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Silvia Story - Part Two

In the final instalment of this two-part series we look at the modern Nissan Silvia range...

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Final of two-part series
  • Evolution of the modern Silvia range
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This article was first published in 2005.

In Part One of this series we examined the original CSP311 Silvia of 1965, the S10 of 1975 and S110 of 1979. In this, the final instalment, we’ll take a look at how the modern era Silvia evolved into a 187kW high performance weapon!

1983 S12 Silvia

The S12 Silvia saw a flurry of Nissan engineering development.

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Three very different engine families were incorporated into the S12 – the CA-series 4-cylinder, FJ-series 4-cylinder and, believe it or not, a VG-series V6.

The 300ZX-type 3.0 litre V6 (VG30E) goes into history books as the biggest engine ever crammed into a Silvia. This big-banger generates around 120kW and is a close match for the torque output of the turbocharged 4-cylinders. Outright performance is also close behind. Note that the V6-powered S12 wasn’t released until 1987 – and it could be bought only in America.

Other engines of interest are the turbocharged 2.0 litre FJ20DET and 1.8 litre CA18DET. The FJ20DET pumps out a strong 150kW while the smaller CA18 DOHC turbo manages around 110kW. Neither engine uses an intercooler. With a 5-speed manual gearbox, these cars are easily capable of accelerating to 100 km/h in the 7s.

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In Japan, the S12 Silvia was available with the full range of CA and FJ-series engines while the American market S12 (badged 200SX) got the 3.0 litre V6, SOHC CA18 turbo and naturally aspirated CA20. The same CA20 was offered in Australia in the Gazelle.

The S12 was a good, solid rear-wheel-drive design that was built on the platform of the previous model. Note that low-spec versions were initially released with a traditional live axle rear, while performance versions and all later models feature an independent set-up.

The styling is conservative with two body styles on offer – the notchback coupe and hatchback. Turbocharged versions can be identified by a large bonnet bulge/vent. Oh, and this is the era when Nissan started playing around with gizmos such as digital voice commands, auto rain-sensing wipers and digital head-up speed displays.

There’s some wacky stuff to be found inside S12s!

1988 S13 Silvia

In late 1988 the Silvia received a complete redesign.

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Again, two body styles were offered in the new series – a notchback coupe and a slippery hatchback with pop-up headlights (badged in Japan as Silvia and 180SX respectively).

The S13 chassis incorporates MacPherson front struts and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension while top-line models are typically equipped with HICAS-II rear-wheel-steer. Visually, the S13 is much more modern than the previous model – it is well proportioned and the uncluttered styling wins plenty of admirers.

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Under the bonnet, the S13 debuted with the DOHC 1.8 litre CA-series engine that was phased in with the S12. The base model Silvia was available with a naturally aspirated CA18DE that produced a mild 97kW - this engine was found in Js and Qs models. More desirable is the turbocharged CA18DET making 130kW at 6400 rpm and 225Nm at 4000 rpm - as fitted to the top-line Silvia Ks and standard in the 180SX. The turbocharged engine employs a Garrett-based T25 turbocharger, a small air-to-air intercooler (mounted inside the passenger side front guard), direct-fire ignition and an 8.5:1 static compression ratio.

Both naturally aspirated and turbo versions could be bought with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto transmission. Turbocharged 5-speed versions were the quickest of the range and can accelerate to 100 km/h in the low/mid 7 second bracket - the sub-1200kg kerb mass playing an important part in the Silvia’s overall performance.

S13s exported to the States were equipped with a relatively large capacity 2.4 litre SOHC (KA24E) engine. These were badged as 240SXs. With a strong spread of torque, these were flexible on-road performers but with only around 100kW, they weren't particularly fast.

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Inside, the S13 Silvia and 180SX has poor space – especially in the rear seat. Standard features on turbo models include power windows and mirrors, climate control, a leather wheel and map lights. A digital head-up speed display and sunroof are fitted to top-line versions.

The Nissan S13 range was updated in 1991.

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The most important change was the abandonment of the CA18 twin-cam engine in favour of a larger capacity 2.0 litre engine – the all-new SR20. With a naturally aspirated version of the SR20 (SR20DE), the base spec Silvia Js and Qs now pushed 112kW. And the top-line Silvia Ks and 180SX? Well, the turbocharged ‘red rocker cover’ version of the SR20DET stomps out 150kW at 6000 rpm and 275Nm at 4000 rpm. This provides a power to weight ratio right up there with the fastest Silvia model.

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As part of the ’91 upgrade, the front brakes of turbocharged S13s were enlarged, interior trim material and the steering wheel were changed, the alloy wheels were restyled and there were a few other minor alterations. US-spec 240SXs were also now available with a DOHC version of the 2.4 litre engine – the KA24DE.

Production of the Silva ended in around 1993 but the hatchback 180SX continued until 1999.

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From 1994, the 180SX’s SR20 turbo engine swapped from a red rocker cover to the black rocker cover version with no effect on power. A convertible version was also introduced in this year - only a few hundred examples were built.

The limited edition Sil80 (essentially a 180SX fitted with a Silvia nose) was factory manufactured between 1994 and 1996. The Sil80 was inspired by drift enthusiasts who, having crashed the front of their 180SX, found it cheaper to fit a Silvia nose. Factory Sil80s are also fitted with ‘drift spec’ suspension – an unusual move for a major car manufacturer!

After 1996, 180SXs were fitted with round taillights, new wheels and few other minor mods. The turbo version was released in Type R and Type X versions while a pair of naturally aspirated models was also introduced to the Japanese market.

