The cars we tend to love today are almost always influenced by that first car. Young hooligans who drive their dads' Mustangs typically go on to become older hooligans who drive their own 'Stangs. Generations of Civic and Integra fans endure because of '80s mothers who shuttled their kids to elementary school in four-door Accords. For Lloyd Morales, before it was the 1996 NIssan 240SX you see here, it was a Hardbody pickup that did it for him.
By '96, Morales was consumed by the mini-truck movement— a movement that, by all accounts, set the stage for today's sport compact performance racket. And his Hardbody ticked all the boxes: slammed to the dirt, seats yanked from an Acura, two-tone pleather upholstery inside, and a Toyota front bumper swap. It was everything he wanted -- except for fast.
Mini-trucks are funny that way, which is exactly what led to Morales' interest in the then-brand-new Integra Type R. He tells of how many of his friends owned Hondas at the time, which lent itself to the Type R's allure. But for everything that made the Type R great, for Morales, its front-wheel drivetrain overshadowed it. "I knew I needed something [with an] FR layout so I looked at the 240SX and fell in love," he says. "I've always loved how a rear-wheel-drive [car] feels being able to do donuts."
By '99, the Hardbody was history, Morales was taken up with the S14 and had already performed the requisite Japanese small car mods of the turn of this century: lowering springs, a carbon-fiber hood, and an exhaust. It blended well into Northern California's auto-modifying landscape where the community was dwarfed only by its southern counterpart. But he wanted more, and more almost always has to do with all sorts of expensive things like turbochargers and engine swaps, which led Morales to Japanese firm Signal Auto's Torrance, California, workshop, where the experts fitted the 240 with its rightful SR20DET powerplant. "I was so grateful to have a Japanese-based shop work on my car," Morales says of his experience with the firm, which has since closed its U.S. location. Influences like these culminated from the newly developing world of drifting. "I wanted it to look just like the cars in Japan," he says.
Reworking the car's exterior was an easier, more obvious decision to make that, like any good body shop tale, starts with a whole lot of rain and ends with a core support teetering on top of a curb. "It was raining out, and I decided to do some drifting," Morales admits. The drift-car tenderfoot walked away without a scratch, but the 19-inch rims and Vertex aero pieces fared worse. Staring at the crushed-up front end, Morales was surprised to find out that the damage was mostly cosmetic and almost entirely agreeable. "I needed a new front end, so why not swap it to a Kouki front?" he justifies.
Meanwhile, as the car sat in the spray booth, Morales reevaluated everything he wanted from the S14, including the possibility of ditching it altogether. "I decided to build it for the track," he says, now realizing that drifting on the streets will never make as much sense as relegating all of that recklessness to the track, and that, after all this time, selling it off wouldn't do him any good. But it still needed to look good, which means Vertex aero was once again sourced, a Voltex wing was bolted into place, and a color change was made. Morales fooled around at a couple of shows after the body was completed but knew there was more to life than sitting in a yard chair next to a semi-race-prepared 240 in a strip mall parking lot for an afternoon. "I knew it needed a change," he says of the race-car-only attitude the S14 would soon embrace, "so I decided to tear it apart and make it a track car."
It turns out that making it a track car meant more than just tearing things out. A 12-point rollcage was fitted into place along with larger brakes from Project Mu, Recaro buckets, and Zeal coilovers. Even the engine was updated. Here, Morales commissioned a new top-mount exhaust manifold for the larger-frame Garrett turbo, and bigger, more streamlined piping was fabricated for the Blitz intercooler. Inside, the bottom end remains mostly stock but the top has been updated with cams and valvetrain from Tomei. Fuel shortages aren't an issue, and that's mostly because of the 248-lph pump and 850cc injectors that are controlled by A'PEXi's Power FC engine management system. Speaking of fuel and ignition maps: Proper tuning is scheduled for just days from our photo shoot and is expected to result in upward of 500 whp—not bad at all for a full track car.
After almost two decades, Morales has come a long way from his mini-truckin' days. It's taken him 15 years to build the fast Nissan he's always wanted, and his mission hasn't wavered much. "I want to do some time attack with it and local track days," he reiterates about what this build's purpose is. "It hasn't been tracked yet," he admits, but he assures us that day is coming soon.