Nish Pillai is America’s RS Avant Guy - IMBOLDN
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I recently had the opportunity to talk with devoted car collector Nishant (Nish) Pillai, a car enthusiast who strives for photo-finish near-perfection when maintaining his cars. His collection and passion for all things Audi RS Avant intrigued me as most people who go on to make their dreams a reality often do. Car collectors are a particular breed within the automotive community. It takes a specific bend of emotion, individuality, money, and above all, space to become one. Take famous car collectors like Jay Leno, Ralph Lauren, and Magnus Walker, who are as known for their collections as their careers. However, it’s not always the number of vehicles in a car collection but what’s in the garage that makes it worth noting. 

Photo via Nishant Pillai

For Nish Pillai, his whole life has revolved around cars. Still, the Audi RS Avant became the sole focus of his extraordinary car collection through a series of ordinary life events. The fact that he, at one point, owned three of the rarest high-performance station wagons in the world is an impressive feat since up until 2020, an Audi RS Avant had never been imported into the U.S. – not legally anyway. Because of this, I wanted to learn more about Nish and his sentimental attachment to collecting what are arguably the best station wagons ever produced. 

Before the Avant, there Was a Porsche 944 and a Z/28 Camaro 

Before coming to the United States in 1999, Nish grew up in Mumbai, India. His father owned a General Motors dealership. In the beginning, the dealership only sold the Ambassador sedan but eventually grew into the only GM and Mercedes-Benz dealer in town. As a result, Nish grew up in the equivalent of a candy store with new cars constantly in the driveway. He mentioned that he remembers the first Mercedes-Benz 190E in India and accompanying his father to deliver it to a VIP customer. One car in particular that stands out in his memory is a third-generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. Nish’s father frequently used this muscle car in Mumbai as a daily driver. 

Nish grew up in the equivalent of a candy store with new cars constantly in the driveway.

During his first year of engineering school, his parents surprised him with a silver Porsche 944 Turbo as a gift for receiving good grades. Of course, as one would suspect when giving a teenager access to a brand new sports car, Nish started spending more time behind the wheel than textbooks. His grades began to slip to the point that his parents took the keys away, forcing Nish to walk to school for the remainder of the school year and teaching young Nish a valuable life lesson – no free rides. 

A Lesson In Customer Service 

As a young college student, Nish came to the United States armed with a disposable camera taking photos of dream cars he spotted on the street. While studying at the University of Southern California (USC), he had a roommate who drove an Audi B5 S4. One day, his roommate asked Nish if he could pick up the Audi from the shop. This was the Nish’s first real taste of Audi performance, and what better place to fall in love than the freeways of Los Angeles, CA. After that, Nish would often visit local Audi and BMW dealerships to window shop. 

Photo via Nishant Pillai

Nish visits to the dealers became so frequent that the BMW dealership started treating him with a certain amount of distaste. In a case of “if you’re not going to buy anything, leave,” Nish left the bimmer lot and went over to Audi. Here, the Audi dealer reps were much more suitable – they saw something in Nish the BMW guys failed to see, a potential sale. While Nish could not afford to buy an Audi, the dealership understood that he would return to the place that treated him well – one day. Customer service matters. 

While Nish could not afford to buy an Audi, the dealership understood that he would return to the place that treated him well – one day.

When Nish was finally in the market to buy a car, he narrowed his choices to three cars: Subaru WRX STI, Mitsubishi EVO, or a Volkswagen MKIV R32. Ultimately, the dealers chose him. The local Subaru dealership had the WRX STI he wanted in World Rally Mica Blue with gold wheels and the famous “shopping cart” rear wing. However, the sales reps were rather rude in not letting him sit inside the car without money in hand. The Mitsubishi dealer didn’t have any EVOs in stock and couldn’t order one for Nish. Ultimately, it was the Volkswagen dealer who won when Nish called to ask if they had any R32’s available and responded with, “Yes sir, several, one in Deep Blue Pearl was delivered today.” Nish was at the dealership less than two hours later. 

Room for the Mother-In-Law 

After eight years and 25,000 miles with the MKIV R32, Nish felt it was time for something new. At the same time, Nish decided it was time to reward himself with the fruit of his labor at work and what could be sweeter than a brand new silver first-gen Audi R8 with carbon fiber side blades. However, before Nish signed on the dotted line for his first supercar, Tara, his soon-to-be wife at the time, brought up a critical detail that would eventually lead to their first Avant. The Audi R8 had no room for his mother-in-law, nor could he fit her walker in the trunk. Thus, the R8 was deemed impractical. 

Photo via Nishant Pillai

 After marriage, what usually follows are diaper bags and car seats. Nish and Tara needed a vehicle to accommodate a family. However, the couple did not want to give up the available thrills of a fine-tuned performance car for a cookie-cutter minivan. An Audi Avant was an obvious choice, but finding a good one in the United States is tricky. To gain the funds for a new family whip, Nish had to sell the R32. Unsurprisingly, Nish had zero trouble finding a buyer. He sold the R32 on Craigslist the same day he posted the listing. The next day, both Nish and Tara suffered from seller’s remorse like a bad hangover. It can be tough saying goodbye to a good car you’ve owned for nearly a decade. 

