We've spent the last three years trying to feature Martin Oberheim's car. His '02 Nissan Silvia is a textbook Super Street ride with authentic JDM styling and a V-8 powerplant, which, let's face it, by today's standards isn't as frowned upon as it used to be. Here's the dilemma, though... Martin lives in the northernmost part of the U.K. in Scotland (think Braveheart, men in kilts, Sean Connery's accent). It's not exactly the easiest place to get to, and finding a skilled car photographer out there has proven to be quite the pain in the arse. We've even priced out how much it would be to fly out there ourselves, but our bosses weren't exactly keen on signing off on a $3K "work trip" to Glasgow. Luckily, patience is a trait Martin has developed with his Silvia, and, after three years, he discovered a photographer by the name of Michael Scott (not the one from Dunder Mifflin), who was able to, alas, make this feature happen on one of Europe's most exceptionally modified Nissans.
Tell us a little about yourself, Martin.
Well, I'm 33, from near Glasgow in sunny Scotland. I left school, did an apprenticeship, and became an aeronautical engineer for a large aerostructures manufacturer.
Big into planes, I see. When did you start liking cars?
I've always had an interest in cars—my father and I used to mess about with them when I was a kid, and it just stemmed from there. I used to buy all the old U.K. modified car mags when I was at school, back when body kits and neons were cool first-time round. I'm pretty varied in my tastes with cars, one of those guys who appreciates all kinds of builds and scenes in the car world.
You seem to have a knack for the JDM scene. How is it in the U.K.?
Scotland produces some pretty fine builds, considering it's not exactly a huge population! To be honest, the biggest scene in the U.K. is the Ford scene, I reckon. Japanese stuff is mega popular, but you just can't hide from those damn Fords! The U.K. isn't so bad for importing JDM cars, and we have a pretty good drifting community, so Japanese stuff is desirable these days. I remember seeing guys having R32 GTRs locally 15 years ago and being in awe of them. Nowadays, it's a common sight to turn up at a meet and see R32s, Silvias, and Chasers. We didn't get all the good stuff from new here, but we do import a lot.
What'd you own before the Silvia?
After getting past a stage in my early days of being into Vauxhalls, I moved onto the Honda scene with a few JDM EP3 Type Rs, an EK9 Type R, and a DC5 Type R. After that, I got an Evo VIII MR FQ-340, which I loved, but it was so boring. No offence to Evo guys, but they are so dull unless they're pushing 550-plus horsepower. So, the decision was made to build something interesting that kept me on my toes each time I drove it. Hence, a V-8 S15!
When did the madness start?
The car was imported from Japan through a company in Dover, England, called SVA Imports. A young guy from Aberdeen bought it just cuz it was a cool Silvia, really. He put it up for sale as I was looking for one. In August 2011, I ended up doing a deal with my Evo for the Silvia with him. I was quite happy, because underneath the bumpers it had loads of good parts—GReddy intercooler, Bride seats, TEIN coilovers... Anything I didn't use for the build was all good stuff to sell, like the original SR20 and six-speed.
What was your whole mindset behind the project?
Originally, the car was being built as a road-going, fun drift car. I had done a couple of amateur drift days when the car was still an SR, and during the build I tried to do everything in line with the British Drift Championship rules. If I ever got to the stage I wanted to compete, the car was pretty much there without having to totally redo everything. I had a DMAX kit, over-fenders—the usual "throw together a drift build" kinda stuff. The car turned out way too nice, too pretty to waste on drifting, and it evolved into what you see today. It's basically a toy I take to meets, to the odd show, and to have fun!
A V-8-swapped S15 is slightly odd for us to see, let alone one from Europe. What's the story behind it?
V-8s in general aren't that common over here. Certainly not like the U.S. So, a V-8 can be a bit of a novelty. When I first started, LS swaps were just getting going as a mainstream thing and only really seen in competition cars over here. Nobody was really building road-going cars with them like they do now. After my Evo, I just wanted something loud, obnoxious, fun, powerful, and, most importantly, reliable. An LS swap ticked all the boxes, and with a U.K. distributor bringing in Sikky kits, I wondered, How hard can it be? Turns out, pretty hard—especially with righthand drive and trying to keep the whole swap looking neat and tidy. Honestly, I had a full head of hair before I started! The biggest issue is the clearance for the steering shaft, starter motor, and headers on the driver side. It was the most difficult part, especially for a home build with limited tools. But five years on the road, and it's still going strong!
So, was the swap the hardest part?
The LS swap was definitely the most challenging. I'd never done an engine swap before, so learning what was best to use for the clutch setup, wiring, and such was tricky. My favorite part has got to be the paint, though. I learned to paint maybe 10 years ago in my garage doing friends' cars, so when it came to my Silvia, I had to do it myself. I quite often get asked who painted it then get a funny look when I say I did it at home myself!
Is there a story behind why you chose a Porsche color?
I couldn't decide on a color for a long time. Originally, I was gonna keep it white, but that's a bit boring, as 99 percent of S15s seem to be white. I've always liked grays, so I wanted something subtle and aggressive. One day, I stumbled across a pic of a 997 GT3 RS in Grey Black, but instead of the usual red decals and wheels, it was black accents. As I had a set of black XXRs go on at the time, I knew the color would be perfect.
XX-what?! Just kidding... Any other cool or rare goodies to point out?
There's not all that many rare parts on it, really. I suppose the car isn't always about what parts you have, just how they all work together. I was lucky to get one of the last new aero bumpers from Nissan, which was a factory option. Now they're incredibly rare secondhand—and at a premium.
What's next for you?
I've just installed a lift in my garage, so this winter it's a strip down and rebuild underneath the car. A 17-year-old Nissan doesn't appreciate British weather, so I need to protect it and keep it looking fresh. Whilst the engine is out, I might change the cam and tub the arches in the bay. I've also got some Ganador mirrors and Recaro SPG seats waiting for it.
If you could tell us one more thing about your car, what would that be?
The car is incredibly loud, gets damn hot inside, scrapes on the road a lot, but it does a good burnout! Nah seriously, it's been a lot of fun over the years. I still love the reaction when I fire it up and give the throttle a stab, especially kids at shows—they usually get a good fright! I'm really pleased how it turned out for a home build by me and some mates. That's one thing about the car scene in Scotland. It may be small, but if you ever need help with anything, everyone will do his or her best to help you out.
Apparently, that goes for photographers, too, once we know who they are. Cheers!