Nissan Silvia Spec R
If you’ve owned a car that still makes you smile after seven years, she’s a keeper. Owning a car is like a marriage – you know when you’ve found the right one. If the S15 could be likened to a girl, you may be reluctant to introduce her to your mother, however. Stunning good looks, but high maintenance and attention seeking.
Living with a modified S15 can be equally as problematic and joyful as marriage every time you enter the road. Driving around town has major drawbacks as the constant fear of being pulled over by the boys in blue for a ‘routine vehicle inspection’ or fear of getting over speed humps and ‘is it safe to park here’ commonly resonate. As fun as it behaves on the open road, it’s equally as impractical around town.
Driving the S15 spiritedly, its rear-wheel-drive mechanical helical LSD will cause serious wheel-spin if the revs are too high or bog down if revs are too low. When launched correctly you will reach 0-100 in 4.2 seconds, leaving you grinning like a shot fox as the neck snapping boost squashes you back in the seat.
Change gears at its redline of 7200 and you’re rewarded with a raspy SR20DET engine note and audible turbo spool from the HKS turbine as the gear change plonks you back into the peak torque curve for the next cog.
The 6-speed manual has nice factory ratios well suited to the engine, but letting it down is its failure to engage gears when driving enthusiastically. The clutch has been replaced with an ORC heavy duty which is good for handling more power but also very tricky to manage in traffic.
It’s on windy roads where this car really shines. Naturally very tail-happy, this particular example has been set up for twisty mountain roads where it feels rigid and remarkably planted as you precisely thread through a series of bends thanks to its wide semi-slick tyres, adjustable coil-over suspension, adjustable suspension arms and chassis bracing.
Stopping power has not been forgotten with Brembo brakes from the Skyline GTR. The bigger discs and pad size allow more precise stops and less brake-fade, giving you confidence to push harder. A light-weight 1240 kg body aids performance which is thanked largely to the absence of driver aids featured in most new cars. ABS and power steering is all you get making it a far more raw and pure experience behind the wheel.
The interior still feels modern for its age. From the factory you get silver lower dash panels and stylish Alfa Romeo styled air vents. The plastics do however mark very easily and look nasty if not treated with care. Like any true sports car, a large tachometer takes centre stage of the instruments, you also get a factory-mounted A-pillar boost gauge. Other luxuries are kept minimal with just electric windows, mirrors and digital climate control. A Bride driver’s seat holds you firmly in place on those twisty roads but stock seats are more comfortable and better on long trips. The rear seats are almost useless for humans and good for extra storage space. Boot space is also quite narrow.
Living with a modified S15 can be expensive due to its performance oriented nature. Fuel economy is made even worse with an upgraded fuel pump and injectors. Expect 15-20 litres per 100 km with mandatory use of 98 octane fuel equating to beefier fuel bill. Regular service intervals of 5000 km also add to these costs. Blown gearboxes are common with high output motors but the Achilles’ heel of the S15 is within the SR20‘s head. Variable cam timing is likely to become noisy and rocker arms prone to failure. All this can be overcome with proper maintenance and the addition of rocker arm stoppers which allows them to stay in place under strenuous conditions. But overall the S15 is reliable for a performance car and easy enough to work on yourself with a bit of mechanical know-how. If treated well, you’ll reap the rewards.
It’s amazing to see how many different performance modifications are available. Owners are able to start off with a clean slate and personalise the car to their driving style – drift, grip or drag, making it one of the most appealing aspects of S15 ownership. It’s a track weapon on weekends capable of getting you to work during the week at an affordable price.