Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The World’s fastest and most powerful Nissan Pao….for now!

At 354bhp and 303 ft/lb of torque, the Pink Pao is easily the world’s fastest, most powerful Pao* - maybe even the most powerful K10 chassis’d Nissan/Pike Factory car.

Why are we writing about our car again, and not pens or ink or book covers? Well, you may remember, good readers, that when we imported our little pink car from Japan in 2017, we knew we'd adopted something a bit ornery and special which would require us to maintain a certain lifestyle for it. 

The blog that recorded the first few months of the car's life in the UK can be seen here, but this is the next chapter, detailing what we've done since with our Nissan Pao x Silvia SR20DET-engined machine. If you've read my blogs before, or follow me on any socials, you'll know that we keep a small fleet of 'interesting' Japanese vehicles, and if that's your thing too, you can follow us on Instagram at @inkymolesmotors.

Like any of our projects, this was something we put ourselves and our energy into. People LOVE this car and smile and laugh wherever we take it, laughing in disbelief as we tell them the current bhp, as the sun bouncing off the wheels blinds them and the little kids point at the pink and coo. Just like our gallery, our shows, records, our chocolate projects and our radio stations before it, and everything else that's to come, we know that our projects often give other people enjoyment; they’re neither designed to make money (though they sometimes do), nor to satisfy any brief but our own. And it's not like we started this project with a brief, I think with this one we're writing that as we go along!

Both a show car, a driving-wherever-you-want car and a potential track car, this beastie emerged from its time with Dynodaze a much-improved and upgraded version of itself; a makeover of the likes seen in car programmes on the telly: stronger, safer, faster, tidier, cleaner, more stylish, but still very much the one-of-a-kind car that first attracted us to an auction thousands of miles away.

So, for those who share a penchant for the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) car scene: here's what happened next.




On track at Silverstone in the summer of 2018 we were into only our second lap when the engine thrust out one of those noises that you Do Not Want To HearBeing of unknown age, around 30 years old and subjected to who knew what kind of life, the original SR20DET had finally given in.

That was the end of our track day, but it was the beginning of a new engine era: a trip to JDM Garage allowed us to review the four rebuilt engines on offer there, glinting in the window. The chosen engine went in with a GT28 turbo, a new flywheel, stage 3 clutch and a winged sump.

While the engine was being swapped, the gearbox was subjected to an overhaul as well as the diff; new brake discs and pads, and we changed out the alternator. 

Do we buy this one? Or this one?

THIS one.

Roll Cage

We knew that we'd need a roll cage fitted as the car got faster and more powerful, so we asked HDF Motorsport to build one for us. One of the most awkward installs of his life, the tight spaces of the Pao required yoga-like welding moves for 6' 2" owner Billy.

Wafting about the HDF premises like it works there.

'A Comfortable Working Environment'

Cage in progress.


The car made its way from Japan on red and silver 1980s Star Sharks, and although we were fond of these and the fact they were a recognisable link with 'the car that Nomuken drove on TV', they were tired and had suffered in their very long lives. We took them to Isaac Brain at Rimscarnated who treated them to a full restoration, widening the back rims by half an inch and blasting off the old red paint. The rims were polished to a ludicrous high-maintenance gleam (we use Peek cream to keep them shiny) while the red paint was replaced by one of over 100 silver paint options - the choosing alone took over two hours, comparing swatches and shades.

And the finishing touch was a single pink stud, hand-painted with enamel by Mole (took me HOURS) and fresh centre caps.

Here are some gratuitous shots:

Progress shot by Rimscarnated

Centre caps by Barrel Bros.

This original pink was close, but not close enough, so was swapped for a near-perfect matched 'Pink 200' by Humbrol Enamel, hand-painted on.

Photograph by Rimscarnated

Photograph by Rimscarnated

(We made him some stickers to say thanks.)


In a bid for better night vision and 'to help people see' the hard-to-spot noisy pink thing hooning down the road, we swapped the factory headlamps for LED versions, more commonly seen on a Jeep. They're an almost perfect fit, and give flexibility with their very human-like ring option or full loving gaze:

Wheel arches 

Since it had always bugged us that the wheel arches made the car look like it was floating way above its wheels when viewed from a distance, we got them painted in matching Hellrosa (an 80s Mercedes colour) by Keith Ellis at Uncle Keith's Paintshop.

They'd needed a bit of a wriggle to get them to fit, and they're still not a super-slick match to the car, but it looks so much more 'together' now - especially from across the track.


