Nissan Silvia S13 Buying Guide
Overview and Brief History
As most JDM car manufacturers entered the golden era of automotive manufacturing in the 1990s, Nissan unveiled the Silvia S13 to succeed the S12. But unlike previous generations, the Silvia badge was only made exclusive for the Japanese market, and export units were sold as the S13 180SX, 200SX, and 240SX. Nissan had adopted this naming system from the second-generation Silvia S10, the first S-chassis Silvia, also known as the Datsun 180SX in Japan or 200SX in the United States, depending on the engine.
The introduction of the SR20DE and SR20DET engines in 1990 made the Nissan Silvia S13 widely popular in Japan, especially among tuners who wanted a cheaper and lighter alternative to the Nissan Skyline. It was a common sighting on touge drifting passes as it had all the basic requirements of a drift car, a lightweight and front-engine rear-wheel-drive chassis, and a multilink rear suspension added icing to the cake. Later, some trims got a viscous LSD, and Nissan’s all-wheel steering system Super HICAS borrowed from the R32 Nissan Skyline.
Models and Specifications
1989-1993 Nissan S13 180SX and 200SX
When first introduced, the Nissan Silvia S13 wasn’t exported outside Japan. It only had two engine options, the CA18DE and the turbocharged CA18DET lifted from the Silvia S12, and Nissan sold it as the 180SX due to the engines’ 1.8-liter displacement. The same engines were used in the European and UK 200SX, introduced in 1989 and discontinued in 1993. The CA18DE only made around 130 horsepower, and its turbocharged variant made 30 more. Both engines got a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission and were discontinued in 1990 for the Japanese S13 when the SR engines entered production.
1988-1991 180SX (Pignose)
Between 1989 and 1990, Nissan offered the 180SX and 200SX in two variants, Type I and Type II. The S13 Type I was the base trim with the CA18DE. On the other hand, the 180SX Type II had the turbocharged CA18DET with an LSD, ABS, power windows and door locks, alloy wheels, a lip spoiler, and better-quality fabric seats. All standard features in the 180SX Type II were optional in the Type I, while a front spoiler, leather seats, and steering wheel were made optional in the Type II.
Nissan maintained the 180SX name when they unveiled the SR20DE and SR20DET engines for the facelifted S13 180SX and added some features to the Type I and Type II trim levels. The 180SX Type I was powered by the SR20DET and had a viscous LSD as standard, and the Type II got the SR20DET being the top-spec model. It also had a viscous LSD and Super HICAS four-wheel steering system lifted from the R32 Skyline. Other optional and standard features remained similar to those in pre-facelift models.
The 180SX Type III replaced the Type II as the top-spec model in 1993, and it had all features optional in the lower trims as standard, including leather seats, a front spoiler, and a rear lip spoiler. Nissan not only meant it to have sportier features but also some interior luxuries such as climate control, a better stereo, and a CD changer which were made optional. When Nissan unveiled the Silvia S14 in 1993, the S13 180SX remained in production until 1996, and two more trim levels, the Type R and Type X, were introduced during that period. The major difference is that the Type R was sold with the SR20DE, while the S13 180SX Type X got the SR20DET.
There was also an American 200SX, which wasn’t built on the S chassis. Instead, it’s based on the Sentra two-door coupe built on Nissan’s B-platform. It was sold with either the 1.6-liter GA16DE in the base and SE trim levels or the 2.0-liter SR20DE in the sportier SE-R. The only noticeable difference between the three trim levels is that the SE-R had a lip spoiler and a better-looking interior, but it didn’t get leather seats like the top-spec Japanese 180SX.
1989-1994 Nissan S13 240SX
Before Nissan introduced the SR engines, they made an export S13 for the American market in 1989 with a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated single-cam KA24E engine used in the 240SX. The dual-cam KA24DE replaced it in 1991 until 1993 when the 240SX was discontinued. Both engines had similar power outputs to the CA engines, with the KA24DE packing more power. However, Nissan didn’t offer any turbocharged variant for the United States market. Transmission options were the same 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual in the JDM 180SX.
