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TF-Works Period-Correct Nissan S13

The Nissan S13 that beckons '01 and the origins of U.S. drifting

Aaron Bonk
Mar 16, 2016
Photographer: Ginash George

David Lee doesn't think you ought to care a whole lot about his S13. It's true that the hatchback's two-and-a-half-decade-old lines and modest aero stand in marked contrast to the sort of machines his Chicago-based tuning firm, TF-Works, normally churns out, but that doesn't make Lee any less wrong.

1991 nissan 240sx gt 1 side skirts Photo 2/15   |   1991 Nissan 240Sx Gt 1 Side Skirts

That's mostly because of the story behind Lee's hatchback or, as he puts it, the story of how its this very car he'd purchased during his freshman year in college some 20 years back that led to TF-Works in the first place. "I've never owned a car for this long," Lee says, "but it's the car that got me into this industry."

Twenty-five-year-old S13s shouldn't look this good. Many of those, this side of the wrecking yards, are held together with zip ties and duct tape. Not Lee's. "People just don't own 240s for this long," he says. "Me, I'm the second owner. That's extremely rare."

1991 nissan 240sx gt 1 body kit gt 1 front bumper Photo 3/15   |   1991 Nissan 240Sx Gt 1 Body Kit Gt 1 Front Bumper
003 1991 nissan 240sx gt 1 rear bumper Photo 4/15   |   Exterior stays period-correct GT-1 body kit, Origin Lab FRP doors and front fenders, plus D-Max hood and roof wing.

About as rare as the whole idea of drifting to a college kid in the late '90s, to which Lee says: "I didn't even know what drifting was, but I remember watching an Option DVD in college with a 180SX in it, and it just blew my mind." By the time the credits were rolling, a mental mod list had already been formulated in Lee's head. "I was addicted."

It took a year, but an SR20DET ultimately found its way underneath the hood. The makings of such swaps were closely guarded secrets at the time held by the pioneers who figured them out in the first place. Wiring diagrams had yet to be spilled out across the Internet, which meant, for Lee, much had to be figured out on his own. It was this sort of steep learning curve that gave him the wherewithal to open up shop just a few years later.

1991 nissan 240sx sr20det swap Photo 8/15   |   Pushing nearly 500 whp with a built SR20DET using plenty of TOMEI parts and a Garrett GTX3071R turbo.
1991 nissan 240sx tf works intake manifold Photo 9/15   |   Custom intake manifold with velocity stacks fabricated by David Lee and his team.

That same SR20 remains underneath the S13's hood today, having been rebuilt but a single time and now laying down just shy of 500 whp by means of a Garrett GTX3071R turbo and about half the TOMEI parts line. The rest of the car, however, has gone through no less than five different phases. It's the most recent transformation you ought to care about, though, that Lee and his team set out on nearly four years back. "This time, we restored it from the ground up," he says. "It took a while, though, since it's my personal car and we had customers' cars that we had to get to first."

Team break 180sx Photo 10/15   |   David's original inspiration from a late-'90s issue of OPTION magazine with Team Break's 180SX.

"The way it sits now, it's my homage to '01," Lee says. "I've always built my cars to promote the business and the parts we sell. But I built this one differently and exactly how I wanted it." That means no wild sticker schemes, no massive GT wings, and without the addition of anything meant to appease anybody other than himself. Or, as Lee puts it, "It's just low key."

1991 nissan 240sx garrett gtx3071r turbo Photo 11/15   |   1991 Nissan 240Sx Garrett Gtx3071r Turbo

That is, if you consider a complete GT-1 aero kit and NISMO LM GT4 rims low key. Or the custom-built intake manifold Lee and his team constructed in-house. Or the fiberglass doors that help shed weight to an estimated 2,400 pounds that, when combined with 24 psi worth of boost, is anything but low key. Even so, Lee's quick to remind you that the car's driven on the street regularly, despite the rarity of the GT-1 kit at the time he'd installed it or the fact that, according to Lee, every part added is the real deal. "There are no knock-off parts here," he says. "The car is nothing crazy, but really, this is how a 240 should be built."

1991 nissan 240sx tf works fuel surge tank Photo 12/15   |   TF-Works also built this custom surge tank.

