America's Most Delightfully Absurd Rally Car Is This Nissan Juke

All images via Lars Wolfe. Used with permission. 
Photo: via Lars Wolfe Racing
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Lars Wolfe wanted his new race car to be able to do a little bit of everything: rally, road racing and whatever else potentially tickled his fancy. But he also wanted to stand out, so naturally, he bought one of the weirdest cars in recent history: a 2013 Nissan Juke. Here’s how a cute grocery getter became a manual-swapped off-road beast.

But Why?

“I chose the Juke [for] one major reason,” Wolfe told Jalopnik via email. “I needed something different.”

Wolfe’s no stranger to the racing world, having driven the Baja 1000, raced Mitsubishis in Rally America and Global Time Attack and even filmed commercials with Shaun White. He’s a big fan of all-wheel-drive four-cylinder turbo cars, particularly of the import variety.

When it came time to build a new rally car, though, he didn’t want to get lost in the sea of Subarus that shows up to any given rally event.

“Oh look, another modified Subaru,” Wolfe joked. “I didn’t think that sponsors would be as likely to contribute to the project if it was something people have already seen so many times.”

To that note, he’s right. Everyone loves seeing unlikely or unusual cars hit the dirt. After all, Volkswagen didn’t feature any number of its racing Golfs when the company made a rally-centric commercial in the U.S. They featured the loons who took a New Beetle racing.

However, other all-wheel-drive turbo cars were more expensive, too rare, or too heavy to run—until Wolfe discovered the Juke.

“After some research, I found that the car was versatile, lightweight, cost-effective, easy to find, modifiable and had a strong cult following worldwide,” Wolfe explained. Wolfe’s first Juke was procured from an auto auction, and the rest was history. Hilarious, sideways, dirt-flinging Juke history.

Lars calls his Juke the Multi-Purpose Racer for the racing he does with it both on road and off, and he’s currently on MPR 2.0 after the first Juke (MPR 1.0) was totalled at the Oregon Trail Rally in 2015. That was only his second race with the Juke after 18 months of work on the car. MPR 1.0 didn’t survive after heading straight into the trees at around 50 mph, so Wolfe did what any sane, level-headed person would do and built another Juke to run.

That may sound nuts to those of you who’d rather wash your hands of a car you wrecked in for good, but it’s actually pretty smart. When my first 944 got folded into a big blue banana on its first race, I bought another one, as the upshot of killing one car means that you’ve got nearly an entire car’s worth of spare parts if you buy the same car again, plus all the knowledge you gained from keeping your last car running.

So, here is the story of MPR 2.0, complete with all the hard lessons learned on how on earth you make a mall-rated crossover into a sweet rally, road racing, time attack and hill climb beast.

Taking A Juke From The Parking Lots To The Stages

Wolfe’s goal for the Juke has always been to take it “from stage rally to road racing, from drift to drag with only mechanical changes to the car,” as he explained. This meant stripping the Juke down entirely to install a cage that met the most stringent requirements out of anything he planned to do.

“The shorter list is what hasn’t been done,” Wolfe joked about this build.

Because this was another salvage auction car, the new-to-Lars Juke came lightly damaged. The crushed front corner was repaired, a plain roof panel was swapped on to delete the sunroof, a roof-mounted air scoop was added to keep the passengers cool, and a twelve-point rally-legal roll cage that fully tied into the A and B pillars of the Juke went in the car first.

The chassis itself was lightened down to just what he needed to race, and spot welds in key points made it even stronger on top of the addition of the cage. The end result was a race car that with a feather-like curb weight of 2,500 lbs, down from the 3,130 lbs it started at.

Paint and wiring work came next in preparation for a transmission swap as well as some key upgrades to the engine. The all-wheel-drive Juke that Wolfe wanted for its better multi-link rear suspension only came with a continuously variable transmission which wouldn’t do for racing duty.

The Juke was converted back to front-wheel-drive with the front-wheel-drive six-speed manual transmission swapped in place of the CVT. However, an upcoming upgrade for during this winter will be a full all-wheel-drive manual swap to make this truly the car Wolfe wanted in the first place.

For now, the front-driving six-speed is fun enough, and Wolfe even worked with Exedy to improve their OEM replacement clutch for the Juke. The open differential up front was also replaced with a Wavetrac limited-slip unit, which was actually designed for another car that used the same manual transmission for the Juke.

The Juke 1.6-liter engine’s stock internals were deemed meaty enough to handle the addition of a Garett GTX2860R Gen I turbo. The inlet piping, front-mount intercooler and airbox were all custom-made by Wolfe in his home shop. A boost controller and blow-off valve from Go Fast Bits were added as well.

It’s all controlled by Uprev software that was tuned on Mann Engineering’s dyno up to a (conservative!) 270 horsepower on easy to find 91-octane pump gas. The Juke’s wiring harness was custom made by Wolfe to support the current setup and still use the OEM CAN-BUS system but also get rid of all the extra wires and plugs for systems that weren’t needed in the race car. The installation of a fully customizable Link ECU is another upgrade on his to-do list soon.

That fancier suspension wasn’t left alone, either. Custom adjustable chro-moly rod ends and SuperPro urethane bushings were added, and many OEM parts were strengthened for rally duty.

