1998cc Turbocharged I-4 (SR20DET)
184kw 6 Speed Manual or
165kw 4 Speed Auto
0-100km/h in 5.8sec
The S15 came to Australia via Nissan in 2001 re-badged as a 200SX as it had previously with the S14 Silvia. The S15 200SX was detuned to 147kw and even then managed to win MOTOR’s Performance Car of the Year Title in 2001 as a $40k motorcar – astounding really when considering Porsche’s 911 Turbo and Audi’s RS4 were among the contenders. They’re fantastic cars. But drive one back to back with an S15 Silvia packing an extra 37kw, which is a 25% increase, and you’ll be a little scared probably.
I’ve owned a few of them and hope to own more. I had 5 manual versions and 3 in auto but not at the same time. They are a massively underrated performer. In fact, the first 4 manuals that I had were later crashed by their respective owners. The first 4! The young guys bought them and thought that owning an S15 was the only prerequisite for turning oneself into a D1 Superstar.
Spend some time in an S15 and you do begin to feel like you can do anything. David Morley, of MOTOR magazine, reckons that the BMW M3 is the 2nd most controllable car – to the S15. The seating, the tiller, the gear stick and pedals, they all feel perfectly positioned and you very quickly become part of the machine. Getting back to the driving position, on trips between Sydney and Melbourne I’ve gone hours and hours before realising that I haven’t shuffled by bum around in the seat or shifted my weight around. They’re pretty much bang on for both commanding the car and comfort. The key is under-thigh support – when a seat supports your thighs it takes the pressure off your ass and lower back.
But it’s the power that gets the young-uns into trouble. It’s deceptive. You’re heading for turn one at Albert Park after a late finish at Futsal, you turn in and feed some revs into it, the tail steps out progressively and predictably before the turbo shoves more fuel and air into the SR20. And then it’s wide-eyed panic stations. It is controllable, but never let it catch you unawares. Keep your game hat on and you’ll keep the panelwork straight. Give it an inch though, and you’ll remove a rear wheel from it’s axle. It demands a firm hand, and Khuong, Vlad, Benny and Mike would unfortunately agree. I admittedly had a couple of ‘moments’ too – Ben O’Brien will remember Kings Way, Southbank and weeks later Lakeside Drive, Albert Park.
The S15 Silvia was launched in 1999 in Japan and 9 years on the styling is holding up. It is a beautiful coupe with an aggressive hip-line that was later ruined in the Varietta convertible model (so don’t buy one of those). The nose is low and flat, the roof and doors sweep back gracefully and that hip-line that starts at the headlights finishes delightfully at the tail lights. From the drivers seat looking back thru the wing mirrors, you see it almost as a horizontally flat surface. You sit very low to the floor which makes for more headspace than expected, however, a sunroof will eat into this space considerably. Inside the cabin, the climate control AC is strong and easy to control, the round vents are gorgeous but the quality of the plastic is in want. But you’ll forgive that, because you just got plenty of change from $25,000.
Nissan’s “HICAS” All Wheel Steering system was an option on the Spec-R S15 Silvia but very very few imports to Australia will have it. Because margins were so tight on the S15, importers searched for mainly 1999 models in Pewter (the most common and therefore cheapest colour) and permitted minor crash damaged cars to be bought. Most Silvias here will have had a rear or front bumper replaced. Not a big deal as long as the repairs were done right.
Only the 1999 and 2000 models were allowed to be imported as the RAWS regulations didn’t allow for importing the year models that Nissan Australia bought in themselves.
The auto is in no way a soft option packing 20 more kilowatts than the Nissan Australia delivered 200SX in manual. Fuel economy with either transmission is excellent for something this much fun. For highway driving, the manual will comfortably exceed 600km on it’s 40L tank and the auto can top 700km! Compare that with an Evo VI’s 400km range on the same sized tank. But we don’t really care about fuel economy do we…
This car in particular is quite difficult to nail a value to. They get advertised from $19k thru to $29k so all I can really tell you is how much I’d pay. With the quantity now on the streets its a buyers market but don’t push it too hard. $23-25k should be enough for a manual though, and an auto should cost a little less. Landing a manual was costing me about $3-4k more than bringing in an automatic so keep that in mind if buying directly from an importer. You get what you pay for, but just ensure you don’t get less than what you pay for.
By now there’s plenty of S15 Silvia’s blasting about so importing one yourself will likely be more expensive than buying privately. They’re so popular in Japan that to find a clean straight example is almost impossible. When tackling the auctions, you’ll now be bidding against some very keen locals who are happy to front the extra taxes for the privilege of driving a cult car.
So privately is the go for this one. If it rattles and squeaks, let it go. Ideally you’ll be buying an S15 with stock suspension or Nismo gear at the most. TEIN? – Forget it! The stock setup is sublime and aftermarket equipment will just shake it to bits. In fact, the less modifications, the more it should be worth. My favourite S15 was a white 1999 model I called Natalie. White body, white wheels and an understated Vertex-style body kit. Natalie was my favourite because she rode silently all the way from Sydney to Melbourne.
As mentioned above, don’t be surprised to see some evidence of new paint or panelwork. You’ll be very fortunate to find one without a history of damage but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a junker – it just means you can’t afford to be too much of a princess or you’ll be going without.
Also keep in mind that the S15 Silvia was only imported for the 1999 and 2000 models years. If it’s a later model then you’re buying the lower powered 200SX. Don’t let the “Silvia” badges fool you. Look for the presence of a rear wiper – if it doesn’t have one, then someone is trying to shop you into a 200SX. The compliance plate (the RAWS approval) will be purple. If it’s green, then you’re looking at a Personal Import ie a vehicle owned abroad for 12 months prior to moving home to Australia with it’s respective owner. They’re worth less – they shouldn’t be so don’t ask me why they are.