The car's also been fitted with a Tein EDFC coilover suspension system which totally revolutionised the handling. Our first words on returning from a post-fit test drive were "it drives like a normal car!"

More stable, level, comfy and highly adaptable due to its myriad setting options, the car did indeed go from feeling like a lairy unpredictable bounce-fest to a comfy ride you'd be happy to give Great-Grandma a lift to the track in.

And of course, the tiny control box LEDs have been set to pink.

Door cards

We'd bought a tired donor Pao a couple of years ago and kept the door cards, which we hacked hard to modify into a fit for Pink Pao (which had had its battered cards removed early on to allow for roll cage fitting and other work). Serious chopping and slicing was needed to fit them around relocated handles, but once painted Hellrosa-pink and put in place, they brought the car another step closer to 'comfy'.

Digital Dash

We added a Sinco digital dashboard for easier, more immediate sight of the vitals while driving.



Gear knob

We re-painted the faded gear knob it came with - a MAC screwdriver handle - in Hellrosa and picked out the lettering in permanent black. Much better!

Steering wheel

Rather than replace the wheel it came with, which is a bit tired but wearing its Japanese drift history with stoicism, we gave the empty horn push centre an identity of its own.

We ordered a stock horn push, took out the badly-printed 'Nissan' logo and replaced it with our own. Since the car is a half-S13 half Pao Francarnstein, we designed a 'Paovia' logo in the style of the Silvia marque and printed it on a brushed aluminium stock.

Tiny Pao

The teeny pull-back-and-go toy Pao we bought from Japan, which arrived in fugly yuckpink, was repainted to match its real-life counterpart!

Tiny Pao now lives on the dashboard.

Original body shell

Proper pinked (Elgrands and Carry van parked behind it in the desktop car park).



354bhp / 303 ft/lb. Here's the most recent dyno print out.

*Ours is certainly only one of two rear-wheel drive Paos in the world, the other is currently being finished in the US by the brave (and now probably empty-pocketed) Roman Vasquez. 
Roman went for 13B rotary power and is currently naturally aspirated, but we know that a satisfyingly big turbo is on the horizon next year!


2020 wasn't the most fruitful year for car shows, but we really didn't do too badly considering. As well as some Exclusive JDM events and a couple of pre-covid track sessions, Pink Pao's last public outing of the year was at a double Exclusive JDM / Go Japan! weekend in September 2020.

With its new bits all in place, Connor at Exclusive JDM kindly invited us and Pink Pao (along with Blue Pao) back for a third time in a year, somehow managing to pull off well-organised and welcoming events in a very difficult pandemic landscape. New to the car show world, Connor's events have a 'less is more' approach with a hand-picked roster of cars representing the full spectrum of JDM machines. This particular weekend he had a post-rainstorm slot at Yakushi! which saw both Paos side by side on an only mildly treacherous grassy slope, the sun beaming down for 8 hours.

Pinkymole was invited to be part of the 'JDM Legends' stand at Go Japan! where we got to take part in the parade: a selection of infamous drift, rare/tuned and show cars taking to the iconic British track accompanied by a lively commentary detailing the specification and history of each one.

Streamed live on the day, Leigh drove the first parade and Sarah the second, alongside the Ayrton Senna NSX, the HKS Hiper Genki S15 and Blitz Nissan Skyline R34 drift car (owned by Garage-D), a rare Subaru SVX,  the V8-powered Fujin Nissan GT-R, the Winfield R32 Skyline replica and a beast of a Porsche 911, with enthusiastic commentary by a narrator who was clearly a fan of the car. Sun-drenched visitors were treated to a mini-drift display while given plenty of time to enjoy the cars cruising past.

Scroll down to watch!


At the time of writing, like all loving built-not-bought car owners, we've got a pile of plans as long as your lockdown to-do list, and we hope to be through most of them by the mid-to-late summer when the car shows reopen for business - and at that point we'll probably be ready to write Pink Pao Blog Part III! 

From where we sit right now on a rainy dull February day that all feels like a long way off, but we hope you enjoyed this run-down, and we're really looking forward to meeting people again in the outdoors with an overpriced coffee; fumbling with sunglasses with one hand and a dyno print-out in the other.

Thanks again to everyone mentioned in this blog who's helped us get the car where we want it to be -sorry about the cuts/burns/strains/scraped knuckles - and everyone we might have unintentionally omitted.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Why I don't do competitions.

~ New York Society of Illustrators Awards, 2008 (two prizes) ~

I'm at the tail end - seeing the 'light at the end of the tunnel' - of making a brand new website, starting totally from scratch and focussing on all the things that are currently missing from the current one. 

