Brain scientist’s 445-mile Sentra SE-R is a 30-year-old time capsule

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Dr. Ronald Kalil was a man who prized precision. A Harvard grad with degrees from Tufts and M.I.T., Dr. Kalil died in 2021. He founded the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s first Neuroscience Training Program in 1975, and the Center for Neuroscience in 1988, acting as their director for a combined 37 years. Now globally recognized for their leading stem cell research, he established UW’s first course study in the field. He co-founded and directed the UW Neuroscience and Public Policy program in 2004, retiring in 2020. If you or your loved ones have benefited from applied neuroscience, it may well have Dr. Kalil’s fingerprints on it.

Dr. Kalil’s career in research influenced his hobbies. The scientist was a fussy, data-driven collector of finer things, but also a man of contradictions. He was an audiophile who amassed records and hi-fi stereo equipment, but he rarely listened to them. A collector of Italian racing bicycles who found little time for pedaling. On weekends, he occasionally rode his BMW motorcycle in his custom Bates leathers, but he daily-drove old Honda Civic. “Ron was an unconventional and sometimes enigmatic man with wide and eclectic interests,” said his widow, Marilyn Rhodes.

Which helps to understand why he bought two brand-new 1992 Nissan Sentra SE-Rs for himself and his wife, only to squirrel his away at 445 original miles—to be admired and preserved for posterity. The car is now being offered by Dr. Kalil’s estate, after three decades of ownership, via no-reserve auction on Bring a Trailer.

Neuroscience professor Ron Kalil and his Nissan
Dr. Ronald Kalil Courtesy UW-Madison/Jeff Millerd

Consecutively voted to Car and Driver‘s Ten Best list between 1991–1994, the Nissan Sentra SE-R was a no-frills, throwback sports sedan that combined a 140-hp twin-cam engine with a standard five-speed manual gearbox, a limited-slip differential, four-wheel disc brakes and independent suspension. The magazine called it “the BMW 2002 of the 1990s,” and even today it’s considered a landmark enthusiast’s car which helped to restore Nissan’s flagging performance image. Despite critical acclaim at the time, it nonetheless sold in limited numbers and was discontinued after a four-year run.

“Ron was a man of high standards with an eye for the beautiful. For him, the Nissan was the perfect amalgamation of form and function; understated body design built over a powerful racing engine,” said Marilyn. He “understood the value and rarity of quality-produced items … and prided himself on the exceptional care he took in ensuring the car remained protected and untouched.”

These comments were taken from a sworn affidavit from Marilyn which attests to the car’s low original mileage, that it had never been out of the possession of Dr. Kalil, and that she only observed it being driven once when delivered new. It is believed the 445 miles were accumulated in only two occasions of driving to properly break in the car.

1992 Nissan Sentra SE-R engine
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Said to be 100 percent original and unaltered (except for a replacement battery fitted this month) this SE-R is perhaps the Holy Grail of Nissan’s performance sport sedans, fastidiously kept in showroom condition. According to the listing, the car is claimed to start, stop, run and drive as-new. Factory stickers and grease-pen markings are present throughout. The oil and filter are reported original, as are all the fluids. There is only one service receipt, for a paintless dent removal of a small ding which occurred in August 2001 at a recorded mileage of 10.

The car features all its original documentation, including the window sticker, bill of sale, original registration, warranty information, owner’s manual, service manual, pre-delivery inspection checklist, fuel pump recall notice, splash guard installation instructions, floor mat installation tag, high-performance summer tire notice, and two factory keys.

Video and photos illustrate a remarkable absence of wear on the car. The tires are original, showing a production date code (421) of week 42 in 1991. There is no apparent staining or wear on the seat bolsters, carpets, headliner, floormats or armrests. No wear on the original ignition key, nor any key scuffs around the ignition, door or trunk locks. No wear on the pedal rubbers or weatherstripping. Door hinges are said to slam with a solid thunk. A radio antenna has never been fitted, as the car still wears its plastic delivery plug in the antenna base. Underneath, some of the factory-sprayed delivery Cosomoline has started to melt off some surfaces, but otherwise it remains essentially spotless.

1992 Nissan Sentra SE-R underside
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Less than one mile was accumulated on the car since leaving its long-term storage, which was intended to illustrate that all systems, including the odometer, are functional. Photos of the odometer at 444 and now 445 miles are documented.

As of this writing, with six days left to go on the auction, bidding sits at $27,188. Already that doubles the current record for a Sentra—an SE-R that sold on Bring a Trailer in 2020 for $12,345. However, don’t expect this outlier example to totally reset the market for the SE-R, says Hagerty automotive intelligence analyst Adam Wilcox. “This car is a perfect example of how all valuation logic needs to be thrown out when dealing with ‘new’ 30-year-old cars,” says Wilcox. “It’s literally without flaws, which puts it in a category of its own. $27,000 is likely no where near where this auction will end.”

A relatively rare performance car for the Japanese automaker, not even the Nissan Heritage Collection, underneath the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, has a Sentra SE-R in its collection. Can there be a lower-mileage, more original or pristine B-13 Sentra SE-R on the planet? Likely not, so it will be interesting to see what one buyer is willing to pay for this time-warp, 32-mpg econo-rocket. No matter what the final price, the new owner shouldn’t have to be a brain scientist to appreciate that a sports car in such original condition should continue to be preserved for posterity—just as Dr. Kalil intended.

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