It's safe to say that we're no strangers to complex, high-level project builds here at Auto Finesse. In fact, we've taken on cars, trucks, bikes and scooters (and even an AirStream trailer conversion) hailing from just about every continent over the past few years, and they've all been infinitely popular on the show scene, most of them breaking the internet as they went.
But, it has to be said that there's special, and then there's seriously special and the latest project you've probably seen making its way from show to show in the past few weeks, is firmly the latter. Our Nissan S15 has already appeared all around Europe, on a huge impromptu tour, scooping trophies at the prestigious Players Classic at Goodwood and Ultrace in Poland. It was even - quite literally - put on a pedestal for the Liberty Walk Stand at the ultra-exclusive Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Naturally there's been a ton of questions from followers of the project. All the usual whys? Whats? And hows? There's also been more than a couple of comments and opinions on both sides of the fence. But what actually is it? A dragster? A show car? A track weapon, hill-climber or heritage piece? The truth is that it's all of those and much more.
First and foremost, and perhaps most important of all, what is build does is scratch a long-time itch for AF. The Japanese car stable has been famous for throwing up some of the wildest creations on the car scene for decades now, what they do is a style, or indeed mixture of styles, that's completely different from the home-grown cars you'll find in Europe or the US. For Japanese cars, bonkers really is in the blood, and what James - the boss of all things Auto Finesse - had in mind from the start was THE car to bring a slice of utter madness to the project collection.
We have other Japanese icons on the AF fleet of course, but what with the Yaris GR and R32 Skyline GT-R having the best of the best in terms of modifications, but ultimately remaining reasonably, not to mention deliberately, subtle (for now anyway) the S15 was put together as something else entirely. In the end we went all-in to achieve not just an epic build, but one that brings together many of the big names and legends in the Japanese tuning industry. Those who know their Japanese metal just know that this car is legit - and what's more it's built to be used and abused going forward. There are many cars out there with this sort of heritage that have fallen by the wayside, sat covered in dust, rusting away, unused. That's not what we wanted for this car. This is a story of evolution, taking a legendary car that hadn't been seen for a good few years, reinventing it, and thrusting it back into the limelight…
James, we've been told, has had this build in mind for a good while now. In fact, he'd been keeping an eye out for the perfect S15 base car, pretty much since the Skyline was completed last year. Like we said, this was to scratch the itch, perhaps even the physical need, for something completely insane. We've a few mad cars sitting at the Detailing Academy of course, but nothing quite as extreme as this one.
The search for a base car was as long and arduous as ever. S15s aren't exactly hard to find, even now 20-years after they were last in production. But getting our hands on a good one for this particular project? Well, that's a different story. Plenty of cars were considered along the way, in all states of repair, and with all the ludicrous pricing these things seem to command to boot. But one car that James kept going back to was a fresh import from our friends at Harlow Jap Autos - a zero-yon, drag spec S15 originally built by the legendary shop, Endless in Hyogo-ken, Japan.
Actually, this car is a little more than that, it was at one time their very own "no-expense-spared' demo car and, for those in the know at least, Endless are one of the most renowned drag racing specialists that helped to kick off the straight-line racing scene in Japan. Back in the "90s they put together some of the fastest racers out there, and they're still going to this day, building big-power, road-legal GT-Rs and the like. They're an iconic Japanese name right up there with the likes of HKS and Top Secret.
Sugino-san and his team have never been adverse to chopping up Nissan's finest in the quest for perfection on the dragstrip, there were even a few famous racers that went under the knife in the Japanese countryside over the years. This particular S15 was actually quite the famous car back in the day, too. It was also one of the fastest, completing 9-second quarters all over Japan on the strip, and reportedly on the street. You just know you're looking at a serious piece of drag weaponry when you see a weight plate rack in the boot, a single seat in the middle, and a massively spec'd engine that revs past 9000rpm at the front, eh?
Like all serious tuners though, eventually Endless moved on. Once it had done its job, this pro-built Silvia fell into obscurity in favour of a string of new demo cars, sitting around for a few years before being sourced by HJA and brought over to the UK as something of a nostalgic, although fully working, museum piece. Such is the lust in Europe for this sort of heritage, you'd think that such a legendary car would have been snapped up quickly here, too. But the truth is that not many have use for a 950bhp road-legal dragster, and it sat around for a good while before James saw an opportunity to use it as a base car for the ultimate AF Project.
