Nissan Silvia Buying Guide
The Nissan Silvia has become every drifter’s wet dream. Nissan really hit the nail on the head with this two-door sports coupe. This is highlighted in the long production run Silvia had. It was in production from 1964 to 1968 under the Datsun name, when it abruptly stopped for a few years. It then resurfaced in 1974 as a Nissan and continued until 2002. The famed Japanese automaker must have been doing something right to have a car in production for 32 years.
Like most successful sports cars, the Silvia had the front-engine, RWD formula perfected down to a tee. The beauty of this car was that Nissan used the same platform for other cars as well, keeping costs down. This included the 200SX in Europe and the mighty 240SX here in North America.
This buyer’s guide is intended to bring you up to speed with this legendary car, and why it may be the right one for you. We have poured many hours into researching this model so you don’t have to. And as always, be sure to check out our other buyer’s guides here on JDMBuySell.com
Nissan Silvia Pros and Cons
Perfect Drift Chassis
When drifting was catching up in Japan, the Nissan Silvia was one of the most frequent cars used for touge drifting, and it remained a favorite after the sport was legalized and better cars entered production. Today it’s among the most sought-after drift cars compared to its competitors, such as the Nissan Fairlady Z, one reason prices will never go down. Call that drift tax.
The rear-wheel-drive platform with an almost near 50:50 weight distribution, lightweight chassis, and an independent multilink rear suspension makes drifting a Nissan Silvia cakewalk even for a newbie. Also, most S13, S14, and S15 Silvias were sold with an LSD, which adds icing to the cake though it might need replacement depending on how often you’ll drift the car.
A Nissan Skyline will always pull a crowd at a car meet, being among the most iconic JDM cars, but the Nissan Silvia gives it a run for its money when it comes to appearance. The S15 is considered the best-looking generation, especially if you get a Spec-R or Spec-S with the aero body kit and rear wing, but it was never sold in the US.
Other generations also have unique features that make them stand out. For example, the first-gen CSP311 Silvia liftback, which looks like a smaller C1 Corvette C1, is one of the best-looking classic JDM sports cars. The Silvia S13 convertible not only looks good, but it’s also unique since very few sports cars were made as convertibles during its era. Yet, finding one is problematic since most owners are reluctant to sell, and Nissan only produced 603 units.
A Proper Driver’s Car
Nissan is known for producing some of the most driver-focused sports cars and sedans; the Nissan Silvia, including early generations, is no exception. They installed turbocharged engines in the Nissan Silvia in the 1980s, which was uncommon in cars of its class. This gave the Nissan Silvia an edge over most JDM sports coupes, especially those built on larger sedan platforms, thus increasing sales and helping it gain popularity among tuners and drifters in Japan. Weight-saving measures were put in place as generations passed by, and by the time they got to the S13, the Nissan Silvia had what most would consider the best qualities of a true driver’s car.
Today a Nissan Silvia wouldn’t be considered fast or quick, and anyone looking to race a Porsche 911 in one would be greatly disappointed. But for a few sitting behind the wheel of a Nissan Silvia is a dream come true, and regardless of how slow it might be, banging through the gears and hearing the purring engine is heavenly. With a few bolt-on mods, you’ll be drifting around tracks within no time and smiling on your commute to school.
Lots of Aftermarket Support
The Nissan Silvia wouldn’t be a frequent sighting on the drift track or car shows if it wouldn’t for the aftermarket support it has. Tuning parts is what most first buyers will go for before cosmetic modifications since the car is relatively underpowered when stock. But if aesthetics come first for you, body kits, wings, and wheels are readily available, and you might get some nice used ones on the Facebook marketplace. Owners’ forums, social media groups, and community also make Nissan Silvia ownership a walk in the park if you’re confused about which mods you should prioritize.
High Tuning Potential
When buying a Nissan Silvia, most buyers mainly focus on cars with the SR20DE and SR20DET engines first used in the S13. These are among the most underrated four-cylinder JDM tuner engines, but how much power can you make out of each? If you want to save some cash when buying a Nissan Silvia, get one with the SR20DE and pour the extra cash on mods. Some owners even say it’s easier to make power out of it than the SR20DET since it has a higher compression ratio and was made to run efficiently without a turbo.
Both engines can push anything between 300 and 400 horsepower on stock internals with an aftermarket turbocharger and other supporting mods such as high-capacity fuel injectors and upgraded cams. That is more than you need for some weekend fun on the drift track and reduces the chances of anything going out if you are going to drive the car daily. Anything over 400 horsepower will require forged internals and a complete engine rebuild with aftermarket peripherals. It’s not unheard of for Silvias to push four-figure numbers.
