Project BTCC Wannabe

Despite having attended numerous drift competitions and grassroots events this year, I’ve only been sat in the drivers seat at one of them. A mixture of lack of time to perform essential car maintenance, along with being well aware of the ever-increasing costs involved with attending a drift event, were the main reasons for me putting any ambitions to drive at events on hold for the time being.

It seems kind of ironic that pursuing STL as a full-time business has resulted in me doing less drifting but I guess that’s the way things go sometimes; I’ve got enough to stress about as it is without having to worry about breaking my drift car! Saying this, I have thoroughly enjoyed the drift events that I’ve attended as a spectator this year, collecting as much content as possible for the blog and social media channels. However, I’d be lying if I said that I’d been standing on the sidelines with an overwhelming urge to be out there driving myself. I knew it was time to take a break.

You might be wondering why you are now being presented with a FWD Nissan saloon. Well, as my drifting ambitions waned somewhat, I started to spend those few valuable minutes I get on YouTube a day searching out other forms of motorsport, as opposed to my usual diet of Naoki Nakamura entry compilation videos and D1SL event coverage.

What I immediately stumbled across was footage from rounds of the British Touring Car Championship that were held during the mid to late-90s. As a youngster, this series was my first introduction into motorsport (as I have previously mentioned on here) and, as such, I immersed myself into re-watching these races from twenty-odd years ago (my “Watch Later” list on YouTube was enormous). I’ve put together a little BTCC playlist on the STL YouTube channel so you can take a look at some of them too, should you wish.

Naturally, this led to me dwelling over the idea of having a go at regular circuit driving. I considered preparing my C33 Laurel for the task but, when I put together a list of areas that needed addressing in order for it to be able to work reliably and keep fluid temperatures down over the course of a couple of laps, I thought it best to shelve the idea and come back to it later.

On top of this, I wanted a car I could really push without putting myself at risk of stacking it into the barriers at the first opportunity. Driving drift cars for the last six years or so has really hampered any sort of confidence I might have had in driving quickly; sure, I have no qualms with a third gear clutch kick flick entry along the Driftland wall but we all know that the average drift car is not particularly well-suited to late braking, aggressive turning and other requirements for driving quickly on a circuit. As much as I wanted to see how 300bhp or SR20 power through a 2-way short ratio diff would gel with me on track, I decided that I should probably think sensibly for a minute and settle for something FWD and naturally aspirated. Something that would have no problem with doing thirty minute sessions on track without breaking a sweat, ensuring maximum seat time without massacring tyres, brake pads and driveshafts.

Somewhat coincidentally, it was around this time that a few of my closest friends and I were also discussing buying cars with a similar criteria. In particular, cars that they enjoyed the most during the 90s BTCC era that we all grew up in. With our drift car building knowledge and experience, we hoped that we could replicate the “slammed stock body over 19s” look that featured on posters in our respective bedrooms all those years ago.

The thought of us setting aside our drift cars for a selection of Vauxhall Vectras, Ford Mondeos, Renault Lagunas and Peugeot 406s seemed hilariously bizarre and so far removed from what we were used to. My friend Mat immediately jumped the gun, having picked up a P10 Nissan Primera eGT for an almost laughable price and booked onto a track day at Cadwell Park. I documented this particular event in a previous blog post and, as a result of me enjoying the day so much from the passenger seat, I knew I needed to get involved too.

What followed was a long and arduous trawl of the deepest corners of the internet as I tried to find the perfect car…or maybe not. Less than 24 hours after we returned home from Cadwell Park, Matt, Jimmy and I were on our way back up north after picking up my new P10 Primera eGT that Jimmy had located for me. The seller’s advert had made the Primera seem like a bit of a rotbox which, in honesty, didn’t really bother me as I had no intention of it being show n’ shine ready.

On the contrary, after spending a lot of time probing every corner of the car before parting with my cash (and then some more time studying it in daylight the following day) I realised that he had grossly exaggerated the P10’s pitfalls, possibly to avoid any tyre kickers trying to knock him down on the price. On the one hand, this is absolutely great as I’ve got myself a perfectly useable daily driver for the upcoming winter months. But, on the other hand, I’m now reluctant to rip all of the interior out and crack on with the more serious modifications because it all seems too nice. First world problems, eh.

The reason for going with a Primera was that I was keen to stick within the Nissan stable. Having owned an S13 and a PS13 on top of my existing Y32 Cedric and C33 Laurel, I thought it’d be fairly novel to add yet another 1992 Nissan to the mix. Plus, I was sort of hoping that I might be able to mix and match some parts down the line.

