So many things went wrong with the S13 during prep for Halfway Hangs. Plan B was to take the 180sx out of retirement.
After a busy new year and a lot of wasted thoughts, I had to catch up on a heap of work on the cars. Halfway Hangs was the first week of February so I still had quite a bit of time to get everything sorted with the S13.
My plan was to get the gearbox swapped, repair and paint the kit, fresh oil, re-bleed the brakes and do a complete bolt check. After the event I did at Winton in December, the kit was looking pretty sad (especially front bar).
Of course I wanted to get the whole car cleaned up and looking fresh before going north for Halfway, but my first priority was the gearbox.
For those who don’t know, the car runs an RB25 box and they aren’t very cheap to replace. Even after you replace it, there isn’t any guarantee it will work perfectly. The boxes are 20+ years old, so you can’t expect all of them to handle 370kw (500hp), big tyres and a strong clutch all day. Some people get lucky and have gearboxes that take a serious amount of punishment, whereas others get one drift day out of it. Driving style is a big part of it obviously, but the luck factor is still there.
I also had a couple other idea’s I wanted to try with the exhaust and the wing. I don’t hate my exhaust setup, but it could do with a polished tip and making it a little bit shorter.
No I’m not cutting off the whole thing just because other people hate it. My car, I do what I want! You should have the same outlook on your own car.
As well as shortening it slightly and using a polished tip, I wanted to add a second tail pipe at the diff. That would mean cutting the rear bar on the driver side and making the second exhaust come out at the exact same point. I wanted to do this a while ago but I had changed my mind about what it might look like.
Anyway, over the first weekend in January I got started on my list.
I had organised another gearbox from a friend who had a spare, but there was a small issue. It was in pieces and missing a few bits. Not the worst issue to have, especially since he just gave it to me and said lets get the car ready for the event. Thanks dude!
I cut and relocated the exhaust as well, so it was a bit higher and fit into the rear bar better.
A friend came by and helped me get the box out of the car after A LOT of problems. This car always had the engine and gearbox bolted together and fitted together over it’s lifetime, so taking the gearbox out by itself was a pain in the ass. One thing I seriously wish I did when building it was a bigger tunnel, but I never got the time.
I hadn’t opened up the tunnel at all, so getting the massive gearbox down required a lot of swearing and struggling. It took us almost 4 hours to get the thing out, which is ridiculous!
But it finally came down, so we got working on the other gearbox. Needed a couple synchro clips, one or two sensors and some bolts.
Long night done, so I waited for the weekend to come around before starting again.
Putting the replacement gearbox together went good and everything worked like it should. Each gear selected and moved, so everything got sealed and bolted together.
Dead box, meet new box.
Unlucky for me, my friend had to head off, which meant fitting this thing by myself. Those who know me will know how much of a skinny (weak) person I am, so you can imagine the difficulty.
Everything went pretty well though! And I still had both arms and a working face.
So, after a week of poor timing and a lot of anger, the car had it’s new gearbox. It was January 22nd and Halfway Hangs prep was going pretty well!
I checked over a bunch of connections, filled the box with oil, made sure it had power and got it ready to start.
Nothing had changed apart from the gearbox right? Everything should be fine! Not quite.
I connected the battery, turned on the isolator, gave it ignition power and my dash started smoking. I Immediately turned off EVERYTHING and started pulling out the dash. I found that some wires had caught fire and melted, but it was only the wiring for my strobes.. It was only the power and earth, for my strobes? If something was wrong with a ground, a power supply or even something touching something it shouldn’t, why would it only burn the strobe wiring?
I cut out the strobe wiring and taped it up, re-checked everything else and made sure it all looked normal. I tried the isolator again but I could still smell something burning. No smoke, just a crusty smell.
Checked engine bay and found my alternator was getting super hot. As in, put your hand on a stove, hot. Surely there is one thing that has changed that is causing these problems right?
I went over almost everything again and found nothing. I unplugged the alternator and grabbed the jump pack to start the car. Everything was powering up OK, but obviously I didn’t want to take the chance with the alternator destroying something.
