Nissan 240SX: The Car Bible (S13; 1989-1994)

The quintessential cheap drift car is not so cheap anymore, but still a great platform for drivers.

Welcome to the Nissan 240SX (S13) Car Bible. As you scroll down you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.

This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable info. Got something to add? Drop a comment! Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief

(Disclaimers; Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also have to explicitly state that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk!)

Contents

There’s a lot of info packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in.

  1. The Short Story
  2. Pictures
  3. Fast Facts
  4. Spotter’s Guide
  5. Rarity
  6. Check This Car Out If…
  7. Important Trim Levels and Options
  8. Year-To-Year Changes
  9. General Reliability and Ownership Costs
  10. Obscure Details
  11. Red Flags and Known Issues
  12. Recalls
  13. Where To Buy Parts
  14. Aftermarket Support
  15. Popular Modifications
  16. Key Technical Details
  17. Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
  18. Factory Service Manuals
  19. Other References and Resources
  20. Professional Reviews
  21. Owner Reviews
  22. What They’re Worth Now
  23. Where To Find One For Sale
  24. What To Ask A Seller
  25. Competitors To Consider
  26. Photo Galleries
  27. Pop Culture References
  28. Enthusiast Inquiries
  29. Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
  30. Comments Disclaimer

The Short Story

From my Car Bibles colleague Peter Nelson: The Nissan 240SX was America’s introduction to the venerable Nissan S13 chassis. Renowned for being a small, lightweight, rear-wheel drive sports car, the S13 was beloved by folks for being inexpensive, fun, and revvy, and is a key player in the blooming drift scene in Japan in the late-’80s and early-’90s.

The one we got in America wasn’t quite as cool as the rest of the world’s though, at least in stock form. This is mainly due to us getting 240s with Nissan’s KA24E under the hood, which was a 2.4-liter, single-overhead cam four-cylinder truck motor. You’ll read more about that soon, but the engine left much to be desired. The Japanese market got a limited-slip differential as standard too, if you were looking for another reason to be jealous.

Still, the 240SX made lemons out of lemonade with its low curb weight and handling really well out of the box. It came with MacPherson front suspension and fully independent, multi-link rear suspension. Plus, later on in its generation, the engine got a second camshaft which bumped power up a tad.

While it’s been a long time since it was sold as new, it continues to be a popular enthusiast platform. Especially in drifting at all levels, from grassroots to top-pro. It’s also been the object of the aftermarket’s affection since new, so there are tons of parts available for it, as well as a bunch of engine swap options.

Pictures

If you’re looking for more images, scroll down to the Photo Galleries links toward the end of the Car Bible. Believe it or not, photos of stock 240SXs are not that easy to find! As a result, the resolution on some of these is obviously suboptimal… we had to do what we could with old scans. Don’t forget to drop a comment if you have a stash of stock S13 pictures we could share.

Fast Facts

The S13 240SX is the fourth Nissan S-chassis to come to North America, after the S10, S110, and S12. Previously they were called 200SX to denote a 2.0-liter engine, and 240SX denotes the 2.4-liter engine.

The S13 introduced an all-new four-wheel independent suspension that carried through to the S15 Silvia.

Overseas, the 240SX was called the Silvia, continuing the tradition of giving JDM Nissans people names instead of number names.

Because of the S13’s lightweight nature, RWD, and ideal wheelbase, it is pretty much the most popular drift car around the world.

Most don’t realize that the S13 is also an accomplished grip-racing chassis, and handles very well when it’s not set up to go sideways.

In the U.S., we got a weaksauce KA24DE engine in these cars. For a period of time, an SR20DET swap was the most popular and cheapest way into more power for an S-chassis. Now, SR20 engines are valuable and rare, and people have taken to turbo’ing the KA24 with good results.

The KA24’s five-speed manual is famously strong and is used behind many engine swaps on a budget.

The S13 came in coupe and hatchback form. Strictly speaking, the coupe is a PS13, and the hatchback is an RPS13.

Spotter’s Guide 

The easiest way to tell an S13 apart from an S14, or other cars on the road, is that every S13 in the U.S. market has pop-up headlights. Coupes and hatchbacks share the same nose.

Speaking of the nose, there are slight differences in the front bumper of U.S.-spec S13 from year to year. 

1989-1990 “Zenki” (Japanese for “early-period”) S13s have what’s called a “pignose” front bumper, easily identified by nostrils in the front bumper. It also features a split lower intake opening. 

1991-1994 “Chuki” (Japanese for “mid-period”) S13s get the “sharknose” front bumper without nostrils and a larger bumper opening, and more prominent blinkers. 