1993 S14 Silvia

Having realised they were on a good thing with the S13, Nissan followed a similar theme with the next generation S14.

However, the S14 was bigger, heavier and more refined than its predecessor.

Mechanically, the SR20 turbo engine remained essentially the same except for the addition of variable inlet cam timing. We believe Japanese versions were also fitted with a slightly larger frame turbocharger - output of the Japanese S14 is around 161kW. The Japanese market also saw a naturally aspirated SR20DE version making 118kW and substantially less torque. Meanwhile, the US-spec 240SX marched on with its naturally aspirated DOHC 2.4 litre engine.

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The appearance of the S14 was relatively understated. Available as a coupe only (no hatchback version), it abandoned pop-up headlights and adopted a very simple style. Under the skin, the suspension layout remained essentially the same with changes influenced by the larger Skyline model. Five-stud wheels were adopted.

The Australian market S14 (badged 200SX) was detuned to 147kW but still has the ability to run to 100 km/h in around 7 seconds. It is also missing the HICAS option available in Japan as well as a triple gauge cluster below the audio head unit.

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The S14 Silvia/200SX received a minor update in 1997. The updated model (known as S14a) is differentiated by its sharper front-end styling. There were no major mechanical changes, except for slight alteration of rear suspension geometry and changes to the engine management. The S14a was the final Silvia to be sold in the US.

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Interestingly, Nizmo Japan produced a 270R version of the S14 Silvia in 1994. The 270R employed a bigger exhaust, intercooler, revised camshafts, reprogrammed engine management, larger injectors and an R32 Skyline GT-R fuel pump for a total of 270hp (198kW). Other features include a Nismo clutch, mechanical LSD, lowered adjustable suspension, suspension tower braces, forged alloy 17 inch wheels, R33 Skyline Type M brakes and an ‘Edge’ body kit. All 270Rs were painted black with stripes.

These are a truly awesome package.

1999 S15 Silvia

The final chapter in Silvia history began with the release of the S15.

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The S15 Silvia appeared in Japan and New Zealand in 1999 (New Zealand receiving the Japanese spec vehicle). Engine choices remained the same as previously – you could buy a naturally aspirated or turbocharged SR20 2.0 litre. These Japanese-spec atmo and turbo models were badged Spec S and Spec R respectively.

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Big news was the introduction of the fastest Silvia ever from the factory. The Japanese-spec S15 Spec R was available with a new 6-speed manual gearbox together with an enhanced version of the SR20DET kicking out 184kW at 6400 rpm. Much of this extra power is said to come from a high-flow exhaust and revised ECU mapping. Combine this extra grunt and 6-speed ‘box with a helical LSD (similar to the Skyline GT-R V-spec) and a kerb weight of around 1240kg and it’s no surprise this is a flat 6 second 0 – 100 km/h performer. No question, this is the fastest Silvia to ever wear the Nissan seal of approval.

Note that the 4-speed automatic versions of the Japanese-spec S15 generate less power than the 6-speed. Autos generate 164kW at 6000 rpm and channel drive through a viscous LSD.

The chassis was essentially the same as introduced in the S14 except the dampers, springs and swaybars were revised. HICAS rear-steer and suspension tower braces were fitted to certain models. As far as we can determine, the brakes remained identical (except for the addition of brake assist) and the steering was unchanged except for reduced power assistance (to improve steering feel).

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Visually, the S15 has a wedge-like profile, is slightly lower and shorter than the S14 and 16 inch alloys are worn on turbo versions. The new look received widespread acclaim at the time of release. Note that a body kit equipped Aero version was available as an option in Japan and New Zealand.

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Inside, the S15 cabin was completely revised to incorporate a centrally mounted tacho, 'titanium look' instrument surround, new seats, revised driving position and dual airbags. Rear passenger space remained poor.

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One of the most interesting S15s was the Autech-tweaked version of the naturally aspirated Japanese Spec S. The Autech Varietta incorporated an elaborate folding hardtop that could be automatically deployed in around 20 seconds.

Interestingly, the S15 (badged as 200SX) didn’t appear in Australia until 2001.

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Australian-spec S15s were available only in turbocharged form (which isn’t such a bad thing!) but engine output was reduced to cope with local conditions. Engine output remained unchanged from the S14 at 147kW/265Nm - regardless of whether you went for a new 6-speed version or automatic.

Without the option of a naturally aspirated version, the model identification structure was reshuffled for the Australian market. The Spec S and Spec R designations refer to trim level only - the Spec S is the base model version with a clean body style and single CD player while the top-line Spec R boasts side skirts, a small rear spoiler, 6-stack CD and sunroof. Note that none of the Australian-spec S15s received the A-pillar boost gauge or climate control fitted to the Japanese-spec version.

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Sales of the last Australian S15s were helped along by a GT limited edition package comprising leather trim, chrome interior details, polished wheels, a Japanese-spec rear wing (as seen on the Aero) and GT badges. The GT package was available on both Spec S and Spec R models.

A similar sales exercise happened in New Zealand. Their turbocharged Spec Rs were fitted with 17 inch alloys, low profile tyres and an upgraded audio head unit and were sold as Spec R II.

Production of the Silvia ended in 2002. The demise of the series is apparently due to difficulties meeting tightening Japanese emission standards. But, fingers crossed, we will see the Silvia make a return - just as it did after the original 1965 model was axed...


See Silvia Story - Part One for Part One of this series.

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