Looking back to the past doesn't always have to mean retreading over old ground. Sometimes, the path already taken offers inspiration that, when seen with experienced eyes, points us in an entirely new direction. Such was the case for Adelaide, Australia's Ben Newsome. A veteran of the Nissan world, he'd been on the sidelines of the car scene for many years when he felt the bug to return to a beloved build and create something fresh that would once again stoke the fires that had lain dormant inside of him for far too long. The end result? An '01 Nissan Silvia that is as much a tribute to a bygone era in JDM tuning as it is representative of Ben's renewed outlook on what was once an all-consuming passion.
"I used to daily drive this particular car about 15 years ago," Ben explians. "I'd gotten into the S15 world just prior to picking up this one, after having been an old-school muscle fan my entire life. I thought a Nissan would be more practical for daily driving, and I could make decent power with it thanks to good aftermarket support. I'm a tinkerer, and it was a perfect match."
Ben says that while GT-Rs were common at that point in time in Australia, the S15 was much rarer, with only a handful in his area. Unfortunately, it still attracted an unwanted amount of attention from local law enforcement and kept him from truly building the car of his dreams.
"I was so disappointed in not being able to modify my car the way I wanted that I bought a second Silvia, somewhat wrecked, straight from Japan, and built it as a show car," he says. "It was a rotisserie project that would be tame by today's standards, but we did it JDM HKS-style: just flat white, rollcage, completely gutted. This was the total opposite of the 'sex-spec' Fast and Furious 'big-bling-and-airbrush' scene in Australia at the time, but we won a heap of awards with it and grabbed a ton of attention at the Sydney Auto Salon."
It was right around that wave of success in Sydney that Ben began to pull back from the tuning world and get more involved in his other interests. While he pursued music, his original S15—still painted Bayside Blue—sat neglected in his shed, where it would remain for nearly the next decade, until a chance encounter with one of his guitar students reminded him how much he missed it. "He had been talking about being in the scene himself, and I told him that it essentially used to be my life. When he didn't believe me, I showed him the car, and he told me it was a shame it was just sitting there like that—and he was right."
Thus began the process of resurrecting Ben's ride. It would take him down a very different road as compared to the vehicle's original build, and, of course, the second S15 he had put together as a show car. "By the time we started on this car in 2017, it felt fresh again to me, but my tastes had changed quite a lot by then. I just wanted to get it back on the road and enjoy driving it, but I can't be trusted to do that I suppose," he says laughing, "so it snowballed."
Rather than put together the "ultimate show car" like he had done with his white S15, Ben set out to create his version of what the "ultimate street car" would look like. This would mean some very specific criteria for the overall build. "Most S15s these days are drifted and thrashed out, and look so sad," he laments. "I bought my first one brand-new and, having been an owner for so long, I wanted to capture that spirit of sort of clean, OEM-plus. Imagine if NISMO had made an S15, which it did, of course, but then someone took that car to a tuning house from the same period. That was the guiding theme and philosophy of the project."
In terms of practicalities, that meant the Silvia would receive a full dose of genuine JDM parts, including Tomei cams, springs, and rocker arm stoppers for the valvetrain; an A'PEXi head gasket; Naprec timing chain and cam cap studs; and an HKS GTIII-RS turbo. An HPI Evolve radiator and Blitz LM intercooler regulate temperatures under the hood, and a Yashio Factory ignition harness manages the ones and zeros. Matched with an Altrack manifold fed by ID 1050x injectors and a pair of AEM fuel pumps, the setup makes 415 hp at the wheels and a little more than 375 lb-ft of torque on E85. The impressive SR power is sent to the rear wheels via an ORC clutch, where it meets up with an OS Giken Super Lock limited-slip.
"I wanted the car to look subtle and conservative and maybe even stock-ish, to the point where you'd walk right by it without noticing the work I've put into it," Ben says. "The wheels and ride height are giveaways, sure, but the rest is very clean." To that end, the car sits on Aragosta coilovers and Whiteline adjustable sway bars, with a raft of Cusco and NISMO suspension components tying everything together. The can't-go-wrong TE37 wheels are shod with 18-inch Bridgestone tires at each corner, and the car wears a fully optioned factory aero setup with a carbon-fiber front splitter, side skirts, and rear pod extensions. From top to bottom, all the work on the car was done by Ben himself, including the Grigio Estoque paintjob, which he completed with the help of his two close friends, Nathan and Andy, at their project space.
"It was important for me to use only high-quality parts throughout," he continues. "There's no replica stuff in this build. When I first started in the scene, it was JDM or nothing—reproduction parts simply weren't available. I wanted to keep that pure old-school feel, and it's there every time I drive the car. Almost every part, nut, and bolt is either from a tuning name I trust, or Nissan OEM from the ground up."
For Ben, the biggest reward has been driving something that was built, not bought, and the sense of accomplishment that goes with that. Unfortunately, in Australia's car-hostile climate, he's had to be very strategic about where and when he takes the car out for a spin, even with a build that's been designed to fly under the radar in terms of looks and performance.
"You don't feel you own a car like this. It's like it owns you," he explains. "It's cool, but it's enslaving at the same time, because you worry everywhere you go. It's a bit disappointing, because I have to constantly watch out for the police, which are extremely strict with modified vehicles here. Although I debuted the car at a show, I mostly avoid meets because I have too much to lose. All it takes is someone doing something stupid, and the hammer falls on everyone attending, which could take me off the road for good. It's a risk that balances the work I have in this car, which I would hope any officer would see wasn't built for hooning and respect the philosophy I've followed with it."