Matthew Cox’s 1993 Nissan 240SX convertible looked fine enough in the eBay photos. It was his chance to own a rare version of a car he loved, and it was fine on the outside! Then he got a good look under the car’s shiny pearl white paint, and discovered that he may have bought one of the biggest rip-offs of all time.
Fortunately, he never gave up on resurrecting his rare drop-top 240SX, and lived to tell the insane tale of all of the previous owners’ “work” that he had to fix.
“It started off bad, and every time I fixed something, something else breaks,” Cox said of his nightmare purchase in a phone interview. “The car seems like it wants to go back to the junkyard, or...to go rust in peace.”
If Cox’s story sounds familiar, it’s because he posts here as Umoja, and this very car was listed among the worst vehicular rip-offs that our readers have suffered. Yet it’s become so much more than a cautionary tale of eBay Motors woe. The whole family has come to enjoy Cox’s questionable purchase, as he simply won’t give up on the car until it’s absolutely perfect.
Part of Cox’s must-do attitude stems from the car’s rarity. These convertible 240SXes were a North American special, converted from coupes by American Sunroof Corporation (later called American Specialty Cars) in California.
It also means a lot to him on a personal level. The girlfriend who went with him to purchase the 240SX convertible is now his wife, and their kids now enjoy riding around in the shiny white convertible. This rolling disaster-car is truly a family affair, and wrenching on it brought Cox closer to his dad.
Even if it had little value before the restoration began, it has a boatload of sentimental value. That alone can make a project which clearly doesn’t make financial sense worth it to see through.
And my goodness, absolutely none of this project makes rational sense. It’s all heart.
Cox is a huge Initial D fan, so getting a 240SX seemed like a no-brainer.
“I fell in love with the idea of a Silvia,” Cox said. “I absolutely loved the way that the front end looks, so I found and I bought a coupe.”
The North American version of the Silvia was the 240SX, which Cox bought in coupe form when he was just out of college. Much of his time went into building a turbocharged engine for it, yet the time and money to finish this relatively complicated project weren’t there just yet. Cox’s coupe ended up sitting with its engine on a stand for far too long with no driveable end in sight.
Cox just wanted a running example of his beloved 240SX so he could enjoy the car in stock form without having to wait for his to be finished. He thought he found a real score when he found a 240SX convertible on eBay. He’d never owned a convertible before! The car’s photos on eBay were beautiful, as the car wore the same glimmering pearl white paint that was used on Lexuses in the nineties. It even had a new soft top! Cox was sold.
After winning the auction, Cox drove over eight hours to pick up the car in southern Ohio with his then-girlfriend and his father. The 240SX shook severely during a test drive, but Cox shrugged it off as probably a bad tire. He noticed a little damage that had been repaired (poorly) with wavy metal and flat black paint in the engine bay, but otherwise, it looked fine. The seller noted that it was meant to be a father-son project car, but the kid was back in jail, so he was selling the car.
“There was really no indication that it was as badly damaged and patched together as it was,” Cox told Jalopnik.
Cox paid $3,000 for the drop-top version of his car and drove all the way back to Ohio, complete with an oversensitive aftermarket security system that “went off if a fly farted in the neighboring county” and a violent shake between 45 and 75 miles per hour. The rear-view mirror even fell off of the windshield about fifteen minutes into his drive home. Oof!
Once the car was home, Cox took it to a tire shop to fix that annoying vibration. That’s when the real trouble started. It wasn’t the tire that was causing the shake. It was a severe front end collision that was never reported and repaired extremely poorly.
“I still feel stupid for ignoring the stuff in the engine bay,” Cox told Jalopnik in an email.
Most people would’ve given up after seeing parts awkwardly welded together after a previous owner gave up on getting the bolt holes to line up. A less adventurous soul would’ve sent this badly damaged 240SX right to the scrap yard and never looked back. Matthew Cox, on the other hand, stuck with it, wrenching on the car in the evenings and weekends when he was free.
He explained his rationale on his own Kinja blog on the project:
My reasoning behind this insane decision was that since I had already wasted my money on this car, then if I failed in my repairs I would have lost only the additional funds I chose to invest. It still would have ended up at the junkyard for scrap. However, if I accomplished my repairs I would have the car that I thought I was buying to begin with. Most importantly though was the realization that no matter the outcome, I would learn something.
Cox took his borked car home and got to work repairing the damage to the front suspension and radiator support. He still lived with his parents at the time, which gave him access to more tools and expertise than he would have on his own. After all, it was his parents who got him into cars in the first place, as his father drove an NA-generation Miata, and the family car was a rather good early nineties Nissan Maxima.
Disassembling the car opened up a gigantic can of worms, thanks to the car’s previous owners. An extra external transmission cooler had been added in the nose of the car for no discernible reason. The wiring work was particularly terrifying. The wires for one of the cooling fans were even plugged into each other and not into the wiring harness. Cox called it “the worlds first perpetual motion cooling fan.” Clearly, it didn’t work.
“Each night as I removed stock and aftermarket parts alike and worked towards isolating the damaged frame I found myself more and more thankful that my girlfriend and I had survived the drive home from Ohio,” Cox wrote.