I've been meaning to do it for a couple of years, and much as I adore social media for sharing and enjoying each other's work, there's nothing like an online Mothership for telling the world who you are and what you like to make; a central place where I can put everything that's 'me'.
In the course of doing this, I chose to re-visit my FAQ section and where necessary (which as it turns out was 100% of all of it) write my thoughts afresh. After all, the types of questions I get asked have changed in nature, and mostly now come increasingly via Instagram messages and Twitter messages rather than via email, as they used to.

FAQs feel a little 'noughties', but they remain useful: it's still the case that most of the things I get asked are similar in nature and are thus given a similar answer. Though I'll endeavour to answer EVERY query I receive, as soon as I can, there's still an argument for having a 'first line of defence' which provides the answers to the most commonly-asked questions, so that the enquirer can check there first and if necessary, compose a more granular question to fire my way.

One of the answers that remained pretty much the same was this one. I expand on it here as it's something I've been meaning to elaborate on for a while. This is that 'elaborated' version.


Q: I don’t see any awards or gongs on your website, why’s that?

A: I do have some, but they’re not on the site. I honestly don’t think they’re that important, or would influence whether a client thinks I’m suitable for a job. A client will look at the style of my work, the colours, maybe the medium; they'll look at my profile in terms of whether I've created work of this nature before, and if I haven't, they'll ask whether the work on show suggests I could take a run at the project they have in mind. Finally, we'll talk, and they'll assess my availability, process and timescales, and finally-finally decide whether I should do the job (or, it might be me that makes that decision).

Never in my working life of 27 years have I been asked by a client, or any of my agents, whether I've won competitions, or whether I have prizes or awards. Yes, there's a lot more to committing to a creative vocation, as it can be more than 'just' your profession, job or trade, and a client or agent asking this question is not the only set of circumstances in which competitions might be relevant to that vocation. In an educational setting, for example, doing well in awards might be part of a wider landscape of professional achievements being sought out, alongside qualifications and experience, especially where an institution has a policy of putting students into competitive settings.

But I don't feel they've ever played a part in my myriad clients' decisions to hire me for jobs, nor do I feel they should.

Of course, I'm not saying NO-ONE should enter competitions, or that they shouldn't exist. Not at all; that's up to the individual. But I know that from the very beginning - starting in the second year of university - the pressure was on to compete: with each other, and with total strangers, by entering competitions, and with ourselves. The latter I had no problem with - putting pressure and high expectations on myself is something I've carried about in my 'holster of burdens' all my life - but the first two, competing with my peers, friends and colleagues or people I'd never met - always felt a little off, and distracted from the main focus of being in the educational environment: to experiment, play, evolve, develop, and learn.

That's not to say our course wasn't abso-fucking-lutely hardcore. It was. 9-5, 5 days a week, with stuff to get done at weekends and every single holiday; 26 fully completed, handed-in projects in the first 11-week term alone; crits every week and a ball-breaking amount of written work to go alongside it all. The pressure from that was enough, without a tutor arriving with a pile of photocopied competition briefs ready to add their name to the winner's certificate as 'supervising member of staff'.

The weird thing is I had a love-hate relationship with competitions. I hated the pressure, and my friend and I would quite literally break into a run in the opposite direction from a tutor striding down the corridor with what was so obviously going to be another competiton for us to enter. But I also loved the challenge. I hated pitching myself against my colleagues, but I loved the thrill of everyone disappearing to their rooms every night and scheming on a solution, knowing we were all doing it at the same time and to the same deadline: what would Simon's work be like? How would Mel answer this one? Is Michelle going to go for gouache, or try something else?

And I won things. I entered competitions and I won them, or got runner up places, or some other kind of recognition because of them. And obviously, I loved that, too. 

But alongside those positive feelings was the uneasy awareness of an inflated sense of security, the success feeding the erroneous notion that I might have 'made it', before I'd barely begun. In fact, the 'success' I was having generally on the course and via competitions caused me to have the closest thing I think I've ever had to a little breakdown, coming home one Christmas and declaring that I was spent, all my ideas were gone, I'd done all my best work and how on earth was I going to be able to carry on from here?

It was silly of course and, as my Mum very quickly realised, I was just exhausted and a bit emotional at being home. TV, sleep, tinsel and good food quickly sorted out my terrible twenties angst.