Swapping the SR20DE or SR20DET into an older Silvia is the shortest route if you want to make more power. However, an engine swap is unnecessary if you have a Nissan Silvia with the 1.8-liter CA18DET or the 2.4-liter KA24DE. These engines are just as tunable as the SR20 engines with only one minor disadvantage; they have a lower maximum power output with stock internals at around 250 to 300 horsepower. Given that they aren’t desirable, you’ll get a solid bargain on a Nissan Silvia with a CA18DET or KA24DE.
Low Maintenance Costs
Despite its slightly high prices, the Nissan Silvia is an excellent first-time JDM car due to its low maintenance costs. DIY hacks are easy to get around, and working on the engine or any other mechanical parts shouldn’t be a splinter in the nail for anyone who wants to avoid garage costs and waits. Not that replacing spark plugs or doing an oil change is expensive in a garage, but it’s good to learn your car inside out, and it’s only possible to do so when working on it.
Fuel consumption can range between the mid-10s to the high 20s, and an oil change is required every 3000 to 5000 miles depending on the mods, which is not bad for a car over 20 years old. This makes the Nissan Silvia the perfect daily driver’s car. The only downside, you might have trouble pulling out of the parking lot at school or work when everyone is rushing to take a photo of your car.
The exterior might be pleasing to the eye, but living with a Nissan Silvia can be a pain in the neck, mainly because of its cramped interior. For example, dropping off your kids at school on your way to work might be a good way of introducing them to JDM cars, but you can’t fit a child’s seat in the rear seat. Even without the child’s seat, no one, let alone a kid, can comfortably fit in the back seat. It was only installed in the Nissan Silvia to avoid high taxes in Japan for non-passenger cars. Also, tall drivers might find it challenging to enter and exit the car due to its low roofline, and driving the car is only possible with the seat pushed back, which limits rear passenger legroom.
Due to its high demand and popularity in the drift scene, the Nissan Silvia is one of the most appreciating JDM sports cars. However, some exporters, importers, and individual car sellers are setting prices so high that it’s pushing interested buyers to alternatives such as the Honda S2000. It makes sense to buy a Nissan Skyline over a Nissan Silvia since getting a GT-R or a well-built Skyline with a well-built RB25 or RB20 is cheaper than buying a Silvia for figures above $40,000. Nevertheless, the Nissan Silvia makes the perfect JDM collector car. If you’re not buying one to modify it or drive it hard, it would be the ideal investment if you are willing to play the waiting game.
Nissan Silvia Common Issues
VCT System Failure
Towards the early 2000s, most manufacturers introduced their Variable Valve Timing forms, and Nissan did the same with the SR20DE and SR20DET in the Silvia S14 and S15. They called it N-VCT (Nissan Variable Cam Timing), and it had first been used in the 300ZX Z32 with the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged VG30DETT in 1989. It works by adjusting cam timing on the intake camshaft through pressurized oil controlled by an electronic solenoid which receives speed and engine temperature data from the ECU.
So how does VCT work in the Nissan Silvia? When VCT is on, the solenoid blocks oil flow from the rear of the camshaft, pressurizing oil throughout the cam to the VCT gear on the front. This causes the inner shaft inside the VCT gear to rotate the camshaft clockwise, thus altering intake depending on the engine temperature and speed. Unlike other forms of Variable Valve Timing, which are performance-based, Nissan’s N-VCT mainly focuses on efficiency and reducing emissions.
N-VCT in the Nissan Silvia isn’t as complicated as Honda’s VTEC or Toyota’s VVTi, requiring almost no maintenance. Still, not all parts are built to last forever on a vehicle. The most common issue owners complain about is the VCT gear failure which causes a rattle on the front of the engine. If the rattle dies after a few minutes of idling and isn’t there when driving, you can drive the car for a while before replacing it. But if it persists, it needs immediate replacement since it results in high fuel consumption and increased exhaust fumes. The VCT solenoid is also prone to damage caused by insufficient engine oil, using low-quality oil, or getting clogged by oil debris.
Replacing the solenoid and gear is the only way to get the VCT system working like new again since neither of the parts can be repaired or serviced. Some owners will recommend unplugging the solenoid or deleting the VCT system and running the car with a non-VCT performance camshaft if you have a heavily moded Silvia.
Coolant leaks are unavoidable in most old JDM cars since their cooling systems are not well-built to last a lifetime. That’s why you’ll find most of them with upgraded radiators and silicon coolant lines, which are better than the OEM plastic ones and make the engine bay look flashy. Coolant leaks have different causes entirely dependent on the make and model. In the Nissan Silvia, coolant mostly leaks from the radiator tanks, hoses, water pump, and back of the engine, though not as much as the first three.
