister M1R, (R) 18x9.5-inch (-26) Work Meister M1R
TYRES: 215/35R18 Achilles ATR Sport
 

Exterior
PAINT: Resprayed in midnight purple with holographic blue and purple glitter
ENHANCEMENTS: Spirit Rei Miyabi kit, Spirit Rei 65mm rear fenders, Spirit Rei half-carbon rear bumper, Origin 55mm front guards, Spirit Rei front and side diffusers, 326power Manriki wing, 326power bolts and caps

Interior
SEATS: Bride Zeta 3 Meister Shop Limited Edition Pink driver, Bride Zeta 3 FRP Graduation passenger, Yashio Factory four-point harnesses
STEERING WHEEL: Nardi Suede Deep Corn
INSTRUMENTATION: Defi water-temp, oil-temp, and boost gauges; Defi control unit
EXTRA: Strawberry Face gear knob, Yashio Factory handbrake knob, Yashio Factory shift boot, custom-painted manual surround, Bride covered door cards, Bride floor mats, custom pink eight-point roll cage by Pete’s Customs

This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 255 — you can get your hands on a copy by clicking the cover below:

Jaden Martin

Growing up inhaling paint fumes and bog dust at his old man's panel shop, Jaden is a qualified word bender that has obtained a 'brofessional' diploma in car building from years of trial and error. He's currently trying to finish his creation of Australian-based debauchery crammed with Japanese- and Euro-inspired goodness. You'll find him writing for NZ Performance Car and producing content online.

Instagram — @jaden_nzpcmagazine

Related