The 240SX was available in two body styles, hatchback and coupe, and four trim levels, base, LE, SE, and XE. The base and LE hatchbacks didn’t get ABS as a standard feature like in the JDM S13 Jack, but it was standard in the SE, which also got a sunroof and Super HICAS. Interior upgrades such as a heads-up display, digital dash, and leather seats were standard in the 240SX LE and SE but not the viscous LSD, standard in the XE. In 1992 Nissan Introduced a convertible 240SX based on the JDM 180SX in collaboration with California-based American Specialty Cars. It was only available in the SE trim level.
1989-1994 Nissan Silvia S13
In late 1989 Nissan unveiled the S13 Silvia exclusively for Japan but didn’t carry the SX name prefix like the 180SX, 200SX, or the 240SX and didn’t have pop-up headlights. Like the facelift 180SX, the S13 Silvia got the new 2.0-liter SR engines, with the SR20DE making 165 horsepower while the SR20DET made roughly 200 horsepower during production time. Only two transmission options were offered for the S13 Silvia, a 4-speed automatic and a 5-speed manual transmission.
Silvia S13 trim levels include the Jack, Queen, and King, with the 1988-1990 Jack and Queen getting the SR20DE and the S13 King getting the SR20DET. Standard equipment in all trim levels includes a manually adjustable steering wheel, ABS, alloy wheels, and a two-tone paint job, among the most appreciated car paint jobs by enthusiasts today. The Queen and King trim levels got power windows, door locks, and creature comforts such as leather seats as standard. It’s easy to distinguish trim levels if the car is unmodified since the S13 Jack doesn’t have a foam lip spoiler in the S13 Queen nor larger vents on the front bumper like in the King-spec.
Most buyers would only buy the three trim levels and avoid the Diamond, Club, and Almighty trims, as these had extra luxury features, which meant higher road taxes. For example, the Diamond and Club trims got all features available for the King and Queen trim levels in addition to lightweight aluminum wheels and a moonroof. Nissan also installed a viscous diff and Super HICAS II as optional features for better handling. The major differences are that the S13 Silvia Club doesn’t have triple projector headlights like the Club and Almighty. Also, the Almighty has no rear lip spoiler but manual climate control.
Autech built 603 Silvia S13 convertibles solely for the Japanese market in 1988, with the turbocharged 1.8-liter CA18DET mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. It has more demand than the convertible 240SX but only as a collector’s item and not as an enthusiastic driver’s car as it lacks a manual transmission option and the grunt of the turbocharged SR20DET.
Nissan Silvia S13 Pros and Cons
Cheaper Than The S14 and S15
With current JDM car prices, most cars are increasing in value, but a few, such as the Silvia S13, remain reasonably priced. It’s easy to get a locally used unit for around $15,000, and prices vary depending on mods, faults, mileage, usage history, and which engine is in the car. For example, cosmetic, suspension, and power upgrades might increase prices. Nevertheless, paying more than $25,000 for an S13 is absurd.
Prices aside, getting an S13 in the United States is easier. Also, the S13 is lighter than its predecessors, especially the S14, the least desirable generation among the three. The S15 fixes what wasn’t good in the S14, and it’s the best-looking generation, but it’s not legal to import to the United States until 2025, thus making the S13 the best option if you want an S-chassis.
Easy to Work on
The Nissan Silvia S13 makes the perfect first JDM car as, in addition to being cheap, it’s also easy to work on, qualities most first-time JDM car owners look for. On an S13, issues are easy to diagnose and fix, even for anyone just learning to work on cars due to the car’s simple build structure. There are tons of resources online, and you can hop on owners’ communities and ask any S13-related questions should you run into trouble with your 180SX or 240SX.