We do not get the “Kouki” (Japanese for “late-period”) in the U.S., which is the face-lifted JDM 180SX.

The 240SX came in a few trim levels, three for the hatchback and two for the coupe. Both get base trims and SE trims, but only the hatchback gets an LE trim. The base and LE share features, but the SE exclusively has a sunroof and received extra tech like Super-HICAS rear-wheel steering. The easiest way to tell an SE is the sunroof. Coupe SEs also got the super funky partially digital gauge cluster with center analog tachometer, and ultra-futuristic speedometer heads up display.

Rarity

Nissan built a lot of these cars, but the last one rolled off the assembly line a very long time ago now. Since the 240SX enjoyed a two-decade spell of being America’s de facto drift beater, these cars have truly dwindled in number. Even amongst those that are left, it seems like most of them are heavily modified, crashed, six different colors, or reduced to just a rolling shell.

I feel safe calling S13s pretty rare these days. You’ll have trouble finding a clean one, or one that’s even worth your time unless you’re looking for a track beater. You’ll have to wait and see with these cars and explore options. Even with a big budget, if you’re set on getting one, you may end up having to get a stinky one and plan on spending real time resurrecting it properly.

Check This Car Out If…

You love ’90s JDM cars and want something simple, RWD, extremely cool, and reasonably moddable. Well, extremely moddable, but with high barriers to entry for real power. The aftermarket is immense, though.

Important Trim Levels and Options

The 1989-1990 240SXs came in two trim levels and body styles. The trims were XE and SE, and coupe or hatchback. For the “pignose” 89-90 cars, you could only get an XE coupe, or an SE hatchback. The primary differences are that the XE coupe is luxury-oriented, with an optional heads-up display (more like a digital speedometer) and power sunroof, while the SE is sports-oriented with optional ABS (not available on XE coupe), and an optional performance package with wider summer tires (not available on XE either). Both trims had an optional power convenience group with premium stereos, power windows, electronic cruise control, and convenience lighting. The biggest thing to note with 89-90 cars is the SOHC KA24E engine that powered it, which is a little down on power compared to 91-94 cars with the DOHC KA24DE.

In 1991, the 240SX was facelifted and given the “sharknose” front end, without the nostrils of the “pignose” cars. A slew of technical and trim updates came along with this, the most important of which being the aforementioned DOHC engine. Now, there was a mix of trim levels: Base and SE for the coupe, and Base, LE, and SE for the hatchback. The SE remained the performance trim, with the SE hatchback keeping its top spot in the hierarchy. SE hatchbacks had an optional performance package as before, but Nissan introduced Super-HICAS four-wheel-steering and a viscous limited-slip differential to the package. The same package was unavailable on SE coupes. The LE was the most luxury-oriented car, with most of the comfort equipment being standard. Leather seats became an option on SEs. The Base was de-contented and basic. 

The rarest S13s are convertibles. They were introduced in 1992 exclusively for the U.S. market and only lasted until 1994.

The most desirable ones are 91-94 SE hatchbacks or coupes. Generally, any S13 is desirable, as you can mod anything you want into them, regardless of trim level. In fact, people tend to delete the Super-HICAS, citing a “strange” driving feel. 

Year-to-Year Changes

These changes reflect the U.S. market.

1989 Model Year:

  • Car debuts
  • “Pignose” front bumper
  • Launch trims: XE coupe, SE hatchback
  • “Sawblade” alloy wheels for SE, blade wheel cover for steel wheels on XE
  • Debut with 2.4-liter SOHC KA24E

1990 Model Year:

  • Carryover from 1989

1991 Model Year:

  • Exterior refresh, new front bumper without nostrils
  • New trims, now available both coupe and hatchback
  • Base trim added for both body styles, LE trim added for coupe
  • SE performance package added Super-HICAS rear-wheel steer and viscous limited-slip differential
  • Leather trimmed steering wheel, and seats added as an option for SE
  • Engine updated with DOHC and 4-valves per cylinder, now called KA24DE

1992 Model Year:

  • Convertible introduced for 1992, engineered and modified by ASC (American Specialty Cars) who specialize in convertible conversions and work with OEMs.
  • Mostly Carryover

1993 Model Year:

  • Carryover

1994 Model Year:

  • End of production

General Reliability and Ownership Cost

S13s on their own are extremely simple, generally reliable, and cheap to maintain. The KA24E and KA24DE are literal light truck engines, so parts are cheap and everywhere. OEM and aftermarket parts for the S13 are plentiful, and the later S14 shares a lot of parts with the S13, making parts searching easier and upgrades even easier.