The side-on shot is an essential photo to take whenever you buy a new car. It means you can crack open Photoshop, slam it into the ground (virtually, at least) and try out various wheel ideas.

Moving on to the cherry atop the metaphorical boxy silver cake and a peek under the bonnet revealed the SR20DE. 90s BTCC rules dictated a maximum two litre displacement, with the Nissan guys achieving between 275 and a reported 325bhp over the course of their campaigns in the championship. While its an ideal starting point, I’ve got a long way to go before I can extract a substantial amount more than the factory 140bhp from my four cylinder lump. Most importantly though is that, despite the ridiculously long second and third gears, it’s just enough power to have some country lane fun.

The interior is almost identical to pretty much any 90s Japanese FWD car and it definitely doesn’t feel too removed from my old EK Civics. A super light clutch pedal, sharp brakes (that immediately fade after a few heavy-footed moments) and a gigantic steering wheel seem to be the prerequisites for 90s Japanese family cars.

Over the past few weeks I’ve honestly just been enjoying the P10 as it is. It seems strange to have a car that is both enjoyable to drive and relatively economical; on some nights I’ve even found myself going out for countryside drives, just for fun. No pothole dodging, fretting about bumpers being ripped off, listening out for exploding driveshafts and keeping one eye on engine temps at all times, just pure naturally aspirated enjoyment.

However, if there’s anything the Primera has highlighted, it’s is my aforementioned lack of experience of driving a relatively normal car quickly, without the fear of any drift car related handling nuances. I still have a long way to go before I can begin to find the limits of the chassis; it feels almost unnatural to throw a car into tight corners and get on the power early to pull it round but, I guess that’s where my lack of FWD knowledge shows. I must say though that driving this car at 75% and wringing its neck at low speeds is so much more fun than wrestling with my RWD C33 and trying to keep it on the road at 50% commitment, all while being acutely aware that a couple of seconds of wide-open throttle in third or fourth gear would send you into triple digit speeds all too quickly.

Saying all that though, there were still a few essential things that I needed to take care of before the trusty P10 makes an appearance at its first track day. The first of these mods though was particularly unimportant in terms of function but hugely important to me in terms of making the interior feel like less of an elderly gentleman’s car. Out came the rubber floor mats, in went my red and black chequered items. These are worth 5bhp alone (each).

Next up was to take care of the gigantic OEM steering wheel. Not only could I not jump between the pedals quickly without my knees hitting the outer rim but my minor OCD was constantly being triggered by the Nissan badge not being perfectly central within the wheel. Thankfully, this being an old Nissan, replacing it with something better took just a few minutes. The horn cover came off with a couple of prods from my thumbs and, with the wheel itself removed…

…it was time to throw on a standard issue HKB boss from Driftworks.

Within twenty minutes, one of my trusty Nardi Deep Corns was fitted and everything instantly felt better, particularly because I could position the wheel lower and not have my knees collide with it. Also, while you’re looking, please note the audio tape holder just below the heater controls. I’d love to move the head unit down there and fit some gauges in its place but…you never know when you’re going to need some cassette storage.

And, of course, the final addition was a Broadway mirror as no Nissan interior is complete without one. Now I’ve got an even better view of my slightly sagging headlining!

So, what’s next before its first track outing? More of the essentials really: swapping the front discs, calipers and pads out for some larger and more durable items from the Nissan parts bin is definitely on top of the list. Some 15 or 16″ wheels with sticky tyres will tide me by for the time being, along with swapping over my bucket seat and harness from my C33.

The most important thing for this car though is to build it on a strict budget. I know all too well how easy it is to throw money at an old Nissan only to lose interest in it for a while but I want the P10 to remain as cheap to build, maintain and run as possible. If I can go to a track day and have my only expenses be entry fee, fuel and brake pad related and still come home with a big grin on my face, I’ll be over the moon.

However, I’d be lying if the above Photoshop edit that I put together hadn’t been keeping me awake at night. After all, this sort of style is what brought me here in the first place. We’ll see how the first few track days go but, in all honesty, I can see 326POWER coilovers, front and rear tubs and 18/19″ 8J wheels in the P10’s future (without centre locks though…or maybe not, who knows). Oh, and of course, it’ll still be kept road legal throughout all of this. Obviously.

It feels great to try something so similar but also so new. I’m excited to see what comes next (isn’t it great being able to say that about a FWD 25-year old family soon car!?).

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