Given the automotive insanity that's rolled out at the Tokyo Auto Salon every January, stealing the show is not an easy thing to do. There's always one car that defines the annual Japanese performance show, though, and back in '13 that was the "Nardo Special 380SX." Given what BenSopra's creation is comprised of, it's not surprising why, either. This was a mash-up of epic proportions—one part iconic RPS13 chassis reinvented for the modern era by style master Kei Miura at TRA Kyoto; one part cutting-edge R35 GT-R in a VR38DETT powerplant stroked to 4.1L and massaged to 1,100 hp by Trust. And then there was its intended purpose: gunning for 250 mph on a famous 7.8-mile-long banked oval in Southern Italy for Option magazine's Nardo Top Speed Challenge. The 380SX fused beauty with excess, and the tuning world lapped it up.
Despite its credentials, achieving a top speed of more than 400 km/h was always an ambitious goal for BenSopra's Kazunori Ueta. Sure, by packing more punch than a Bugatti Veyron, his Nissan had the firepower to get the job done, but at those sorts of speeds there are many more mechanical factors that come into play, let alone the laws of physics to contend with. But we never got to see how fast the 380SX could go. When the Nardo Ring event played out a couple of months after TAS, for whatever reason the BenSopra machine was notable by its absence. Powerhouse Amuse, Top Secret Performance Engineering Service, and Phoenix's Powers were left to challenge the benchmark in their mega-powered R35 GT-Rs, but disappointingly, all three fell short of the mark. The quickest of the bunch—Top Secret's Super GTR1200—hit a proverbial brick wall at 377 km/h (234 mph), proving just how tough of a task attaining 400 km/h actually is.
But top speed is of little consequence to the 380SX now, though, and when we caught up with the car recently, it was not at a test track in the Italian countryside, but at Sydney Motorsport Park in Australia for the final round of the 2014 Formula DRIFT Asia season. That's right, BenSopra's famed Nardo Special has been re-engineered to slide!
A shift in thinking isn't the only thing that's changed, either—the 380SX is now owned by D1 Grand Prix veteran Daisuke Hasegawa and as its new livery suggests, HKS has come on board in a big way. It could have been resigned to the back of a workshop under a dusty cover as many displaced icons of the Japanese tuning scene tend to end up, but this is one machine that's living to fight another day—albeit in a slightly different way than it was originally envisaged. For Hasegawa-san, it all made perfect sense, though. The RPS13 is a proven drift chassis and the VR38 is one of the world's best and most tunable engines. So if you take both elements and poke them in the all right places, then surely you're going end up with a competitive pro-spec package! As it has turned out, his logic was correct.
For as many alterations that have been made to the 380SX since it was sold, an equal amount of modifications has remained unchanged, including that bodykit. Mixing form with function, the BenSopra x Rocket Bunny collaboration was one of the defining aspects of the original build, and given it was primarily designed for a wider track and increased downforce, Hasegawa-san saw absolutely no reason to mess with it. It's all there—from the front bumper and over-fenders with integrated side steps, to the vented BenSopra hood and chassis-mounted GT wing (same wing used on the R35 GT-R). The raw carbon fiber accents—which run to the BenSopra front splitter and rear diffuser—are in clean contrast to the RPS13's stark white paintwork, and fresh RAYS Gram Lights 57FXX wheels and G-Meister vinyl design.
In the engine bay things aren't so familiar. Yes, there's still a VR38DETT at the car's heart, but it's a totally new HKS setup that's been pieced together by Matchless Crowd Racing—aka, MCR.
For the newfound drift focus, things could have easily been turned down in the engine department—after all, a lightly tuned VR38 pumping out 600 hp in a stripped-out 180SX chassis is going to make for a pretty exciting power to weight ratio. But 600 hp was never going to cut it. And neither was 700, 800, 900 or even the magic "1,000 hp" for that matter. Hasegawa-san wanted as much horsepower as could be provided without compromising on tractability, and HKS and MCR happily obliged with a 1,200hp powerhouse! Yes, the work of a hard-tuned V-6 twin-turbo art that now consumes every inch of the Nissan's engine bay is even more powerful than the Trust motor specified for the car's expected Nardo jaunt.
Like the original engine, the HKS VR38 has been pushed out to 4.1L and fully reworked for strength and performance. To say that HKS threw its whole R35 tuning catalog at this engine would be selling it short, because with a host of custom parts in the mix it goes beyond GT1000R spec. An HKS stroker kit is at the backbone of the build, adding forged pistons, forged rods, and a 95.5mm billet crankshaft to the V-6 block for extra capacity and the durability required for four-digit power. Up top, the cylinder heads feature HKS high-lift camshafts and heavy-duty valvesprings for high-rpm performance. With its extra capacity and bigger cams, the VR38 is able to consume a lot more air and fuel than it otherwise would, hence the two huge HKS GTII 8267 turbos to exploit its full potential. The custom-spec turbos sits on HKS cast manifolds and run perfectly symmetrical setups that include 50mm wastegates and a twin V-mount intercooler arrangement. On the intake side of the equation, you'll find HKS Suction Pipe and surge tank components, plus a twin injector kit providing the fuel supply. It's all controlled through an HKS F-CON V Pro engine management system tuned by MCR.
The driveline has been largely carried over from the Nardo spec and features an Australian-made six-speed Hollinger dogbox with sequential shift and an Ogura Racing Clutch flywheel and clutch package. An entire BNR34 Skyline GT-R rear end was originally swapped into the RPS13 and still remains running a 3:5:1 final drive. Considering what we saw in Sydney, the 380SX has no problem putting the might of 1,000-plus rear-wheel horsepower down to the ground—or at least turning 265/35R18-sized Yokohama ADVAN AD08R tires into fluffy white clouds with the slightest right-foot provocation anyway. It's just brutal.
In BenSopra's hands, the chassis had been prepped the right way with a full weld-in Saito rollcage, stitch-welding throughout the body shell and custom front wheels tubs. All Hasegawa-san had to do was ditch the previously installed air-cup suspension and upgrade to HKS Hipermax coilovers while adding in all the necessary adjustable arms, links, and rods to be able to fine-tune the suspension geometry for oversteer accuracy. For braking, Project Mu calipers and slotted two-piece rotors were installed front and rear.
Having been built for full-blown competition, the interior is a purely functional space with a distinct focus on weight reduction. It's nicely done, though, with a highly polished carbon-fiber BenSopra dashboard skin housing an AiM MXL Strada digital display and twin PLX M-300 wideband digital A/F meters in the instrument void. Bride Low Max seats flanked by Takata Racing harnesses are featured, too, as does a Vertex deep-dish steering wheel—Hasegawa not forgetting his history with Car Make T&E.
From maximum velocity to maximum oversteer, the BenSopra machine lives on in the spirit of the speed and lunacy it was originally created for. Perhaps it will make a trip to the Nardo Ring one day; maybe a pair of Mickey Thompson ET Drags will be slapped on the rear and the RPS13 pointed down the dragstrip (we'd like to see that!), or possibly it will just keep shredding tires in the quest for drift glory. Only time will tell, but whatever the future holds one thing is for certain—the 380SX will always remain a defining car of the JDM tuning scene.
Tokyo Auto Salon '13
More than two years ago, we selected the BenSopra 380SX as the car of TAS. The engine was originally swapped from the Blitz R35 GT-R demo car, then built up by GReddy. Today, the RSP13 owned by pro drifter Daisuke Hasegawa has been upgraded completely with HKS goodies, makes roughly 100 more horsepower, and will always remain one the best JDM cars to have been created in history!