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1997 Nissan 240SX SE - The Path LS Traveled

The Level 7 Motorsports LS1-Swapped S14 Leaves Traditional S-Chassis Builds in the Dust.

Damon Young
Sep 12, 2013
Photographer: Jeff Creech

To say that Nissan's entry-level rear-wheel-drive coupe from the '90s has become an endangered species would be an understatement. With each passing day, the remaining examples of these cars are being used and abused by entry-level drift enthusiasts. While this may or may not be a bad thing, it is definitely a touchy subject among the S-chassis faithful. The days of finding a bone-stock S13 or S14 with ultralow mileage stored in a garage for all its life by a woman in her sixties on CraigsList are long gone. And with each S14 that meets a wall or a baseball bat fender roll job, the chassis inches closer and closer to extinction.

Fortunately for the purists out there, Jesse Vaughn of Level 7 Motorsports has no interest in sending another S14 into a shallow grave. In fact, at first glance, you might think your eyes are playing tricks on you. Could this really be the same type of car we are used to seeing at amateur drift events, smashed up and rattle-canned flat black? But make no mistake, this 240 is not a mirage; in fact, not only is Jesse's S-chassis a beautifully built and maintained machine, but its purpose is far different from the norm these days: grip racing (and the occasional street cruise, of course).

Like most of us, Jesse became a gearhead at an early age. His father was always wrenching on some sort of hot rod in their garage, so it didn't take long for his father's passion to spread to his son. As he grew older, Jesse learned that he loved the build process more than anything else. As a result, the 31-year-old has owned and built more than 29 cars in his lifetime. To say that Jesse has been a bit busy is an understatement.

1997 nissan 240SX SE GTC 300 wing Photo 2/11   |   1997 Nissan 240SX SE - The Path LS Traveled

Eventually, Jesse was able to turn his passion for custom automotive builds into a career by opening his own shop, Level 7 Motorsports, in Marion, Illinois. Level 7 works on a variety of platforms, ranging from '60s and '70s muscle cars to newer Japanese vehicles. It was this diverse background that led Jesse to build the S14 you see before you. However, he had decided what would go under the hood long before he had chosen to build a 240SX.

One day, a customer came into the shop with a banged-up GM LS1 engine. The engine had spun rod bearings, and the customer wanted to replace it with a 408 LSX. Having built a handful of LS1 engines in his time, Jesse knew the potential the LS series possessed. He offered the customer some cash for the damaged motor, and before he knew it, Jesse was building an LS1 of his own.

The LS was completely torn down and reworked with a slew of aftermarket components. A set of JE pistons bumped the compression ratio to 11.3:1, while the stock rods were beefed up with ARP rod bolts. Patriot Stage 3 heads with a fortified top end from PRC and Texas Speed replaced the worn factory valvetrain while freeing up some power in the process. A Magic Stick 3 cam gives the engine that signature idle of a Detroit muscle machine.

With a beautifully rebuilt LS1 engine sitting on the stand, Jesse was left with an important decision: What platform should he drop his freshly built motor into? "I had always wanted to build a fun autocross, road race, and street car. Something I could take out to local cruises and still be able to do open track days with," Jesse recalls. After a bit of research, he stumbled upon some examples of LS-swapped Nissan S-chassis cars. Seeing the potential of a Nissan chassis combined with a GM powerplant, he began to search for a suitable S14 to work from.

As luck would have it, Jesse was able to find a fairly clean 240 for sale in Boston. He had the car shipped to Level 7, and by the time it arrived, he had the drivetrain ready to be dropped in. After looking into existing solutions for motor mounts, Jesse decided to build his own custom mounts to position the engine in a more suitable location. He also took the time to fabricate a custom transmission crossmember and dual exhaust utilizing MagnaFlow piping. A race-ready 10-gallon fuel cell setup with a custom Level 7 swirl pot fills the once roomy trunk compartment.

Jesse drove his creation for one full season after completion and had a great time doing it. But as most of us can attest, a project car rarely stays in one state for long. The car went under the knife again with a host of new modifications. The first area of the car to be addressed was the exterior. Genuine JDM Nissan components were used to give the car its aggressive exterior appearance, including a JDM kouki front bumper, turn signals, foglamps, and front grille. A GReddy front lip with custom APR front splitter was added to the front end to not only enhance visual appeal but also to aid in downforce. Speaking of aero, an APR GTC300 wing was bolted to the decklid to keep the rear tires planted. The OEM rear bumper has been notched to make way for a custom Level 7 Motorsports diffuser. Finally, the car was resprayed in a beautiful silver hue.

