I have been a Honda enthusiast for as long as I can remember. Unlike many diehard Honda guys, I have always kept an open-arm approach to other car manufacturers. I knew there were other great chassis out there for me to play with. Owning a 240SX has always been in the back of my mind since the car came off the production line, but with my already-immense fleet of vehicles I couldn't justify getting a 240 until I got rid of something in my stable. When I got busted in the Civic, I decided it was time to let it go. It wasn't too hard since I have three other Honda/Acura vehicles still in the stable. It was a sign to start searching for a 240SX.
OK I lied, I had already been looking for one for three months, the search just became more intense once the Civic was sold. Finding a car isn't that hard. However, finding the right one can be.
My criteria for the 240SX, was that the chassis couldn't have been involved in an accident. I could stand a blown engine, theft recovery or vandalism. Since I plan to track the vehicle, a bent frame isn't a good start.
I found one with water damage. It looked like it was thrown in a river and pulled back out. It was covered with a 1-inch layer of dirt. From the photos I could tell it had a set of coil-overs with pillow-ball mounts, but the price wasn't right.
My next find was a black 1995 SE with some body damage to the rear lights and trunk. Although I generally don't buy crashed cars, the 240 was barely hit at the trunk lid and would be an easy repair. But the stars did not align and I was outbid by $200.
The third time I hoped would be the charm when I found a white 1996 SE that was stolen. The radio, driver's side airbag and the seats were all missing. All of these components were readily available to me since most of my friends own 240SXs and have plenty of spare parts to choose from. From the photos I didn't see any major body damage and it didn't look like the car had ever been repainted. So I crossed my fingers and placed a bid. I won the car for $2,500. A steal if you ask me. I've seen similar-condition SEs go for more than $3,000. The next day I hooked up the trailer and made the long drive up to Northern California. After a 13-hour round trip (damn 'Frisco traffic) I was back home with my new toy in the garage.
Initial inspection was pretty much what the photos showed. The front and rear seats were missing along with the radio. What the photos didn't show were the baseball-size dents on each quarter panel. The front and rear bumpers were thrashed, and the hood was banged up.
I didn't worry too much about the front end since I already planned on changing it to the '98-and-up specifications. The two dents on the quarters were unexpected; I guess the body shop will just have to take care of that. The Nissan came equipped with an Injen cold-air intake and a muffler shop special exhaust canister. The previous owner added a set of five-spoke wheels that looked awful. Too bad the stock SE wheels weren't still there.
All the fluids checked out and everything seemed to be in order. With the battery charger hooked up we again crossed our fingers and cranked the KA24DE engine. The engine fired right up. After sourcing an interior from one friend and an airbag from another, I wanted to take the 240 for a spin.
On its maiden voyage we were disappointed to find out the clutch slipped. On top of that, the tranny was grinding in every gear except first. When the 240 reached 50 mph it started to shake violently. We later found out the amazingly ugly five-spoke wheels were bent. So it was back to the garage to perform some much-needed TLC on the SX.
The first hurdle was the slipping clutch and the transmission. Fortunately, my brother had a 1997 tranny in his salvage yard. The only other thing I needed was a clutch. We called Unorthodox Racing to see what the techs had that would work on the 240. Since we plan on turbocharging the vehicle, the Unorthodox crew recommended their Ultra G eight-puck ceramic disc with a heavy-duty pressure plate. The Ultra G has a higher clamp load compared to the stock pressure plate and the sprung ceramic disc substantially increases holding capacity.
Along with the Ultra G clutch, Unorthodox also recommended its Ultra L aluminum flywheel. At 12 pounds, the Unorthodox unit shaves off more than 9.5 pounds of rotating mass compared to the stock piece. The lighter flywheel improves throttle response and overall driveability.
The clutch comes complete with a new throw-out bearing, bronze pilot bearing and clutch alignment tool. Replacing a clutch is a straight R&R job; the key is to remember where all the bolts go. For novices, I recommend numbering the end of each bolt so you know where each goes.
Once the tranny was mated to the block, we swapped the stock rubber tranny mount with a Peak Performance urethane piece. Constructed from heavy-duty urethane, the Peak Performance tranny mount is much stiffer than the factory rubber mount, which gives more feedback when changing gears. Our factory mount was torn in two pieces, so it was a necessary modification.
