By on October 25, 2013


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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

46 Comments on “When Project Cars Become Project Cars...”

  • avatar

    I’d sell whichever Sentra you’re least attached to, after swapping parts between the two to make the one you keep more to your liking. Owner’s privilege. Sell the less-desired Sentra to recover your purchase costs and assure your wife that the whole effort has been worth it.

    Stash the remaining spare parts, and occasionally add what you think you’ll need to keep the remaining Sentra (and Benz) in good shape. Keep the wagon, since there’s nothing short of a pickup truck that’s as handy to have when you’re working on cars as a wagon-sized parts-hauler. Enjoy them both.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Can we put negative numbers? Compared to its peers at the time it was sold, the SE-R was a kind of cool souped-up economy car, albeit with a very thrashy engine. Compared to any number of today’s econoboxes, not to mention the “hot hatches,” not so much.

    An air-cooled Porsche this is not.

    There are two problems 20+-year old cars, even great ones like W123 Benzes: all the rubber bits get hard and they crack and parts become increasingly hard to find. My recollection of the emissions control systems of cars of that vintage is that they included an inordinate amount of rubber pieces: vacuum lines, coolant lines and so on. These will all fail. Anything else rubber will fail: suspension bushings, motor mounts, you name it. Cutting bits of hose in the right diameter is not so hard; finding rubber suspension and other pieces might be.

    So, I’m not feeling the love and, if it were me, I’d spend my auto- mechanic time and spare change (lots of it, I’m sure) on the Benz. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always enjoyed working on cars. But you gotta keep some perspective and not lose sight of the forest while you’re focused on one particular tree.

    And, among the project vehicles, it’s probably a good idea to have one that starts and runs reliably; and reliably takes you where you need to go in reasonable comfort and without evoking any concern about whether it will successfully make the trip . . . or come limping home. Sometimes a car just has to be transportation.

    One man’s opinion, as they say.

    • 0 avatar

      The SCC project car is far from just an ordinary 20 year old car. It was a project vehicle for a magazine. From what I recall, the rubber bushings have been replaced with urethane, along with the engine mounts. I’m sure many other little things were refreshed along the way as well. The SR20 does not have a disproportionate amount of vacuum lines or anything and it’s a very easy engine to work on. Parts, even good performance parts, are still real easy to get for these. The engine also has lots of potential. I’d definitely keep the SCC car and find someone in need of a good, fun runabout for the other.

  • avatar

    All four of my cars are project cars.
    -2005 xB with custom cosmetic stuff that is looking a bit rough now.
    -1985 300zx drift car that is heavily modded (Jan issue of Modified)
    -1989 Nis-yota Cressida half-breed thing, that really serves no purpose.
    -1969 Subaru 360 hell Lemons build.

    As you can see, I’m well-versed in your problem. Some things I’ve figured out…

    1.Sell one of the Sentras. You will get burned out, bored easily. It will detract from the enjoyment of either. It’s a wasted space for something else that could be there, like a 1948 taildragger Buick. Diversify yo bonds. I would get rid of the son’s car.

    2.Stay under 4 project cars, or you will start to have bad dreams at night. The “Dude, where’s my Cressida?” is a frequent one for me.

    3.It’s best if they serve a purpose. Drive it.

    4.Be as resourceful as possible. Work on your own stuff. If you can’t do it, figure it out. It’s not your daily driver, and you have plenty of time. It will also make it more enjoyable.

    5.Keep the wife happy. If she has her own car and you’re not blowing your savings on them, then she can’t really complain. Sounds like you came out ahead on this deal.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on “Keep the wife happy”.

      I’ve had at least one Alfa in the stable for at least the last decade. Add in Datsun Zs, SE-Rs, BMWs, and Miatas and it’s been pretty much constant project cars for our whole 14 year marriage. Why does she put up with it?

      1. She’s awesome, but more importantly:
      2. I’ve always made sure she has a late model, bone stock, dead reliable car of her own to drive.

      Even a really easy going spouse is going to get really cranky when she needs to get the kids to school and the “project car” is not running / half disassembled / leaking exhaust / etc. etc. etc. In my younger stupider years I tried to make my project cars daily drivers but found that I enjoy having them more if I don’t have to rely on them to get me to work. Old cool cars + cheap reliable beater (mine’s a new-ish 4 cyl B2300 pickup) is a good mix.

