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Prime Time for S15

Now is the ideal time to jump into a second-hand Nissan S15 200SX/Silvia

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Overview of local/import S15s
  • Current prices and problems to watch out for
  • A look at a feet-on-the-ground modified example
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The Nissan S15 200SX (aka Silvia) will go into history as one of the most popular rear-drive turbo cars of all time. With the final incarnation of the SR20DET under its nose, refined suspension and the ‘next generation’ of diff technology, the S15 is heaven for anyone into drifting or high performance on a broader basis. Its unfortunate axing in 2002 only makes the chuckable Nissan coupe even more desirable.

In this article, we’ll give you a second-hand buyers’ perspective on the S15 as well as a down-to-earth modified example that shows what can be done without spending wads of cash on an engine build and exotic management system...

The S15 200SX

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Despite having an all-new appearance, it’s important to remember the S15 200SX is built on the same platform as the earlier S14 model. Wheelbase remains at 2525mm and track measurements are unchanged but the new body panels make it slightly shorter and lower. The styling also went in the direction of creating a ‘wedge’ coupe with distinctive front and rear lights.

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With its new exterior metal, it’s only logical the S15 also boasts a new interior. You’ll find more supportive seats, a smooth dashboard with titanium-look gauges and highlights. Nissan also tweaked the angle of the accelerator pedal for greater driver control and improved safety with double intrusion bars in each door and dual airbags (in Australian delivered models). Unfortunately, rear passenger space remains poor.

In Australian models, the entry-level Spec S version is quipped with a single CD/tuner and a spoiler-less body, while top-line Spec Rs boast a six-stack CD, sunroof, rear spoiler and skirts. Spec S or Spec R badges can be found on the rear quarter panels.

As an evolution of earlier S-series coupes, the S15 employs a longitudinally mounted engine at the front and drive is delivered to the rear wheels. While these major ingredients stay the same, Nissan executed some effective tuning upgrades...

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The rear springs are uprated (to 2.4kg/mm), shock absorber rebound force is increased and beefier swaybars are fitted. The body also benefits from additional strengthening. The basic suspension layout remains the same – MacPherson struts at the front and a sophisticated multi-link rear IRS (similar to that used in the Skyline GT-R).

Braking is though four wheel discs and four-pot front calipers with an upsized dual diaphragm booster and ABS. Brake Assist is also added. Steering feel is improved by a reduction of power assistance and Australian models don’t receive the HICAS rear-steer system found in Japanese models. Rims are restyled 16 inch alloys wearing 205/55 tyres.

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The engine is fundamentally unchanged from the S14. There’s the same ‘black top’ SR20DET 2-litre in-line four with a DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder head featuring variable inlet cam timing. We believe the turbocharger is slightly altered and boost pressure is electronically set to 0.73 Bar (10.7 psi). This produces 147kW at 6400 rpm and 265Nm at 4800 rpm (when running on premium unleaded fuel).

Changes to the S15 driveline include the fitment of a dual mass flywheel and revised clutch assembly providing a clamping force of 635kg. But the big news is the introduction of a six-speed close-ratio gearbox with triple cone synchros on first, second and third gear. Interestingly, the six-speed equipped S15s also come with a helical LSD (as used on the Skyline GT-R V-spec). This provides greater traction and faster response in low grip conditions. Optional four-speed automatic versions of the S15 continue to use a viscous LSD.

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Weighing 1265 – 1304kg (depending on transmission and spec), the S15 can rip to 100 km/h quite easily in the mid/high 6 second range. Autos are anywhere up to a second slower. Handling is characterized with a hint of turn-in understeer but they are generally quite balanced. You can also enjoy a sweet transition to oversteer if you get on the throttle while exiting tight corners.

It’s no wonder the S15 is a favourite - it’s attractive, quick and fun to drive.

S15 200SX Buyer Guide

With all S15s now outside of their factory warranty period, it’s the ideal time to pick one up at a good price. And, compared to S14s, there’s a much greater selection of well-kept non-modified examples to be found.

Released in Australia in late 2000, the S15 kicked off with a new price as low as AUD$39,990. Top-line Spec R auto models fetched another AUD$6000. Today, the cheapest S15 you can find is advertised in the low 20 grand range – most of these with more than about 110,000km. At the opposite end of the range, you can pick up a low kilometer Spec R in perfect condition for about AUD$35,000. There seems to be little price variation for cars equipped with aftermarket wheels, a high-flow exhaust and other minor mods, however, automatic trans versions are a bit cheaper.