If you’re looking for your first or next JDM project car and you’ve always wanted an S-chassis, why not get an S13? It’s easy to find a neglected one for cheap, and some owners might trade you in for something worth a few hundred bucks or give it to you for free. Walk into your nearest junkyard, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll find parts, especially chassis components and body panels. The only challenge you’ll have when looking for an S13 project car is that you’ll find most of them without engines. If you find one with a motor, there’s a high probability it will either be a CA or KA engine but not the SRs.
Cheap to Run and Maintain
Cheap to buy, easy to work on, has excellent tuner engines, and is affordable to run and maintain. What more could you ask from a 1990s JDM car? S13 maintenance costs won’t have your teenager digging out of your pocket to fill the tank, for an oil change, or cover insurance. If the car is not modified and in good driving condition, fuel consumption shouldn’t average less than 25 mpg regardless of which engine the car is running. Parts are readily available, both new and used, due to the comprehensive aftermarket support the S13 has, and they aren’t that expensive if you’re looking for replacement parts. Maintenance and parts costs start increasing when you take the power increment route and gain an interest in drifting like any other S-chassis car owner.
Poor Quality Interior
Anyone who has owned several older JDM cars knows you can’t expect these cars to have the best interiors. But some, such as the S13 Silvia, have some of the poorest interiors. Working on the interior is a priority for most owners starting with the dashboard, center console, and other plastic bits, known to fade and crack due to old age. Electricals such as the AC, power windows, and the instrument cluster lights fail, which can be a pain in the neck if the car is driven daily.
A Majority of S13s Available for Sale are Not in Mint Condition
Finding a clean S13 in the United States isn’t easy since most available for sale have some drifting history. This is good since you can get one with some nice aftermarket parts until you check the frame and discover it’s bent. This and other issues are only detected after you buy the car, and since you bought it from Facebook or Craigslist, you can’t ask for a refund, and you’re left counting losses or spending more to fix the car. To avoid after-purchase regrets, thoroughly inspect the car before buying, regardless of how much of a bargain the asking price is. The best option to score a clean S13 is importing from Japan or buying from a JDM car dealership.
Nissan Silvia S13 Common Issues
Braking System Failure
Most issues in a Nissan Silvia S13 are similar to those in an S14 or S15. Still, others are more evident in the S13, mostly caused by old age. Braking system failure is one of the issues you should expect in a Silvia S13, especially if you buy a high-mileage car or one with factory brakes. The brakes might work okay for a while, but the brake pedal becomes spongy or firm, and you must brake earlier to avoid crashing. When this happens, it’s time for a braking system overhaul starting with the braking fluid lines and master cylinder to the rotors and calipers. Upgrading to a bigger brake kit might be helpful if you have power increment mods planned out soon.
Worn Out Frame Bushings
The rear rubber subframe bushings in the Nissan Silvia S13 wear out quicker than the front ones, especially on drift cars. Some owners rarely replace them, given that the car spends most of the time on the track. You might buy a car that drives well for the first few miles until you go over rumble strips and hear noises from the back. If the bushings are too far gone or detached from the subframe, the rear end will sway when braking and cornering. The same failure signs apply if the front subframe bushings are worn out. Replacing the bushings with high-quality polyurethane or bronze bushings saves you the work of replacing rubber bushings after every drift season.
With old JDM cars such as the Nissan Silvia S13, minor issues such as vacuum leaks are unavoidable due to the associated parts deteriorating due to old age. The most common source of vacuum leaks in the Silvia S13 is the air intake boot and vacuum lines attached to the intake manifold, which crack after long exposure to high engine bay temperatures. In addition, the metal clamps at each end of the intake boot and vacuum lines rust and become loose, causing air to leak.