    • 0 avatar

      4 projects!?! Jeesh, that’s even too much for me. Two would be my limit and even that is hard.

      • 0 avatar

        I have a lot of patience. The Z is pretty much done, I just have a nagging fear of wheel bolts breaking and losing tire pressure. The xB, I just drive and not care about much at this point. I’ll make some headway on the Lauressida and 360 over the winter here, as my workload lightens up to near nothing.

    • 0 avatar

      I found the secret of keeping the wife happy. I have a wife who is also into cars, and she gets to have a project too. We each have a project, a toy and a daily driver. Works well, and means I get to do what I want to mine as long as the bills are paid and her cars get equal wrench time.
      I bought her an RX7 convertible Turbo project earlier this year for her birthday, which is currently sharing garage space with my RX7 track car project and my increasingly less stock RX8 toy.
      Her “toy” MazdaSpeed Protege sits in the driveway at the moment due to lack of garage space.
      Her daily driver to complete the set is a WRX hatchback. (She’s also a nationally published, in Canada, motorsports journalist. I think I did well.)

  • avatar

    As a 20-year owner of a B13 SE-R (I drove it off the lot), I fully support your projects! :)

    • 0 avatar

      Very jealous.
      My first car was a ’92 SE-R with about as many miles on it that I acquired during my senior year of high school. God how I loved that car, but a high schooler’s budget prevented that car from ever being anywhere near 100%. I would have loved to have had a chance to drive one new or close to it.
      With that background in mind, I’m obviously fully supportive of this plan as well. Three projects is almost certainly too much, and while I’d love to have another B13 SE-R in my driveway someday, I suspect the time and resources required to keep two would in the long-term kill my enthusiasm for ultimately keeping either.

      • 0 avatar

        The son’s car is actually all sorted out now and up for sale on ebay. It has some really trick suspension pieces that are very hard to find. It would make a unbelievable autocross car. At this point in time, it is really difficult to find rust free examples of these cars.

  • avatar

    I dunno. I’ve owned 2 SE-Rs and while they were a hoot they were also built to a price point; everything about them seemed engineered to last a certain amount of time then disintegrate. So like every ’90s economy car, basically. Not sure I’d want to sign up for the long term care and feeding of one as a “classic”.

  • avatar

    I have a wonderful and patient wife. The garage and driveway are usually full of my “projects”. She gets what car she wants and her car is Job1 when maintenance and repairs are necessary. My cars have to be cash – no sneaking an extra $4k on a credit card. For a new one to come in, a corresponding one has to go. In theory.No obvious signs that anything is inoperable, i.e., dismantled cars in plain sight. Mow the lawn and keep all “soldiers” clean. I would imagine you have the added burden of keeping a condo board satisfied. In my personal, albeit brief, condo experience, renting a second garage was a wise choice. More power to you. I hate the idea of any particular niche or performance car going to the shredder. As for measuring the performance with new cars? At one time the 85 horse flathead Ford was the hot rod of its time. Context and personal preference is what it is really about.Good luck. I hope you get to keep the famous one and make a few bucks. I call it “win-win”.

  • avatar

    I think your plan makes perfect sense. Absolutely keep the car that has been published…. just take all the better parts off the other one first and swap them out.

    I had no idea there was a Sentra enthusiast community.

  • avatar

    Have to keep the wife happy. I am 77 years old and still like o play with old cars. My wife has a 2 years old VW GTI 4 door and I have a 2 door. She loves her car and allows me to keep one old car. Over the years I restored a few old VW’s Beetle & Mk1’s. Purchased a 1991 Miata that was always garaged with 75,000 miles and enjoy the hell out it on the weekends. For daily use I use the GTI. On the subject of rubber parts the Miata is in great shape. All of the rubber pieces are like new and can be purchased new from any dealer. Insurance is cheap and the gas mileage is quite good. Another year or so and it will be a collectors item.

  • avatar

    I’m jealous-my first ever car was an extremely base 87 Nissan Sentra when I got my license in 1996 but how I dreamed of owning a SE-R. I owned a well used SE-R for about 2 weeks around 99/00 when I was in college before the clutch let go due to abuse from the prior owner(s). Being in college I didn’t have the money to fix that issue as well as all the other ones that needed attention. Bye-bye SER hello 89 Regal.