The elephant in the room is that most S13s are not unmolested, and have lead incredibly hard lives. It seems that you can buy a mint, well-cared-for S13 that will be reliable and fun, or buy a project that will need everything, and nothing in between. 

You can count on parts being cheap, but you’ll probably be ordering a lot of them. Again, the fact that these cars were so cheap for so long means that they just need love at this point. They are easy to wrench on at home, so all things considered, an S13 240SX won’t destroy your bank account the way some other old project cars might.

Obscure Details

The S13 suspension architecture serves as the basis for every S-chassis until the S15, and shares hard-point similarities with cars like the Z32 300ZX, the C34 Laurel, and the R32/33/34 Nissan Skyline. The Z32 and Skyline are dual wishbone, but use extremely similar lower control arm mounting points and primitive upper control arm and upright design. The rear suspension is most similar, with differentials being somewhat swappable between models, though not always having the required clearance.

The KA24E has the closest relation to the truck engine of the D21 Nissan Hardbody and Pathfinder, while the KA24DE is actually substantially different from the truck engines. The 240SX KA24DEs were built in Yokohama, Japan and include larger diameter main bearings with a girdle, oil squirters for the pistons, an extra set of camshaft journal bearings, and a different oil pan and pickup that is non-interchangeable with the truck engines built in Aguascalientes, Mexico. To cap it off, the Japanese KA24DEs were 9.5:1 compression ratio, while Mexican-built ones were 9.2:1. Even early KA24Es were bumped in compression ratio up to 9.1:1 from 8.6:1 for truck engines. So it’s not entirely a truck engine, I guess.

The rear suspension of the 240SX is claimed to have been tested and designed with the help of a Cray supercomputer, according to the 1989 240SX brochure.

Red Flags and Known Issues

Many, many of these cars are drifted and beat to everlasting hell. There are a few telltale signs of this kind of abuse. Have we mentioned that enough yet?

One is blown rear subframe bushings. The bushings that live where the rear subframe bolts to the body of the car get hammered normally but were never even designed to withstand the extreme lateral force of drifting and sliding. Blown subframe bushings are characterized by large clunks and generally errant driving behavior from the car. 

Another common issue is blown rear differential bushings. With clutch kicks and using the handbrake, the bushings are subjected to extreme forces from the differential, with the constant acceleration and deceleration to a stop that the rear wheels do in drifting. That, and blown or noisy differentials never point to an easy life for the car.

S13s are getting very old, and bushings on their own begin to degrade. Expect creaks and clunks from various places in the front and rear suspension, mostly rear. The multi-link rear end is more complex and susceptible to failures. 

Most of what you’re going to search for on an S13 is non-specific and general mechanical sense. They’re simple cars with easy to find issues. Most of the time, the car itself will tell the story. Follow general inspection guidelines and you’ll be fine!

Recalls

The S13 240SX has one recall for 1989-1990 cars, regarding a fault with the automatic seat belt system. Check out the NHTSA website here.

Key Technical Details

Engines: 

1989-1990: KA24E 12-valve, rocker actuated SOHC inline-four cylinder, longitudinally mounted. 9.1:1 compression ratio. Naturally aspirated, electronic distributor ignition. Iron block with aluminum cylinder heads. Hitachi sequential fuel injection. Single row timing chain.

1991-1994: KA24DE 16-valve, shim-over-bucket flat tappet DOHC inline-four cylinder, longitudinally mounted. 9.5:1 compression ratio. Naturally aspirated with electronic distributor ignition. Iron block with aluminum heads. JECS (Japan Electronic Control Systems) engine management.

Transmissions:

JATCO Four-speed automatic 

Nissan FS5W71C five-speed manual transmission

Drivetrain: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, with R200 open rear differential or R200V optional viscous limited-slip differential. 4.08 final drive.

Suspension: Front MacPherson strut suspension with stamped steel lower control arms and separate semi-tubular tension rods. Cast steel uprights, stamped steel subframe.

Rear multi-link four-link suspension with stamped steel control arm arrangement. Cast steel uprights, stamped steel subframe. Post-1991 SE sport package received Super-HICAS which replaced fixed toe-rod with HICAS steering rack.

