This is the Worst Car I’ve Ever Owned. And I Love it.

This is a post that I know a lot have been waiting for, and one I’ve been looking forward to sharing. Given the current state of the world it seemed like a pretty good day to stay inside to finally get this written up and published.

The title is perhaps a bit bold, but it’s true. This S15 is by any objective measure the worst car I’ve ever owned, though to be fair I’ve had a pretty short list of vehicles in my name in my life. I’m not counting Ketchup on that list because it was only ever in my name as a parts car, not as a car to actually drive, but even if we extend that list to include other cars in the family (I’m looking at you Thunderbird, which we literally dragged out of a backyard) I don’t think anything has had quite the fix-it list that this one does.

But I don’t see that as a negative, I see it as a challenge. As an adventure waiting to happen.

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This S15 will be the chance to take on a build that differs to the Grand Prix and Focus in a few ways. Not only is it a different type of vehicle in a few aspects (RWD, RHD, 2-door, Japanese), but it needs to be approached differently as well. Given I bought it new and it’s still fairly young, the Focus has never needed any sort of restoration. Even the Grand Prix, while having seen a bit of what could be considered restoration work, has mainly been a case of preservation since it had always been kept in fantastic condition over the years (thanks Dad). The Silvia meanwhile will be more of a restomod, given that it needs a fair bit of time and effort spent on fixing it and not just modifying it. It’s a chance to try something different and take on a bigger challenge than I had with the other two.

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From day one I’ve made it clear that we had our work cut out for us with this car, but I signed the paperwork and handed over the money knowing that. It came with its fair share of issues but I bought it because the important pieces all checked out. The shell was solid and it was a factory manual. It had the rare blue interior and while some pieces showed their age none of them were the rare bits. It had the Aero package, and it even came with coilovers, camber plates, an exhaust, and a new clutch.

The paint was shot but a respray was always in the plans, and the engine had the oil leak but that wasn’t the end of the world. I’m not entirely sure the SR20 will be staying anyway…

However, missing paint and oil on the ground were irrelevant without first addressing the most important issue with the car: it wasn’t yet able to be registered in Alberta.

S15 delivery

When the car was first brought in to the country it was shipped off to, and then lived in, Saskatchewan. Having never been through an Out of Province (OOP) inspection here in Alberta it could not yet be registered, so the first task was to address the variety of little faults, service items, or safety concerns that I knew of and I set about mending them one by one. Some bulbs were burnt out, the line to the rear window’s washer nozzle was broken, a couple of wheel studs had to have their threads fixed, it needed tires, and the rear brake pads were too low, among others.

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The tires’ lack of tread wasn’t their only problem however. You’ll have noticed in the photos that the car didn’t come on its original wheels, but rather larger OEM offerings from a sibling. The wheels themselves would’ve fit fine, but the tires were so hilariously oversized for this chassis that it would bottom out and rub at the mere sight of a dip in the road. It was basically unusable with this setup.

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As it happened the seller had tossed in a second set of wheels with the S15 but they wouldn’t work either; the tires were also worn and the wheels themselves were too high of an offset to fit without spacers. Which I didn’t have. Obviously, it was time to go shopping.

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Some Kijiji hunting turned up two sets of wheels and tires at about the same time, both of which would not only clear suspension, fenders, and fender liners, but also have the exact circumference needed to keep the speedometer and odometer accurate. The first of the two sets was local: OEM S14 wheels with some almost-new winter tires. I grabbed them immediately and while the fitment was slightly comical (hellahellahellasunk) they certainly worked for getting the car mobile, and ensured it’d have appropriate tread depth for the OOP.

S15 July 2019

The second set was located just outside of Edmonton and Paul came to the rescue here, not only running out to pick them up for me but delivering them right to my house when he was in town a few days later (once again proving how much of a legend he is). They were 17″ Koenigs, coincidentally also wrapped in winter tires, and were what the car spent most of the year running as it attended the various shows and meets. The (faded) gold faces were what inspired the gold banner that the car received, as a side note.