But competitions entered later on, as a working professional, continued to make me anxious with a big dose of self-doubt if I didn’t get anywhere, and when I did do well, I could feel the outcome giving me that same inflated sense of security and maybe a little internal gung-ho. Perhaps, I thought, success in competitions meant I didn't need to try so hard, all the time, because a group of people I've never met have decided my work ticks a set of boxes, or it's been passed in front of the subjective opinions of five different people. And if I entered and got nowhere: the opposite: maybe I'm a fraud. Why am I even trying. Why do I bother. Am I actually a failure and everyone else can see this but me.

Note those were statements, not questions: all those evil, niggling little dialogues spoke up because I'd thrown my work into an unknown vat of work by a hundred or thousand other people, which didn't scratch the particular itch of whatever the judges were feeling on the day.

I continued to enter competitions, but over time I started to become totally ambivalent about them. Those tended to be ones I'd paid to enter - and that scenario made me uncomfortable, too. WHY was I ambivalent? If I didn't care about the outcome, why was I bothering to enter? I realised it was out of a sense of duty, and very much born from the notion that 'that's what professional illustrators do'. And we don't, not all of us, just some of us. Competition gongs are most robustly not a signpost that you're a working, professional, busy illustrator: they're just a sign you like entering competitions.

Coupling all those realisations with the fact that I was paying hard-earned quids to enter, knowing that in some cases thousands of people would be paying the not-terribly-modest entry fees (with winners paying additional fees to display work on top), and my decision came into focus: just don't bother. The time I would spend choosing work, formatting and uploading it and filling forms online could very much be spent doing something more productive - something with a definite, positive, guaranteed outcome, like a piece of work, or doing some admin, or cooking something tasty, or reading the book I'd allowed to get dusty through repeated late nights working, even if just for the hour it took to enter that comp. (And where were all the fees going?)

Even during my many fun hours spent being a competition judge, I would struggle to reach a decision and, channelling my early-career experiences as a lecturer, I wanted to write to every single entrant and tell them something positive about their work, along with a suggestion or two on how they might improve. But I had to pick a first, a second, a third. I loved the process of looking at all the wonderful work, and I'd do it again, but I felt mindful of all the entrants' reactions whether I were to award them or not. So I finally made the decision to stop entering competitions myself a few years ago. If I was happy with a piece of work, and my client was happy with it, then it ended there.

And that was that.

Some people love entering competitions every year, but not me. I get the round-robin emails of this competition opening and that deadline looming, and I don't feel tempted to yield. Years after deciding to ease back from them, I have chilled a little, and instead of a blanket ban have narrowed it down to one illustration competition I’m happy to enter now, which is the V&A Illustration Awards, run by one the UK’s oldest institutions. I don't make myself enter every year, my policy being only to enter something when I feel it would sit well in the setting of the organisation, and alongside company that that competition attracts. The process of surveying a year's work and identifying something to fit the brief is a useful and contemplative exercise, whether I win anything or not, and allows me an opportunity to ponder my trajectory, the historical world of illustration, and my place within it now, and in future. 

And of course, despite my decision-making, I totally reserve the right to enter anything I feel like, at a moment's notice - but only after I've run the full-body diagnostic of 'why' - what's compelling me to enter, and can those needs be met by an alternative course of action? I heck myself for signs that I might be being tempted by the dangled carrot of an ego boost, or a need for some professional reassurance, and think about what it is I’m really after.

Nice as competitions can feel, making a living as a freelance illustrator is competitive enough. It took me a while to realise I don't need a list of prizes to tell the world how much I've invested in the profession I love, and how much of my soul is already, in fact, shaped like a little yellow pencil.

A very, very old home-made website page! Back when I was a super-keen Dreamweaver.



~ Illustrations are mostly shown in this blog in their original pen-and-ink form ~

 SPACEY! Published this week is this energetic new book by Abby Harrison aka @astronautabbyofficial, co-founder of The Mars Generation, called DREAM BIG! 

Illustrating this book occupied eight months or so of my 2020, begun and ended in different lockdowns, with over 30 black and white pen-and-ink illustrations to help guide its young readers through the process of not just envisioning a goal, but making it a reality. Not through wishing and hoping and throwing cosmic orders out there, but via the only method that works: planning, small steps, staying focussed and good old fashioned hard work!

Abby’s manuscript was utterly charming but pulled no punches either: if there’s something you want, you have to work for it. There truly is no such thing as ‘overnight success’ - what appears to be that is usually, just like an iceberg, the suddenly-visible tip of years and years of hard work. Abby’s narrative cheerfully breaks down the methods and steps involved in taking the vague and sometimes intimidating blob of an ambition or goal and breaking it down into do-able, realistic small steps. Because one step at a time is all we can actually take - even if ultimately, the step we most want to take is the one onto Mars!

