Sedans & Coupes

This Is Why Drifters Still Love the Nissan Silvia

Though performance is somewhat absent from its lineup these days, Nissan once offered quite a selection of enthusiast cars. And quite a few, like the 350Z and 370Z, became popular drifting cars, thanks to their rear-wheel drive. But there’s another Nissan, long out of production, that’s still regularly seen in the drifting circuit: the Nissan Silvia.

Nissan Silvia/240SX history

The Nissan Silvia, known as the 240SX in the US, got its start as a Datsun 240Z alternative. The 1975 S10, aka ‘200SX,’ CarThrottle explains, was positioned as a lighter, cheaper RWD sports car. Basically, the S10 was to the 240Z what the Toyota 86 is to the Supra. It was a popular racer in its own right—Paul Newman raced one. The later S110, in silhouette racer form, put out more power than the F1 cars of the time.

The 1984 S12 Nissan Silvia/200SX added more performance, thanks to a 133-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, Hagerty reports. And, in the US, later models offered a 165-hp non-turbo version of the 300ZX’s 3.0-liter V6. But it was the subsequent generations, starting with the 1989 S13, that truly started the Nissan Silvia/240SX legend.

Black 1994 Nissan Silvia coupe in front of a hedge
1994 Nissan Silvia | Toprank Importers

The S13 got a new fully-independent suspension, as well as a 140-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 4-wheel disc brakes, and an optional limited-slip differential. In 1991, the engine was boosted to 155 hp, and the car received 4-wheel steering from the contemporary Skyline. But the JDM Nissan Silvia had one more performance feature: a 202-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This SR20DET engine, though, is capable of 350 hp with only a few tweaks.

The Nissan Silvia was redesigned 1995-1998 S14 gen, which was wider and slightly shorter than the S13. It was also more powerful, with its 2.0-liter engine boosted to 217 hp in Japan. There was also a 270R model, DriveTribe reports, with an intercooled 270-hp 2.0-liter engine, an aero kit, a limited-slip differential, and a heavy-duty clutch.

Unfortunately, the US never got the 1999-2002 S15 Nissan Silvia. The range-topping Spec-R model, Drifted reports, came with a 247-hp 2.0-liter, a limited-slip differential, a 6-speed manual, chassis bracing, larger anti-roll bars and brakes, and stronger suspension components.

Why the Nissan Silvia is an excellent drift car

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Drifters require a car with a few key features. Firstly, although FWD cars can be drifted, RWD is better. Secondly, low weight. Thirdly, good weight distribution, as close to 50:50 as possible. And finally, the car has to be easy to modify reliably.

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The Nissan Silvia and 240SX have all these attributes. Even 30-odd years after its release, the S13 is still one of the most popular drift cars, Hagerty reports. The independent suspension means it rides and handles well, Drifted reports. And the S13’s 55:45 weight distribution definitely helps keep it balanced in both slides and corners.

The engine bay of a modified purple 1995 S14 Nissan Silvia
Modified 1995 S14 Nissan Silvia engine bay | Japanese Classics

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Plus, racers were able to modify basically every part of the Nissan Silvia. From the suspension to the brakes to swapping in bigger turbos or completely different engines, the cars could handle it. Admittedly, there were a few problem spots. Pre-1990 S13s are prone to chain tensioner breakage, Nissan Forums users report, and warping the OEM rotors. That, as well as rust, and the difficulty of finding a clean, unmodified example.

Pricing and availability

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The problem with finding a Nissan Silvia is the so-called ‘Drift Tax,’ Hagerty explains. It’s the same issue that makes searching for clean Subaru WRX STIs and Mitsubishi Lancer Evos difficult. These cars were so tunable, and at the time, fairly cheap, many were modified and/or crashed. As a result, the pristine examples tend to command a premium, especially the JDM S13s and S14s.

2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition
2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition | Toyota

A US-market Nissan 240SX can go for $10,000-$20,000 on Bring a Trailer. Imported Silvias, sold by importers like Toprank and Japanese Classics, often go for $15,000-$20,000. It’s not impossible to find a used Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, or even a Porsche Cayman, at that price point.

But as fun, as an 86 is, there’s a reason the Silvia struck a chord with the Fast and Furious crowd. If you want to tune your way to the top, you have to run with the 90s.

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