Now of course, no one took this decision lightly. This is a car with legendary status after all. But, rather than seeing it go unused, gathering dust in some private collection, there was the opportunity for reinvention. And that, it has to be said, is the Japanese way. Big-name tuners in Japan think nothing of taking a legendary car and adapting it to fit their needs, and in that way, we think that the guys at Endless would love seeing one of their cars reinvented for a new generation. There's no doubt that for some it's a controversial build, and for others it's inspirational - all we know is that this is a car that just needs to be used, that was the whole point when they built it back in the noughties.
But then again, it didn't hurt that this one came with a simply immense engine spec, not least a fully forged 2.2 stroker with an HKS sequential box, an extra 200bhp of laughing gas and a T88 turbo as big as your head. Getting close to a 1000bhp from an SR20 4-pot is no mean feat, and that's before you even think about taking the brave decision to flick on the nitrous. These sort of under bonnet antics would cost upwards of 100k to build nowadays… and we're not talking Yen, either!
The thing is though, major work was going to be needed. While the car was reasonably clean for two decades of abuse, it was only fit for its initial purpose - going extremely fast in a straight line. A therein lies the problem. A drag spec doesn't necessarily translate to what"s needed for a supreme AF project on the road, or the track. The stresses on the car, along with other vital considerations like cornering, stopping and safety, are completely different. Our project would have to be built for multiple disciplines including, not just drag racing, but track work, hill climbing and of course looking amazing on our stand in between motorsport outings. And, when you think about it, that's like taking a professional touring car and deciding to make it suitable for the Dakar Rally. We may have had the power, but an immense round of chassis and styling upgrades was in order…
So, upgrading the chassis with a full weld-in cage was the first concern. A simple bolt-in, dash-dodger may be adequate if you stuff it into the wall on the strip, but it's not going to cut the mustard with all that power on the track. The same can be said for a simple set of coilovers, drag racing slicks and a brake setup that was pretty much stock - not what you'd call ideal for our purposes.
No sooner had the car been rolled into the Detailing Academy (after a few obligatory burnouts, naturally) was the interior and dash stripped out ready for transport to SW Motorsports for a full FIA spec roll cage.
With decades of experience, these guys are the masters of chassis design and fabrication, and the one-off computer-designed cage they put together for us and welded into place may look mad (and will certainly keep the driver safe if they ever end up on the roof) but the real story here is its ability to fully stiffen the chassis by triangulating all the major points inside - in other words, it's the first step in making this a proper race car.
This cage is what gives the final structure it's strength when hitting the twisty stuff, but it also houses one of the craziest additions to the project - a full set of LeMans-style air jacks. These four pneumatic rams work together to lift the whole car up, holding it in place for extended periods, without twisting the chassis, allowing lightning quick wheel changes. You simply plug in the Krontec compressed air bottle and up she goes. It's pretty handy too, with the styling plans for this car, we knew from the start that getting a jack under this one would be a bit of a challenge. Anyway, the air jacks have to be tied into the cage at strategic chassis points and these were expertly fabricated and installed by the guys at SW before shipping the car back to us, ready to take care of the exterior.
Now, with the interior evolving from door-slammer dragstrip weapon to something you'd find on a pure race-bread track car, the outside simply had to do the same - it had to be taken to the next level!
Of course, there's no surprises that the original Endless drag car was built purely to be fit for purpose in terms of styling, in fact, aside from a set of overfenders on the rear and an aftermarket front bumper there wasn't any. It's no secret that James wasn't a fan of the look, so the AF evolution would have to be something completely different to just about every other S15 out there. It had to scream race car, but at the same time, remain respectful to what is already a legendary car. The answer came with an ultra-rare kit from another Japanese icon - Liberty Walk.
Kato-san and co are renowned for putting together some of the maddest body styling on the planet, making them perhaps the hottest name in styling over the past few years. You literally can't wander around the world's biggest shows for more than 3-seconds without falling over a GT-R, McLaren, Lamborghini or Audi R8 sporting one of their creations. This kit though, is the most special of them all, because developing it was a passion project that harks back to their roots.
