Some would argue that the N13 generation Nissan Sunny is an old lady’s car. But Robin Whitfield and his Bosozoku Nissan Sunny beg to differ…
Bosozoku is a Japanese subculture that often takes a lot of explaining. Literally meaning ‘reckless tribe’, the ethos traces its roots back to illegal motorcycle street- racers of the 1950s, when outrageously styled bikes tore up the streets of suburban Japan with little regard for safety or the law. Fast-forward 60 years, however, and this is what boso means today…
The modern Bosozoku car owes a lot to the styling treatments of their forefathers in the 1980s, which are enjoying a huge renaissance of late. We’re talking sump-clattering ride height, surreally caricatured bodykits, jutting sharknoses, comically extended exhausts, in-your- face retro colour-schemes. A deliberately jarring aesthetic. Imagine
a Group 5 racer from the 1970s, if it were animated by Marvel Comics.
It’s the kind of vibe that makes the vast majority of onlookers laugh and scoff. Which is just what the boso driver wants. You don’t see a lot of cars styled in this manner in the UK. The Nissan Sunny you see here is something of a show regular, evolving gradually over the years as owner Robin Whitfield – aka Epic Specialz – experiments with new ideas and treatments. But why start with an N13-generation Nissan Sunny, of all things? Bit of a granny’s car, isn’t it?
Well, yes, in the case of this car, that’s true in the most literal sense. “The Sunny was given to me by my late grandma when I was 17,” says Robin. “It was my first car. She’d owned it from brand new, and I’ve now had it for 10 years. As a first car it naturally got customised – as any 17-year-old would do. But I fell in love with the Sunny. There was a real emotional attachment and with the passing of my grandma, the car gained a huge sentimental value to me. I will never, ever let this car go. But it will just continue to evolve and change as it has done over the years.”
There’s an elephant in the room, of course, so we’re just going to have to go ahead and ask the question: how did an old lady’s Nissan turn into a straight-up Kaido Racer? It’s not exactly a well-trodden path in the UK. “It was a typical elderly person’s car when I got it,” Robin recalls. “Totally standard, but with years of dents, scratches and battle-scars all over. But I’ve been modifying cars from the moment I passed my driving test, every car I’ve owned has been modded in some way, all starting with this one. I can’t drive something boring and normal. Everything’s got to be scraping the floor and have nice wheels at least! And I didn’t go full boso with this one at first. It was more of a gradual evolution.”
Indeed, the car’s first major makeover came in the form of a full-blown rat-look treatment – a pretty common sight these days, but fairly radical stuff back in 2007. Robin kept it in this artfully crusty state for a few years until the scene caught up and it all started to feel a bit mainstream. “Rat had lost its shock factor,” he says. “But I’ve always been a fan of Japanese culture and all its unusual quirks, and I discovered Bosozoku, thanks to the internet making it more well- known. It blew my mind! I thought it was nuts and I just had to build my own. I took the Sunny off the road so I could rework it into my own interpretation of Bosozoku. Although I never expected I’d be going quite this far with it!”
That’s an inherent element of the whole boso culture though, really. There are no half-measures. It’s proper go-big-or-go-home stuff. Two fingers waved at the mainstream. Robin set about hand-crafting all of the bodywork himself, from the trademark jutting Kaido sharknose to the wing extensions, the Deppa chin spoiler to the chunky sideskirts – and, of course, that colossal rear spoiler.
The build gradually evolved over the following years, with the car’s first outing on the show scene in Zokusha guise being, Robin admits, a slightly rushed job. He was keen to get it out into the world in its new Nato Green paint. “After that debut I ended up stripping it down again, so I could redo some of the bodywork and repaint it in a more appropriate black and gold colour scheme,” he says.
That was only a roller job though. “So again I went back to do some more bodywork, spending six months getting it all spot-on, and decided at that point it was time to go as mad and all-out as I could – but still keeping it usable. And that’s when it received this more professional custom purple and gold paint job.
“I started this latest evolution just after Christmas,” he continues, “and everything has been done by myself in my Epic Specialz unit. All the metalwork and bodywork, making the various spoilers and all the painting and masking. In fact the biggest hurdle with the whole project was the fact that I absolutely hate doing bodywork and there was a lot of sanding and filling to do! But I’m not made of money and could never afford to pay a bodyshop to do it all for me. The only thing I didn’t do was refurb the wheels, that was carried out by Rimscarnated.”
The aesthetics of Robin’s Sunny are so shocking to the eye, so far removed from everything we’re used to seeing on the road, that it can be hard to look beyond them. But it’s worth trying, as he’s put a lot of effort into ensuring this is a usable and practical (well, relatively speaking) daily driver.
The chassis has been seam-welded for strength as the BC coilovers are modified to ensure there’s almost no suspension travel – it’s all vital for the look to have the thing suspended just-so. And a lot of thought has gone into getting it down and keeping it there. The chassis rails have been sectioned by 15mm, the fuel and brake lines are re-routed inside the car to keep them safe, and the driveshafts are shortened to keep them from popping out, thanks to all that negative camber Robin’s running.
The running gear’s pretty perky too. The GA16DS from a later Sunny offers such racy retro thrills as 16 valves and a twin-cam head (we know, hold on to your hats) and that’s all been raised on custom mounts too, to stop it clattering into anything. Which sort of works, most of the time.
The pièce de résistance, however, is that custom straight-through exhaust, finishing in those astonishing high-rise takeyari pipes. It’s all just so wilfully naughty, you can almost imagine Robin rasping around Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway at 3am, flicking Vs at the law and laughing his head off.
“People’s reactions are definitely love or hate,” he grins. “Either way, it turns heads absolutely everywhere. My favourite reactions are the WTF moments, the people who just can’t and won’t understand it. But a lot of people seem to like it, and I’m most proud of the fact that I did it all myself. I’m a mechanic by trade – I fix things rather than make them shiny! And I know it’s not perfect, but I can truly say it’s a ‘built not bought’ car.”
We can’t think of a more splendid or impressive fate for his grandma’s car than this. Instead of fading into obscurity or being consigned to the scrapper, this is now probably the best-known Sunny in the country. And with the bond Robin’s forged with it, coupled with his inability to leave it alone, you’re going to be seeing it in brighter and more extreme evolutions for years to come.
￼OWNER: ROBIN WHITFIELD
TECH SPEC: NISSAN SUNNY
Bosozoku Kaido Racer style; custom-fabricated sharknose; front splitter; wing spoilers; wide arches; sideskirts; ducktail spoiler; slit spoiler under rear bumper and rear wing; custom purple and gold paint with gold metalflake; custom twin headlights and taillights; stickers by Urban Graffix.
GA16DS 1.6-litre 16v twin-cam; custom mounts to raise engine/gearbox by 1in; custom straight- through exhaust with takeyari pipes; 5-speed manual; shortened driveshafts; fuel and brake lines rerouted inside car.
8x13in ET8 Alleycat Rally Specials with 50mm spacers (for ET-42 offset); 165/55 tyres, BC coilovers customised for super-lows; Stance-Solutions Static+ kit; -8 degrees front camber; -12 degrees rear camber – from camber top mounts and modded lower brackets; seam-welded chassis; chassis rails sectioned by 15mm.
Red and black furry seat covers; OMP red suede deep-dish steering wheel with Sparco quick-release; custom one-off knuckle-duster gearknob.
Words Daniel Bevis Photos Neil Sterry