When Smoky Nagata infamously attempted to go 200mph on a British motorway over 20 years ago, do you think he considered the long tail influence of such a feat?
I’d argue probably not. Logically, going 200mph (321km/h) on an unsanctioned road requires living precisely in that moment with little mind paid to the past or future. But, despite being pocket change away from his highly illegal speed goal – and a short stint in the clink as a result – the feat was extremely influential to enthusiasts around the world.
Clearly, the car you see before you is not painted gold, and it most definitely is not a Supra. It also has just single Top Secret part on it. So you’re probably wondering why the Smoky reference at all. Well, inspiration doesn’t always equate to imitation. Furthermore, a finished product doesn’t always trace neatly back to its origins. That’s what makes inspiration so interesting.
The Silvia’s owner, Johnny, found himself obsessed with Japanese cars from the age of 16, shortly after moving to the US from the United Kingdom. A mate with a SR20DET S13, a serious cache of magazines and a stack of imported Video Option VHS tapes started the ball rolling; a reliable internet connection later sealed the deal.
Today, Johnny owns two Japanese icons, this S13 and the S15 below.
Despite both being inspired by much flashier cars, each are quite visually simplistic.Money Talks
After a short stint in a Subaru, Johnny decided to stop faffing about and get a car more inline with his ultimate goals. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – he’d developed a very specific taste in vehicles. Looks couldn’t outpace performance, but at the same time performance couldn’t come with too much sacrifice for the street.
In the land of S13s, K’s or King-trim Silvias are the most driver focused. K’s cars have both performance and visual differentiators from the rest of the (J’s and Q’s) S13 lineup. But, as cars that were readily available from Nissan dealerships in Japan, they were very liveable as well.
S13 Silvia K’s are fairly desirable in Japan these days, which makes them very desirable in North America. Johnny searched for over six months for a factory black example, with several deals collapsing at the eleventh hour along the way.
Negotiations for this car would have fallen through as well had Johnny not acted fast and pulled up to the seller’s house with cash in hand before another very interested party could make their funds liquid. A bit of a bull tactic, but sometimes it takes what it takes.
The purchase took place at night – a risky move, especially when buying a black car – but fortune favored the bold in this case.
Luckily it didn’t take long for Johnny to realize he’d made a half-decent decision when the car survived the immediate drive back to Connecticut from Virginia without reportable incident.Wangan Connecticut
“Roll racing is pretty popular around here,” Johnny explained as he mentioned that his interest in the late-night practice harkens back to the mythos of Smoky Nagata. Highway blasts on the mind, when the SR20DET’s head gasket popped it only made sense to put a more potent motor into the car.
A Japanese heart would still remain, but cylinders arranged in a vee formation were decidedly not the answer he was looking for.
A pursuit for Japanese car knowledge has found Johnny friends all over the world. The ones he’d made in New Zealand convinced him the RB25DET was the only way to go.
Johnny performed the swap at a hobby shop he and a few friends operate. The motor was painstakingly installed and removed several times over to ensure that the final product would be the cleanest installation possible given the crew’s collective talents.
The 2.5L Nissan six didn’t find its way between the S chassis’ frame rails in stock trim. An ECR33 ARC Super Induction Box was installed, as was a Sinco Customs exhaust manifold from New Zealand in order to mount a Garrett GTX33582 turbocharger. The Sinco manifold gives the RB25 a very unique howl at full gas.
ARP head studs and a Cometic head gasket prevent the RB25 from taking the same quick exit the SR20 did. Bosch 850cc injectors and a Walbro 255lph pump provide the necessary fueling.
In a bit of an otaku Nissan trick, a Z32 ECU with Nistune modifications tells the motor what to do when the throttle is depressed.
Backing up the RB is a Exedy twin-disc clutch-equipped transmission and Shaft Masters single-piece driveshaft.
The motor swap made the car a formidable highway machine but it’s also still very street worthy. “I focused on the small components to make it as reliable as possible,” Johnny elaborates, describing the process of building the car.
Spending the time picking the right fittings, hoses and wiring has meant that the S13 spends much more time on the road than it does on jack stands.
“Nothing was simple,” continued Johnny, as he described the swap process. “Builds are easy to talk about, but there’s an obstacle at every corner, often in areas you wouldn’t expect.”
However it’s often the attention to small deals that makes a car better in the end.Can’t Get Wild
The rather subtle look of the Silvia is true to Johnny’s nature. “As much as I try, and want to make my car look wild, I always end up keeping it polite and clean. I can’t break out of that mold.”
As someone who’s also a fan of subtleness – especially when it comes to a street-driven car – I appreciate the steps Johnny has taken to have the car looking the way it does today. Doing so actually required selling many of the panels the previous owner added only to replace them with original Nissan equipment.
Simple, deep, KH1 Super Black paint looks great on the Silvia. Liveries might be incredibly popular today, but I think any on this car would absolutely ruin its appeal. “The lines of the S13 are so boxy, it’s very ’90s and I like that simplicity,” Johnny echoes.
Rather subdued cars often carry with them a timeless look that more extreme examples simply don’t. Nothing on this car will be out of fashion anytime soon; clean will always remain clean.
Keeping the visual expiration date at bay are RAYS Volk Racing TE37 wheels in a 17×9-inch +22 offset fitment and classic Formula Silver finish.
326 Power coilovers with 20kg/10kg rates wrap around the wheels. ISR rear upper control arms allow the Yokohama Advan A052 tires to slip just within the fenders.Bringing Things Home
As you might expect, the inside of Johnny’s ride sees a similar restrained touch. Factory interior panels remain and are in rather great condition considering the vehicle’s age.
Bride Euroster II recliners feature for both driver and passenger, and between the seats an ARC titanium shift knob has been spun on.
Gauges come via Tanabe and Yashio Factory, and rounding out a succinct list of interior revisions is a Nardi woodgrain steering wheel.
For all his efforts Johnny has been rewarded with a car that loves to be driven – often. Trips to New York and beyond are nearly as common as quick rips to the grocery store.
Builders rejoice, Johnny assures that all the frustrating late night hours spent agonizing over minute details really do fade away as the numbers roll over on the odometer. And in this Silvia, that happens rather quickly.
Photos by Keiron Berndt