Step up to the highest difficulty setting with a Hakosuka rebuild.
They say never drive your heroes. But owning your heroes? That ‘never’ advice tends to be repeated, louder, with emphasis. Kevin San wasn’t listening. Japanese hero cars have filled his garage since his license was laminated. His approach often left an echoing voice in his head urging him to the bank, a car that has won his heart but hasn’t yet convinced his head. “Even if I don’t like it, I can modify it to a point where I do like it. I would isolate the things I didn’t like and either fix or upgrade them,” said Kevin.
Purchased in 2007, 2017 will mark Kevin’s 10th year with the grail of vintage Japanese cars; the Nissan KGC10 ‘Hakosuka’ Skyline. A car with motorsport supremacy and race bred DNA visible in Nissan performance today, Godzilla through R35.
Kevin is a card carrying JDM ‘otaku’. He has punched his ticket on the pilgrimage to Japan 16 times. He has visited the workshops, been to the meets and experienced the culture that captivates a global following on and offline. The experience of owning the unique JDM icon in his garage is more than being the person with the right to drive the car; it’s a responsibility. “In 100 years’ time, I still want somebody to be looking after the car. I want that time and money and handiwork to endure. For that hard work to last, if you don’t do that, eventually all of these cars will disappear.”
The Hakosuka is the peak in a series of JDM rites of passage for Kevin. A passion initially spurred by a bootleg VHS in the 90’s. “The interest in historic Japanese cars is an evolution of the whole JDM thing, and that all started with drifting. In the 1990s I saw a bootleg Option drifting video, with an AE86 drifting sideways. That really connected with me. I bought an AE86 and tried to do it up and since then building JDM cars has been a constant in my life.”
Beginning with the Hachiroku, at a time when no one knew or cared for the significance of the FR Corolla, Kevin had run the full scope of Japanese car niches. VTEC Hondas, Type R’s, Skylines, MX-5s, and even a couple of V8’s. Next to the vintage Skyline currently sits an FD RX-7, Kevin’s daily, but it is being moulded by Kevin to its ultimate form. “I want to taste all the flavours that JDM has to offer”, he said.
Fulfilling his passion for Japanese cars is only one part of the hobby. Kevin is also driven to share his love for Japanese cars through blogging for Japanese Nostalgic Car and driving the car to any show he can make.
The effort and commitment required to sustain a passion restoring and maintaining cars for which there is no reference or readily available parts is a character forming challenge.
“For a long time, it felt like I was the only person with one outside Japan. Now there’s hundreds of owners everywhere sharing information, but at the beginning it was hard and I had to do my own heavy lifting.” Having to do the hard yards formed a bond between Kevin and his car that may never be replicated in its entirety in the post-internet age.
“It made it more rewarding. Now I can diagnose any problem. It makes you a better car builder, all these challenges. You buy a new tool, and you master it. That situation comes up in another car you know what to do. It brings you closer to the car; you build a bond overcoming all these challenges.”
In an interview many years ago with a then-fledgling forum, Kevin described how he felt after the first part of his ownership experience with the Hakosuka. “A few months after first getting the car I came to the unmistakable conclusion that I’d been taken for a ride and what I’d spent a lot of money on was a complete and utter bucket of sh*t. The workmanship was lousy, there was a lot that had to be redone, and even when I got it going, it drove horribly.” Ten years later, we asked Kevin to reflect on his thoughts.
“The car is at the point where it’s mechanically 100 per cent. I’m going to drive it to Sydney Motorsport Park today, and I am going to the skidpan to wring its neck. It’s 42 degrees out there, and the car will just lap it up. Now, I feel really proud of where I’ve been. Taking it from what it was to what it is. The car that couldn’t get up a hill on my first trip to the engineer, tomorrow you could drive to Melbourne, thrash it at Winton all day and drive home it would do it no problem. It’s brimming full of character; it never feels anything less than bursting at the seams with muscles.”
Kevin’s favourite place to drive the original Skyline? “The next place.”