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While the car was still getting prepared for the OOP I also took the chance to address the worst of the paint issues so it was at least semi-presentable and didn’t look like a complete mess when I brought it in. There are only a couple of panels on this car that I would consider to be passable in terms of paint, but there were two in particular that no amount of distance or squinting would help: the hood and roof.

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At some point the hood had been sanded down, presumably in preparation for paint, before instead being quickly plasti-dipped as a cover-up. I could at this point say that it took several hours to remove that horrid coating from the panel but that wouldn’t be accurate. It was more than that.

I myself spent several hours over a couple of days trying to remove it, as the thin layer of dip on the heavily-scuffed surface did not want to come off in sections any larger than a quarter. One day while I was at work I left the S15 in my driveway so the hood could heat up in the sun with the hopes that it’d help the process, before reinforcements came in to help out. My mother joined in as did Dustin and Kaylee, and even the neighbours’ kid was hired to assist with the job. This took FOREVER. After hours and hours and hours, and heat guns, Goo-Gone, razor blades, and working to the point of hands hurting, the hood was finally ready for another attempt at refinishing.

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On one of my countless trips to Canadian Tire last summer I grabbed some automotive primer, and the first use for it was to coat the top side of the hood in a few healthy layers. I never intended for this to be a show-worthy job but I still tried to make it respectable, wanting a decent base for what was to come next. The roof also received a few rounds of primer and sanding to address the stripe of bare metal down its middle.

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Being a pearl white car I knew that matching the paint with spray cans – and receiving an adequate finish with no booth or controlled environment of any kind – would be next to impossible so I didn’t even bother. Additionally, with nowhere to hide a paint seam a roof respray would require doing both quarter panels as well. Fortunately a roll of gloss black vinyl would provide a way to “finish” these temporary repairs and also give the car a slightly more unique look while being a job easy enough to do in the driveway. As shown by the sun being down in this photo, we worked fairly late that day just to see the job through. While many other panels still had their issues, having the worst two mended for the time being helped the car’s overall appearance immeasurably.

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With everything else addressed and the car looking a bit better the last required item for the OOP was to replace the rear brake pads. Thanks to Jimmy at Vex I was able to pick up some OEM replacement pads – nothing fancy for the time being as I intend to upgrade the brakes down the road anyway – and then I simply gave them to the same shop performing the inspection and asked that they just throw them in for me. With all of that sorted the car was able to be properly registered in Alberta and receive an actual plate, but obviously this was still just the very start of the to-do list. Imagine turning to page 2 of War and Peace; that’s where we were at this point.

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Happily various OEM parts can be bought new for these cars without much hassle. One piece that the car didn’t come with when I bought it was a second hood washer nozzle – along with the hood’s emblem the nozzles had been removed and placed in the glovebox prior to the plastidipping but the second one (if there ever was one) was no longer there. I’d made do by “borrowing” one from the S13 but obviously that couldn’t last so a new nozzle was ordered and installed as soon as it arrived. The hood’s emblem was also reinstalled as were the Spec S scripts on the quarter panels, but I opted to leave the trunk lid bare.

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Some good news for my bank account was that there were a few instances where improving the car was as simple as removing something from it, with one such case being the grounding kit under the hood. These do nothing but clutter up a bay so it was binned almost immediately.

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Another item to make a swift exit was the aftermarket pedal set that you may have seen in the car’s introduction post. They were well-worn, made heel-toe difficult due to their sizing, and the extra height they added to the pedals messed up the driving position. Fortunately no holes had been drilled in the factory pedals to mount them (aside from one in the dead pedal which you can’t really see), so there was no permanent damage done.

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Speaking of driving the car, two more items left something to be desired in my opinion: the steering wheel and shift knob. The wheel itself was too slippery and not very comfortable, while the shift knob simply wasn’t my preferred choice of a round piece.

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Frankly the finish wasn’t to my taste either so I pulled a spare piece from my parts stash to use while deciding on, and then waiting for, the piece I’d actually run.

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After some research and consideration I decided to pick up a Yashio Factory shift knob and couldn’t be happier with my choice. It’s the perfect size, perfect shape, and the touch of pink is a nice accent.