The radiator tanks on the Nissan Silvia, including some S15s, are made of plastic which cracks over time, causing coolant to leak. Physical damage could also cause damage to the tanks resulting in coolant leaks through dents formed. The same applies to the coolant lines. You can replace the plastic tanks with better quality ones, but they’ll not last as long as metal ones that withstand physical damage better. If the radiator is too old, replace it since it will soon leak. As for the hoses, new ones will do and ensure the metal clamps are well-tightened at the joints.
Coolant leaking from the rear of the engine signifies a blown head gasket. And if there’s coolant leaking from the water pump, then the pump needs to be replaced. The earliest sign to check for when either is faulty is slightly higher running temperatures. Also, the coolant might mix with the oil resulting in white smoke from the exhaust or white sludge in the oil or coolant during a fluid change if the head gasket is blown. It might be expensive, but using a multi-layer head gasket is the best remedy, and since the water pump cannot be fixed, it must be replaced.
Timing Chain Issues
Sometimes, a rattle from the front of the engine doesn’t necessarily mean the VCT gear is worn out. The timing chain guide on the SR20 and KA24 engines is known to loosen and rattle, knocking on the valve cover as the timing chain moves beneath it. If this happens, you can remove the timing chain since it has no effect when it’s there, but if you doubt it, a new timing chain guide shouldn’t cost more than $50, and it’s easy to install.
The timing chain can also cause a rattling sound when it’s stretched or loose due to improper installation, old age, or when the teeth on the sprockets are worn out, causing it to jump. Apart from the rattling noise, you might also notice a drop in fuel consumption, engine misfires, and metal shavings contaminating the oil. Replacing the timing chain and the timing chain assembly is the best option to avoid such issues in your Nissan Silvia. But if the sprockets are in excellent condition, ensure the timing chain is correctly installed and that you follow oil change schedules.
Excessive Rust on The Frame
Rust is inevitable on JDM cars, especially underneath the car, rocker panels, and wheel wells, since no salt is used in Japan to clear snow during the winter. However, when buying a Nissan Silvia, most owners will tell you to inspect underneath the car, specifically on the frame rail towards the front, before anything else. It might look like it doesn’t have rust, so ensure you inspect thoroughly or risk the engine falling off during a drift track weekend. Some owners will paint the car before selling it, so tapping the frame and listening for creaking sounds when test driving is essential. Other parts to inspect for rust include the fender flares, spare tire well, suspension mounts, and bumper mounts, which cause the bumper to sag if they are rusted.
What to Look For When Buying a Nissan Silvia
When buying a Nissan Silvia, you need to look out for issues that might affect vehicle ownership. These don’t have to be among the listed common issues but rather other faults associated with previous owners. For starters, nobody buys a JDM sports car like the Nissan Silvia and keeps it stock, so it’s necessary to inspect all the mods installed and the craftsmanship of the work done. The mods might be okay, but poor installation can lead to future issues. For example, you might get an S13 with an air suspension with poor wiring, and the car collapses on the garage floor, making it undrivable.
Most Nissan S-chassis cars, whether an S12, S13, S14, S15, 180SX, 200SX, or 240SX, have a drifting history, so checking the suspension and chassis components should be on the list of things to look out for. Any signs of poor steering and grinding, snapping, clunking, or snapping sounds from the suspension should be factored in the price should the seller decide they are not covering possible replacement costs.
If you are a comfort junkie, you should prioritize a Nissan Silvia with an upgraded or redone interior on your list of options. This is because the fabric on the seats tends to tear, exposing the sponge, and the plastic trims on the doors and center console become brittle and rattle as you drive. The worst that can happen is the dashboard cracking. And for someone who loves keeping everything original, finding an OEM Silvia dashboard is neither a walk in the park nor cheap.
Lastly, check for weatherstripping on the doors, tail lights, and trunk. It might be difficult to detect whether the rubber stripping is worn out when it’s not raining, so check for moisture in the taillight cover and rust spots, moss, and bits of dry leaves on the door jambs and trunk jambs.
The prices can vary drastically for these cars. Of course, many variables go into play, such as age and condition. They can range anywhere from $4,500 to $54,000, but the average price is around $10,000. We have created a list of the cheapest and most expensive Silvia models on JDMBuySell.com.
As you can see, prices are all over the map. It really depends on what you are looking for and what you are planning to do with the car. If you are on a tight budget, the Silvia is a great car to go for.
There are plenty of cars to choose from in the RWD JDM coupe category. Every Japanese manufacturer made at least one car that fits this description.
