Ultimate Nissan Silvia S15 Guide – Everything You Need To Know

author avatarJoe Terrell
20th August, 2019
Filed under Editorials

Nissan’s S-Chassis certainly needs no introduction here at Drifted, but due to U.S. import restrictions, we rarely cover the legendary S15. With its 25-year ban coming to an end in just a few years, it’s the perfect time to begin saving for this JDM masterpiece.

noaki nakamura wheelie s15

Here, you can click on a particular section within this article, otherwise, scroll down as we look at every aspect of the Nissan Silvia S15.


red silvia s15

Introduction

We’ve covered several of the worlds most-loved drift cars in our comprehensive guides, so it’d be disgraceful to leave out one of the greatest of them all – the Nissan Silvia S15.

It’s certainly not a common car in the U.S. in the present moment, and there’s a valid reason for that, but with the S15 quickly taking the limelight in Formula Drift, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a look at every aspect of the latest generation of Nissan’s much-loved S-Chassis platform.

There’s no doubt that the S15 is one of the most visually stunning cars out there, and its looks have certainly stood the test of time. On top of that, it’s also lighter than a Honda S2000 and with a basic strip of some excess weight, less than 2,500lbs is easily achievable.

We’ll take a look at all of the variations later, but the cream-of-the-crop Spec-R features an uprated version of the S14’s turbocharged SR20DET engine, and thankfully, no truck engines have been planted in the engine bay this time around unlike its previous American siblings.

The obvious downside for our U.S. readers is that there’s no road-legal US-based equivalent for you to carry out that imaginary USDM S15 240SX KA engine swap you’d been hoping for.

With the S15’s blacktop SR20DET eventually becoming the final variation to ever leave the factory after initially being produced from 1989 until the final S15’s left the showroom in 2002, this would become the best and most reliable SR20 ever made.

Those of you that are familiar with SR20’s will know that they’re incredible engines for tuning and achieving 400hp out of them far from uncommon. Combine that with potentially being stripped down to under 2,000lbs and I’m sure you’ll agree that makes for a pretty exciting power-to-weight ratio in a chassis that handles like it’s on rails.

Tail happy rails that is!

gulf nissan silvia s15

Not only has it been graced with good looks, but in a typical trend for the Silvia family, it has a huge catalog of potential upgrades sat on the shelves waiting to be transformed into your dream creation.

Thankfully, Nissan continued with the trusted rear-wheel-drive compact coupe formula for nineteen years after Toyota opted to head down a different route with the Toyota Celica.

Whether you’re looking to slam it and run huge camber as you scrape your way to the local meet, hit the drag strip, set a near-perfect time attack lap, or of course shred tires at the track, the S15 is incredibly versatile when it comes to just about every motorsport discipline.

green aero nissan silvia s15

It’s hard for us to be impartial when it comes to the S15, after all, two of the Drifted team members have opted for them as their weapon of choice. But hey, we’re sure that there’ll be an influx of them hitting the US when their crazy 25-year ban is lifted too!

As much as we love them, they’re probably not worth the potential 20-year prison sentence and $250,000 maximum fine that comes with importing one illegally (or are they?!) You’ll just have to be patient and wait until 2024.

In this article, we’re going to be looking over everything you’ll ever need to know about the S15, from its fascinating history, which began in 1964, right the way through to unleashing its full potential in the present day. This is the ultimate Nissan S15 Guide!

s15 at sunset

Nissan Silvia History

Life started out a little differently to how we know it with the Silvia family, and it all began with a meticulously perfected hand-built coupe which was based on the Fairlady convertible and released at the Tokyo Motor Show September 1964.

The earliest model was named the Datsun 1500 and created by German designer Albrecht Graf von Schlitz genannt von Goertz von Wrisberg (we challenge you to say that one!) This later went on to be renamed the Silvia CSP311, and from here, a legend was born.

Nissan Silvia CSP311/Datsun 1600 Coupe (1965-1968)

Powered by a 96hp 1.6L Nissan R-series engine, this original build was equipped with twin SU carburetors.

With just 554 hand-crafted cars being produced between 1965 to 1968 lifespan, Nissan would then cease Silvia production temporarily until 1974. With low sales numbers and challenging construction methods, it was priced at almost twice as much as the next model in Nissan’s line-up.

