The auctioneer’s hammer was seconds from falling when Pete Stanier left a packed saleroom “gobsmacked” by calling an abrupt halt to proceedings.
Bidding for his 1990 Nissan Sunny ZX had reached £2,000 when the former mechanic from Stoke stepped in to stop the auction.
“I said ‘stop – it’s my car and I’m taking it out’,” says Pete, who had fallen in love with the Nissan on the short drive to the auction.
“I’d driven everything from a Porsche 944, a Ferrari, a 1926 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, but the Nissan was so comfortable and so responsive I just fell in love with the car halfway to the auction.
The minute I drove it I was hooked
“The minute I drove it I was hooked. There was a lot of interest in it and during the auction it was playing on my mind, so I stopped it. Everyone stood there gobsmacked, wondering what was going on.
“The auctioneer asked me why and I told him it’s just not for sale anymore. I paid the £15 auction fee and took the car back home.”
That was in 1998, about a year after a friend of a friend had asked Pete to repair the car but then failed to collect it from his workshop.
The unwanted ZX, now one of just three of the exact model on the road in the UK, looked destined for the scrapyard until Pete agreed to buy it for a knock-down price from the absent owner.
“A friend of a friend brought me the car and asked me to repair it as a favour, but I was very busy at the time and I was more used to looking after older, more conventional cars,” says Pete, 52 and a father of five.
“I took one look at it and it was all a bit frightening to me – I didn’t want to touch it, so I told the guy to come and pick it up. I kept telling him but he never came and the car was sitting there doing nothing for 12 months.
Take it away, I don’t want it!
“In the end he asked me to buy the car. At first he wanted £1,000 but I said it was a scrapper with no MoT. Then he wanted £400 but I said just take it away, I don’t want it!
“He kept mithering and mithering and in the end I gave him £400. I thought I’d get it repaired, bang it through the auction and get rid of it.”
But that was before that fateful 12-mile drive to the auction, a journey that kick-started a 20-year love affair with a car that now also has a second ardent devotee – Pete’s 22-year-old daughter Shanice.
“She was a baby when I first had the car, and now she loves it as much as I do,” he says.
“To her, it’s always been in the family, and I’ll never sell it. If anything ever happens to me, it’s Shanice’s car. At least then I know it will be treasured as much I treasure it.”
Not that owning the sporty, angular ZX was all plain sailing, with that snap decision at the auction to bring the car home distinctly unpopular with Mrs Stanier…
“I didn’t want to take it back home because I knew the wife would not like it – she classed it as a boy racer’s car,” says Pete, whose daily driver at the time was a Vauxhall Carlton Estate.
“I rang her on the way home and said ‘I can’t sell it, I’m keeping it’. At the time I was 32 and she was 28, and we had young children. She said ‘you’re not keeping that – all you want that for is the young girls!’
It’s beautiful to drive
“But I just couldn’t let go of it – it was coming home with me no matter what. Until you drive it you don’t realise how good it is. It’s beautiful to drive.”
Pete didn’t exactly help his cause by telling his wife that driving the Nissan “was the closest thing to having sex” there was.
“She didn’t speak to me for three months,” he laughs. “It got so bad I had to go out and buy her a Sunny ZX too!”
As well as the £400 to buy the car, Pete spent another £400 on replacing the valves, skimming the head and replacing the head gasket to get the car back on the road.
“It doesn’t sound a lot by today’s standards, but back then it was,” he says.
The only other work carried out was to raise the previously lowered springs back to standard height, and fit some aftermarket wheels (“I was young and flash!”).
The white ZX, a 1.8-litre, 16-valve sports hatchback producing 129bhp, was then Pete’s daily driver for a number of years, with the family taking both Sunnys on a holiday to North Wales.
“It was quite comical to be driving along and everyone see a Sunny ZX and say ‘oh wow, there’s two’. It was like everyone was doing a double take,” says Pete.
