Project Silvia’s Girlfriend: Part 3 – Making it Pretty
It only takes a short glance at any car I’ve ever owned (or any house, or my closet…) to realize I’m the wrong person for this third step on Project Silvia’s Girlfriend. Nevertheless, Sarah wanted a car that was up to her borderline obsessive standards of cleanliness and perfection, so I had to do my best to at least look like I was trying to achieve that. I’ve seen lots of pretty cars before, and I have a reasonable theoretical grasp on how they got that way, so I considered myself up to the task… at least at the beginning.
The prettification took place in parallel with the rest of the car’s construction, and was spread out over years. I’ve attempted to put the scrounged photos in a chronologicalish order. As you’ll recall from part 1, the car started out with all U.S. bodywork, as you would expect.
The Japanese Silvia front end went on as the new engine was going in. This let us fit the intercooler and bumper together properly. Sarah showed impressive patience and fortitude driving this janky-looking two-tone monster for more than a year. There is little to tell, really, about installing the Japanese front end. It bolts on like it was made to be there because, well… it was. The only potential surprise is the headlight mounting brackets on the inboard side of each of the Japanese headlights that occasionally don’t make the trip form the Japanese junkyard. Make sure you get those…
If you do make the swap to a Silvia front end, realize you’re doing it for entirely cosmetic reasons. Yes, the Japanese nose does weigh a few pounds less, but otherwise there’s no performance benefit and some real downsides. For example: ‘90s Nissan projector beam headlights SUCK. They seemed pretty good in the ‘90s, but that’s because the stuff we were comparing them to must have been candles. In addition to not throwing much light, they have a right-hand drive pattern, meaning the cutoff line that’s supposed to go up on the right side to illuminate the side of the road, goes up on the left side to blind oncoming traffic. There is a relatively easy way to fix this.
First, you have to open up the headlight, which is scary the first time, but really not that hard. The glass lens is held to the plastic housing with some metal clips and a bunch of seriously sticky black goo. The black goo gets much softer when its hot, so the trick is to heat it up enough to soften the goo without melting the housing. As you can see, I used the very risky technique of grilling my headlight to get it hot enough. This obviously has the potential to overheat things.
I later figured out that boiling water is far safer, since you’re guaranteed the water won’t be hot enough to melt plastic. Submerging the headlight in boiling water requires you to boil it and then pour it in a pretty big bucket to submerge the whole headlight. You’ll need every burner, and every pot and pan you have to get enough boiling water ready at the same time, and you’ll have to fill the inside of the headlight too, so it doesn’t float and so it heats evenly. Don’t worry, it will be dry before you put it back together.
Once you take enough things apart, you’ll find this cast aluminum piece that actually creates the cutoff line. Because the projector lens flips everything, the blockoff plate goes down to the right, even though the cutoff goes up to the left. Now, it turns out that Infiniti J30s and Nissan Z32s used the same projector guts in their headlights, so they have a similar cast piece that happens to go the other way for left-hand drive roads. Since it takes just as much work to get this part out of those headlights, scour the junkyards for cars with smashed headlights so you can do the disassembly right there in the junkyard with a hammer and crow bar instead of boiling water.
To re-assemble the headlights and get a good seal, dig out as much of the old black goo as possible and use black urethane tape (what is that shit called!? Butyl tape? ) instead. This stays pliable at much less painful temperatures.