Don't mistake Lee's self-assuredness for cockiness, though. Despite the feel-good affirmations the build-your-car-for-yourself crowd will console you with, as it turns out, there are a whole lot of ways you can muck up a build, and just because you like it, doesn't make it right. Lee's S13 is right in every way, though, and all of that started with the right parts and an unwillingness to cut corners.

"This car still has a special place for me," Lee says before confirming that he'll probably never sell it. "Most of the guys I know who bought their 240s back when I did have moved on to Bimmers or something else, but I've still got mine."

1991 nissan 240sx nismo lm gt4 wheel Photo 13/15   |   Pushing nearly 500 whp with a built SR20DET using plenty of TOMEI parts and a Garrett GTX3071R turbo.
1991 nissan 240sx bride vios iii low max seat Photo 14/15   |   Stripped to its bare essentials, this S13 should only weigh around 2,400 pounds.

"Honestly, I didn't realize anybody would even care about this build," he says, once again pointing out its low-key nature and even going out of his way to make known the scratches and dings that it does have, albeit few. "The majority of 240s are just built really poorly," Lee says unapologetically. "I'm just here to say, 'Hey, you don't have to zip-tie things together and you don't have to go overboard with mods to build something great.'"

1991 nissan 240sx nardi classic steering wheel Photo 15/15   |   1991 Nissan 240Sx Nardi Classic Steering Wheel
By Aaron Bonk
374 Articles
TF-Works Period-Correct Nissan S13
Tuning Menu
Owner: David Lee
Hometown: Wheeling, IL
Occupation: Owner of TF-Works
Power: 490 whp, 390 lb-ft torque at 24 psi on E85 fuel
Engine: SR20DET engine; CP Pistons oversized pistons; TOMEI connecting rods, Poncams, valves, valvesprings, guides, retainers, head studs, oil pan; NISMO bearings; A'PEXi head gasket; custom-ported cylinder head; Garrett GTX3071R turbo; Blitz SUS Power air filter; Bell intercooler core; 90mm Mustang throttle body; custom TF-Works intake manifold with velocity stacks, downpipe, fuel surge tank, oil catch can; TiAL wastegate; HKS blow-off valve; Full-Race exhaust manifold; custom GT-1 exhaust system; AEM in-tank fuel pump, fuel rail; Fuelab Prodigy inline fuel pump; Injector Dynamics 2,000cc fuel injectors; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator; Accusump system; Koyo radiator; Setrab oil cooler and power steering cooler
Drivetrain: Competition Clutch twin-plate clutch; Driveshaft Shop aluminum driveshaft; Cusco engine mounts; OS Giken limited-slip differential; NISMO 4.3 final-drive gear set
Engine Management: TF-Works engine wiring harness; AEM Infinity-8 management, boost controller
Footwork & Chassis: Stance Signature Series coilovers, Air Cup system, tension rods, rear lower control arms, traction arms, toe arms, solid subframe bushings; Whiteline sway bar end-links; S15 rear subframe; S14 front lower control arms; GKTech rear drop spindle; NISMO power brace; Tanabe fender brace; Cusco rear strut tower brace
Brakes: StopTech rotors; Project Mu D1 Spec pads; TF-Works Evo VIII caliper adapter; Evo VIII Brembo calipers
Wheels & Tires: 17x9.5" +12 front, 18x10.5" +15 rear NISMO LM GT4 wheels; 235/40R17 front, 265/35R18 rear Yokohama S.drive tires
Exterior: GT-1 front bumper, side skirts, rear bumper, hatch wing; custom D-Max hood, roof wing; 180SX Kouki taillights and position lamps; Origin Lab FRP doors, 20mm front fenders; Lamborghini Titanium paint
Interior: Cusco Safety 21 roll cage; Bride Vios III Low Max seat and seat rail; Takata five-point harness; Nardi 330mm Classic steering wheel; C's short shifter; Defi Super Sports instrument cluster; Origin Lab carbon-fiber door panels; KTS rear hatch subframe brace and pillar bar; ARC titanium shift knob; Pivot headlight controller; Innovative wideband controller
WWW: tf-works.com

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