Project Silvia’s Girlfriend: Part 3 - Making it Pretty

by Dave Coleman

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.

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Monday, February 10, 2014 2:28 AM
Except from the colour, those BMWs are lovely little things... The sound they make. :)

Nice choice.
Monday, February 10, 2014 5:53 AM
I had to replace a headlight cover in my own Silvia. I stuck my headlight in the oven for about 15 minutes on the lowest heat setting, then pulled it out and used a heat gun to melt the goo and a screwdriver to pry off the lens (I had to do this twice since I was replacing the broken lens with a used lens from an ebay headlight). The big trick is to go really slow so you don't accidentally bust the new lens. It is a royal pain in the ass, I'll have to try the boiling water method and the butyl tape (once I find some dividers that is). if you're cheap you can just reheat the old goo and smush everything back together again.

On the speaker front, you can get good aftermarket speakers in that weird oval shape.

What seats got put into this car? Did you reuse the super skinny steering wheel? Or is that all another installment?
Monday, February 10, 2014 7:32 AM
I love the attention to detail on this project, and the effort made to give it a OEM factory appearance. Kudos. If I was in the position to do so, I would be very interested in buying this car (since the sad departure of my own beloved S13).
b drecksage
b drecksagelink
Monday, February 10, 2014 7:53 AM
Cant wait for the dyi articles on the bmw...I "love" bmw engineering from my r56s.

Excellent set of articles
Monday, February 10, 2014 8:31 AM
Oval speakers < round speakers, and the selection isn't quite the same.
Monday, February 10, 2014 9:49 AM
I must have missed something. Can you just go run around El Mirage on non race days and people dont hassle you?
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 11:05 AM
Cool article. I like this detail stuff. Nice job on the airbox especially.

I drove a Z4 M once, but i didn't really fit in it. The door is tight to the seat, and I'm 6'3". Great engine and nice chassis.
Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:51 PM
So how would one get in touch with you if one was interested in buying the car?
Saturday, February 15, 2014 10:39 PM
TheMog, if you're interested in the car, send me an email at
sarah at middy dot net
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Sunday, February 16, 2014 11:04 PM
I don't really fit in the Z4M either. Putting the seat anywhere close to as far back as it needs to be crams it into the squeaky plastic trim behind the seats. Sarah doesn't really care if I like driving her car, though...
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Sunday, February 16, 2014 11:05 PM
8695Beaters, the seats are stock S14. Conveniently, they were already there when we bought the car.
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