There are apparently just 59 examples of the CSP311 existing outside of Japan, making it an extremely rare sight if you’re ever lucky enough to stumble across one!

Nissan Silvia S10 (1975-1979)

The S10 was launched in 1975 and would become the first-ever Silvia to be mass-produced. Built on their all-new ‘S platform’, this compact, rear-wheel-drive sports car featured a 1.8L L18 inline-4 engine for the JDM market.

For the North American market, they fitted a 2.0L L20B engine and renamed it the Datsun 200SX.

The drivetrain was shared with the legendary Datsun 510, but featured leaf springs in the rear, unlike the uprated independent suspension that was found in the 510.

Nissan Silvia S110 (1979-1983)

Once again badged as the Datsun 200SX for the North American market, the S110 was known as the Datsun Sakura (Japanese for cherry blossom) in Mexico.

The original plans for the S110 were that it would feature Nissan’s very own rotary engine. Unfortunately, they failed to produce a reliable enough unit to be fit for mass production, so they opted for numerous engine choices, with the most sought after being a turbocharged Z18ET engine for the JDM market.

For the North American market, the most impressive variation to hit the production lines featured a 2.2L Z22E engine, which was capable of producing 103hp.

Nissan went on to also rebadge the S110 as the ‘Gazelle’ so that Nissan’s various Japanese dealership networks could carry their own variants.

The Gazelle featured minor cosmetic changes from the S110 such as the grille and headlights and was treated as an exclusive model unlikely the base and sporty models with the Silvia.

Nissan Silvia 240RS (1983-1985)

With a 2.4L DOHC FJ24 engine, this unique car was created for Nissan to take on the World Rally Championship. They would eventually go on to take a second-place finish in the 1983 New Zealand Rally.

We love the look of this boxy classic that was built for an ideal purpose!

nissan silvia 240rs

Nissan Silvia S12 (1983-1989)

Produced from 1983 with a ‘Mark II’ exterior revision in 1986, the S12 was sold in both coupe and hatchback variants.

This would again feature several engine choices depend on the production year and geolocation, it would also feature the CA18 engines for the very first time. Other variants shared the V6 engine which featured in the 300ZX at the time.

As with the S110, this was also badged as both a Silvia and a Gazelle in Japan. The S12 was available as either a coupe or hatchback, where the S12 Gazelle was simply a hatchback.

The RS model featured the 2.0L DOHC FJ20E, and the RS-X a turbocharged equivalent, FJ20ET.

In 1987, with Nissan discontinuing the FJ engine, they would later replace it with the CA18DET, which featured dual cams and a larger turbo.

JDM spec Gazelle’s came with fancy optional extras such as voice command and a variety of engine choices.

For the North American market, the S12 was badged as a “200SX”.

For the XE model, it featured a 2.0L SOHC N/A CA20E engine with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto.

The hatchback would be given the same engine, but also the 1.8L CA18ET. In 1987, they would discontinue the turbo model for the SE model, which had the VG30E 3.0L V6 engine, which was capable of producing 160hp and 174 ft/lb torque, which was also fitted in the non-turbo 300ZX.

Later revisions would see an additional 5hp for the 1988 SE model, eventually producing 165hp.

For the European Market, the S12 was badged as a Silvia, except in Sweden, which referred to it as a 180ZX, this was due to avoiding giving the car the same name as the Queen of Sweden. They used the ZX name after discontinuing the 300ZX in the country.

The hatchback variant was the only option available in Europe and featured the 1.8L SOHC turbo CA18ET engine. Very few models were also given the 2.0L DOHC FJ20E which was originally designed for the 240RS rally car, under bored from 2.4L to 2.0L.

Australia was also handed its own Gazelle model, available in both coupe and hatchback with the CA20E engine.

In 1986, the S12 received a facelift with some minor changes, mostly to the exterior of the car.

s13

Nissan Silvia S13 180SX/200SX/240SX (1989-1994)

The S13 certainly needs no introduction, and it was arguably the first ‘real’ Silvia, although I’m sure that many S12 owners will argue otherwise! In our mind, the S12 was a cool car in its own right, but the S13 just had that extra touch of something special.

Initially released in 1989, the S13 immediately went on to win the Japanese Car of the Year Award.

Rebadged for most markets, it would become the 200SX in Europe and the 240SX in the U.S.

