There's over the top, and then there's this... You're looking at what used to be a '96 Nissan 200SX. Today, it's a carbon-clad, Chevy-powered monster that's won the Internet over. What you probably don't know is that it wasn't built in Japan or North America but by an unlikely group of American hot rod specialists from northern Italy.
The story begins 20 miles outside of Venice, behind the doors of Italian tuning firm Brill Steel Motorsport. Brill Steel isn't the 1,000hp Ferrari or Lamborghini snake-charming shop you think it is. On the list of the American car tuner's recently completed work: a fuel-injection-converted, GM V8-swapped 1951 Mercury. Which is exactly why the company's decision to modify a $3,000 Japanese compact coupe doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Brill Steel owner and engine specialist Enrico Sartori explains the whole thing: "We love drifting, and we love time attack." He goes on to talk about the company's E36 M3 drift car it assembled in 2008 before rationalizing the Nissan buildup: "Three years ago, I bought the S14 chassis and decided to install an LS into it like a Formula D car." According to Sartori, the chassis will primarily be used for drifting, however, time attack hasn't been ruled out. If anything's capable of bridging the gap between import fanboys and domestic roughnecks, this is it.
Sartori and the Brill Steel crew got to work on the chassis right away and in the sort of way you'd expect any self-respecting northern Italian to—with the support of a bona fide Ferrari engineer. Help from Maranello meant the best chromoly infrastructure Euros could buy. Despite the craftmanship from one of Ferrari's own, the rollcage and fab work are more World Rally car and less Formula car.
No aftermarket aero kit does a whole lot for Sartori, so with chassis fabrication complete, he did exactly what you'd expect: ring up his pal at Lamborghini to whip up something entirely custom. Dry carbon fiber was hand-laid in-house, resulting in a near 7-foot span from side to side at the car's widest point. Throughout, the S14 was updated to reflect S15 styling—for no other reason than because of Sartori's preference toward the later-model body—and the guy from Lamborghini saw to it to fit a Gallardo Super Trofeo rear spoiler into place—an entirely unnecessary addition in terms of drifting but a wink and a nod to what else this car might be capable of. To do all of this, S15 body panels, including the roof skin, fenders, and pillars were ordered only to be used as templates for carbon-fiber pieces before being chucked aside. Sartori says the car's aero mods weren't for nothing, though, and that they make themselves known just shy of 80mph. All told, the rolling chassis tips the scales at just over 2,200 pounds.
Sartori may not be fluent in the language of Japanese compacts, but he knows American V8s. Underneath the hood sits a fully rebuilt and nitrous-fed Corvette LS3 powerplant assembled at the hands of Sartori that was all but mandatory to the build. The crew turned to the American aftermarket for LS upgrades that culminate into about 1,000hp when on the squeeze. Even in its 710hp naturally aspirated state, Sartori has one thing to say: "I just tested the car and it's unbelievably fast!" But Brill Steel's S14 was built to drift, and although a buttload of torque can make just about any bucket skid and slide, a capable suspension is indispensable to doing it right. Changes are simple here and are based off of little more than a set of Bilstein coilovers. Sartori and crew fabricated a one-off subframe out back to stiffen up the chassis and give the new Winters Performance rear-end a place to hang. Track Day Performance rear arms give the S14 the adjustability it needs and the company's steering angle kit up front, which, among all sorts of other important things, increases the steering lock threshold.
Brill Steel doesn't specialize in Nissans. Sartori will be the first to tell you that, and he doesn't hide his affinity for American muscle. "We love tuning Corvettes, Vipers, and Mustangs," he says. "But we realized that there's just something to a Japanese car with a crazy V8 swap." Something that's capable of bridging the gap.