The main man, Kato-san, has been on the scene for decades and decades, building some of Japan's most famous street and race cars long before bolt-on overfenders on supercars became one of the world's most fashionable accessories. His own collection of classics, including a couple of rather legendary Bosozoku-style Hakosuka and Kenmeri Skylines, is a sight to behold in itself. But the Super Silhouette kit range he designed more recently - first for the LBWK R34 Silhouette Skyline and then for their own 200SX S15 - is not only inspired from genuine Group 5 race cars back in the day but, it's a super-rare - like 40-grand a pop rare - kit that's not one for mass production, each is certificated and made bespoke for each customer. In fact, there's only one other S15 in the world with this particular kit - and it's Kato-san's own car!
And sure, it's not cheap, but that's adds even more to the race flavour. It's the old story, right? The only way to end up with a fortune in motorsport, is to start with an even bigger fortune. What with true racing pedigree being a huge part of this build, James thought there could be nothing better than styling inspired by the 570bhp Nichira Silvia S12 Group 5 Nissan from the early 1980s (originally piloted by Japanese racing icon Kazuyoshi Hoshino). And he was right, what you're looking at here is simply a modern interpretation for a more up-to-date Silvia derived from a car that saw the track 20-years before the S15 had even been dreamt up at the Nissan factory.
We worked closely with guys at Liberty Walk Europe to have our umpteen-piece kit specially manufactured in Japan and shipped to their premises in Northampton, and pretty soon we found ourselves building the very first Liberty Walk Super Silhouette S15 not just in Europe, but anywhere outside of Japan.
So, we had the cage and we had the styling, and now it was time to meld it all together into one awesome race car. This, it almost goes without saying, needed an expert paintwork specialist well-versed in creating LBWK cars. Rather sensibly we opted for the paint shop that Liberty Walk Europe make their first port of call when putting together their own demo cars - ColourKraft in Northampton.
The process - even though a big reveal at Players Classic was looming on the horizon - couldn't be rushed. This isn't just a useable motorsport car after all, it had to be a show car with perfect panel gaps and concours-level paintwork. Unlike many a race project out there, this multi-purpose creation couldn't be a little rough round the edges, it may add to the charm on plenty of racers that rarely get seen up close, but it won't win you any points in the show and shine arena.
All this meant that the team at ColourKraft had to test fit the kit, make any adjustments for fuel caps and the like, and repair any dings on this for already-modified and well-used drag car. The whole thing had to be fully prepped inside and out before even thinking about filling up the paint gun. A long and thankless task we have no doubt.
They also had to mask and paint the cage, before giving everything else the final few coats of the whitest of white hues - Ford Frozen White. Suffice to say that there's multiple stages involved here, with many parts being painted off the car and refitted to ensure perfection, even on the bits you can't see.
In fact, the S15 coming out of the booth at ColourKraft seemed to be just the start. Cutting the dashboard around the cage, plumbing in the nitrous system and air jacks, and fitting a duo of new race batteries so we could actually run a passenger seat were all tasks that had to be completed before it left the building… and, dare we say it? Maybe they were the most straightforward ones.
There was also the small matter of further modifying the chassis for both track and showtime use, first with a huge set of custom machined KSport brakes, and then a full air ride kit. Yes, that's right, this car not only stops on a button but it's running air for super-lows at the shows!
The suspension setup in question is a mix of some of the biggest names in the slamming cars business, specially put together by the parts specialists at The Performance Company. It includes AirRex struts, a super compact AccuAir tank with an integrated compressor and Air Lift Performance 3P management - a mashup like none other we think you'll agree. And, whatever you think about air on a race car (and let's not forget that NASCAR were doing it as far back as the 1950s) we all know that nowadays the top-end of the air ride market is thoroughly track tested for the very best performance. But, even so, our air setup can also be swapped out in minutes for a set of even more motorsport-focused BC ER Series coilovers, which come with external reservoirs and all the trimmings for the most extreme track work. This is, after all, a car built for purpose… and, come to think of it, those the air-jacks come in mighty handy every time a quick pit-stop fiddle underneath the arches is in order.
Speaking about what's under those huge wide arches, another one of the more mouth watering additions is the equally huge custom forged Rotiform WGR-M wheels shod in super chunky Nankang AR1 race rubber. Suffice to say that this kind of epic widebody styling comes the need for girth and a silly-low offset that doesn't quite come off your average shelf, even for the biggest wheel brands. That and the original drag rims and 315 Hoosier drag radials aren't exactly what you'd call an all-round motorsport setup. Custom made was the only way to go here so instead we turned to WheelPros Europe to order our new rims which would be custom-machined, built up and shipped directly from Rotiform in the USA.
