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1988 Nissan Cefiro - CEF-Hero

True Japanese Street-Style Abounds in Liam Kirby’s ’88 Nissan Cefiro

Damon Young
Jul 31, 2013
Photographer: Peter Tarach

Before Liam Kirby was even born, designers and engineers at Nissan in Japan were hard at work. The year was 1987, and Toyota was sporting a strong sedan lineup led by its popular Mark II platform. Nissan needed a third sedan in addition to the R32 Skyline and Laurel to stay competitive. The company answered the call with the Nissan Cefiro: a RWD sedan that shared several chassis and engine components with Nissan's two existing four-doors. It's safe to assume the designers at Nissan never imagined that 24 years later one of their Cefiros would be ripping around at track events-in Canada of all places-powered by an engine built by the very manufacturer the car was built to compete against. As strange as it may sound, this Cefiro does just that.

The automotive journey began just a handful of years ago for Liam during the summer before his senior year of high school. He was sick of taking the bus and had been saving his money for more than a year with the intention of purchasing a proper RWD platform to build. There would only be enough cash left over to afford gas and insurance at the end of each month, but he knew it would be worth it.

1988 nissan cefiro SSR gartmaier Photo 2/11   |   1988 Nissan Cefiro - CEF-Hero

Liam ended up with a common platform for his first project car: an S13 240SX. In fact, his father had wanted to pick up an S13 for years, but Liam's mom wouldn't have it. Influenced by his father, Liam purchased an S13 of his own. As time went on, the eager high school student got a second part-time job to afford wheels, coilovers, and other parts for his 240.

The build continued, and Liam slowly transformed his S13 into a full-blown track car. While this made driving aggressively a blast, it left him with a loud and uncomfortable ride on the street. Being Liam's only mode of transportation, it was becoming impractical. Not to mention, the car began to rust, succumbing to the effects of harsh Toronto winters.

Liam decided it was time for something new. He wanted to build a car that could hold its own at drift events but still remain comfortable and reliable on the street. After discussing his thoughts with his friend Oliver, Liam was reminded of how much he wanted to build an FR sedan platform.

1988 nissan cefiro visual sugar vinyls Photo 3/11   |   1988 Nissan Cefiro - CEF-Hero

It's no secret that North America has missed out on a lot of cool Japanese cars over the last several decades. Finding a worthy FR sedan platform to work from would have been challenging in the United States, but thanks to Canada's relatively lenient 15-year importation law (when compared with the 25-year law in the United States,) Liam was able to find his imported RHD Cefiro shell without too much effort. Before he knew it, he was on his way home with his new Japanese sedan.

The first thing the new shell needed was a full set of suspension components, including front and rear subframes. Fortunately for Liam, the Cefiro shares nearly all its major suspension components with the S13 240SX. This meant he was able to repurpose a large majority of the parts he already had, including his Stance coilovers, Bings adjustable arms, S14 lower control arms and uprights, and the welded differential from his previous S13.

With everything usable from the 240SX swapped over to the Cefiro, Liam sold what was left to fund his new project. The next item to address was the powerplant. "I was really sick of the semibuilt SR20 from the 240SX, and since I was starting from scratch, I decided that I might as well sell it and make the same power numbers with a stock setup," Liam explains. After realizing the Cefiro shares the same six-cylinder-ready engine bay as the R32 Skyline, he decided to bump up to an engine with a bit more displacement than his previous setup. But to the dismay of the engineers at Nissan, Liam didn't choose to go with the RB26. Instead, he turned to one of its rival's most beloved engines: the Toyota 1JZGTE.

Moving from a common platform with a plentiful aftermarket to a car rarely seen in North America with an unorthodox engine swap would be far from easy. However, Liam followed a specific plan for the build to ensure that everything would be done right the first time. Before the new engine could find its way into the bay, a set of custom fender tubs was fabricated to allow for the additional steering angle produced by the modified S13 suspension. Despite a lack of previous fabrication or metalwork experience, Liam dove in head first. Before long, the custom fender tubs were in place, and the bay was completely shaved, welded, and painted.