Wheelbase: 97.4 in; 2474 mm

Overall length: 178 in; 4521 mm (all body styles)

Curb weight: 2657 pounds; 1205 kg (coupe), 2684 pounds; 1217 kg (hatchback)

OEM tire sizes:

SE/LE/XE/Base: 195/60R15

SE sport package: 205/60R15 w/ alloy wheels

Fluids, Filters, And Capacities

Fuel: 91 AKI (premium)

Engine Oils: 

5W-30 for cold climates below 0°F

10W-40 for general climates above 0°F

20W-50 for climates that are generally above 50°F

Battery Size: Group 35

Oil Filter:  OEM part number 15208-55Y0A, change every 7,500 miles

Air Filter: OEM part number 16546-V0100, change every 30,000 miles

Cabin Air Filter: N/A

Transmission Oils: 

Manual – 75W-90 GL-4 

Automatic – DEXRON type ATF

Transmission Filter: 

Manual – Not applicable

Automatic – Not applicable

Rear Differential Oil: 75W-90 GL-5

Coolant: Green coolant, 50/50 mix

Power Steering Fluid: DEXRON type ATF

Brake Fluid: DOT3 brake fluid, DOT4 can be used.

Clutch Fluid: DOT3 brake fluid, DOT4 can be used.

Spark Plugs:

Standard temperature range – NGK ZFR5D-11

Hot temperature range – NGK ZFR4D-11

Cold temperature range – NGK ZFR6D-11

Plug gap – 1.1mm

Where to Buy Parts

Online parts shopping and the local parts store chain is going to be your best friend. Nissan dealerships generally aren’t going to support the old 240SX, luckily your neighborhood parts store will have what you need. Parts aren’t exotic for this car, they’re cheap and readily available.

It is still possible to get true genuine parts online, but the parts store stuff is more than good enough for the low-strung and simple 240SX.

Aftermarket Support

The aftermarket support for the S13 240SX is one of the deepest if not the deepest aftermarket of any Japanese car. Coming from the Japanese tuning heyday, the S13 chassis is still supported to this day, with off-the-shelf solutions for basically anything.

On the tame end, you can get your choice of suspension parts manufacturers, control arms, suspension, reinforcement kits, and bushings to make your S13 handle or drift how you want it to. 

Engine mods for the KA24DE/E are tame, and potential in the engine isn’t great. That is, until you buy one of many off-the-shelf turbo kits and wake the engine right up. KAs can handle some turbo power, and are generally considered to be stout, even more than the once-popular SR20 swap. 

Speaking of swaps, off-the-shelf kits exist for basically any engine you want. Want an LS? Easy. Want a 2JZ? No problem! Want a turbo Honda K-series? You bet your butt there’s a kit. Want a 13B rotary engine? Believe it or not, there is a kit for that too.

These cars have been exploited and plumbed to the absolute maximum, and anything is possible. There is nothing that hasn’t been done to 240SXs. It’s the car’s blessing and curse.

Well, besides swapping the engine for something worth a damn for making power, or turbo’ing the KA24, popular mods center around chassis and driveline improvements.

First mods for most 240SX owners include some aftermarket billet or tubular control arms for extra rigidity and stiffer suspension bushings. Most S13 240SXs didn’t leave the factory with limited-slip differentials, so that’s also hugely popular. The SE viscous limited-slip isn’t a popular swap as it’s a weaker form of limited-slip, still prone to one-wheel-peeling.

About a decade ago in the late ’00s and early ’10s, SR20DET swaps were hugely in vogue. They used to be $1,200 engines and were easy to throw into any old S13. Now, they’re triple that price and aren’t as reliable or good as many modern swap options. People generally opt to turbo their KAs, keep them stock, or do a Honda K-series swap. Drifters love to 1JZ/2JZ swap their S-chassis, but those engines are getting expensive as well. The future of the S13 does seem to be heavily skewed towards the K-series or the LS V8 engine.

Another set of mods that are popular is interior mods. The stock seats and steering wheel suck, so a set of bucket seats and aftermarket steering wheel are usually in order. A lot S13s don’t have their stock seats anymore.

Factory Service Manuals

Nicoclub.com has an incredible resource of Nissan service manuals. Here is the link.

Other References and Resources

The forums can be a great reference, but exercise caution in taking anybody’s words as gospel.

Zilvia.net and ziptied.com are deep and storied resources of S-chassis knowledge, straight from the drifters and road racers that used them. It can be a powerful tool if you have some basic research and literacy skills.

Nissanpartsdeal.com has an excellent factory-level catalog that you can peruse for OEM parts.

Professional Reviews

“Tested: 1990 Nissan 240SX Rekindles the Spirit of the Original Z-Car” (Car & Driver – February 1989 issue)

The great Larry Griffin of C&D was quite taken with the lightweight, fun RWD Nissan.

“Every 240 turns up with linear rack-and-pinion power steering. Nissan keeps communications between car and driver open and direct. No variable-assist or variable-ratio monkey-motion muddies the messages. Wound tight, the 240’s steering produces a snug 30.8-foot turning circle, good for superb tuckability in gridlock wars and parking snarls. Yet the guileless steering and almost unflappable chassis allow exhibitions of gripping behavioral magic.”