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As for the wheel, I ran a temporary leather wheel I’d found for sale locally but kept hunting for something just right to use as the permanent piece. In the end I went with a GReddy wheel featuring the company’s three stripes as the centering marker and tri-coloured stitching to match. Having the wheel, knob, and pedals all addressed made a world of difference in driving the car as it was now tailored to my tastes and properly suited to my height and seating position.

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The driving experience still had room from improvement though, due to the suspension. The good news was that with the coilovers and camber plates there was the ability to adjust a few things right away. The bad news was that they’d already been adjusted, and not very well. The front camber was set as negative as it could go and the dampers were wound incredibly stiff, so tweaks were made accordingly. The rear suspension was limited by all of the arms being stock so we couldn’t do much there, aside from raise it up slightly, so the first pieces I ordered for the car at the end of last season were new camber and toe arms. I’m hoping it gets warm enough soon that Mario and I can install them as the start of this car’s 2020 progress.

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At this point the S15 was looking considerably better (and was much nicer to drive) but there were still a couple of annoyances I had with the exterior that I had to address – the first being fitting a front lip.

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Long-term it’s always been my plan to replace the OEM bumper with something else, so I only wanted something inexpensive and simple as a lip for it for the time being (as for why I don’t just skip these half-measures and buy the bumper I want, it’s because it’s ridiculously expensive so I’ll wait until the car has been tidied up first before I spend a couple of thousand on a single cosmetic part). A known trick in the S15 world is to use a JDM DC2R lip as it lines up surprisingly well with the factory S15 bumper, and so I decided to do just that. As it happens Eric used to run one on his Silvia and still had it, so I got in touch and was able to buy it for a great price.

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Just like with the roof and hood I knew that colour-matching the lip myself would be tricky so I decided to just shoot it black instead…actually I just knew that it’d take a beating and need regular touchups so a basic satin black finish would make my life much easier. Haha

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With the lip sprayed and bolted in place there was no more putting off one of the biggest eyesores of the entire car: the headlights.

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These things were, to put it nicely, horrible. Not only was there visible aging but there was also some shocking damage caused by a previous owner.

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Remember that I’d said the hood had been sanded down? Apparently it had been sanded while still bolted on the car, because the same sandpaper that removed its paint had also been run into the headlights. Repeatedly. Yes, what you see on the inner corner of the light are sandpaper scratches!

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Another Canadian Tire run (I swear I made more trips there last year alone than I had in my life up until that point) saw me bring home more masking tape, various grits of sandpaper and sanding sponges, and some clear coat.

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Both headlights had to be sanded down with progressively finer grits to remove the deep marks left by the original sanding adventure, before they were then given a few coats of clear each to bring back some shine and provide some protection. As they stand today they still need some love but are worlds better than the scratched up messes that they were.

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The tail lights had also seen some attention earlier in the season when I replaced the factory housings with smoked DMAX LED lights, but they didn’t last long as they ended up being much darker in person than I thought they’d have been, and simply looked out of place on the car. Despite best efforts sometimes parts just don’t work out and this was one of those times. They at least went to a good home and will hopefully wind up on another local S15.

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All things considered there haven’t been many surprises with this car, thus far. It has already taken many hours from many people despite just scratching the surface of the project, and will take many more in the years to come. This thing has consumed many nights and dollars and will continue to do so; and I couldn’t be happier with it. Like I said I knew that this would be a big project when I agreed to buy it and take on the task of bringing it back to its former glory, and I’m just as excited now as I was day one, to do just that.

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For the first months of its life with me I even had the car on regular insurance which allowed it to be daily driven, and I did just that to enjoy it as much as possible (plus see if anything would shake loose). This car is flawed, but fun. It has issues, but it has potential. My neighbours, who took quite an interest in the car as soon as they found out the wheel was on the wrong side, have been enjoying watching its progress and think it’s a pretty neat little thing. They weren’t even upset when it originally arrived on a flatbed looking the way it did…

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This will be a long journey but I’m looking forward to it, and the next step will be starting to install the various parts that have been piling up in my storage all winter as we continue to work through both restoring and modifying this little Nissan.

You know that whole YouTube trend of “I bought the cheapest (insert vehicle name here) in the country”? I wasn’t intending to, but I’m pretty sure I ended up doing just that. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

-Bill

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