1988 nissan cefiro 1JTGTE Photo 4/11   |   1988 Nissan Cefiro - CEF-Hero

With the engine bay prepped, the inline-six Toyota engine made its way into its new and unfamiliar home. The 1JZ was freshened up with a GReddy timing belt, 2JZ water pump, and a slew of Aeroquip push-lock fittings, hoses, and bungs. Liam also equipped the car with a Mocal power steering cooler and a large Vibrant intercooler to ensure this former family hauler would be up to the frequent drifting and track abuse it would soon see.

Unfortunately, an attractive exterior wasn't high on the priority list for the designers of this practical Japanese sedan. Luckily, Liam had a vision for the car's exterior. "There weren't many cool Cefiros on the Internet for me to go off of. It isn't easy building a car when you have no background on your computer of a cool version for motivation." He decided to treat the exterior to an Origin Lab body kit before completely repainting it at Diamond Autobody. The aero selection, when combined with the car's low stance and custom 3.5-inch HNC Material exhaust tips, gives the car a stunning appearance reminiscent of traditional big-body JDM drift sedans.

Another key component to the overall visual success of this Cefiro is the rolling gear. Wheel choice can make or break a build like this, but Liam nailed it. The car is equipped with a set of beautiful, staggered SSR Gartmaiers, measuring in at 18x9.5 up front and 18x10.5 out back. Aggressive offsets and widths ensure this sedan doesn't blend in with the others in the grocery store parking lot.

Interior refinement was something Liam's S13 lacked. With this in mind, he decided to leave all the interior panels intact. A set of R32 GTS-T seats provide the occupants with a little extra support without being too wild for street duty. The handbrake, center console, and pedals have also been upgraded to items from the Cefiro's R32 brother. Cleverly placed gauges from AEM make sure everything under the hood stays in check.

And there you have it: an unlikely hero in a strange land. The engineers that designed the Nissan Cefiro would have never dreamed of a slammed Cefiro sliding sideways to the hum of a Toyota 1JZ on the other side of the globe, but Liam Kirby has proved to them and everyone else that with enough dedication and heart, anything's possible.

Specs & Details
'88 Nissan Cefiro

Engine Toyota 1JZGTE inline-six

Engine Modifications GReddy timing belt; Toyota 2JZGTE water pump; wiring harness by Brendan Drew; Driftmotion 57 trim turbo kit; PBM oil filter relocation; Vibrant intercooler, couplers, material; Blitz blow-off valve; Aeroquip push-lock fittings, hose, bungs; Centerline Motorsports oil catch can

Engine Management Stock ECU with HKS Fuel Cut Defender

Drivetrain Pat's Driveline custom driveshaft; SG Motorsports shifter extension; welded differential

1988 nissan cefiro origin lab aero Photo 8/11   |   1988 Nissan Cefiro - CEF-Hero

Suspension Stance coilovers; S14 240SX lower control arms, uprights; Bings rear upper control arms, traction arms (f/r); HICAS lock bar; S13 240SX steering rack; SPL outer tie rod ends; Tein inner tie rods with angle spacers; Cusco strut bar (f); GReddy strut bar (r); Mocal power steering cooler

Interior Nissan Skyline R32 GTS-T seats, handbrake, center console, pedals; Neo Motorsports chrome shift knob; AEM wide-band AFR, boost, water temp, oil pressure gauges

Exterior Origin Lab aero painted by Diamond Autobody; vinyl work by Visualsugar

Wheels, Tires & Brakes SSR Gartmaier 18x9.5" +5 (f) 18x10.5" +14 (r); Sumitomo HTR Z3 215/40/18 (f); Nankang NS-2 225/40/18 (r); ARP extended wheel studs; Project Kics R40 lug nuts

Special Thanks My dad, who lent me the money to buy the Cefiro shell in the beginning, Brendan Drew from "Hotwired," Jesse Trnka, Oliver Flower, everyone local who came out to sit there while I hammered away or lend a hand, and all the Zilvia.net dudes who were stoked on my build.

By Damon Young
22 Articles

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