While the Silvia featured fixed headlights, the hatchback 180SX featured much-loved pop-up headlights.

The S13 was one of the first cars to integrate Nissan’s new multi-link rear suspension, which had previously been previewed in their concepts over the years. Some models featured the HICAS four-wheel steering system and a viscous-type limited-slip differential was introduced.

Under the hood were either CA18DE or CA18DET engines from the S12, with an intercooler added to the CA18DET for slight power gains. For the 1991 model year, the legendary SR20DE and SR20DET engines were introduced for the first time, completely changing the game once again.

The downside of the SR integration was that they switched from optional two-tone to single color paint-jobs.

For the U.S. market, the S13 was replaced after the 1994 model year by the S14, but it lived on in Japan until 1998 with the introduction of the major 180SX Type-X Aero.

Later, tuning houses such as Kids Heart would feature a 180SX body with a Silvia front end, known as the Sileighty. This would later become a frequently copied and popular conversion for extra scene points!

As well as the Sileighty, the Onevia was also created, which used a 180SX front end and a Silvia rear.

That wasn’t all, Autech decided there needed to be more variety and released a convertible S13 to the market. This later went on to sell 600 models, all of which featured a *sigh* 4-speed automatic transmission.

The S13 was extremely popular, and what we class as the true birth of the S-chassis as we know it today. Many owners still believe that it’s still the best drift chassis money can buy, and we took a look at this in our 7 Reasons The Nissan S13 Is The Best Drift Car guide.

nissan silvia s14a

Nissan Silvia S14 200SX/240SX (1993-1998)

Following the huge success of the S13, Nissan debuted the S14 at the end of 1993. This updated model was lower, wider and heavier than its predecessor.

With wheelbase and track both being increased, it allowed for slightly improved handling. This would, however, mean that the width dimension exceeded Japan’s strict legislations, meaning that it was pushed out of the compact class tax bracket.

The S14 Silvia K’s had a freshly updated SR20DET, which integrated Nissan’s N-VCT variable cam timing and a T28 turbocharger.

During the 1996 model year, the S14A, or Kouki, replaced the older Zenki. The newly-released Kouki featured a more aggressive-looking front-end and tinted taillights. This was sold as a second-generation 240SX in North America from 1995 to 1998, with a non-turbo KA24DE engine.

Despite the issues with the Japanese tax bracket, and many enthusiasts feeling that the S14 had become a little ‘chubby’ in comparison to its older brother, it was still a popular success across the world.

With the negative feedback undoubtedly resting in the mind of Nissan’s development team, the final generation of the S-Chassis family being created – the Nissan Silvia S15.

vertex lang silvia s15

Nissan Silvia S15 200SX (1999-2002)

Born in 1999, the S15 boasted an impressive 247bhp 6,400rpm with 203 ft/lb torque from the most powerful inline-four SR20DET to date.

The increased power was mostly down to the ball-bearing upgrade in the turbocharger, as well as engine management tweaks. An SR20DE model was also introduced, with just 163hp.

With a completely revamped design, the S15 certainly stood out among its older relatives and featured aggressive styling to match the trends at the time, we personally think that it did a pretty good job of surpassing them!

Taking on-board the Japanese tax width issues from the S14, the body dimensions were reduced, which once again returned it to compact class and undoubtedly helped their Japanese sales.

This model was only sold in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, but was available to ship to most other countries, with the exception of the US.

The ADM cars were slightly detuned and featured some rather ugly body modifications to comply with local laws. They were never sold with the N/A SR20DE engine in either country.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the various S15 models and answer the most common questions we’ve been asked…


nissan silvia s15 spec r badge

Spec-S vs Spec-R – What’s the Difference?

Much like the S13 and the S14, the S15 was also available with numerous different options available.

Many of you have been wondering what the difference is between the two main models, the Spec-S and the Spec-R.

The Spec-R was the most sought-after model in the S15 range, featuring either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed auto, the main difference between the JDM Spec-R and the Spec-S was the Spec-R’s 247bhp turbocharged SR20DET engine, where the Spec-S received the underwhelming 163bhp SR20DE.

The engine wasn’t the only substantial difference, the Spec-R also has extensive chassis and suspension strengthening, including larger anti-roll bars and strut braces.

