Curbside Classic: 1988 Nissan Silvia (S13) Convertible – Silvia Got Roofied

I assume we’re all die-hard Silviophiles here. I mean, what’s not to like about a reasonably-sized and beautifully-styled RWD 4-cyl. coupé like the S13? What’s that? You would rather have a convertible? Well, if you had the dough and you were quick enough in placing your order, Nissan’s Autech division could arrange something for you.

Ever since the first generation Silvia premiered back in 1965, the model only came in a single body variant – the coupé. The very odd-looking Generation 2 (1975-79) certainly kept to that formula; the third Silvia (1979-83), as well as its successor (1983-88) did sprout a liftback variant, but Nissan decided to go back to the nemaplate’s roots when gen 5 was announced in May 1988.

But this was right when the go-go ‘80s hit fever pitch. The Japanese market’s thirst for exotic and exclusive drop-tops seemed unquenchable, even as Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar were laughing all the way to the bank. Clearly, there was room for at least one more, and Nissan knew it.

In July 1988, the second-largest Japanese automaker advertised their latest creation, the Silvia Convertible “by Autech.” I put that in quotation marks because I’m not sure what Autech had to do with the whole affair: the cars were standard-issue K’s trim S13 Silvias and the conversion was done by Takada Kogyo, a close collaborator of Nissan’s who also built the Pike cars (BE-1, Pao, etc.).

The base for the conversion was the top of the range K’s trim, as befits this sort of vehicle. Unlike the lower-tier J’s and Q’s, the Silvia K’s came standard with the CA18DET, which was a 1809cc DOHC 16-valve turbocharged 4-cyl. churning out 175hp. In the coupé, the standard transmission was a 5-speed manual, but the Convertible was only available with a 4-speed automatic. In 1991, the higher grade S13 Silvia would switch to the 2-litre SR20 engine, but the Convertible would not be around long enough to see it.

The Silvia, in its coupé form, was both extremely popular and not overly expensive for what it was. The Convertible, on the other hand, cost 50% more than the coupé, so it was in a league of its own, price-wise, rubbing bumpers with the likes of BMW or Alfa Romeo. This was not the Silvia’s natural territory, which may explain why Nissan only sold 600 units in two years.

Not that there was anything wrong with the car itself, nor with Takada’s scalping job. The double-layered hood, in fact, was fully power-operated and specially-made for Nissan by Kaliko AG of Hannover, Germany. The price was justified, but the image was perhaps not quite up to snuff.

There was also the issue of chassis flex, which was apparently pretty noticeable on the Silvia Convertible. But then Nissan never marketed it as an out-and-out sports car, either. The automatic transmission, more powerful heater and utterly symbolic rear seat sent a clear message to the Japanese customer of 1988: this was what was known as a datoka, a “date car” – what our British friends, in true descendants of Shakespeare, might call a fanny magnet.

I’m not making this up. There are several Japanese sources that refer to the Silvia Convertible as an archtypal ‘80s datoka. That’s not quite the same as a humpmobile, like a well-appointed Chevy Van or those Nashes where the seats fold down into a double bed. This is more about creating a positive impression on the (female) passenger, rather than serving as a hotel room on wheels. That handbrake might complicate proceedings, for a start.

At least one source claims that the whole production run of 600 (some say 604) Silvia Convertibles was done within calendar year 1988, but that it took Nissan until December 1990 to sell all they had in stock. Looks like there wasn’t much dating going on in Japan at the time. Might explain the falling birth rate.

Nissan did not repeat the experiment for the S14 (1993-98), but they did call on Takada again for the S15, which turned out to be the final Silvia, to manufacture a retractable metal top variant called the Varietta. Those were a bit more successful than the S13 Convertible, but with 1143 units produced, that was quite relative.

Cabriolet conversions – even expertly-made ones – can look awkward. This one, however, is very handsome. Of course, it helps that the S13 Silvia was a looker to begin with. But did that justify an extra 50% in retail price compared to the (equally beautiful) coupé? The market spoke, and it said “Nah, I’d rather have the regular Silvia and keep some spare cash to spend on wining and dining.” Or get a Mercedes-Benz, to better impress the intended target. Or just cut to the chase and get a ‘50s Nash.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1989 Nissan Silvia (S13) K’s – Peak Silvia, by T87

Curbside Classic: 1989 Nissan 240SX And Silvia/SX History – Who’s The Prettiest Silvia Of Them All?, by PN