Once Cox and his father finally singled out all of the damaged parts in the convertible’s front end that needed replacing, they found a whole, undamaged white front 240SX clip at Elite JDM in Philadelphia, along with a set of grey cloth front seats to replace the worn ones that came with the car.
From this front chunk of a car came the new, unbent frame piece they needed. This frame was then attached to the undamaged pieces of Cox’s convertible after the damaged pieces had been cut away sheet by sheet using a set of spot weld cutters loaned to the project by one of Cox’s coworkers. Cox and his father used the spot welds on the frame to line everything up where it needed to be.
Once the new piece was cut to the right shape, Cox was heartbroken—the new piece sat a quarter-inch too high. He started to clean up the garage and walk away from his project dejected that they had missed it by just that much until the new frame rails clunked loudly into place. It fit perfectly after all!
“Measure 30,001 times, cut once,” Cox wisely advised on his blog.
Cox and his dad started welding on the frame immediately, just in case this miracle clunk that lined everything up correctly would be hard to replicate. An additional brace inside the frame was fabricated to shore up the joint between the new and old frame pieces to prevent that being too much of a weak spot in the car’s frame.
After the front of the car was back together, the engine bay was repainted in white, the janky wiring was repaired correctly and the missing pieces were reinstalled—sans that extra cooler, of course. A new factory mechanical fan and shroud from a U-Pull-It yard were installed to replace whatever it was that the previous owner was trying to do with the front. Only minor adjustments were needed at the alignment shop, which was a reassuring sign that the frame repair was done right. Oh, and it finally got those new tires.
Cox’s convertible 240SX ran perfectly for about three months before the car had a seemingly major issue that caused the engine to rev unpredictably and pop. The exhaust note even sounded different. A deeper inspection showed that the car was only running on three cylinders.
So, he replaced its fuel injector right in the gas station parking lot where he’d pulled over, using the last injector that a nearby parts store had in stock. This appeared to fix the problem until the next morning, when it was once again running on three cylinders. He took apart the fuel rail and spent the next week trying to figure out the issue until winter truly hit and it became too cold to work in the unheated garage.
Several years passed with the car still in the garage, problem unsolved. In that time, Cox bought a new house, married his girlfriend and had a daughter. The white 240SX moved with him on a roll-back trailer, but still sat there as a neglected work in progress. He even tried to sell the convertible on Craigslist, but got no bites for the whole car.
Finally, he had decided to sell the original red 240SX coupe and its turbo motor to a cousin and his half brother. The subject of the sitting convertible came up, and Cox’s cousin noted that the injector harness on these cars routinely fails and can cause the car to run as Cox described.
Sure enough, the installation of a new wiring harness fixed the issue, along with a new fuel pump that didn’t leak. At first, a forgotten fuel pump fuse wouldn’t let the car start, but once that was back in place, the little 240SX convertible was back!
“All of the joy this car created came flooding back and it wasn’t long before my wife begged me to let her drive,” Cox wrote of the car’s long-coming fix.
The convertible became Cox’s daily driver again, and he finally had the time to put some effort into sprucing up the interior. The dashboard, optional digital gauges and heads-up display were added from Cox’s old coupe project, and a squircle of limo tint was added to get the HUD to show up on the windshield.
“I wanted this car to scream 90s, and nothing says 90s tech like digital dashboards,” Cox explained.
Other parts were much harder to source—especially the long out of production pieces that were custom-made for the convertible conversion by American Specialty Cars. Luckily, Cox’s then-girlfriend had located the hard-to-find, pricey original tonneau cover that protects the soft top when it’s folded down, along with real Japanese plates from Hiroshima to add to the car. Now that’s love.
The other parts—especially the “ziploc strip” that held the tonneau cover in place—were even tougher to find, so Cox used a 3D printer to fabricate some of what was missing. American Specialty Cars gave him the production documents for the ziploc strip, but those lacked measurements, so he turned to members of the NICO Club forums to get the exact dimensions.
Every time he worked on the interior, he kept finding more and more glass—a disturbing reminder of the crash the car had been in. But he pressed onwards, finally ending up with a fairly reliable commuter car that’s interesting enough that it isn’t a huge deal that there’s still no radio. (I’m sure the radio will be another fun project involving far too much of a previous owner’s wiring work.)
Sadly, the nose of the car went under the rear of a Jeep Commander in March, so there’s some bodywork still left to be done on it. Luckily, the car sustained minimal damage, or at least not major frame-bending damage like it did have. Occasionally another small gremlin comes up, but that’s just old car life. Cox fixes it and keeps the car on the road.
Eventually, Cox would like to swap in a turbocharged RB25 straight-six engine from a Skyline, and work towards making his 240SX into what Nissan’s flagship car could have been in 1993 if they hadn’t had the 300ZX. Brakes and a limited-slip differential from a 300ZX have already been acquired to add to the car. He’d also love to pass his car along to his kids.
You can keep up with this 240SX’s resurrection on Cox’s “The Car Dad” Facebook page here, or on Kinja here. His full build write-up that starts here is worth the read, as it’s a wonderful, detailed peek into the kind of madness that sucks you into a seemingly impossible build like this. This car is truly a member of Cox’s family now.
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? 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.