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

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(first posted 12/3/2013)     Why did I pick this 240SX to write up? Because its a fine-looking car, as well as being one of the last of its genre: affordable fun-to-drive, lightweight RWD coupes. They’ve caught my eye repeatedly, and I’ve imagined myself behind the wheel of one of these more than once. It’s almost ironic that this vintage of the SX/Silvia was a looker, because most of its predecessors sure weren’t. Some things do improve with age.

nissan silvia csp311

Of course, its lineage started out very good looking. The first Nissan Silvia appeared in 1964, as a coupe version of the Fairlady sports car. Built-in very low quantities (554 total), the Silvia left a lasting impression, one that undoubtedly influenced our featured car. But I’m inclined to think there was another too.

The Bitter SC coupe (1978-1989) perhaps? The timeline was right. Obviously, the Bitter didn’t even attempt to meet modern bumper standards, but nevertheless, certain similarities are undeniable.

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As much as the original Silvia started out on the right foot, and ended that way with some European influence in both of them, Datsun certainly could have used some of that for the first generation of 200SX/Silvia S10 (CC here). It was from that rather dark period, where Japanese (and American) styling went a bit bizarre.

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There’s clearly some early seventies Chrysler influence here, but with some of that uniquely Datsun flavor that graced us with such memorable cars from that era, like the F-10.


Finding that gen1 200SX Silvia was quite unexpected, as I hadn’t seen one in years. But I’m rather disappointed in not yet having found a gen2 200SX. It seems like just yesterday that these beauties (cough, cough) were gracing our streets. The gen2 (S110, above) is utterly boring and forgettable, styling-wise, especially compared to the very handsome gen2 Celica coupe , but the gen1 is a real classic of its era, if you have a thing for Japanese eccentricities.

Datsun 200sx1

Let’s make sure we don’t overlook the fastback version of that generation. These cars were obviously chasing the popular Toyota Celica, and sold well enough. Like the Celica, they were based on Datsun’s RWD sedan platforms, and in Japan, as usual, a variety of exotic engines were available. We suffered with the usual detuned 1.8 and 2.0 L SOHC fours.

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I did find this S12 version of the family, a 200SX, built from 1984 through 1988. And I had such a perfect fastback turbo version, really clapped out; but it was on the one file that somehow got lost in translation to my new computer. I’m still smarting about that one. It may also still be a forgettable car, but the record must be kept regardless.

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And lets not forget that this generation was available with the 3.0 V6 in 1987 and 1988 only.  And I did find one of these more recently, in appropriate red. All of these cars are starting to get rare on the streets, so I feel a sense of mission in capturing them before they’ve all gone to Nissan heaven.

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The S13 generation appeared in 1989 and was built through 1994. It featured Nissan’s excellent multi-link independent rear suspension, which turned it into one of the better handling cars of the era. A combination of light weight (2700 lbs) and a well set-back engine resulted in excellent front-rear weight distribution. Its only shortcoming was a lack of serious beans: the US versions had 140 hp in 1989-1990 (SOHC KA24E engine), increasing to 155 hp for 1991-1994 (DOHC KA24DE engine). These were cars that called for a stick shift and the willingness to use it liberally.

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This car is an automatic, which probably explains why it’s still in such good shape.

nissan 240 sx drifting

The ease of modifying the Silvia for more performance makes them eminently suitable for drifting and other such activities, on the street and off. A full range of readily swapped Nissan engines, fours and V6s, as well as forced induction makes this a perfect platform for tail-happy motoring.

To each their own. I appreciate the 240SX in what it essentially started out to be: a coupe version of a sports car, and as such, this car is the equivalent of a coupe version of the…Miata. Same basic formula, a semi-usable back seat, and a handsome fixed roof.

Nissan 240SX

I may be partial to the notchback coupe, but that’s no excuse to not show the hatchback version, which was undoubtedly the more popular with the crowd that makes them even less common now.

Nissan 240SX

The S13 was replaced by the S14 in 1995, whose sales were a big disappointment. While the S13 sold 60-70k in the US during its best years, the S14 quickly withered a way to four digit numbers, and was pulled from the US market in 1998. It wasn’t quite as handsome to me, and the Lexus 300/400SC was clearly the styling influence now. But soldiering on with the same basic four in an era of rapidly exploding horsepower numbers, as well as the general weakness of the sporty coupe market conspire to its early demise.

Nissan S15 200SX

In certain other parts of the world, the Silvia/SX story continued, and only ended in 2002 when the final versions of the S15 Silvia were sold in Australia and New Zealand.

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The 240Sx is gone, as well as the whole genre. Yes, the V6 Mustang and Camaro can eat these cars for a snack, but for some of us, it’s more than that. A car is also like wearing a suit, and some just don’t…suit, regardless of the label. The 240SX’s disappearance left a hole in the rack.

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