Nissan Silvia/180SX S13 - future classic

By: Kian Heagney, Photography by: Unique Cars Archives, Nissan

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An unassuming Japanese coupe has become a cult icon with plenty to offer

The late 1980s through to the early 2000s is seen as a golden era for Japanese metal, and right at the forefront of that genesis period was the S13 Silvia and 180SX.

Launched in 1988, the S13 was the fifth generation in Nissan’s S-Chassis family, and was an immediate hit in Japan with the Silvia winning the Car of the Year Japan award in its first year. But it’s largely remembered and lauded as being the generation that turned the S-chassis into a cult icon, a popularity which carried through to the later S14 and S15 versions of the Japanese sports coupe.

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Internationally the S13 range is about as consistent as an NBN connection, with different engines, names and trims levels sold all over the world. Here in Australia the S13 was never sold out of Nissan dealers, so just about every specimen you’ll find on the market was a grey import from Japan.

| Buyer's Guide: Nissan 180/200SX, Silvia 1989-2002

In its homeland, the S13 was sold in two key variants: the Silvia coupe and the 180SX hatchback, with limited runs of convertible versions of the coupe. Both the coupe and hatch were initially offered with normally-aspirated and turbocharged version of the 1.8-litre, dual overhead cam CA18 four banger with either five-speed manual or four speed auto transmissions, all carried over from the previous generation S12.

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However, from 1991 onwards the S13 copped a new engine which would play a big role in the cars popularity with enthusiasts. The CA18 was binned and the brand new 2.0-litre, four cylinder DOHC SR20 was put in its place, with a boost to 151kW/202hp in turbo form compared to the old 124kW/166hp CA18 turbo. The SR20 quickly became a tuner’s dream for young players messing around with S13s, and stayed with the S-chassis all the way through to the last generation S15 in the early 2000s.

The S13 also formed the base on which the later S14 and S15 were modelled. The S13 debuted an entirely new independent rear end with the options of both a viscous LSD and HICAS rear steer, while the front used a lower control arms with McPherson struts and disc brakes all round.

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The Silvia came in three basic trim levels from Japan, the J, Q and K. The J denotes the base model, the Q the non-turbo variants with more luxuries as standard and the K was the top-spec turbo. As for the 180SX hatch, the flagship variant was the turbocharged Type X, featuring different bumpers, tail lights, rear spoiler and wheels compared to the lower-spec Type S.

While the S13 Silvia was replaced by the updated S14 coupe in 1994, the S13 180SX continued production right through until 1998, receiving the upgraded ‘blacktop’ SR20 that was used in the S14.

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S13s were imported in big numbers during the early 2000s, flooding the sports car market here in Australia which in turn drove down prices. The combination of a light chassis, easily tunable engine, three pedals and rear-wheel drive made them a prime target for young players; And because they were cheap they were often abused by wannabe drifters, with many being stacked and driven into the ground before being parted out and scrapped. That means, over 30 years on, finding a clean example is tricky to say the least. The days of tripping over bargain basement S13’s is long gone, with prices for worn out multi-coloured rolling shells starting at over $2000 and requiring a serious amount of work. The most desirable are the turbo manual K Silvias or the equivalent Type X 180SX, with presentable Silvia fetching north of $15,000 for and Type Xs upwards of $20,000.

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With the way the market is trending for Japanese cars of this era, an early S-chassis seems far more attainable than anything with a GTR badge on it, you may just have to be patient to find a decent example and snap it up as soon as you do.

FOR
• Turbo versions most sought after
• Decent examples still exist
• Excellent bang for your buck

AGAINST
• Bargain basement prices have gone
• Very few remain in factory spec
• Most have been modified, some not well

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1988-1998 Nissan Silvia/180SX S13

BODY All-steel, integrated body/chassis two-door coupe, convertible and hatchback
Engines 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo
(SR20DET models)
Power & torque 151kw @ 6000 rpm, 265Nm @ 4000 rpm (SR20DET models)
Performance 0-100km/h: 7.5sec (SR20DET models)
Transmission 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Suspension Independent with coil springs and struts, lower control arms, (f); independent with upper and lower control arms,
coil springs, struts, anti-roll bar, optional rear steering (r)
Brakes Discs front and rear

 

From Unique Cars #451, April 2021

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