I came up with the idea of creating a cast of characters for this book, who would be there to represent as many kinds of people as possible. Each character has a chapter of their own, and although their names aren’t mentioned in the book, you’ll meet Tina (named after a go-getting, opportunity-loving friend of ours), Zafeera (whose name means ‘always successful’), André (named after musical innovator and entrepreneur Dr Dre), Charlie (named for my energetic nephew who always throws everything into every challenge he’s given!), Georgia (my niece, who’s shaping up to be a real character and probably will one day be reaching for the moon),  and Chlöe, whose name simply fitted the character as soon as I’d drawn her.

It was important to me that this little group of friends was as representative as possible. I’d need more characters to fully encapsulate all the shapes and sizes and colours that human beings come in, of course - there’ be no room left for Abby’s words - but ‘reaching for your stars’ does not refer just to those wildly glamorous or seemingly unattainable goal types such as becoming an astronaut or a professional spy or an adventurer. It applies as equally to the lad who wants to be the best hairdresser in the world as it does to the girl who wants to be a a writer, a boxer or a Mum. They’re all goals, and they all take series of steps and some planning to get to them. And our little Dream Big people needed to be physically suggestive of exactly that enormous spectrum of possibility!

Happily, publishers Philomel embraced that idea, and as well as representing a nice spectrum of young humans, it also provided us with a useful system of referring to the characters, what they were doing, who they were interacting with, and in which chapter. 

The book also threw me some unexpected challenges. Two of the chapters deal with the idea of mentors - people we not not only look up to but might choose to engage and correspond with on our journey to the goal we’re moving laser-like towards. This required me to draw Real People, and not just any old Real People. So I went from inventing ambitious children doing imaginary things to capturing the likenesses of Malala, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama - gulp - not exactly faces you want to get wrong!

Fortunately I’d had a little practise with a previous chapter, drawing three female ‘disruptors’. Disruptors are people who, simply by following their dream, perhaps in an area not traditionally open to them or populated by people of their particular gender or background, or entering it from a different field, move to significant positions within that field and from within it make radical and long-lasting changes to it.  Perhaps, for example, they were not the first person to do something, but they did it in a way that had never been done before. Those ‘disruptors’ were Elaine Welteroth, ex-editor in chief of Teen Vogue; Emma Gonzalez, who survived a shooting at her school and became a spokesperson and advocate for gun control, and one of my own role models, the beautiful and dramatic architect Zaha Hadid. Drawing each was a challenge, but because their stories were so vivid and moving, it was easy to channel their achievement and strength into each of their wonderful faces.

So it was with Malala, Serena, Jonathan Van Ness and Michelle O. Such well-known and beloved faces were a joy to draw since their characteristics are richly evident on them. I wouldn’t say it was *easy* - but they did kind of flow, amazingly, in one take (apart from Serena who had to be drawn twice, as she was judged to just looked TOO determined and fierce in the first sketch - shown here!)

This book gave me the opportunity to draw the same characters over and over again in different scenarios and with the gamut of facial expressions from nervous to scared, to cheeky to laughing and joy. Over the course of the many months I was working on the book, Tina, Chlöe, Charlie, Georgia, André and Zafeera resided on some part of my desk at all times, and it was with some sadness that I drew the final scene and realised I’d have to put them all away.

Some of my favourite bits are the tiniest of details - André's cat, whose name has significance for Abby; people in the background, facial expressions, clothing details.

I’m grateful to Lindsey Andrews, Dream Big's art director, for giving me the opportunity to be the pictures to Abby’s words, and to Abby for cheerleading as those pictures were being created. The Philomel team were joy to work with during this long and sometimes tricky project, especially as all of us were working through lockdowns and associated Covid anxiety in our different corners of there world, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to work with them, and Abby, again! The book made me reflect on my own career; whether and how I’d taken some of the steps in the book myself - consciously or otherwise - and got me thinking about whether I could possibly have set the bar a little higher for myself. What the book did make me think about the most, though, is that you don’t stop once you’ve got to a certain place…and dreams continue to evolve and develop in unexpected ways, as long as you still love what you’re doing and want to stay active within in.

So DREAM BIG people. And if Dreaming Big scares you - well, dream small. All dreams are important, regardless of their shape and size. And they’re all worth chasing!

“Fun and helpful…appeals to both STEM-oriented fans of the author as well as those whose interest lie in other areas.” 


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