Here is a list of cars that fit in the same category as the Nissan Silvia:
- Nissan Fairlady Z
- Mazda RX-7 (Read our Mazda RX-7 Buying Guide)
- Nissan 350Z
- Honda Prelude
- Honda Integra
- Mazda RX-8
- Toyota Celica
- Toyota Supra (Read our Toyota Supra Buying Guide)
- Nissan Skyline Coupe (Read our Nissan Skyline Buying Guide)
- Mitsubishi Eclipse
There are a lot of choices to pick from this category. Check out the ones above if you are not 100% set on the Silvia. Maybe one of the ones listed is the better choice.
Models and Specifications
As we’ve previously stated, the Silvia was in production for a total of 32 years. The first generation was sold under the Datsun brand before taking a four years hiatus. It returned in 1974 and it continued until 2002. Over those years, Nissan had seven generations of which six of them used the S10 through S15 name designation.
1965-1968 Nissan Silvia (CSP311)
The very first Silvia was unveiled in September 1964 at the Tokyo Motor Show under the “Datsun Coupe 1500” name. This particular model can fetch a huge price thanks in part to the fact that only 554 hand-made examples were ever created, making them incredibly rare.
It was based on the Fairlady Z platform and came with a 96hp inline four-cylinder engine accompanied by a four-speed manual transmission. This engine was equipped with two SU carburetors, which were cutting-edge technology then.
Although most of the 554 cars stayed in Japan, 49 of them got exported to Australia and another 10 to various countries around the world. The relatively high price of these cars was almost double in comparison to similar models. At the end of its production in 1968, the Silvia looked doomed. It did however resurface in 1974 under the Nissan name.
1975-1979 Nissan Silvia (S10)
This second-generation Silvia was Nissan’s first attempt at creating a sporty, two-door coupe for the masses. They had rather a subtle styling when compared to the rivals from Toyota and Mazda. The traditional-looking body was coupled with two available engine choices. This included a 1.8L inline-four for the Japanese market and a 2.0L for the US version. Additionally, a three-speed automatic and a five-speed manual transmission rounded out the Silvia.
In the US, the cars were fitted with dreadful-looking black bumpers to comply with the North American safety standards and were sold under the Datsun name. The Silvia was almost identical to the 510 underneath, with leaf springs instead of independent suspension being the only change.
1979-1983 Nissan Silvia (S110)
This generation was offered as the regular two-door hardtop coupe and a new three-door hatchback version. The Silvia was called the “Datsun 200SX” in the United States and Canada, while in Mexico it was known as the “Datsun Sakura. Initially, the Silvia was supposed to have a rotary engine designed completely by Nissan. Those plans were scrapped right before its debut. Instead, eight conventional inline four-cylinder engines were offered.
The engines ranged from a 1770cc engine and went all the way up to a 2340cc engine found in the 240RS. The same three-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmissions found in the previous generation were also available on the S110.
Amongst those engine choices, Nissan offered a turbo 1770cc engine to spice things up, and in 1981 the facelift version brought new bumpers and a whole new front end. This was the time that the 1990 cc FJ20 engine was introduced on the RS model.
1983-1989 Nissan Silvia (S12)
The classic Silvia shape we have become accustomed to started taking shape with the introduction of the S12. The coupe and hatchback versions were still available, just like previous generations; and it received a mid-generation facelift in 1986. Nissan called this the Mark II version S12.
The available engines on the Silvia went down from eight to six. They ranged from a 1.8L inline-four and went all the way up to the VG30 3.0L V6. Where you lived determined what engines were available to you. Not all six were offered for any one region. The five-speed manual was still available, but the three-speed automatic was scrapped and replaced by a new four-speed automatic transmission.
In Japan, the Silvia was sold under the “Gazelle” name, while in North America they named it the “200SX”. All of Europe got the Silvia designation except for Sweden, where it was named “180ZX”. The ZX part came from the 300ZX, but Nissan recently stopped importing them to the Scandinavian country, so they moved the nomenclature over to the Silvia. Australia got the S12 Silvia in 1983 and named it the “Gazelle” as well. They only received the 2.0L CA20E engine and the choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
1989-1994 Nissan Silvia (S13)
For this generation, the Silvia was offered as a convertible as well as the coupe and hatchback found in previous years. The car proved to be so popular in Japan that it won the “Car of the Year” award. The Silvia nameplate was no longer exported, but instead, Nissan rebadged them as “180SX” in most regions apart from Europe, where it was still known as the “200SX”. This generation was in production in the US until 1994, but Japan kept it going until 1998 due to its popularity.
