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Workshop Wonder 180SX

A Nissan 180SX reborn into a 328kW at the wheels drifter!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Sil80 conversion
  • 328kW at the wheels SR20DET
  • Nitrous assisted
  • Fully drift prep'd
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Modifying a car can be an uphill battle for the average enthusiasts. But when your name is Michael Keen, you work in one of South Australia’s leading performance workshops and have round-the-clock access to its facilities, you can achieve the seemingly impossible.

Like resurrecting a financially written-off Nissan 180SX into a 328kW ATW drifter with top-notch presentation.

Michael picked up this ’96 180SX which had received substantial damage to the front left corner. Fixing the bent Nissan was going to be a mammoth job so Michael elected to strip the entire vehicle and handed it over to be professionally straightened. Adelaide’s MC Doyle Crash Repairs can be thanked for the job. A custom paint job was applied after surgery– a high impact orange that’s guaranteed to attract business.

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The body remains largely 180SX but a S13 Silvia nose has been bolted on to create the ‘Sil80’ appearance. There are fibreglass front guards which are pumped 30mm compared to the stock parts and the rear guards are lipped to accommodate the fattest rubber possible. A Vertex body kit (comprising side skirts and bumper extensions) and reflective Turbo Tune stickers complete the body transformation.

And things have come a long way from stock 2-litre turbo motivation. Michael decided to drop in an existing engine that was being employed in his white 180SX road car. This engine is best described as ‘full-house’...

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The SR20DET’s bottom-end is strengthened with shotpeened and polished crank and rods, forged CP pistons (for an 8.3:1 static compression ratio) and a heavy duty 1.5mm head gasket. The DOHC head is ported and polished, equipped with 264/272 camshafts, stainless valves and solid lifters to ensure reliable high rpm operation. A Trust oil cooler and ASE aluminium radiator (with twin thermo fans) further enhance reliability.

Michael runs a tried-and-proven Trust T67 25G turbo kit which includes a tubular exhaust manifold and 48mm external wastegate. A custom 3 inch exhaust accepts gasses from the turbine and ‘gate. Boost pressure from the T67 is controlled by a Blitz ID3 unit which is set to a maximum of 23 psi; Michael doesn’t like to push the engine to near 30 psi unless required. A GReddy high-flow intake manifold ensures airflow isn’t strangled leading into the engine.

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A Trust air filter sifts out road grit while a Trust front-mount intercooler ensures cool intake air temps. Look as hard as you can but you won’t find a blow-off valve. But chances are you will spy a nitrous fogger... Michael uses a modest 30hp shot to get the SR onto boost early and keep it running strong to the 7400 rpm limit. The nitrous shot is triggered by an in-cabin arming switch wired in series with a throttle position switch. More than 95 percent throttle is required to get the gas flowing.

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An A’PEXi Power FC plug-in ECU receives a load input from a big-daddy Z32 300ZX airflow meter and controls a set of 800cc injectors. At the other end of the fuel system is a Walbro lift pump, an ASE surge tank and a pair of Bosch/Porsche main pumps in parallel. The ignition is essentially standard Nissan.

The full force of the tuned SR20 is received by an OS Gikken twin-plate clutch which Michael says is lasting well despite having already traveled about 15,000km in his road car. A 300ZX five-speed gearbox has been adapted to the SR and a Cusco two-way LSD ensures the rear tyres are burnt without prejudice.

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Built with the intent of drifting, Michael’s 180SX rides on ultra-stiff suspension with specialised wheel alignment angles. HSD adjustable coil-overs are fitted at each corner while the front-end is tightened by a Cusco strut brace and features adjustable castor arms. Castor is wound up to near maximum, there’s around 2 ½ degrees negative camber at the front and 2 degrees at the rear. Two degrees of toe-out helps the rear start swingin’ from side to side. The car rolls on 17 inch Work SSR rims measuring 9 ½ inches wide at the front and 10 ½ inches at the rear. Michael prefers to use Nangkang tyres due to their combination of grip and long life.

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Inside, it’s all business. Forget about courtesy lights and flip-down vanity mirrors; this 180 carries nothing that doesn’t contribute to speed or safety. A Cusco bolt-on roll cage, Bride seat, harness and fire extinguisher keep Michael protected and there is plenty of gauge-ware to look at. In addition to the standard instrumentation there’s an AutoMeter monster tacho and shift light, Blitz oil pressure, coolant temperature and boost pressure gauges and the display for the Blitz ID3 boost controller. A dished Sparco steering wheel and drift-style handbrake button contribute to car control.

With a proven 328kW at the wheels on Turbo Tune’s Dyno Dynamics chassis dyno and 327kW ATW on the dyno at AutoSalon, it’s safe to say this car is a consistent performer. Michael hasn’t gone so far as entering competition drift events but the car has provided ample fun for him and his co-workers. It’s a perfect weekend amusement.

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The only obvious area left for improvement is the brakes. But that might not eventuate because Michael is already planning his next project – a R34 Nissan Skyline with a twin-cam 3-litre engine. That means the drift-spec 180SX is now offered for sale. If you have about AUD$25,000 in your hip pocket you can consider yourself the new owner. If you’re interested, contact


Turbo Tune
+61 8 8297 1030

Thanks to ULX 110, Wheel Works, Mobile Auto Electrical and MC Doyle Crash Repairs.

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