Monday, October 28, 2019

The $2000 Challenge Build – Codename: “Special V”


We headed back to one of our favorite events every year - the Grassroots Motorsports Magazine $2000 Challenge - and we took home 3 Trophies:

-Daily Driver Class
-$1000 Class
-Gastropod Class

How did we do it?  What car did we use?  What happened to the Epic Justang?  Read on to find out!

Coming off our EPIC WIN last year as Overall Champions in the artfully crafted Justang EVO III, our V8 powered Subaru Justy (Justang Story), we decided to take it a bit easy this year. The search for a cheap car began as they all do, cruising Craigslist and FB marketplace.  We happened across a cheap car with an enticing specialty badge, a 2004 Sentra SE-R Spec V!

Now this particular Spec V seemed to have some issues according to the seller, namely, it was overheating. Apparently, he had already tried to fix it with a radiator, and we knew from past experience that these cars had head gasket issues.  We decided it was worth a look. Once we got there we were pleasantly surprised to find a relatively clean car, the interior was a little dirty but it was all there, no major scratched or odd smells.  The car was rust free, and the body was pretty straight save for a few dents.  It had clearly been repainted at some point, and the wheels were curbed at every corner, but we could see the beauty underneath the dirt.

The car drove pretty well too, save for a spongy clutch and no A/C.  We noticed the fans worked, and we didn’t see any visible signs of a headgasket failure, so we hoped it was a bad water pump or something similar.  Being as how the headgaskets on these cars are known not fail…and the likelihood of that being the case, we were able to knock a few hundred dollars off the asking price of the car with some negotiation.  It was mostly stock except for an intake and a sweet engine damper, but the big bonus was that it came with a set of eBay springs and shocks in the box, the owner bought and never installed.  He also had some random bushings and a used catch can without a mount. He told us that he started trying to install one side and gave up.  Thanks Bro!

So we had a fairly clean, mostly stock Sentra, a trunk full of parts, and a dream.  We weren’t just going to build another $2000 Challenge car, oh no – we were going to build a cheap $1000—Challenge car. We figured, we might as well shoot for a trophy we had a chance at, since we weren’t planning on going crazy with the build, and we had less than a Month to get this car ready. So, Once we got it back to our shop we started tearing it apart. The valve cover gasket was leaking very badly, so we knew we would need to replace that at minimum. We also decided it would be best to just remove the cylinder head and inspect the gasket and associated parts.  To our surprise the headgasket was actually in good shape, with no failure. The culprit was the thermostat, these cars have two thermostat, and upper and a lower, and at some point the lower had been replaced but the upper looked original, and it was corroded and stuck shut.  We found the issue and it was a cheap fix! 

We set to work thoroughly cleaning all of the engine components, and we cleaned up the deck of the head and block.  We used a new gasket kit and head bolts to tighten it all down, along with a new valve cover gasket and seals. We replaced the bad thermostat and the water pump, just to be on the safe side. Every single balljoint was shot, so we replaced the uppers and lowers, and tie rod ends. The endlinks were replaced as well. Every single engine and trans mount were stock….and broken. We decided it would be worth the money to replace them all AND we filled each one with 3m Window Urethane to tighten them up.  To add even more stiffness we installed the ES front and rear urethane inserts. We also shot a bunch of urethane into the rear axle beam bushing, since it was soft and mostly air space, we would like to think it tightened up that loose end pretty nicely. 

The only real performance mod we were able to budget was a full header-back exhaust we found for sale on Facebook. It was cheap, like really cheap.  It was entirely cheapo Chinese eBay stuff, but it would free up some much needed horsepower’s from our little N/A car.  We also read that the factory catalytic converter fails on these models, and it gets sucked back into the engine…..we wanted to avoid that so this was a win-win.  We heat wrapped the header to keep the ambient heat down and make the engine bay look a little “cooler”. The rest of the exhaust bolted on nicely and we were left with a free flowing exhaust, with a very nice Chinese bullhorn shouty tone.  She’s loud.

Next up was to install the suspension we had acquired in our deal for the car.  Thankfully the shocks were KYB, not a no name, and they even had new mounts. Not so thankfully were the eBay springs…they didn’t fit exactly right into the mounts, and they lowered the car more than we would have liked….so much so that the rear axle beam actually rubs the exhaust.  BUT the car was lowered and we hoped it would lead to some better autocross times – plus we are working on a super tight budget and we were just happy we had some free springs and shocks to freshen up the 170k+ stock suspension.  We installed some new camber bolts and got everything straight and tight.  Lastly, we swapped in all new fluids and bled the clutch and brakes. Every single fluid in the car was black and gross, so this was a much needed addition. At that point, Modifications were done!