AST 5100 coilovers designed for different cars (the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX in front, and Evo X in rear) went on for now, although Wolfe says this may change if a new suspension sponsor comes on board with this project.

“The dampers need to be fully replaced with units that are designed for low grip and excessive travel, but those can be extremely expensive and currently all I do is change the spring length and [rebound], plus add another bump stop,” Wolfe explained. “But soon we will be in a position to have two sets of dampers: One for tarmac and another for gravel.”

DMS top hats on all four corners help him adjust the camber and caster of the Juke easily. Custom rear shock turrets were added to move to coilovers from the stock rear suspension, and the front shock turrets were redesigned to stand up to the beating that is stage rally. Wherever possible, Wolfe says that he lightened the weight of suspension components, too.

Next up came the brakes, which included the addition of a Nameless Performance hydraulic hand brake (or as I like to call it, a fun-stick, as it’s what enables easy, sweet drifts). The braking system itself came from a 300ZX. The anti-lock brake system was removed entirely. DBA rotors, Hawk brake pads, a brake bias valve, stainless steel brake lines, and Motul fluid were added for rally duty.

Wolfe has two sets of wheels for the Juke—a 15-inch OZ Racing wheel for rally and a 17-inch AME wheel for tarmac. Both ride on Federal tires. The rally wheels are narrower and feature a closed face that protects the brakes from stray rocks that may otherwise wedge in there and cause problems. The rear axle even has a pair of wheel scrapers to further hedge against the potential issue of grinding weird grooves into your rotors with a stuck rock.

Finally, the car received some tweaks to the outside, but Wolfe ensured that things could be swapped on or off depending on the kinds of racing he’s doing. A full front splitter and air dam were developed and made in Wolfe’s shop for road racing use. A four-millimeter skid plate on the front and rear, rear diffuser, mud flaps and an Impul-style double plane wing were also added for use in stage rally. The rear diffuser and wing work together nicely to keep the rear of the currently front-driving Juke planted on fast stages.

Inside the Juke is everything you’d need to go rallying: two Sparco racing seats (complete with halos that provide side impact protection for your head), G-Force harnesses, an OMP steering wheel mounted on a Lifeline quick-release hub, a Monit rally computer, four-liter Spa fire system, intercom, roll cage padding and Autosport Labs’ Race Capture Pro dashboard and data acquisition system. The battery was also swapped out for a smaller LiPo version and relocated inside the main cabin of the Juke.

The codrivers’ side of the interior also got a document pouch, foot rest and map lights to make that job easier. A tool kit, fire extinguisher, roadside safety items (including flares, a first aid kit and tow ropes) and spare tire also come along in case anything happens during a rally. The Juke gets corner weighted differently for rally events to compensate for the extra weight. Wolfe also uses the QuickTrick alignment system to optimize it all for gravel with less camber, more toe, more ride height, and no sway bars.

If there’s an event that runs at night, Wolfe swaps on an LED light bar to see. Oh, and because it’s a rally car, it’s completely road-legal, with blinkers and everything you’d need to go on a coffee run. Transits between closed rally stages take place on public roads, hence the need for it to be insured and legal just like every other car on the road . So, the Juke can still grab groceries if he really needs to.

If he wants to go road racing, all of the specialized codriving and rally stuff (extra tools, codriver’s seat, spare tire, etc.) comes out, the shocks are adjusted lower to a much higher spring rate, the mud flaps come off, and the underbody protection comes off to put the front splitter back on. The two-way intercom gets swapped for a push-to-talk radio system to communicate with the pits. Wolfe claims that it can take as long as two days to wash all of the dirt out thoroughly after a rally, too. The 17-inch wheels are reinstalled, and then it’s all then realigned and re-corner-balanced to compensate for the crash diet.

If a restrictor, catalytic converter or other equipment is installed that isn’t required by another series, he leaves it off for the next one and retune accordingly. If a location like Laguna Seca has a noise limit, Wolfe can also reinstall a muffler. All in all, that’s not a ton of work to swap the Juke back and forth between forms of racing, given that many of us who only do one style of racing do things like tweak our suspension and realign the car between races anyway.

Time To Race

So far, Wolfe has taken this car to rally, road racing, hill climb and time attack events, truly living up to its name. He’d like to take it drifting and drag racing, too. He’s also trying to make it to SEMA this year to show off the car, which he wants to become the first manual all-wheel-drive Juke in the United States.

“I want to show as many people as I can what I have built,” Wolfe told us via email. “It doesn’t matter what you got, just get out there and race it!!!”

Preach. Let’s face it: Few things in life are more enjoyable than seeing Nissan’s weirdest road car of the 2010s fly through the air. If you’d like to keep up with Lars’ project car and see more incredible build-in-progress photos than your mind can process all at once, he frequently posts updates on his Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

We’re featuring the coolest project cars from across the internet on Build of the Week. What insane build have you been wrenching on lately? Seen any good build threads we should know about? Drop me a line at stef dot schrader at jalopnik dot com with “Build of the Week” somewhere in the subject line if you’d like to be featured here.

[H/T Robb!]