The First Family Avant, the RS4 Clone

Nish’s first “family car” was an Audi B8 A4 Avant S-line wearing RS4 wheels and low mileage. They found the car in Los Angeles and flew out to pick it up that weekend. A great wagon, but it wasn’t a real RS Avant because they were not available in the United States. However, two kids and a few years later, while surfing Bring a Trailer, Tara found the next best thing – an Audi RS4 Avant clone. What drew them to this car was the level of detail the seller had gone through to build a clone of an original RS4 Avant out of a 2008 Cambridge Green Pearl Audi S4. 

Photo via Nishant Pillai

At this point in the interview, I discovered Nish is exceptionally peculiar when it comes to his cars. Some car enthusiasts like to restore while others enjoy modifying, but Nish prefers to enhance. Meaning he prefers to keep vehicles stock but enhance specific details that may be lacking from the factory. Think of it as airbrushing photos of a supermodel. So soon after purchasing the Audi RS4 (S4) Avant, Nish started ordering parts – a lot of them. 

 The parts list added to the RS4 Avant could fill a digest post. Some highlights include a factory RS4 six-speed manual transmission and differential, Euro tail lights, high-flow catalytic converters, a stage-three clutch, a new AC compressor, and a RS FAUX vanity license plate. Nish also installed a factory RS interior imported from Europe and had the entire electrical wiring inspected and redone. Nish sold the Audi RS4 Avant in late 2021 for the simple reason that he needed more space for other cars. Thankfully, 2021 was also the year he gained two other Avants, and these were no clones. 

A Pair of Original RS Avants 

Nish and Tara are the proud owners of two ultra-rare Audi RS Avants. The first is a 1994 Audi RS2 Avant. This particular model is highly desirable for being what is referred to as a “triple noggy”, meaning the exterior, interior, and steering wheel are dressed in the Avant signature color Nogaro Blue. Moreover, this model is an early production, one of only 20 built by Porsche that left the factory with no catalytic converters. Audi Tradition has documented the car for authenticity.  

Nish purchased the RS2 Avant in the summer of 2021 as a birthday present to himself.

Nish purchased the RS2 Avant in the summer of 2021 as a birthday present to himself. Now that this car is over 25 years old, it can be legally imported to the United States. Currently, the RS2 is at the shop being “enhanced”. The work being done consists of upgrading OEM components like rubber hoses, bushings, and drivetrain components. The RS2 is also receiving a new turbocharger, custom exhaust system, and a bespoke adjustable coil over suspension system. All the work is being done by Speedsport Tuning in Connecticut, a shop famous for being selective on which projects they take on. 

2021 Audi RS6 RS Tribute Edition 

Nish bought the RS2 Avant for himself, but the RS6 Tribute Edition belongs to Tara. This wagon is one of only 25 in the world, a limited edition that pays homage to the RS2 Avant. In March 2020, Audi announced that the RS Avant would be available in the United States for the first time. The press release included a concept rendering of an RS6 dressed in blue called the 25th Anniversary Nogaro Edition. The day the press release dropped, Nish was on the phone to see how he could secure a Nogaro Edition RS6 Avant. 

Photo via Nishant Pillai

When the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant debuted, the Nogaro Edition was changed slightly into the RS Tribute Edition. But, according to Nish, the production model lacked a lot of the styling details in the Nogaro Edition. So, when Nish and Tara got their hands on their RS Avant Tribute, Nish immediately went to work. The goal was to recreate the Nogaro Edition. That means importing parts from Audi like a flat-bottom steering wheel, floor mats, center console, an Alcantara headliner, and special “25RS” branded center caps and puddle lights. 

The Audi RS6 Avant had 11 miles on its odometer when Nish added a custom exhaust system, carbon fiber intake, sway bars, and lower suspension links. In addition, the RS6 has been fitted with a unique body kit tailored to the vehicle. 

The Avant Family 

Nish’s two young boys have spent their entire lives riding in the back seat of turbocharged Quattro-powered Avant wagons. So naturally, they too have developed a fondness for cars – especially speedy ones. The Nish family is known around their Florida town by their Avants, so I asked him how one can drive these wagons, given their rarity. Nish is fully aware that most people would hide these machines in a vault and treasure them as future investments. However, at the same time, he is motivated by the idea that the RS Avant, at the end of the day, is a family car designed to be used as such. 

Photo via Nishant Pillai

Of course, this does not mean that Nish and Tara don’t get their daily cardio by parking far away when they take the Avant grocery shopping. In addition, these cars are wrapped in XPEL paint protection film and ceramic coating to better preserve the Nogaro paintwork and interior. To Nish, the Audi RS Avant is a vehicle that fits all his needs. It’s as exciting to drive as it is practical to use. When the RS2 is finished, the Nish garage will have a matching pair of Holy Grail Audi RS Avants. The response to my last question was unsurprising. I asked Nish if he would eventually sell the RS2 or RS6. Nish laughed before answering with a polite “No, these are keepers.”