For braking, the Spec-S opted for 2-pots, where the Spec-R used the same 4-pot front brakes as the Z32 300ZX and also included a larger brake booster.

s15 yellow aero

In the rear, a helical limited-slip differential was added to the Spec-R models. This made the Spec-R an incredible package as soon as it left the factory, undoubtedly acknowledging the S-Chassis drifting heritage.

The Spec-S, on the other hand, was given a viscous limited-slip differential.

In the Spec-S was a 5-speed manual transmission or the same 4-speed automatic found on the Spec-R. There was minimal chassis bracing and it featured a smaller brake booster.

For the Australian market, the Spec-S featured the same helical differential, chassis bracing and 6-speed manual transmission as the Spec-R models.

As with many Nissan’s at the time, HICAS (High Capacity Active Steering) four-wheel-steering was available as an option, but you’ll struggle to make the most of it on an S15 and it’ll likely end up causing more issues than it will enjoyment.

Spec-S have become increasingly popular over the years, mostly for use in motorsport. If you’re planning on doing an engine swap, alongside a huge array of additional handling and braking mods, you’ll probably be better off starting with a Spec-S rather than a Spec-R. This saves potentially crashing your expensive Spec-R and gives you a chunk of money to spend on upgrades.

However, if you’re looking to go for a simpler street build, and the SR20 tickles your fancy, the Spec-R is undoubtedly the more desirable model of the two.

autech silvia s15 brochure

Where does the Autech come in?

Many of you also noticed the Autech version and were curious as to how it compares. Autech is a subsidiary of Nissan, focused on tuning and converting their cars to make unique models for the Japanese market.

They didn’t hold back when it came to modifying Nissan’s stock S15’s, and their most popular offering (which is still pretty damn rare) was capable of producing 200hp from the naturally aspirated SR20DE engine. This was made possible by increasing the compression, adding more aggressive camshafts and free-breathing intake and exhaust modifications.

They also made upgrades to both the chassis and suspension alongside the Spec-R’s 6-speed gearbox.

Many Autech owners claim that these high-revving engines can be the more challenging, yet rewarding S15 to skid at the track, even compared to the Spec-R.

s15 varietta rocket bunny

The Lesser-Known Varietta

Another one of Autech’s creations was another rare S15 model which has recently been increasing in popularity with the addition of aftermarket body improvement modifications such as the Rocket Bunny bodykit.

The Varietta is extremely unique as it’s the only S15 model which offered an electric folding retractable hardtop.

This featured the same stock SR20DE engine and gearbox choices as the Spec-S. If you’re looking for an exciting and unique S15 for an engine swap, these could be a great opportunity. We personally feel that the Varietta looks great from some angles, and rather awful from others.

Just 1,143 Varietta’s were produced, and they’re certainly not commonly seen anywhere in the world.


forest wang silvia s15

Silvia S15’s in Motorsport

Most of you would have probably already witnessed the S15’s rise to fame in the Formula Drift series over the past few years, not only with James Deane entering the competition and taking the Championship in his first year alongside Piotr Wiecek in matching S15’s, but also with fan-favorite Forrest Wang also opting for the same model.

No-one’s been reppin’ the S15 scene quite like these guys lately. Check out this 2,000HP tandem thrash as they destroy Falken Tires in the Hoonigan parking lot!

It’s also had huge success within the D1GP series over the years, winning the Championship 7 times with 5 different drivers. Naoki Nakamura also now competes in a 2JZ-powered S15 for the 2019 D1GP season, where he’ll undoubtedly be giving it his all for the coveted top spot.

Both the S14 and S15 have won the GT300 class championship in 1997 and 2001 respectively. Under Suzuki also held the Tsukuba circuit lap time record for quite some time in his S15.

S15’s are popular in just about every form of motorsport imaginable, ever wondered what 500hp per cylinder looks like? Check out this utterly ridiculous (slightly modified) 2,000hp SR20DET ripping up the drag strip!


v8 s15 silvia

SR20 Upgrades

With the S15 being such a versatile chassis, it’s received just about every engine swap imaginable over the years but let’s not underestimate the power of the SR20DET engine, which, when tuned correctly is capable of around 400hp. In this lightweight chassis, that’s going to be a serious amount of power!