In 2005, Pete stopped working as a mechanic to take up his current role as a delivery driver in telecommunications.
His new busy and hectic job saw the Sunny consigned to the garage for nine years.
“It never moved,” says Pete, who has 10 grandchildren, with another on the way. “It was all covered up and waxed. Every three months I’d start the engine to keep it running.
“Shanice used to love sitting in the garage with me. She’s always had a fascination with the car.”
And it was Shanice who was responsible for prompting Pete into getting the ZX back on the road in 2014 after nine years in hibernation.
Dad, we need to do that car up
“About three years ago she started going to car shows with her fiancé and she came back from Japfest and said ‘dad, we need to do that car up’,” he says.
“I said ‘it’s too old, it hasn’t moved for nine years – the best thing to do is scrap it’. She was not going to have that – she kept on and on and talked me into doing it. I started to check and discovered how rare it was. Shanice had noticed there were none at the car show.”
The decision was taken that father and daughter would together recommission the Nissan for the road.
At the time, Shanice, who suffers from a rare hip condition, was waiting for a hip replacement operation, and Pete says: “She ended up coming in the garage with me, sitting on the floor getting covered in oil.
“I was taking springs off, and she was sanding them. When I was doing grinding work or a bit of paintwork she was taking photos of me unknowingly, and she put it all together in a photograph album and wrote little stories and gave it to me for Father’s Day.”
In the album, Shanice wrote: “You brought this beautiful car into my life when I was three years old. It became a big part of the family and we made lots of memories in it.
“You had to put the car away in the garage and two years later I was diagnosed with a medical condition that would change my life forever. You and mum were my rock. You both helped me to live my life in a completely different way.
“I tried to contact Car SOS to make you smile again but had no reply, so I took it upon myself to get your pride and joy back to its former self. You gave me the strength to live and I hope I did the same for you.”
In addition to welding the back arches, Pete, with help from his daughter, removed, cleaned and repainted the plastic sill guards, wishbones, anti-roll bars, and suspension, and replaced filters and plugs.
I fell in love with the car all over again
“Within 12 weeks we were taking it to the MoT,” says Pete. “I can still remember both of us sitting in the car on the way and we both got goosebumps. We were both so excited to get it on the road we got the shakes! It’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it now. I fell in love with the car all over again.”
Within a few weeks, Pete attended his first car show, with the ZX taking pride of place on the Jap Legends club stand.
“I had never, ever been to a car show before,” he says. “I was amazed at the interest my car got, because it was the only one there.
“At the time one of the guys there came to me and offered me £7,000 for it. I know it’s probably a bit immodest to say, but it was the star of the stand we were on.
“In general, I don’t feel the car gets the recognition it deserves. I was at a dealership buying parts and someone said ‘where have all the salesmen gone?’ They were all with my car in the car park!”
The N13 model ZX has since been featured in Retro Japanese magazine, and appeared on the magazine’s stand at shows.
These days, the car is purely a fair-weather vehicle.
“If it’s raining the car doesn’t come out,” says Pete. “To be honest with you, going back from when I first had it I didn’t like going out in the rain. If I did get it wet, I would spend two hours leathering it before putting it in the garage.
I even know the chassis number off by heart
“I did end up putting heating in the garage, and it’s got a 4-ply breathable cover and a battery trickle charge. I am a bit of a sad git. I even know the chassis number off by heart – that’s how sad I am!”
Despite being nearly 30 years old, Pete says the car has lost none of its zip and driving appeal.
“It’s probably good for nearly 140mph, but it was never the speed to me – it was the pleasure of driving it,” he says.
“It revs up to 8000 before it touches the red line, and it’s just so responsive. There’s no way I’ll ever sell it now – it’s part of the family and it will stay in the family, hopefully for a long time.”
Perhaps it’s fitting that a car first registered on Valentine’s Day in 1990 should inspire such love and devotion from a father and daughter bonded by a common interest.
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