How a Nissan Juke Became a Rally Underdog
Let’s just face it, the Nissan Juke has a face for radio, and that's about as much as anyone pays attention to.
A facelift for the second generation of the vehicle has improved it, but here in the US poor sales led to the much more conventional looking Kicks taking the compact crossover spot in Nissan’s lineup instead here.
Reviews for the car consistently found it to be surprisingly fun for its class, and skirted addressing the looks as describing the styling as “funky” and “quirky,” but save for the GTR powered Juke-R, the car community wrote it off into the same class as the PT Cruiser and the Aztek, just the next generation of commuter cars to make the butt of any joke.
Despite this, Lars Wolfe, a custom fabricator for the electric auto industry, has taken the Nissan Juke, and made it something great.
It all started back in 2010, when Wolfe’s then car and team hit a bit of a snag to say the least.
“I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Mitsubishi and BFGoodrich,” Wolfe explained, “but that partnership came to an abrupt end when they asked for the car back to be destroyed because it was not legal for the United States.”
“We had a good strong pull, we were getting a lot of traction, but I didn’t have a car or team anymore.”
Undeterred, Wolfe set out to build his own car, but being in a sea of Subaru and Mitsubishi, he thought he might get a bit more sponsorship interest with something else.
“I looked for all cars sold in the United states that were turbo, four-cylinder, and all-wheel-drive, and Juke came to the surface. I did some research, and I went and got one at auction.”
While the goal was AWD, the US AWD models only came with a CVT. To get started racing a manual front-wheel-drive drivetrain was swapped in. The car has also been stripped of excess weight, caged, turbocharged, had a limited-slip differential installed, and much more.
While this is easy said, it’s not so easy done.
“Everything on the car is one-off,” Wolfe explains.
“I’ve had to completely think about things out of the box, but being a prototype engineer and custom fabricator, it’s right in my wheelhouse and I enjoy doing that type of thing. And then with my sponsors, Nameless, Exedy, and Garret, they are all on board for jumping in with that engineering process, and it’s been a huge collaboration between myself and all the sponsors.”
So with the car on stage, and great sponsors on board for the unique Juke, things seem to be falling pretty well into place for the project.
Wolfe has been rallying the Juke platform in O2WD in the ARA since 2016, and despite the car’s rather unassuming looks, Wolfe and his Juke have made multiple class podiums, and even stage wins, such as at the recent Oregon Trail Rally where he won both running’s of Maryhill and two runnings of Shadow Buck in Regional O2WD, the latter of which he even managed to take first overall on.
Despite the success, Wolfe says his favorite times with the car aren’t about position.
“[This morning] we were at Parc Exposé and a fellow competitor came by,” Wolfe told DirtFish during service on Sunday at Oregon Trail Rally, “and he said, ‘Yesterday when you were transiting from The Dalles to Goldendale we were rolling up on you and it was raining, and it was just getting to be twilight.’”
“He was like, beaming!”
“And he said ‘we saw that car on the road and we were driving past you and it just felt like a WRC car! The wing! The way it looks! Everything! You see them on TV doing it…’” he trailed off.
“He was just super, super amped for a weird little car, that most of this country hates.”
“When I get those [moments]… I get a lot of them, and it really affirms why I chose this vehicle. It’s an ugly little duckling, frog, puffer fish, whatever you want to call it, but it’s great.”
If the Juke is already great, the plans for it that Wolfe has will only make it better.
“We are heavily working on two aspects of (the car).” He explained. “One is the all-wheel-drive system, right now we are manual two-wheel-drive, and we have parts coming for a manual all-wheel-drive, that will be the only one in the world currently competing, there was one before in the UK but it’s not competing anymore.”
“The second thing is the suspension. There are no suspension options for this car. I’ve actually retrofitted an Evo X suspension to bolt into this car, and I’m working very closely with the guys at Nameless, and we’re going to be doing a huge retrofit to the underside of this chassis to get more suspension travel. That is the limiting factor of that car. Once we fix that we’ll be a lot faster.”
The part about Wolfe’s Juke I find most impressive honestly is his own dedication to the platform. Many a time I’ve dreamt of putting the least likely car on stage just for the fun of it, but in my dreams I know I have no hope of finding any speed in a Toyota Previa, and figure to just have fun with it.
Wolfe has seen the actual potential in a car no one else did, and has continuously tried to engineer, build, and design countless one-off parts to make it a true performer.
While discussing the possibility of cars like the Juke becoming more common in rallying, Wolfe said he felt it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day what the car looks like.
“As soon as people realize that something that can be the soccer mom wagon or the soccer dad wagon could also be a race car, you’re gonna see people open up to it.”
“But in the end on a race car, a name is a name, under the skin it can be completely something else.”
You can probably expect to see the Nissan back in the PNW in the future, but for now a move to Arkansas will bring Wolfe and his operations to the Midwest, with a focus on events like Southern Ohio Forest Rally, 100 Acre Wood, and the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally.
If you aren’t sold on Lars and his Juke, come see it in person. Maybe it’ll change your tune.