“Retro Review: ‘91 Nissan 240SX” (Motorweek – 1991 Review uploaded to Youtube) 

“It doesn’t have the rough appeal of the old Z-cars, but the 240 does offer a lot of modern day driving fun. Rear end behavior remains smooth and predictable, but better steering feel would make the car more enjoyable to drive. The ride is firm but very comfortable… the 240SX’s cornering prowess does not detract from everyday driving.”

Owner Reviews

We will definitely have some good stuff to add here soon, stay tuned!

Own or owned one of these and want to share your thoughts? Hit up in the comments or email contact@carbibles.com.

What They’re Worth as of 2021

The prime example: You’re looking at about $9,000-$11,000. Yeah, they’re still out there. Don’t get too discouraged at the handful that have sold in the $20,000-neighborhood on Bring-a-Trailer, that’s not as reflective of the general market as some sellers would like you to believe.

A clean driver: Budget about $7,000-$8,000. These cars have decent miles, but are serviced well, cosmetically 9/10, and well cared for with some road grime. This is what I call the “goldilocks zone” where the car has been driven and sorted, but well-loved.

An honest car: Budget $6,000. These cars will have driver miles, and have some mods. Expect mileage above 150,000 easily, and for it to be rough around the edges.

The budget option: At $4,000-$6,500, you’ll get a project 240SX. It will need work, and it will be rough, but it’ll probably drive.

A roach: $2,500-$3,500 will get you a beat-to-shit project 240SX. Maybe even just a nice shell. The drift tax is too strong, and you might even be lucky to nab a car at this price.

Where to Find One for Sale

You’re going to find most 240SXs for sale on Craigslist and FB marketplace. The vast majority will be privately owned. 

Some are more valuable and do end up on auction sites like Bring-a-Trailer, and Cars & Bids. The best examples will go to auction, and the rest are easily found on Craigslist and FB marketplace.

What to Ask a Seller

Go-to questions should include:

“Has it been drifted?” (almost certainly expect to be lied to.)

“Does it burn oil?”

“Has it been modified?”

“How hard was it driven?”

Naturally, you’ll be able to answer a lot of those questions just by looking at the car.

Competitors to Consider

If you’re into the S13 240SX, you’re probably also into other old and excellent JDM shitboxes. Primary competitors could be be Acura Integra GSRs, EG/EK Civic EXs, SW20 Toyota MR2s, and GC-chassis Subaru Impreza 2.5RS’. Don’t discount the Nissan 300ZX (Z31 or Z32) as an alternative, though. They’re harder to work on and have a smaller aftermarket, but they’re less coveted so still findable for less money.

Photo Galleries

This archive of 240SX brochures here is a great resource for “period-correct” pictures. Car & Driver has a small original photo gallery here. This blog Autopolis has a few more. FavCars.com, usually an amazing resource for old car pics, only has a handful, unfortunately. Even the Nissan Heritage gallery seems pretty light on pictures of stock, when-new, S13s!

If you don’t mind seeing a lot of modded ones though, searching “#S13” on Instagram gets you about 2.2 million results.

Pop Culture References

S13 240SXs are a mainstay of “broke college student car with bong smoke pouring out of the slightly-opened windows” culture. They’ve been in basically every video game with cars. Most notably, they’re a starter car for nearly every Need for Speed up until 2015.

BeamNG, a soft-body physics car simulator, features an S13 hatchback homage called the Ibishu 200BX.

Eminem steals a 240SX from Randall Park in the 2015 music video for “Phenomenal.” John Malkovich is in that too, along with some surprisingly good fight choreography. Yeah, if you haven’t seen that, enjoy:

Otherwise, let’s see, a 240SX hatchback is in the background of a parking lot chase scene in Are We There Yet? and of course the IMCDB has pages-on-pages of more cameos.

Enthusiast Inquiries

Every car has a collection of common questions that pop up in forums and Facebook groups whenever new blood joins in. We hope a lot of those have been answered above, but if we start to see specific questions pop up regularly we’ll revisit them here.

Downloadable Paperback Car Bible (Coming Soon)

If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your S13, we’ll have a printable owner’s manual supplement available soon.

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Chris Rosales

Chris RosalesChris has owned 12 cars of questionable quality, is an experienced motorsports photographer, and a good all-around wrench. When he isn’t tinkering with his car in his home garage, you can catch Chris in the canyons around SoCal. He also hopelessly hankers for Euros, but he honestly knows he should get something Japanese, eventually. Contact the author here.