When replacing the intake boot, use a plastic one, which serves a better purpose than a rubber one. Tightening the clamps at each end during vacuum lines and air intake boot installation prevents slipping even after expansion. A bad intake manifold gasket and worn-out O-rings could also cause vacuum leaks, especially if they have never been replaced. Which gasket material should you use? A steel gasket bonded with rubber is the best replacement compared to a single-layer steel gasket. Whether you should use sealant after installing the new gasket is up to you since it’s unnecessary.
What to look for when buying a Nissan Silvia S13
So, you’ve locked on a Nissan Silvia S13, 180SX, or 200SX, and some potential units are ready for viewing. What should you look out for? The car looked good in the photos, as you wouldn’t have contacted the owner if it didn’t, but this doesn’t mean you should skip inspecting the exterior. Any signs of mismatched body panels, wide panel gaps, or Bondo fillings raise the question of whether the car has crashed before on the road or a drift track. Besides, it’s almost impossible to find an S13 that has never been drifted unless it’s a fresh import.
If the car is aesthetically satisfying, start the engine and let it idle before test driving. This helps detect vacuum leaks and timing chain issues better. While checking for these, inspect the mods done to the engine and the parts installed. Some parts might be good but installed wrongly, and some mods might be working but will not last long if the car is driven hard. You’re lucky if the engine is untouched or has only the necessary upgrades done, as very few owners will keep it that way.
Rust is inevitable in all JDM cars, and in the S13, it occurs in several spots. The first place to check is on the frame rails, requiring you to get underneath the car or hoisted for a thorough inspection. Some owners paint the car before selling, so fresh paint on the frame rails is always a red flag. But if the paint has been there for a while, the previous owner(s) knows that rust eats away the frame rails on S-chassis cars like a beaver chews through wood.
Other rust spots include the door jambs, suspension strut mounts, battery tray, and underneath floor mats. Lastly, the 240SX was sold with a foam spoiler which soaks in water if the paint has faded. Most owners remove it and keep the car that way or replace the spoiler. Either way, ensure to check underneath the trunk for rust spots. When test-driving the car, you should pay attention to the power steering and the ride feel. Hard steering indicates power steering pump failure, a common fault on S13s. Suspension noises are normal but shouldn’t be loud enough to be heard from the cabin. Virtual inspection is necessary if the noises are too loud and the car sways or has poor steering.
Nissan made the S13 180SX exclusively for the Japanese market. It was first sold with a 1.8-liter CA18DE and CA18DET engines before changing to the 2.0-liter SR20DE and SR20DET in 1990. The 200SX was made for the European and UK markets and had similar specifications to the JDM 180SX. On the other hand, the 240SX was made for the United States market, initially featuring a 2.4-liter KA24E single-cam engine replaced by a dual-cam KA24DE with a similar displacement.
Aesthetically, the 180SX and 200SX are identical and different from the 240SX. It can be challenging to differentiate the three based on appearance, especially for early model years. In 1990 Nissan introduced an S13 variant with the new SR20 engines for the Japanese market. It didn’t have popup headlights like the 180SX, 200SX, and 240SX and was sold simply as the Nissan Silvia S13.
Yes. Importing an S13 to the United States is legal as all model years are more than 25 years old from the years of manufacture. Most potential buyers prefer importing since the American S13 240SX was not sold with the highly desirable SR20 engines.
The Nissan Silvia S13 is considered the best generation since it’s cheaper than the S14 and S15, lighter than the S14, and it doesn’t have significant differences from its predecessors besides appearance; thus, it offers better value for money.
If you are in the market for a Silvia S13, have a budget of between $10,000 and $25,000. S13s with the CA18 and KA24 engines are cheaper than those with the SR20 engines. But you can get one with an SR20 engine mated to an automatic transmission for the same price as an S13 with a KA24 engine with a manual transmission. It takes time to find the perfect spec, especially if you have a specific budget.
Production of the Nissan Silvia S13 began in 1988 and ended in 1984. However, Nissan continued with the SX name prefixes for the 180SX and 240SX until 1998, and the 200SX remained until 2002.