Nissan further reduced the number of engines available once again. This time around, there were only four to choose from. Tow 1.8L CA18, one turbo and one N/A, and two 2.0L SR20, one turbo and one N/A which debuted in 1991. The same four-speed auto and five-speed manual found in the last generation were offered.
A special edition S13 Silvia named Sileighty was produced to appeal to the Japanese enthusiast. This consisted of Silvia’s front end being put on the 180SX, which is still a sought-after modification to this day. Due to its popularity, the Sileighty made an appearance in the popular drift anime named “Initial D”.
1993-1998 Nissan Silvia (S14)
1993 was the year Japan received the S14, while the rest of the world got it in ‘94. Compared to its previous generation, the Silvia was lower and wider, giving it a more aggressive look. Is was also longer now, which pushed the car over into a new tax bracket in Japan. Despite that, the S14 remained extremely popular with Japanese customers. Sadly, however, the rest of the world saw decreasing sales which ultimately led to its demise years later.
Nissan once again reduced the number of engines available down to three. These were the 2.0L SR20DE naturally aspirated inline-four, 2.0L SR20DET turbocharged inline-four, and the 2.4L KA24DE inline four-cylinder. The transmission choices remained unchanged with the same four-speed automatic and five-speed manual.
Two “Aero” trim packs were offered for this generation. These were known as the Q’s and the K’s variants. They consisted of a large rear wing and subtle ground effects, effectively summing up the 90’s tuner car look.
A facelift version of “Kouki” was introduced in 1996, consisting of new projector headlamps and tinted taillights. A few other exterior pieces and a revised front fascia completed the facelift. In addition, the turbo got some much-needed attention. It now used a more efficient ball-bearing setup, making it more efficient and increasing the power.
1999-2002 Nissan Silvia (S15)
In 1999 the final Silvia generation would make its first appearance. The S15 saw the styling change to a more aggressive front end to help keep up with ongoing care trends. The interior styling also got updated to have a meaner look. Overall, the car was shortened to fall back into the lower rod tax bracket as this was the main complaint that Nissan heard about the previous Silvia.
Nissan once again removed two engines from its lineup, leaving the Silvia S15 with only two. These were the 2.0L SR20DE naturally aspirated inline-four and the 2.0L SR20DET turbocharged inline-four. There were now three transmissions to choose from. The automatic was still offered as a four-speed and the customer had the choice of a five or the new six-speed manual.
Unfortunately, the North American market did not officially receive this generation. Japan, Australia, and New Zeeland were the only ones to benefit from this beautiful automobile. Two special editions were offered named the Spec-S and the Spec-R. Both offered an “Aero” package, which consisted of side skirts and a large rear wing. Australia and New Zealand also received those trim packages, but it was never offered with the SR20DE naturally aspirated engine.
Besides the obvious cosmetic changes of the Spec-S and the Spec-R, there were a few other mechanical changes that helped further differentiate the two. The Spec-R was available with the six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. In addition, it also received numerous chassis upgrades such as bigger anti-roll bars and improved strut bracing. The Spec-S was slightly down on options as it lacked the chassis upgrades and only came with the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. Also, the Spec-S was only available with an open rear differential.
Unfortunately, we were only able to find definitive answers on the last three Silvia generations. Those are the most sought-after ones, so they are much more documented.
- Total S13’s built: 18056
- Total S14’s built: 302,761S13: 165,932
- KS13: 24,492
- PS13: 100,128
- KPS13: 12,209
- Total S15’s built: 43097 (41954 coupes and 1143 convertible)
- 38741 Japanese Silvia’s (37598 coupes, 1143 convertible)
- 3879 Australian 200SX
- 477 New Zealand 200SX
A Nissan Silvia can sell for approximately 15,000 if it’s in pristine condition and some upgrades are done. Since these cars appreciate daily, you should get one without thinking twice, especially if it’s an S14 or S15.
All Nissan Silvia generations are legal in the US except the Silvia S15, which will become legal after 2024, 25 years after production started in 1999.
The Nissan Silvia is one of the most common JDM sports cars in the US, so finding one shouldn’t be that difficult. You can start searching for one in JDM car stores and online listings, especially those with only JDM listings. You can also approach a Silvia owner. They might be unwilling to sell, but nothing is too hard to sell if the price is right.
Silvia S15. The Nissan Silvia might be illegal in the US and more expensive than its predecessors. Still, it has the most powerful versions of the SR20 engine, the best transmission and is quite a looker.
The Nissan Silvia was discontinued in 2002 after 35 years of production.
How to Import a Nissan Silvia
Read our ultimate guide, How to Import a Car from Japan.
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