Internet auctions can be nerve-shredding affairs, especially if you're looking at buying a heavily-modified ride. Are the pictures you're looking at really what's going to land on your driveway? Did the car of your dreams actually start life as two completely different machines, only to be butchered by some lunatic with an angle grinder? Either way, the risks involved with shelling out your hard earned cash for something you've never driven - or even seen running - drives many people away.
It can be even more terrifying if that car is on the far side of the world. Sure, there are specialists you can go to who will reduce your chances of buying a lemon, but there's always that one in a million chance you're going to get shafted. All in all, spending big cash on a few blurry pixels and a description in a foreign language is toying with danger.
Even the importers aren't immune. One we spoke to, who wanted to stay anonymous, said, "It can be a minefield just banking on pictures alone on auction sites. I've had cars in that weren't as described or in a worse state than I was led to believe. Sometimes I've had to put a couple grand in to bring a car up to spec where I can sell it, but you can get lucky.
"One MR2 I bought from a Japanese auction site in my early days was sold as stock and looked like one, too. But when it landed, I lifted the hood and found an Aladdin's cave of goodies - a massive HKS turbo, HKS exhaust, SARD injectors, the full works. It even had Öhlins track suspension. When we put it on the rolling road it ended up making 350hp at the hubs. I kept it for myself for nearly a year."
So it's not all doom and gloom then. Take the jaw-dropping 180SX you see here. This was brought in for SW Performance in Hoogeveen, the Netherlands, by JM-Imports in the UK. Check the spec sheet. It's fairly comprehensive for a stripped-out drift-style Silvia and if you were (sad enough like me) to work out what all those top-drawer parts are worth you'd be in for the thick end of $20K. Add in labor and it's another five grand. Bolt a low-mileage, clean 180SX into the mix and you're not looking at much change from $30k, and SW performance got the car for significantly less than that (we've been asked not to say how much), the lucky SOBs.
Which brings us to this Nissan's killer blow - it's stance. Even though it's dropped hard on its TEIN coilovers and over those deep-dish Racing Hart CRs, there's plenty of scope to go lower. However, as much as we all really want something that drags its sides, the real world often dictates that we can't stand hundreds of dollars in re-sprays and filler-work every month. It's all well and good for show, but for a proper driver - especially one you can use as it's meant to be used - you need compromise.
The key is contacts. JM have a network of trusted guys in Japan who check cars out before they buy them, but even then the quality of this 180 took everyone by surprise. The devil is in the detail, and not only is the motor a beauty with carbon and polished loveliness everywhere, it's also had a full wire tuck - usually the preserve of the fastidious VeeDub boys. It's real next level stuff.
The SR20DET is making power right around 260bhp. They junked the production-spec T25G for the slightly larger T28 blower from the S14, which immediately lets you run a snitch more boost for a 15-20hp gain. The XS Power custom manifold and 3.5'' exhaust ease the path of the gases sufficiently to release a few more horses and the Mine's ECU flash tops it all off to give a slight power hike and a super responsive throttle while keeping it ultra-reliable.
Inside, everything non-essential has been chucked and this is a great tip for anyone who wants to increase acceleration and pick-up times from their own machine. Ditching rear seats, the spare wheel, all the sound-deadening and rear trim and the stock door cards have saved almost 100lbs - not bad for an afternoon's work. Even after adding in the cage, the pay-off from the lighter wheels, FRP panels, lighter exhaust and carbon door panels and dash should easily see 200lbs lost in total. Yet here's where more eagle-eyed readers will spot what looks like a gyp.
OK, so it's not real carbon used for the hood, the roof or the pillars, although for some reason the tailgate is a genuine carbon item that was then covered in carbon wrap to match.
So, the lesson is that auctions need not be terrifying. There are real bargains to be had if you do plenty of research and not get suckered into buying the first thing that catches your eye. It also helps to have a bit of luck on your side, too.
Sam at SW Performance
Japanese importer and tuner
Nissan (1998cc) SR20DET; S14 T28 turbocharger; underdrive pulleys; aftermarket fuel pump; electric fans; anodized oil cooler; aluminum cone induction kit; braided lines; GReddy surge and catch tanks, aluminum radiator and larger front-mount intercooler; polished hard pipe kit; full wire tuck, chromed head cover with carbon-fiber sparkplug cover; stainless steel battery box with XS battery and fuse box relocated to the boot; XS Power custom manifold with stainless steel exhaust system and 3.5'' tailpipe
Mine's chipped ECU
Footwork & Chassis
TEIN fully-adjustable coilovers; custom XS sway bars; Cusco front and rear strut braces; custom six-point rollcage; C-post brace
Wheels & Tires
18x9'' Racing Hart CR wheels with 225/40-18 Federal tires (front), 18x10'' Racing Hart CR wheels with 245/40-18 Federal tires (rear)
S14 front end conversion; vented wide front arches; custom rear widebody; Uras front/rear bumpers and side skirts; carbon-fiber-wrapped hood, tailgate (over true carbon tailgate) roof, B-pillars and D1 mirrors; rear crystal lights and HID headlight conversion with matt black headlight duct; custom Kiwi green re-spray
Fully stripped rear end, Sparco Torino bucket seats; MOMO Trek steering wheel; carbon fiber dashboard and door panel inserts; A'PEXi boost gauge and 240km/h speedo
Pioneer double-DIN CD/Tuner and 6.5in Infinity components