When Project Cars Become Project Cars

by Ur-Turn
when project cars become i project i cars

Everybody please welcome Cory Crelan to these pages. He’s a TTAC reader who had the rather indefensible idea to buy a pair of Nissan Sentras… of course, they’re both SE-Rs. Check out his story and offer your feedback as to his future plans! — JB

About three years after I sold my 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R, I got a Facebook message from my friend Jim. He told me to call him right away. Jim is very active in the B13 (1991-94) Sentra SE-R community and works at a very busy repair shop outside of Hartford, CT. He currently owns four variations of the B13 cars between the SE-R and NX2000. When I called him, he had an interesting story to tell: A mutual friend of ours, Steve, got a job offer on the west coast and had ten days to uproot his family from Connecticut to Oregon. Steve happened to own four Nissans.

One of them was possibly the most well-known and documented SE-R in the country.

About five years ago, Steve bought the Sport Compact Car magazine project SE-R on Ebay. He subsequently flew out to California and drove the car home to Connecticut. The magazine is no longer published, but back in the day it was the gold standard for knowledge about the sport compact car scene. This particular SE-R was written about for years by the magazine. His experience with it was positive enough that Steve later picked up a second 1991 SE-R for his high school age son to drive.

Jim relayed onto me that it was not economically feasible for Steve to move his four cars to the West coast and that he was willing to deal on the sale of the two Sentras. His son’s car had an engine swap that was never finished so the car did not run. The SCC car was not driven in winters but it was also believed to be not running when we first spoke. He was looking to unload the cars at a fire sale price with the stipulation that both cars had to be bought as a package deal. Fortunately for me, July is my slowest time at work so I actually had the time available to sort out the logistics of the sale. After some groveling, pleading and a little begging, I was able to convince my wife that buying two economy cars from 1991 was a smart idea and that there was a possible financial upside to the deal.

Steve and I agreed on the deal for both cars and a ton of spare parts.

The plan:

In the time that we were talking, it was found out that the SCC car would run with a jump start. The plan was then to tow the son’s car to Jim’s shop and have him get it running after hours. The non-running engine came from Jim’s old car. He did the swap on the car, but ran short on time to finish things up. He was confident that something minor was preventing the car from running. The SCC car was driven to my friend’s storage barn.

The SCC car was involved in an unfortunate front end collision with a dog last year. The short JDM front bumper and surrounding areas were all tweaked. Fortunately, the car came with a new Seibon carbon fiber hood and trunk lid, used JDM bumper, spare head lights, and grills. The cars emissions test was out of date. The parts stash included a new convertor that is needed to get installed to make the car pass the test. The car spent most of its life in sunny California so the plastic dashboard has more cracks and fault lines than the actual San Andreas. Again, a crack free replacement dash was included in the sale. The headliner has no material left on the cardboard so that will have to be addressed at some point, too.

The issue with the son’s SE-R turned out to be pretty minor. A wire to the starter was disconnected. With a new battery and some fresh tires, it was back on the road. It made the hour drive back to my condo without incident though the car had a difficult time holding an idle. The idle problem turned out to be some old and cracked vacuum lines. Once the car was finally running well, the high pressure power steering line decided to spring a leak — so that was a few hundred dollar repair. Both cars had sat outside for a number of months so they were quite dirty. I spent many hours with my Porter Cable 7424 buffer bringing the paint back to life on both cars. The paint came back nicely and both are looking shiny.

My plan is to sell the son’s car and keep the SCC car. My daily driver is a 1995 Mercedes E320 wagon with a 3.6 AMG motor swap. It is basically a running and driving project car. Three project cars together are simply too much for me to handle and way too much for the wife. The title for the son’s car just arrived so I’ve listed it for sale. I should be able to clear enough money from the sale of the one to pay for them both. The SCC car is a fairly valuable in its own right.

Just how nuts is this plan on a scale of 1-10? 1 being genius and 10 being Koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs? Would you keep both? Sell both? Sell the SCC car? Let me know.

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2 of 46 comments
  • Ian Anderson Ian Anderson on Oct 27, 2013

    Project cars are why I will never live under a Home Owner's Association. I have three Dodge Dakotas and my dad's old GMC S-15 (Chevy S10 with payload springs). Two Dakotas and the GMC run, my 1992 Dakota and the GMC run like bats out of hell but need serious rust repair (old school 90º shaker V6s can scoot a small truck along pretty good!). My 1999 Dakota is in great condition but the new clutch's throwout bearing is chattering up a storm, ironic since I bought it to take the '92 with the same drivetrain off of the road to fix it. They're all waiting on time and money, I'm not in a hurry since the '92 and the GMC are still in perfect running order. The basketcase of the bunch is a 1994 Dakota extended cab, 5.2L V8, 2WD with a manual trans. It started off as a V8-swap parts truck for the 1992 but turned out to be easy enough to get running. Once again, time and money. So to rank the author on a 1-10? 5, since you're smart for selling off the one to pay for them both but still a mad-scientist when it comes to them.

  • Beefmalone Beefmalone on Oct 28, 2013

    what are these cars worth nowadays?

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