But, it's not just about the big additions like the wheels, or those jaw-dropping BRIDE seats and Schroth 6-point harnesses (sourced by the rare import part specialists at Co-ordSport), and the sparkling new Liberty Walk Steering Wheel, there's plenty of details that may go unnoticed at first glance. A custom modified titanium exhaust system, adjustable chassis arms and bracing, custom laser-cut foot plates, machined calipers with LBWK logos and a full plumbed-in fire extinguisher system, to name but a few. But, while we understand that it's easy to get caught up on the big stuff, especially when there's so much of it, we think the mark of the best show cars is that every time you come back you'll discover just a little bit more.
There was of course, one last job before the car could make its debut - no racer is ever complete without the all-important livery, right? The team at Identity Wraps in Kent are used to fettling our vehicles, they've done - let's just say - more than a couple over the years. This time though they were tasked with applying a custom-designed livery that, once again, is inspired by the original S12 race car and Liberty Walk's own Super Silhouette S15.
As you can see though, rather than the more traditional yellow and white hue, we went with our own splash of teal for the accent colour… and we're so glad we did. In fact, what with the way it looks now, it's hard to believe that this monster can still be driven on the road!
So, that's the full story of the Auto Finesse Super Silhouette S15… or, should we say, the story so far! In any case, when this jaw-dropper is not traveling around various motorsport venues or being displayed at events all over Europe, you're always welcome to come and take a closer look where it lives at our flagship store at the Auto Finesse Detailing Academy in Bishop's Stortford, Herts. (Open Monday-Friday 9am - 5:30pm). Trust us when we say, it's worth getting up close and personal with this one!
Endless-built Nissan SR20 DET with custom lined block. Tomei 2.2 forged stroker kit including pistons, H-beam rods and crank. HKS valvetrain system including valves, valve springs, rocker stopper and valve stem seals. Ported and polished head with squish pads removed. HKS drag-spec head gasket. Trust T88-34D Turbo. Endless Plenum. Tomei SPL pro cams. Trust manifold and external wastegate with screamer pipe. Tomei extended baffled sump. Custom titanium exhaust. Trust/Greddy GTR drag intercooler and piping. 100mm throttle body. Trust/Greddy catch tank, radiator and oil cooler. Sard 1000cc injectors. Trust billet fuel rail. Endless custom metal fuel lines. 3 x Bosch 044 fuel pumps. Sard fuel swirl pot. HKS 5 speed sequential gearbox. HKS Fcon v pro, mixture controller and EVC 6 boost controller, AEM Wideband. Nitrous Express N20 system with bottle warmer. Colour coded teal rocker cover.
Custom SW Motorsports weld-in roll cage in teal. 11 and 13x18-inch custom Rotiform WGR-M wheels with adonised teal centres and polished hardware. 315/30x18 and 395/30x18 Nankang AR1 tyres. AirRex struts. Accuair air tank. Air Lift Performance 3P manifold and management. Additional BC Racing ER-Series race coilovers. YellowSpeed four air jack system with Krontec bottle, trolly and lance. Custom machined KSport 8 pot calipers with 356mm floating rotors (front) 4 pot with 330mm rotors (rear). Pagid RS29 pads. Line lock. Adjustable rear arms. Nissan GT-R rear LSD housing and drive shaft. ATS LSD.
Liberty Walk Super Silhouette Widebody. Fire extinguisher pull. Relocated alloy fuel filler. Wing-mounted air jack nozzle. Resprayed Ford Frozen White. Custom AF x Identity Wraps race livery.
Bride Xero RS bucket seats and rails. Schroth 6-point harnesses. Liberty Walk steering wheel. MOMO boss. Custom SW Motorsports kickplates and doorcards. Lifeline fire extinguisher system. 2x relocated race batteries. Drag racing rear weight plate rack.
Liberty Walk Europe - www.libertywalk-eu.com
Harlow Jap Autos - www.harlow-jap-autos.co.uk
Co-ordSport - www.cordsport.com
The Performance Company - www.theperformance.co
Wheel Pros Europe - www.eu.wheelpros.com
Rotiform - www.rotiform.com
Nankang Tyres - www.nakangtyre.co.uk
SW Motorsports - www.sw.motorsports.uk
BC Racing - www.bc-racing.co.uk
KSport - www.ksport.co.uk