  • avatar

    I remember that car from the magazine, I was a die-hard SCC reader and I still keep up with the gang at MotoIQ. I can kind of understand though about the other comments about that car being nothing too special nowadays, but I can also understand the appeal of owning it. Since I cannot see the actual condition, its tough to make a call. If you can take all the spare parts and build into one very nice and “restored” SE-R, then it would make a very nice daily driver with cool history. But from what I remember about SCC project cars, that’s probably not going to happen. And you mentioned you live in a condo. Unless you have one of the Florida waterfront condos like I used to have which is on stilts and has a 6 car garage under it, you are probably not equipped to handle more than one true project at a time.

    So if the SCC Sentra can be your perfect daily use car, keep it. If not, sell it. Definitely sell the other one, you don’t ever need two of them.

  • avatar

    Totally a 1, in the project car realm this is a very very good idea.

    Based on a economy car that is still being built in Mexico, with a motor that has plenty of aftermarket support. Parts are still plentiful and cheap, both new and used. This is nowhere near Project-Car-Hell. Sell the sons car and enjoy the other.

    Of course this is a guy who daily drives a B13(albeit GA16 SE), so I may be a little biased….

  • avatar

    So then by looking at the broken headlight in the picture, it would appear that by “unfortunate front end collision with a dog” you perhaps meant “unfortunate front end collision with a small moose”.
    Really, WTF kind of dog is that tall and dense enough to fold down the front lip of the hood? I know 90s Sentras are tinny (had a 93 1.6) but it’s still made of steel.

    • 0 avatar

      The JDM bumper cover is about half as short as the US spec bumper- think euro BMW bumpers vs. US spec. I am willing to bet it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad with the US bumper cover.

    • 0 avatar

      German shepard, other large breeds, all could devastate a mostly plastic front end. Not to mention basic plastic fatigue will make it become somewhat more brittle.

  • avatar

    Great score, your idea is definitely a 1!. Now just to go about finding copies of all the issues in which it was featured, if you don’t already have them. It should be quite the hit at any sport/compact, Nissan/Datsun, or import car shows.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    That poor Tsuru headlight…

    Yeah, I’d say keep the SCC car if you don’t have time, space, and understanding neighbors to keep them both.

  • avatar

    This is project car cake. A car that is cheap and has readily available parts. And it runs. It just needs a little of this and a little of that, and it was bought at a bargain price. You want fun, try dealing with a European oddball that is the red-headed stepchild of the marque. That they only sold 10K of in two model years, 25+ years ago. Good times!

    Keep it, love it, those cars were pretty much the only decent competition to a VW Jetta GLI back in the day. And never let the leased Camry driving fools get you down. Life is too short to drive boring cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I tried my hand with a couple of oddball Japanese cars in a country where they weren’t imported and with a brutal currency control regime.

      That said, I would like to try again. I’d love a FWD Piazza and one of its AWD Turbo cousins to grace my garage in the not so distant future.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    It seems like you can have your cake and eat it too in this case. And you’re already selling the “normal” car and got spares to fix the “good” one… and still end ahead.

    And you are keeping the wife happy. And as they say here, “happy wife, happy life”.

    You went koo-koo and won. Enjoy yourself.

    • 0 avatar

      Athos, I can’t imagine trying to deal with CADIVI, etc. in trying to import a car that wasn’t sold there. What were your cars?

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        The cars were already imported. They were first an Isuzu Impulse XS… which had a dismantled gearbox and was missing some bits.

        Since I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, I bought the RS version (AWD,turbo…)

        CADIVI only allowed me $400 for electronic purchases, and I looked for sale items wherever I found them. The biggest part hit was done at “parallel market” rates back when the situation wasn’t as bad as today.

        Shipping was through a forwarding service from the US, which had to be paid on parallel market rates. That cost was always increasing.

        Some bits could be sourced locally with some research. The gearbox was fixed like that and produced a beautiful highway cruiser –> 80 mph @ 3000 RPM.