We’ve created plenty of guides for the SR20DET, and if you’re looking to get some more power out of your stock turbo, you’re definitely going to want to look at our SR20DET Turbo Selection Guide. We review stock replacements right the way through to pushing it to its reliable limits at 400hp.

team worthouse formula drift cars

Alternatively, if you’re wondering what upgrades are necessary to reach the perfect power level for you, make sure you head over to our 9 Step SR20 Tuning Guide For Peak Performance article.

If you’re unsure why the SR20 is such a popular engine with drifters, we answer all of your questions in our 15 SR20DET Specs That Prove Why Drifters Love This Engine guide.


white tuned silvia s15

This was another popular question from our U.S. fanbase, and we hate to be the bearers of bad news, but the S15 isn’t legally able to be registered on the road in the U.S. until 2024. Even then, you’ll have to make sure you get a 1999 model year S15 so that it meets the 25-year rule.

We’ve read that several people have imported them and illegally registered them and used them on the roads. Given the potential 20-year prison sentence and $250,000 maximum fine, we think we’ll steer clear of considering that for the next few years!

Once they are allowed into the U.S, it’s worth remembering that there were only ever RHD models of the S15 made, which is helpful when it comes to earning yourself some additional JDM scene points!


What’s Next for the S-Chassis Family?

Rumors were flying around on the internet once again in 2017 that Nissan was intending to release a Nissan Silvia S16 in 2020. Rather unsurprisingly, that still hasn’t materialized.

nissan s16

As much as we’d like it to happen, we’re going to hold out hope for a little while longer. Toyobaru certainly proved that there is still a gap in the market with their release of the GT86, so hopefully, Nissan will eventually decide to give it a try!


Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the S15 is one of the best-looking cars out there, even in the present day. With a great powerplant and exceptional handling bundled into a small, lightweight chassis, some simple upgrades can make this a dream car to drive.

They can make practical daily drivers, although there is a seriously limited amount of rear legroom, especially with aftermarket seats. So if you had planned to make this your next family car, you may want to reconsider, depending on how long your kid’s legs are!

forest wang nissan silvia s15

When you sit in an S15, particularly with an aftermarket seat, you’ll realize how the low-seating position is perfect for spirited driving or drifting, for that matter! It has incredibly precise and firm handling straight out of the factory, slip on some coilovers and you’ll be laughing.

With the ability to upgrade the SR20DET to up to 400hp reliably if you have some spare cash to spend, you can guarantee it’ll be the perfect combination.

Alternatively, should you want to carry out an engine swap, the cheaper Spec-S is undoubtedly going to be the better choice. Alternatively, if you’re after some high-revving drifting madness from an N/A engine, the Autech will certainly take the punishment well, also putting a huge grin on your face at the same time.

s14 and s15 parked

Although, you may need to put your plans on hold for a little while until the 25-year ban has been lifted on imports. In the meantime, why not grab yourself a 240SX and get practicing with your skills? If that’s your plan, remember that most S14 and S15 parts are interchangeable, so it’ll be extremely handy when it comes to swapping over to your next build!

We have no idea what the prices will look like when the S15 finally comes to the U.S, but we’re pretty sure that whatever it is, it’ll be worthwhile. Make sure you get your hands on a future classic as soon as you can, we’ve all seen how the GTR’s have shot up in value!

If you’re keen to slide an S15 sideways before they’re US-legal, make sure you check out the Drift Hunters game!


Additional Silvia S15 Related Content

We’ve chosen some of our favorite S15 YouTube picks here:

You must have been hiding under a rock if you haven’t seen Adam LZ’s 900hp 2JZ S15 build. Check out his first drive before heading to Formula Drift!

There’s a huge array of body kits available for the S15, check out this stunning 4K video showing off the rare Garage Mak kit on the streets.

Check out this 500hp 1JZ S15 tearing up the streets in the UK!

When we said there are very few engines that haven’t been swapped into S15’s, we meant it. Is there a better-suited powerplant than the R35 GTR’s VR38DETT?!

We know we’re bound to have some Rocket Bunny lovers here, this one is for you!

Looking to build the ultimate SR20DET S15? Let this be your inspiration!

Photography credits

Drifted would like to extend thanks to the following sources for use of their images:

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author avatar Written by Joe Terrell Drifted.com founder, motoring journalist and all-round car enthusiast. Visit the author's website

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