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The Nissan Cefiro A31

By Rigval on 18 Jan 2010

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Due to an article I wrote I recently had the experience of receiving almost fanatical persecution brought about by Volkswagen owners of the past, present and future; or shall I say the members of the VW cult. The response was great. It was basically, “If thou shalt not like Volkswagen as much as I, I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger.” I also managed to get spelling corrections, from Volkswagen driving English school teachers, proof-readers and lawyers who have excellent command of English but had somehow managed to miss the whole point of the article. Oh, the passion for the People's Car. But on with the show. Let's talk about another cult. A cult drift car. The Nissan Cefiro A31.

This car was produced from 1988 to around 1994. Mechanically, it was closest to the Nissan Skyline and Nissan Laurel, as they all had the same floorpan. It shared its MacPherson strut front suspension with the S13 Silvia with the exception of the 4WD version which shares the same front and rear suspension as the R32 Skyline GT-R.

The car in the picture was part of the family. It was owned by a close friend who then sold it to a family member of mine in 2002. This white Cefiro is nothing like the stock normally aspirated 2.0liter A31. The stock 2.0liter sold in Malaysia came with a 4 speed auto gearbox (later 5 speed) and had puny 15 inch wheels. It was labeled as a sports sedan but I think the 'sports' was played a little thin in some parts. This was something I knew because I had tested a few stock Cefiros when helping that young chap choose his dream Cefiro. One thing I liked about the car was that the stock RB20E engine was a smooth 6 cylinder engine that was pretty responsive. The ride on stock tires was firm yet comfortable but due to the stock ride height you'd know that grip levels were pretty low. However, when it came to the looks, it was utterly dull to look at. In short it was a quite an ordinary car to drive with sedate looks. It was obvious that after trying out a few stock ones we'd have to go turbo, lowered suspension and rims to die for. Since there already was a converted A31 for sale, and since I knew the owner of the car, it was an easy decision.

The white one had a Nissan RB20DET 2.0liter turbocharged engine. After driving it I assumed that it had close to 240bhp at the engine in its state of tune based on the boost rating and the mods it was running. It was running on coil over shocks on 225/45/17 tires in front and 235/45/17 at the rear on classic Enkei RP01 rims. It had a custom built bodykit with a modified front GTR type bumper/lip, side skirts and rear Skyline lights. It definitely looked the part, especially with the very aggressive rear camber settings. This was more of a road car than one used to drift, as the rear differential wasn't one that locked easily.

In quoting Wikipedia on the A31, “At the beginning of its production it was mostly overlooked as just an ordinary family sedan compared to the Nissan Skyline but in later times it has become very popular in the drifting scene. Spurred by the relatively cheap price of the car compared to other drifting vehicles in Japan, some enthusiasts bought the Cefiro for use in drifting. As a result this car has gained cult status in Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Australia as a drift car due to the interchangeability of parts with other performance models and highly tunable nature of the chassis design.”

Now while much of this is true, it is a simple car to hold a drift due to the long wheelbase but one thing I've learned was that it has long overhangs front and rear. Overhangs usually mean extra weight that is not concentrated to the middle of the car. This may add to some pendulum effect that would make the car feel a little ponderous while negotiating corners. Actually it is this ponderous feel of the A31 that makes me believe that while it may be a cult drift car, it would never actually win a drift competition outright. If you take for example the last two Goodyear Drift contests in Thailand and Malaysia, the smaller and lighter Nissans were the victors. I suppose it is a good start as stock second hand A31s are cheaper than second hand Sylvias and parts are interchangeable.

Now back to the white car. While it was fast in a straight line, it was a handful to drive around town. The RB20DET engine is an old school turbocharged engine. You could tell due to the lazy off boost nature of the engine. It refuses to rev freely. This is probably due to the low compression nature of the engine. It comes on boost at around 3,500rpm and only then things get a little different. Boot it too early in exiting any tight corner, the tail will step out and you had better watch out as the steering may not be as fast as you'd like. Now add that firm slightly rock hard ride, it somehow becomes a tedious town car. Negotiating traffic tended to be a chore due to this. Off boost it was somehow worse to drive than a stock A31. The differential also contributed to low speed understeer and the ride while avoiding potholes was slightly troublesome. But give it an open road, let the turbo rip, you could see 240km/h easily.

This was a car that had all the street cred and road presence that a young chap wanted. Only thing was the cost of maintaining the darn thing. From tires that cost a lot to replacement individual ignition coils as well as the ignition control unit located on the cam cover (due to heat and age) and the fact that the chap was fresh out of university made the dream of owning it slightly less thrilling than initially thought. The thrill of driving it is one thing. The thrill of maintaining a slightly complicated fast car is another. He ended up selling it for a Proton Waja in 2005.

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A stock standard Cefiro A31

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Written by Rigval
Born in 1972. Married with a kid. Loves B-road drives and have driven cars from the 1950s to date.

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