        I still haven’t learn my lesson. I bought a $500 Saab at the beginning of this year. And I did it wrong (no turbo/heated seats). But down here… as long as you have one gold coin ($1) in your pocket, you can do whatever you want :)

        • 0 avatar

          I figure finding much any Saab at all down there is a lucky find, though I haven’t been in 10+ years. I do still have a fantasy of buying one of our family friends’ Barcelona-built W116s that they’ve owned since new and are still driving.

  • avatar

    I’ve restored a number of 30 year old motorcycles and it took a complete teardown to really do it right. I found hidden problems (and repairs) that only a frame off would reveal. Cars may be different but are far more complicated and that means more to go wrong and more places for problems to hide.

    I gave up on old cars years ago because there is just too much to do with them. I would sell all of it and get something modern, or maybe on two wheels. If a bike gives too much grief it can be easily parted out on eBay and left at that.

  • avatar

    Holy crap, I’m jealous! I remember reading about the SCC SE-R – if I’m remembering right, they got that thing to run Buttonwillow only a little slower than a new B15 SE-R. Of course, it broke a bit, but there’s always something to fiddle with or fix on a good project.

    Found it!

    I say keep the SCC car. It should be tons of fun to drive and a nice tribute to an excellent magazine.

  • avatar

    Does the SCC SE-R still have the toggle for the various ECU tunes? I remember when he bought the car from California and posted about on the ‘forum. Cool car.

    I have one of the hardest-ridden uncaged B13 SE-Rs in the country. After years of street, track, and autocross use, mine is fresh off winning second in Prepared FWD and third in Modified FWD at SCCA RallyCross Nationals a few weeks ago. 199,xxx miles. These are simple and badass cars that are easy to keep in the fight.

    If I had the room, I would adopt every orphaned FWD SR20 I came across. You’re lucky that you were closer to the old SCC SE-R, or I would be severely tempted.

  • avatar

    Keep the magazine car. Project cars from most magazines are usually modified with premium parts (for the time) and have fairly competent guys working on them as well. It’s not like they’re letting some yahoo with a torch cut the springs on a car like that, so you should be ok. And if you’ve got the actual articles that were written about the car, then you’re good to go.

  • avatar

    … and I had wondered what happened to this car. I remember the issue where they went down to Mexico and visited a Nissan dealership to obtain the Tsuru headlights…. pretty entertaining story. I’d love to have this car myself. This takes me back to my high school days…. most of the guys read Super Street because of the girls, I read SCC because, well I wanted to go fast and not suck.

    Speaking of SCC project cars, whatever became of Project 323 GTX?

  • avatar

    Very cool car, and I hope you give it the home it deserves. I remember reading all of those articles. Their 200SX SE-R project almost had me buy one. (I don’t think B13 Sentra SE-Rs were sold in Canada.)
    If I had the space and time, I’d be very tempted to scratch an itch from my SCC loving youth and buy your eBay car. Good luck, and hope it goes to a good buyer.

  • avatar

    Fun project, as long as you treat it like ANY project car, i.e. you’ll NEVER get back all the bucks you put into it. We learned this with my son’s ’68 Galaxie: it cost just as much to restore as a ’68 Mustang, but was worth a lot less, and the only buyers interested in it were other oddball collectors. Same for the SE-R: it’s not a general interest car (like, say, a restored, original Datsun 240Z) so you’ll spend a lot but it won’t be worth a lot, except to other fans like you. IF you accept that it will never become as valuable like a Ferrari Dino or Shelby Cobra type rare classic, then you’re good to go!

  • avatar

    Car Guys will go on and on about “wrong wheel drive” and zzzz. But mention and GTI or B13 Sentra SE-R and they go ape-s###. What the Eff?

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    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.

  • avatar

    what are these cars worth nowadays?

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • dal20402: The spirit is in you if you can feel the godly power even while looking at that upholstery.
  • jalop1991: A bicycle is superior in every **relevant** respect. Why don’t you use that? Keep twisting yourself...
  • ToolGuy: @ajla, pmirp1 said “Right now the one thing you can trust is having your car fill with gas at corner...
  • dal20402: LOL. I read your comment as I was stuffing a burger in my face. We have two cars. One of them can do the...
  • FreedMike: …and Mustang drivers… I don’t know what the issue is with being proud of your ride.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber