Home > Project Cars > 1990 Nissan Cefiro 2.4 GTS-R (A31) > 1990 Nissan Cefiro 2.4 GTS-R Part 1: An Automotive Wish Fulfilled After 32 Years

1990 Nissan Cefiro 2.4 GTS-R Part 1: An Automotive Wish Fulfilled After 32 Years

When the Nissan Cefiro 2.4 GTS-R (A31) was launched in 1989, I was working as a salesman for Metro Motors, a Nissan dealership located at the ground floor of the Atrium Building along Makati Avenue in Makati City. The brand’s local distributor at that time, Nissan Motor Philippines, Inc. (NMPI), allowed the dealers to come up with their own in-house launch events. When the Cefiro, with its 2.4-liter inline 6-cylnder engine, 5-speed stick shift, rear wheel drive and all-power features, was revealed in our showroom, I was immediately smitten by it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford its introductory price of P740,000, which would later go further up to P920,000. Luckily, I was able to deliver a couple of brand-new Cefiros to some of my customers and I’d jump at the chance to drive one – whether it was just being transferred from the depot to the delivery area or when a customer wanted it delivered. One of my customers, who had several luxury cars, asked me to “break-in” his new Cefiro because he was going out-of-town for a week. It was a dream week: I was just 24 years old and I was tooling around town in a brand-new sleek, sporty top-of-the-line premium sedan!

You Were Always On My Mind

After the front-wheel drive A32 Cefiro was introduced in 1994, I kept an eye out for a nice, second-hand A31, hoping to find a pristine and pampered example with full service documentation at a reasonable price. However, I was also getting into American muscle cars at that time, tying my finances on a 1974 Chevy Nova 2-door sedan in 1993 and then on a 1971 Chevy Camaro RS sports coupe in 1996. When the sport of drifting became popular in the 2000’s, a lot of A31 Cefiros were converted into drift cars, which made finding an unmolested factory-fresh example even more difficult.

The Cefiro A32 was introduced in 1994 and featured front-wheel drive, a 24-valve EFI V6 engine with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

A31 Cefiros became quite popular in drifting circuits. (Photo courtesy of Pau Feliciano / dmfdrifting.com)

In February 2013, I looked at a nice 1989 Cefiro with a cracked windshield that was being sold for P145,000. Meanwhile, my wife Shawie found a 1983 Mercedes-Benz 500SE (W126) and negotiated its price down to only P160,000. Of course, we went for the big Mercedes with its 275hp 5.0-liter V8. Fast forward to Sunday, October 24, 2021 and I was browsing online ads for A31 Cefiros in Facebook Market Place when I saw an ad for a 1990 Nissan Cefiro with a price that was lower than the rest. It looked like a dusty barn find, except that it was parked under a carport, not inside a barn. I sent a message to the seller and got a prompt reply that it was still available. I suddenly felt a tinge of excitement!

Among the online ads in Facebook Market Place, the silver 1990 Cefiro (bottom) caught my eye because it was unmodified and looked like a “barn find”.

The Distance Between Us

Because the 1990 Cefiro was listed at only P60,000, I was skeptical about its overall condition. Even though the seller replied promptly to most of my many questions, I still needed to inspect the car before I make any decision. However, the Cefiro was in faraway Aringay, La Union, around 250 kilometers north of Metro Manila. Luckily, a media colleague, Manuel “Manskee” Nascimento of VISOR PH is based in La Union and he took the time to look at it the very next day (Monday, October 25). Manskee reported that the Cefiro looked solid, that it was resting on makeshift wooden jack stands to prevent tire flat spots, and that its engine starts on the first try, after the owner, a kindly elder gentleman named Dangal P. Coronel, installed a borrowed battery.

Manskee Nascimento of VISOR PH went to Aringay, La Union to look at the Cefiro in our behalf.

He reported that the engine starts on the first try after the owner, Lolo Dangal Coronel, installed a borrowed battery.

He also said that the interior was relatively complete, except for a small hole in the driver’s seat, and need only a little cleaning. (Photos courtesy of Manskee Nascimento)

Manskee’s assessment prompted me to pull the trigger and reserve the Cefiro before anyone else could beat me to it. However, there were some hurdles that were needed to be tackled. First, taking the car from La Union to Metro Manila will be a very expensive undertaking. Initially, I wanted to drive it all the way back but with the Cefiro up on jack stands and undriven for almost 4 years, I wasn’t sure of its roadworthiness. Another hurdle was that its license plates were placed in storage at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in Agoo, La Union, so it cannot be legally driven on the road without its plates and updated registration.

The seller reserved the Cefiro for us to pay and pick it up on October 29th.

Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?

So, the decision was made to have it brought to Metro Manila on a flatbed tow truck, and fortunately, Johnson Tan of JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works lent his shiny FOTON flatbed car carrier for our out-of-town car rescue.  For a change of scenery from being cooped up during the pandemic, Shawie and I were joined by our kids, Vette and Chevy, in our 2021 Honda Accord EL 1.5 Turbo media test drive unit.  On the early morning of the 29th, we drove for two and a half hours until the northern end of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) in Rosario, where we were made to surrender Shawie’s driver’s license in exchange for 3 hours to conduct our business in the province. After all, there were still pandemic regulations in La Union.

The arch of Agoo, La Union meant that we were about an hour away from Aringay.

When we arrived in San Benito Sur, Aringay, we were warmly welcomed by the owner, Lolo Dangal, and his grandson, Christian Coronel, who we were communicating with online. They showed us the Cefiro, which was still dusty but removed from its wooden jack stands and down on the ground. We noticed that there was a huge crack on the windshield and Christian immediately apologized that they did not notice the crack until they dusted off the windshield. Considering that we’ve travelled so far and even brought a flat bed truck with us, Lolo Dangal gave us a substantial discount despite having received a higher offer from another buyer. We’re just glad that there are still people who have palabra de honor (word of honor) like Lolo Dangal, whose name translates to “honor” in English.

Except for the cracked windshield, the Cefiro is as what was shown in the online ad, including the dust.

After the pleasantries and sales transaction, Lolo Dangal got into his car and drove it out of its carport for the last time.

The Cefiro is driven into the street to be loaded onto the FOTON flatbed truck that we borrowed from JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works.

We were surprised to see the Cefiro having some difficulty driving up the ramp onto the flatbed. Lolo Dangal removed the makeshift “stopper” he installed under the gas pedal.

The Long Road Back 

Once we got the car loaded on the truck, we drove ahead in our Honda Accord to retrieve the Cefiro’s license plates held in storage at LTO Agoo. The clerk behind Window 3 informed us that we cannot retrieve the plates unless we “reactivate” the registration. However, to do that, we needed to have the Cefiro undergo emission testing and visual inspection first, which require our car to be roadworthy and to have its plates prominently displayed for the emissions certification photo. Because the plates were in LTO storage, it’s like we stepped into the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum. Since we only have an hour remaining on our grace period with the provincial health officer at the Rosario checkpoint, we decided to tackle the plate/registration conundrum on another day. We hot-tailed it to the checkpoint, retrieved Shawie’s driver’s license, and went into the toll ways for the 250-kilometer drive back.

Our project car piggybacking on the JSK flatbed truck. along the TPLEX and SCTEX toll ways.

We stopped for a late lunch at the SEAOIL-CityMall compound along SCTEX…

… and took the opportunity to take a look under the Cefiro while it sits high atop the clean flatbed.

Looking at the right rear portion underneath the Cefiro, there was minimal rust, the frame looked banged up a bit but solid, while the door sills were still straight.

The frame and floor pan looked solid from the right side of the car…

… as well as from the left side. We can only guess that the frame rails has scraped hundreds of speed bumps and road humps over the last 31 years.

Looking at the rear from the left side of the car, we can see the rusty exhaust pipe and muffler that needs to be replaced.

And I’m Feeling Good…

We hit the road immediately after our late lunch break so we can make it to the JSK workshop in Marulas, Valenzuela City before nightfall. Somewhere along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) between Mexico and San Fernando in Pampanga, our kids pranked me that the Cefiro fell off the truck by pointing to a similar white flatbed truck in front of us with an empty bed. Thankfully, the drive back was uneventful and we made it to the shop by 5:15 PM. Miguel, our tow truck driver, skillfully maneuvered the truck so that the Cefiro can roll down gently to the ground without the need to start the engine.

We would stop at the lay-bys along the toll ways to take a photo of the JSK truck and Cefiro combo as it passed by…

… and for the better part of two and a half hours, my eyes got accustomed to the sight of our Cefiro on top of the white FOTON flatbed truck.

Thus, I panicked a little when, after we stopped to take a photo, we caught up with the truck several minutes later and our kids pointed out that the Cefiro had fallen off!

Thank God, it was just a prank! Our Cefiro was still atop the JSK flatbed just a few car lengths ahead!

We made it to the JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works compound in Marulas, Valenzuela City before dark…

… and the Cefiro glided gently unto terra firma without incident.

Once it was on the ground, Miguel got the shop’s spare INCOE car battery to start our Cefiro. The RB24S inline 6-cylinder started almost immediately and then settled into a nice smooth idle. With the engine running, we checked to see if all the lights and gauges work while Eduardo and Erene, JSK’s chief mechanics, looked around the car. They commented that I got lucky again with this Cefiro “barn find”, just like I did with our last project car that I towed to the shop, our 1995 Jaguar XJ6 (X300). They opined that our new/old project car just needs a little TLC to bring it back to its old glory. I just feel blessed that after 32 years, I finally fulfilled my wish to have a Nissan Cefiro A31. The hunt is over. Now, the work begins!

With a borrowed INCOE shop battery, our Cefiro started immediately on the first try. We checked if all the lights work.

We found that the engine hesitates at times perhaps due to the stale fuel in the tank or some gumming in the carburetor. We were itching to hose down the car to clean it but it was getting late.

Did Nissan come out locally with a 2.4 GTS variant aside from the 2.4 GTS-R model? Or did the “-R” just fall off the emblem? That’s one of the many mysteries of this car that we need to solve.

I finally got my wish to have a Nissan Cefiro A31 after 32 years! Yehey!