Once again, isolator on and ignition power, everything seemed fine. Cranked over, no firing.
All Injectors were working normal, fuel pumps were working, lift pump was fine, everything electrical looked normal and all fuel lines were good. I spent the next few hours stressing over everything and contemplating what to do. I tried one more time before heading home and noticed my hand controller for the ECU was completely blank. Usually Power FC hand controllers show data even when the car is off correct?
A few days went by and I was running out of time to get the car done. I had another friend check over some of the electrics to see what we could find and everything seemed fine. The only thing stopping it from starting was the ECU. This was something I REALLY did not need, especially only a week out from the event.
While I took the ECU to get tested I wanted to try and get my mind off things by focusing on other bits. I headed down to DT (the rad dudes who painted my car in 3 days) to start fixing my kit.
I seriously hate fibreglass and everything that’s involved in fixing it. If I ever had to make moulds or deal with fibreglass, I would want to be paid extremely well. This stuff sucks.
Front bar looked like it had a bad time.
This was the first time I had patched up a kit so it didn’t turn out anywhere near as good as others. The DT guys gave me all the help I needed though which was sweet!
After doing fibreglassing, I didn’t think it could get any worse. I don’t think doing bog and filler is as bad as what people say. Sure it’s a pain, but it can’t be as bad as doing fibreglass and having sticky fingers 24/7.
Both skirts had been pretty beaten, especially the passenger side which was missing the entire back corner. After about a day of bogging, sanding and watching Vu laugh at my terrible workmanship, everything was back together and ready for some paint.
Thursday morning January 28, I heard my ECU had been repaired!
$500 later (which was a very bad decision), I had a fresh Power FC in my hands.
Yes I know you can buy them new for a little extra, but I had about 6 days until I had to leave so this was my only option unfortunately.
I headed back to the car early the next morning and refitted the ECU, everything was working like it used to. Finally some good news! I went to start the car, pretty nervous that something else would either explode or catch fire. The car started and ran perfectly, no issues at all!
While the car was on the hoist, I selected first gear and it drove normal. Selected second and the whole box started knocking. Great.
I had to give up for the day and head to work, definitely could not have been any worse. I headed straight back to the car after work and tried again, maybe it was just a one time thing. I tried every gear this time and everything after first gear was knocking.
Had some dinner and sat around for a while. It was friday, I had 5 days left. Not only was I meant to be 1,400km (870miles) north in a weeks time, I had to go to a car show on sunday.
So, box came back out.
It came out a little easier this time around, probably because I knew what tricks worked.
About 2am saturday morning, gearbox was out of the car and ready to be pulled apart and assembled again.
Put it all together again and resealed it, followed the workshop manual to the letter this time.
I really needed sleep, but I really wanted it in the car.
Timed myself putting it back in the car, just to compare what it took the first time. I had some serious motivation to get the car working!
Just over an hour.
I don’t think I did too bad considering the gearbox weighs almost as much as me.
I had to head to work so I left the car for the day and came back to it Sunday morning. I picked up my painted kit on the way home too!
Early Sunday morning, actually more like Saturday/Sunday transition hours (1-2am), I headed out to work on it again. Hopefully all problems fixed and ready for the final bits of Halfway prep.
Let’s try starting it again!
ECU had been repaired after they found a completely dead power supply and the gearbox was 100% put together properly. The alternator was still disconnected so the car was running off the jumper pack, I just needed to see if it would start.
Third time lucky, isolator on, power to the ignition and everything was working like it normally should. ECU had power, fuel pumps were good, lift pump was good, everything sounded normal!
Start the car and it runs perfectly! After all that I finally had a positive outcome!
I had to be out at SaintSide car show in a few hours so I put the phone down, put the car back together and drove it out.
Felt so good to have it all working again! And I still had a couple days left until I had to leave, so that meant I had time to do some other little bits.
I had stripped the interior a few days before after I found out the ECU was damaged.
I just thought, that’s it game over, time to prep the 180sx. Both cars share seats, harnesses and the same steering wheel so if I want to drive one I need to strip the other. I’m glad I didn’t completely give up, things turned out pretty good.