The interior of this S14 is all business. Most of the factory components have been removed to make room for a seriously beefy rollcage. The 'cage is even tied into the engine bay for additional rigidity. Factory creature comforts were dumped in favor of a lighter chassis, including the sound deadening and HVAC system. In fact, Jesse even went as far as replacing the factory SE sunroof-equipped roof with one from a base-model S14 to save weight. Pretty serious! A pair of Recaro SPG fixed-back seats keep the driver and a lucky passenger planted during hard cornering. The Nardi 350mm deep-corn steering wheel, NRG quick-release, and Willans harnesses all further affirm that this car has been built with a very specific purpose in mind.

1997 nissan 240SX SE rollcage Photo 6/11   |   1997 Nissan 240SX SE - The Path LS Traveled

Suspension and brake modifications are high on the list for any track- oriented vehicle. Level 7 took no shortcuts to ensure that the handling and stopping capabilities of the car were up to snuff. Up front, a set of Evo 8 Brembo calipers are mated to oversize Powerslot brake rotors designed for a 350Z track edition. Larger brake calipers and rotors from a Nissan 300ZX are utilized out back, while Hawk HP+ pads and Russell stainless steel brake lines reside on all four corners. A 300ZX master cylinder and R32 brake booster ensure that the brake pedal feel and front/rear bias are correct among the now massive brake setup.

As for the suspension, a set of Stance GR+ coilovers prepare the car for track duty without being too harsh for street use. Other adjustable suspension upgrades from SPL, Powered by Max, and SPC ensure that a wide range of adjustment is available to suit any handling challenges. For rolling stock, Jesse chose a set of beautiful and lightweight SSR Type F 18-inch wheels with staggered widths. A pair of Origin rear overfenders add clearance for the meaty Nitto NT05 rubber out back, and custom front fender tubs do the same at the front of the car.

While the Nissan 240SX may be on the fast track to extinction, it's comforting to know there are still enthusiasts like Jesse Vaughn out there who are working to preserve these important members of Nissan's lineup. While there is often a lot of backlash toward anyone using an S14 for something other than drifting, Jesse and Level 7 have proven that with a well-researched plan and a lot of hard work, these cars can be serious track performers. Thank you, Jesse, for saving just one more S14 from the scrap heap!


Specs & Details

'97 Nissan 240SX SE

Engine Chevrolet LS1 V8

Engine Modifications 11.3:1 compression ratio; JE pistons; ARP connecting rod bolts; Patriot Stage 3 heads; Magic Stick 3 camshaft; Texas Speed hardened push rods; Comp PRC 650 dual valvesprings, locks, retainers; oil filter relocation; oil cooler; Wizard custom-built radiator; Level 7 Motorsports oil breather tank; custom stainless intake pipe; 0.5-gallon fuel swirl tank; custom dual exhaust with MagnaFlow piping; 10-gallon fuel cell; Walbro 135 low-pressure transfer pump; Bosch 044 main fuel pump; Fuel Lab fuel pressure regulator

Drivetrain Power steering cooler; Monster 9" race clutch kit; T56 transmission; Level 7 Motorsports engine mount kit; aluminum driveshaft; S15 helical differential Suspension Stance GR+ coilovers; SPC tension rods (f); Level 7 Motorsports tension rod brace; boxed lower control arms; Moog ball joints (f/r); SPL inner tie rods, outer tie rods, traction rods, toe rods; Powered By Max rear upper control arms

1997 nissan 240SX SE chevrolet LS1 V8 engine Photo 10/11   |   1997 Nissan 240SX SE - The Path LS Traveled

Interior Recaro SPG seats; Nardi 350mm deep-corn steering wheel; NRG quick-release; Willans harness; HVAC delete; rollcage

Exterior JDM Kouki front bumper with Mazda tow hook hole, grille, turn signals, foglamps; GReddy front lip; APR custom front splitter; GTC300 wing; Navan side skirts, rear valances; gutted hood; Aerocatch latches; notched rear bumper cover; Level 7 Motorsports rear diffuser; base-model roof; Origin overfenders

Wheels, Tires & Brakes SSR Type F wheels 18x9.5 +12 (f) 18x10.5 +15 (r); Falken Azenis 245/40/18 (f) Nitto NT05 275/35/18 (r); Powerslot 350Z track rotors (f); Mitsubishi Evo 8 calipers (f); Touge Factory caliper brackets (f); Hawk HP+ pads (f/r); Russell stainless brake lines (f/r); Nissan 300ZX rotors (r), calipers (r), 11/8" master cylinder; Nissan R32 brake booster; ASD hydro E-brake; custom stainless hard lines

1997 nissan 240SX SE intake manifold Photo 11/11   |   1997 Nissan 240SX SE - The Path LS Traveled
By Damon Young
22 Articles

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