Unorthodox recommends breaking in the clutch for 300 to 1,000 miles, depending on the type of clutch disc you are running, but the more you break it in the better. And we are talking about 300 to 1,000 easy, stop-and-go miles, not highway ... no burnouts or clutch dumps either.
Second on the to-do list was to find a new set of wheels. We robbed a set of D5R Speed Star Wheels from my MR2 and equipped them with a brand-new set of Toyo T1-R gumballs. The successor to the high-performance T1-S tires, the T1-R has better cornering in both wet and dry conditions compared to the T1-S. Retaining a similar footprint to the T1-S, the T1-R runs two parallel shoulder blocks, increasing high-speed cornering stability and overall tread life.
We opted to run 225/45-18 up front and 255/40-18 in the rear to give the Nissan a nice staggered stance. The 4x4 look was attained via the stock ride height, which we will address in the near future.
Once everything was running in order, it was time to put some spring back in the 240's step. A complete tune-up was performed from the NGK spark plugs and wires to a new cap and rotor. The engine was filled with synthetic lube, and the ignition timing was set. Once tuned it was off to the dreaded smog station.
Trip #1: On our first trip to the smog station, our smog technician found the check engine light was not turning on when the key was turned to the "on" position. So we had to drive home and figure out the problem. Conveniently, the previous owner removed the bulb for the check engine light so it wouldn't stay illuminated. Our guess was that someone was trying to sell the vehicle and instead of fixing whatever the problem was that caused the check engine light to turn on, the owner decided to remove the bulb. Nice one.
With a new bulb in place we found a number of diagnostic codes being triggered. We decided to reset the computer with our trusty OBD-RX scanner and see which ones still triggered the light. The four codes ranged from a lean mixture to a misfire. The only code that reappeared was a faulty EVAP purge valve controller. After sourcing another used controller we had the unit installed and our problem was solved, we hoped.
Trip #2: We headed back to the smog station, which is 40 miles away, for our second try. The smog technician plugged in the smog machine's OBD-II communication harness and voil he now tells us the vehicle is not ready to perform a smog test. Although the ECU did not have any DTC (diagnostic trouble codes) its readiness codes needed to be completed before the smog machine would allow a smog test.
The readiness codes on the 240SX consists of: O2 heater, O2 sensor, catalytic, EVAP and EGR. Of the five readiness codes at least 50 percent of the codes have to be completed. So in our case three of the five readiness codes will have to be present before we can perform the test. Our smog technician told us to put some miles on the car and come back. He also mentioned by the time you drive home and back here the readiness codes should be completed. So we were on our way home again.
Trip #3: The very next day we went back to the smog station, thinking it had to be the last time. Again, the technician attached the OBD-II (damn 1996-up vehicles) and again told us the readiness codes weren't complete. I must admit by this time I wondered if God was punishing me. And again, the smog technician told me to put more miles on the car.
Thinking I had a faulty ECU, I borrowed a 1996 ECU from a buddy and decide to swap out mine for his. After adding about 200 miles on the car the readiness codes still weren't setting. About this time I really wondered: why me?
Not willing to give up I did some research and found out from a friend that 1996 and 1997 Nissans are notorious for resetting readiness codes and that Nissan posted a service bulletin for this problem. I found out the only way to reset the readiness codes is to perform a sequenced drive test that Nissan specifically set up to reset readiness codes. I took a trip to my local Nissan dealer and was able to get the drive test for my 240SX.
The drive test is no joke and there is no possible way of performing the drive test unless you are on the dyno. After about an hour on the dyno I was able to reset four of the five codes. Once the codes were reset it was back to the smog station.
Trip #4: On our fourth and final trip to the smog station I was victorious. The 240SX passed with flying colors. It felt like I just completed a marathon and I was about to pass out. I am sure the smog test will just be the first of many battles I will have with the 240SX. Hopefully I will be victorious each and every time.
We hope the shaky start for Project Silvia is not an indication of what's to come. I am sure as the days go by and the number of items to fix diminishes the reasons why I wanted to own this car will become clearer. But for now I am just satisfied the Nissan is registered and legal to drive.