Gave it a quick wash, then loaded up and headed out.
I had a few friends with cars there but SaintSide show is more about custom bikes and old school machines which is rad. The atmosphere was sweet and filled with people who appreciate the time you put into what you love.
I got to drive my car on the street too. Admittedly it was only around the block, but I seriously would not want to go any further on the roads with this.
I love how the car sits and I want to drive it like this everywhere I go, but driving it on the road makes me wonder why I would ever try it in the first place.
The worst part is those little lane markers. EVERYTHING under the car got hammered when I went over one, so how would it go if I were to change lanes on a freeway? Not something I’m keen to find out.
Got some food, relaxed and chilled out for the day. I had to head back to the factory to keep working on the car that night so once everything finished I loaded up and headed back.
So, I had finished the major things and had almost finished prep for the event. I headed home to get some sleep, Mondays are my day off so I planned on heading back to work on the car the next day anyway.
I went to start it and it ran perfectly, for about 10 seconds.
Nothing had changed, why are you not starting now. Maybe it had no fuel? Nope, full tank. Start it again, fired up and stalled.
At this point I wanted to quit. I spent all this time, money and effort getting it ready and one thing after another it just fails. I spent the next few days trying to diagnose problems and why it would be doing this. Everything fuel related was good and nothing behind the dash was unplugged so there was no reason why it wouldn’t run properly. Even if the ECU didn’t have the tune saved, the car would still start and run.
I went through heaps of things, I even pulled off all the fuel filters and checked to see if they were blocked.
Not even close. They looked brand new!
I was out of options and I couldn’t think of anything. Maybe the lift pump had failed? Checked it’s power, still working perfectly fine.
I had 2 days until I had to leave for Halfway Hangs and at this point it was looking like I may have to take the 180sx. I needed to make some new cooler piping bits so I got onto that to take my mind off things.
The original cooler pipe on the hot side was a little too short and the last time I drove it kept coming off under boost.
I got some leftover stainless, tapped a new thread for the MAP sensor hose and cut it to length.
Also ran some thick beads around each end to give the clamps a better chance of holding on.
Wednesday night/morning was the start of the holiday from work and I had already spent the first 12 hours on the S13. I tried almost everything I could think of and came up with nothing. I thought maybe the ECU hadn’t been repaired properly or maybe part of the unit was faulty so I headed over to the tuners to see if I could test the car with another Power FC they had spare.
Pushing it on the trailer in the wet is a lot harder than it sounds.
I got to RacePace just before lunch and went over a bunch of things with Chris. Tried to rule out all the simple things to narrow it down. Battery pack was charged, engine had new spark plugs and we trialled another Power FC, nothing worked. I had to be at Valla in 24 hours and I’d had minimal sleep the past few days. I really wanted it to work, but it wasn’t going to happen.
Gave up on the S13 and took it home.
Sorry bud, but you aren’t driving this event.
Time to prep the 180sx.
I needed a new oil cooler, new cooler piping and clamps, seats, harnesses, steering wheel, a battery and some fresh oil.
The current oil cooler had a split in the lower half, so I had to borrow the oil cooler off the S13.
Sorry, again. You are helping a good cause.
I cut up some scrap bits of aluminium and mounted everything. I’ll probably buy another cooler and make some decent brackets when I have the time, this was all I had.
Oil cooler was done, cooler piping was done, seats, harnesses, steering wheel and battery were all in. It was getting really late and I still needed to load up and pack everything for the trip so I put it all back together and decided I’d change the oil when I got to the resort. Everything went smooth and the car started with no issues at all, just like it always has.
I was extremely disappointed about not being able to drive the S13, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be anyway. Now I want to motivate myself to find the issue and fix it so the car works like it should.
The 180sx was all clean and back in business after a lengthy retirement. I was so excited to drive this car again!
I have always loved this thing more than anything else I own, maybe because it was my first (technically second) or maybe because of how much time I put into it over the years. Every time I drive this, it always performs amazing.
If anyone ever says to you that well built engines are a waste of time/money, ignore them. The CA is, and always will be, the greatest asset to this car.