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When inspecting a second-hand S15 you should look out for the typical symptoms of thrashing and abuse. A dodgy clutch, deep-sounding engine knocks, excessive valvetrain clatter, turbo smoke/noise and excessive noise from the six-speed gearbox (which is noisy at the best of times) should be on your ‘uh oh’ list. Also keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of reversed modifications – rounded nuts on the exhaust, tampered boost control hoses and Do-It-Yourself holes through the inner guard to feed the airbox. An example with genuine Nissan servicing is also a safe bet. Whatever the case, a professional mechanical inspection is recommended.

Japanese Import S15s

Japanese-spec Nissan S15s Silvias were produced with either a naturally aspirated SR20 or the turbocharged SR20DET variant (known as Spec S and Spec R respectively).

Interestingly, the Japanese turbo model is listed with a substantial 184kW at 6400 rpm. The extra power (compared to local models) comes from a high-flow exhaust and more aggressive ECU mapping to suit higher-grade Japanese fuel. Automatic transmission models are detuned to 164kW at 6000 rpm.

If you’re looking at purchasing a Japanese-spec S15, we suggest taking a close look at the equipment lists – for example, some models have HICAS rear-wheel-steer, suspension tower braces, an A-pillar mounted boost gauge and climate control. We also suggest checking the legality of compliance and registration.

A Feet-on-the-Ground Modified S15

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Andreas Andreou owns this S15 200SX Spec R which is a good example of what can be done to these machines without resorting to an expensive engine build. You’re looking at a 200SX that pumps out 284hp (212kW) at the treads - an amazing 93 percent more power than stock - with no changes to the engine management and only a minor tweak to the fuel system!

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Much of the extra power comes from the installation of the HKS 25/40 turbocharger which is about as big as you can go while maintaining bolt-on compatibility with the factory exhaust manifold. Andreas had to grind away part of the engine mount to make space for the big huffer. At this point we should point out that Andreas is a mechanic at Leon’s Motors in Brisbane.

There wouldn’t be much sense combining this with the relatively restrictive Nissan intercooler so Andreas has installed a HKS bar-and-plate ‘cooler measuring 600 x 300 x 75mm. This consumes the entire nosecone and required some fiddling to fit. A GReddy blow-off valve is also added.

Exhaust flow is unrestricted thanks to a CES split pipe dump pipe from the back of the turbo leading into a high-flow cat and JASMA 3 inch cat-back exhaust (a AUD$180 purchase off eBay!). Air enters the turbocharger via a K&N filter mounted on the standard airflow meter and fed a cool supply of induction air thanks to a hole through the inner guard.

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And, yep, this SX has a swag of go-fast hardware yet manages to ‘get by’ on the untouched engine management system. The only change is a Malpassi rising rate fuel pressure regulator which, combining with pushed-to-their-limit standard injectors, manages to maintain safe air-fuel mixtures for up to 284hp (212kW) at the wheels. This power is achieved with the HKS turbo set to deliver a mild 14 psi boost – there’s plenty more boost and power to come given some extra fuel flow. Still, it’s already been enough to win a trophy... Interestingly, the standard clutch is holding up fine after 54,000km of use - as are the six-speed ‘box and helical LSD.

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The standard suspension has been removed to make way for off-the-shelf Tein adjustable coil-overs teamed with adjustable camber tops and a Cusco front strut brace. The aftermarket suspension sacrifices some ride quality but provides improved handling response and adjustable characteristics. Brakes are stock aside from the shaved NISSAN letters on the front calipers – this was necessary to accommodate the spokes of the 19 inch BSA alloys. These wear 235/35 and 245/35 tyres which r-e-a-l-l-y struggle to hold traction when Andreas steps on the loud pedal.

Aside from those big rims, Andreas has given his S15 a visual boost using Altezza style taillights, Nismo side indicators, tint and by removing the standard Spec R rear wing. This achieves a much cleaner look. Inside, it’s standard Spec R with the addition of a Pivot boost gauge and turbo timer, shift light, HKS EVC-4 boost control unit, Japanese-spec steering wheel and gear knob, chrome gear shift surround and a sub-woofer sound system. Very nice.

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Traction is currently the car’s major hurdle and, as a result, its best quarter mile time to date is a disappointing 13.5 seconds. Some new and grippier tyres should improve this time. Well, that and the extra power that’s waiting to be unlocked with some fuel system and engine management mods...

Potential? Almost unlimited!


Leon’s Motors +61 7 3277 7489

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