We then moved on to making the engine bay look pretty, since this car wasn’t going to feature any wild mods, it needed to look really good.  We completely de-greased and cleaned the entire engine bay. We then cleaned up and wrinkle black painted the intake manifold and valve cover. As a finishing touch, we paint filled the “Nissan” stamping on the valve cover in red, and we think it looks pretty sharp.  We moved on to installing the catch can that came with the car, but it had no bracket. Luckily we were able to fashion a nice little bracket that bolted right to the firewall, and we plumbed it in to the existing intake by adding a simple metal elbow in between the couplers. Easy!

At that point, we needed to clean up the Special V and make it look presentable.  It had 3 broken door handles…how that happens we have no idea, but they needed to be replaced both for safety reasons and so it didn’t look like a total jalopy.  The owner had one replacement handle in his box-o-parts we acquired but we needed 2 more, and they were all black…so we needed some paint. We grabbed some color code paint off Amazon, sprayed them in the factory Nissan silver and installed them on the car. We also removed the faded and rusty door trim pieces and painted them matte black.  While we were at it we also painted the rusty radiator stay pieces black, and the front grill got the matte black treatment as well.  Next up were the faded headlights, they got wet sanded and buffed, and brought back to life!

Next up was a full detail and cleaning off the 15 years of brake dust that had accumulated on the outside and inside of the factory 17” wheels. We cleaned up the exterior and the interior with some simple detail products and we were surprised at how good the car looked overall.  Not only that, but the car actually drove really well with the modifications installed and the maintenance we had done.  It was loud…like...REALLY loud, but it felt decently quick and looked really good for a $1k car – we were ready for the Challenge!

So how did the Spec V do?  Great! The car ran flawlessly all weekend, all we did was check the oil before each race and that was it, we turned zero wrenches.  All we changed all weekend was the tire pressures.  You can't ask for better than that with an untested 'race car'.  It did surprisingly well in the autocross even on 340 treadwear tires (we needed to run 250+ TR tires to compete in the "daily driver class").  We beat out a lot of cars that were on a $2,000 budget AND stickier tires.  The car does roll...a lot....and we realized it sorely needs a swaybar and some bracing/bushings if we want to get really serious with it. However we were very pleased with our autocross results given our classing!

On the drag strip it did pretty much as expected, with our best being a 15.4 at 89mph.  The Sentra is known to suffer from wheelhop, and wheelhop it did with anything other than a very easy rollout from the tree.  Any sort of launch would result in wheel spin and progressively worse wheel hop, so we adopted a nice brisk roll-out technique and then we just drove it down the track.  It was very stable with no drama, just shift 1-2-3-4 and done. We ended up competing with TWO other Spec Vs hat entered the event (yes you read that right, 2 other Spec Vs showed up), and we are happy to say that we were the fastest down the track out of the 3!

So how did we do overall?  Really well, taking home 3 Trophies!

-Daily Driver Class  - (250+ treadwear tire)
-$1000 Class -  ($1000 total budget build - half the $2k normal budget)
-Gastropod Class - (Full interior, working A/C, radio, glass, etc.)

We placed 22 out of 57 cars, and most of those were $2,000 budget cars AND running stickier tires, so once again, we were very pleased with the results of our team built car.  We set a goal to build a car for a certain classing, and we achieved it, hell yeah brother! We also drove the car around Gainesville between the 2 day event, enjoying our A/C and radio, so it was a great feeling to have a legit street car beating out stripped purpose built cars at the event.  Proud moment!

The"Champions Jacket" (an old sport coat with a ton of stickers on it from each years' winner), which we won last year in the Justang was personally handed off the to this year's overall winners, and we were happy to do so. It's a great feeling to hang-out with like-minded car-guys/girls who "get it", and we were glad we could be there in person to keep the Champions Jacket moving along. We'll see ya next year!

We want to thank Grassroots Motorsports Magazine for another great event, and their sponsors - Miller Welders, CRC Industries, and Ebay Motors.

Circuit Motorsports is a performance auto shop located in Orlando, Florida.  We specialize in performance upgrades, ECU tuning, engine builds, and fabrication.  If you are interested in performance upgrades or a full build consultation contact us today!

Facebook -

Youtube -

nissan maintenance orlando florida
nissan sentra se-r spec v shop orlando florida
sentra se-r spec v tuner orlando
nissan sentra repair orlando florida 
nissan sentra maintenance orlando florida
nissan repair orlando florida 
nissan maintenance orlando florida
nissan sentra se-r upgrades orlando
nissan sentra se-r spec v part orlando florida

No comments:

Post a Comment