Being in Japan is doing wonders for my education. Learning a new language, getting to know the local customs, developing my knowledge of an ancient culture and all that. And discovering the JDM cars, of course. I had little more than a vague idea about the Nissan Silvia, for instance. Then I finally caught one – or maybe it caught me. And now I’m hooked.
Of course, it had to be the S15. First because that’s the most recent of the breed, and thus the least difficult to find, but also because it catches the eye a lot better than some of its predecessors. I’m not saying all the older ones would leave me entirely cold, but some are really so generic as to be hard to notice. I certainly never paid them any attention at the time, whereas the old S10, for instance, is unforgettable, but not necessarily in a good way.
Here’s the whole family, just so we can all reminisce. The first one, made from 1965 to 1968, is as lovely as a mid-‘60s two-door can be, but I’ve never seen one, much to my chagrin. The S10 (1975-79, top right), based on the B210 Sunny, is a distillation of Nissan at their ‘70s weirdest – the very definition of “acquired taste”. The S110 (1979-83, middle left), based on the B310 Sunny, and the S12 (1983-88, middle right) are the expected and unexciting ‘80s box, though the S12 ushered a more performance-oriented turn for the Silvia, with its bespoke S-Platform. The S13 (1988-93, bottom left) and S14 (1993-98, bottom right) are typical ‘90s flavourless jelly beans, especially the latter. But then came the S15 to save the nameplate’s bacon – or perhaps to see it off, adrift in a blaze of glory.
The S14 didn’t sell too well on the home market. For one thing, the Japanese economy was tanking (and Nissan along with it) at that point in time, and for another, it was too big, going over the 170cm width limit that previous generations had all adhered to. Japanese size regulations being what they are, the car was put into a tax bracket that could not be justified by its image. It was also, unsurprisingly, a tad on the heavy side. So the Silvia went on a diet for generation number seven, but it also stayed home: unlike the Silvias of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, no S15s were made with left-hand drive. Only Japan got these, along with Australia and New Zealand (where it was badged as the 200SX), starting in January 1999.
Unlike Toyota, who switched their Celica to FWD in the mid-‘80s, Nissan kept their sports coupé RWD till the end. From the S12 on, the suspension was independent all-round – the famous S-Platform, which subsequent Silvias all employed, including the S15. Engine-wise, the famous SR20DET was the high-performance option since 1991, when it was included in the S13 (at least for the JDM – other markets could get different engines). By the time the S15 arrived, the 2-litre DOHC turbo was on its way out because of upcoming emissions regulations, but it still had a few years to spare.
Our feature car is the desirable Spec.R version with manual transmission – the milder Spec.S made do with the SR20DE (i.e. sans turbo) and cost about ¥500,000 less. For the Spec.S, The standard transmission was a five-speed manual, with an optional four-speed auto; the engine output varied according to the transmission: 160PS for the auto and 165PS for the manual. The Spec.R came with an Aisin six-speed manual and 250PS; the optional auto decreased the engine’s power by 25PS.
As per JDM tradition, there were a host of trim levels, optional packages and special editions available on the Silvia. An Aero version provided spoilers and such, the L Package provided blue suede seats (not to be stepped on) and so on. As far as I can tell, the featured car is a standard model, blissfully devoid of extra bits of plastic on its body or silly wheels – unlike many others. A standard Spec.R Silvia is plenty interesting already, there is no need to customize or “improve” it in any way, in my view.
But there were a few special versions available at the time anyway, made by Autech: a coupé based on the Spec.S but with 200PS and the Aisin manual box, as well as the intriguing (and rare) Varietta, Japan’s first home-grown electrically retractable metal top. And if we must mention absolutely everything S15-related, the 2nd-generation Mitsuoka Le Seyde was based on the Silvia.
The interior, not swathed in suede (or Le Suede?), is nothing to write home about, really. The only nifty nugget, which unfortunately is not easily seen in this photo, is the pod-like extra dial on the right A-pillar. On the Spec.S, it’s an oil pressure gauge; on the Spec.R, it’s a turbo boost meter.
What really draws the eye in is the Silvia’s hindquarter. Pity the one I found was partially obstructed by plants, but still, that angle is where the car has more personality, with those large turn indicators wrapped around the edges, that large centered chrome script (and odd off-centre keyhole) and Nissan’s signature rear wiper. Well done on this end, Nissan.
The front, by comparison, could be anything from the late ‘90s. But it’s not a bad piece of design, by any means, but it doesn’t have the rear end’s character. Not sure why this particular car has these non-standard (fog?) lamps on either side of the license plate: the OEM placement for these should be further outboard, and they were not that shape anyway. Thankfully, that detail is insignificant and doesn’t affect this car’s looks.
Same with the GT-R badge on the rear end, which though very Nissan doesn’t belong on a Silvia, as far as I know. In the end, this 7th-geneation seems a worthy swansong for a long-lived nameplate. After just over 43,000 were made, including 1143 Variettas and about 4000 export models, the last S15s were put together in August 2002 and the final cars were sold by November, closing the book on both the S Platform, the SR20DE engine and the Silvia altogether. Those rather modest numbers were probably what convinced its maker to nix the line. Nissan, then in the midst of an unprecedented cost-cutting exercise under the famously ruthless Carlos Ghosn, had to let go of some of their baggage, I suppose. The best always go first.