In the minds of most people, the Toyota AE86 is the ideal drifting car. This small, light and nimble RWD coupe, also known as the “Hachiroku” is guilty of making drifting as popular as it is today. However, as relevant as the legendary Toyota is to the drifting world, there is another car that often flies beneath the radar of enthusiasts – the Nissan 240SX, also known as the Silvia in Japan.
The 240SX may have been late to the drifting party, but it took what the AE86 started and elevated it to another level. Based on the same principles – front engine and rear wheel drive configuration, affordable price, lightness, simple mechanics, and balanced weight distribution, the Nissan 240SX also brings easier power upgrades to the table, which are very important in the drifting sphere. But, before we delve into the matter of tuning, let’s see how and why the Silvia/240SX started its career as a drifter.
Compact Sport Coupe for the Masses
The Nissan 240SX reached the market in 1989, a period known as the “Bubble Economy” era in Japan. Manufacturers from the country of the rising sun had so much money to spend on development of new vehicles in this period that Nissan had a full-blown sports-car portfolio in the name of the compact 240SX, the GT-inspired 300SX, and the Skyline GT-R – a proper supercar in its own right.
Even though at that time the 240SX was overshadowed by its more powerful siblings, it started a cult following thanks to the affordable price and fun-to-drive chassis. This was a car that allowed young people to satisfy their enthusiast dreams, without spending too much money. Initially offered with a 2.4-liter inline four engine with a single overhead camshaft (140hp), the 240SX was then upgraded to a slightly tuned version of the same motor with a dual overhead camshaft (155hp).
Both engines felt underpowered, even by the standards of that era, but the beauty of the 240SX was the chassis engineering. Compared to the muscle cars of the ’90s, this compact Japanese coupe was developed to tackle corners in the most efficient manner – not to shred tires in a straight line. In places where other vehicles would feel cumbersome to drive, the 240SX would handle naturally.
Ideally Suited to Satisfy the Wildest Drifting Fantasies
Several factors make this coupe a blast to drive down a curvy road, with the most important one being the balanced weight distribution of 55-45 (front to rear) in both the S13 (1989-1994) and later S14 chassis implementations (1995-1999). Even without any help from electronic stability programs, the 240SX was easy to balance in the corners using throttle and slight steering adjustment. Oh, and the center of gravity was close to the front seats, which means that the car always felt like it rotated around the driver.
Then, the wheelbase (at 97.4 in) seemed like the perfect length for agile handling and high-speed stability. In other words, it is short enough to allow for easy change of direction (like a Sports Car) and long enough to keep the vehicle stable in the corners (like a Gran Turismo car). And let’s not forget – the power is sent to the correct wheels – the rear ones.
In the end, the 240SX lacks one thing that most modern, sporty cars have –weight. Most experienced drivers will tell you that this is the number one detractor of enjoyable driving experience, and they’ll be right. Due to their shortage of lightness, present-day cars rely on electronic gadgetry to attack the corners quickly, which often spoils the whole experience. The 240SX is around 600-800 pounds lighter than sporty vehicles of today’s era, which further improves the overall agility and sharpens the responses of the car. You, as a driver, will feel in total control behind the wheel, even without the help of modern stability systems.
All the things we said about the chassis dynamics of the 240SX apply in drifting. Quick change of direction due to lightness and shorter wheelbase? Check. Easy adjusting in mid-corner due to RWD layout and perfect weight distribution? Check. The only thing that the famous Japanese coupe lacks to be a proper drifting monster is power, but that’s easily attainable with the appropriate tuning.
The Tuning World Loves the 240SX
While the 240SX may not be as popular as the Supra in the tuning world, you can still find a lot of custom-made parts that can improve several aspects of the car. The engine is the easiest to upgrade –slap a turbo on it, and it becomes powerful enough for smoky drifting. An even better option is the SR20DET engine from the Japanese Silvia, which comes with a turbo installed from the factory and can be easily placed under the hood.
Things become much more interesting if you bolt-on Toyota’s 1JZ or 2JZ engines (from the Supra), both of which offer a lot of room for additional horsepower and are perhaps the most reliable motors when tuned. Or if you want to stay true to Nissan, the RB series power plants will provide you with ample power and strong reliability. Americans may prefer to go the muscle-car way and install the highly-esteemed LS-series of engines, which offer high power figures and legendary durability.
Installing a more powerful engine under the hood warrants a suspension upgrade – the stock one quickly becomes overwhelmed by the added power. Luckily, a plethora of coil over upgrades are available, which can be adjusted to the wishes of the driver. Pair them with a high-quality strut tower brace and a good set of wheels and tires, and the 240SX becomes a devil in the corners.
Popular within the drifting community is also steering angle adjustment, with several kits available that yield excellent results. Most tuners also go for a wide body kit, which gives the car a better stance, but also stability in the high-speed corners.
Drifting Tax Continues to Increase the Price
While the construction of the 240SX certainly makes it one of the best drifting cars out there, it was the low price that made it so famous within the community. Emphasize “was.” The 240SX and Silvia price skyrocketed in recent years, due to the so-called “drift tax.” The Nissan vehicles are not alone here – most cars from the “Bubble Economy” era in Japan are costly today, due to their popularity with tuners and drifters.
That said, the 240SX and Silvia are still much cheaper than modern cars, especially given the fact that you will use them mostly on the track. Body parts for these cars are inexpensive, which should give you more freedom the next time you attack a corner. The same can be said for engines – both the single and dual overhead camshaft motors are very cheap on the second-hand market.
The price will likely continue to increase in the future, though, so buying a used 240SX or Silvia may even be cost-effective in the long run.
Suitable for Starters, Great for Professionals
By now you’re probably all-in for owning a Nissan 240SX or its Japanese counterpart Silvia. Whatever generation you choose, this compact Nissan coupe is the perfect foundation for future upgrades and improvements. With so much aftermarket parts available, only the sky is the limit when it comes to performance, drivability and looks. Even if you’re only interested in a sporty coupe that will put a smile on your face, and not for competitive drifting, the 240SX will win your heart over with its simplicity, agile handling, and lightness. A classic sports car in its own right!