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1993 Nissan 240SX - Long Live JDM

A clean, daily-driven Nissan 240SX is a window into an earlier scene

Austin Lott
Aug 17, 2018
Photographer: Victor Wang

The import scene changes a lot in the course of a year. What was cool one day can seem played out a few months later. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the spheres of the most popular cars to modify, which includes several generations of Nissan's 240SX. Today it's V-8 swaps and drifting, or Rocket Bunny conversions; however, a few years ago there was no confusion. In '09, Duke Ratanakarn got his '93 240SX coupe, and in '11 he started the only swap anyone seriously considered: he ordered a half-cut of a Japanese domestic market (JDM) S13 Silvia with a turbocharged Red top SR20DET.

1993 nissan 240SX dmax tail lights Photo 2/29   |   Duke's S13 puts down a modest 277hp to the rear wheels, but it's precisely what he wanted in a daily: responsive, while still being reliable.

For those who aren't familiar, it was common practice to import "half" of a Nissan Silvia, cut from the A-pillars forward, so one could swap on the better-looking Japanese sheet-metal along with the engine, harness, and all the other parts needed. Import restrictions made a so-called half-cut much easier and cheaper to import than a full parts car.

Duke had always wanted a Nissan S-chassis coupe. Interestingly, he grew up in a suburb of Bangkok and guesses that 90 percent of the S13s there were Fastbacks (with a rear hatchback). After moving to Florida in '99, he first owned a Fastback but kept thinking about that coupe. One thing led to another and he ended up with the car you see before you for 900 bucks. Did we mention this was before the 240 got big?

1993 nissan 240SX JDM silvia front bumper Photo 19/29   |   The '93 Nissan 240SX was transformed with the help of a "half-cut" from a S13 Silvia, everything from the A-pillar forward. Duke's build took two years to finish.

When Duke and his friend Mike Sessa started the build, there were forums but there wasn't much aftermarket support. They followed a proven recipe of sticking with OEM parts, often JDM, to put together something far better than a boring old automatic 240SX. "The goal from the very beginning was to have an OEM, factory parts look," Duke told us. "I wanted really good fitment, with a clean, simple, daily look."

The S13 cuts a nice profile even 25 years later, proving that JDM style (and Silvia front-ends) often has a lasting power that requires only small updates to stay relevant. The car is rocking a set of glossy Diamond Black TE37 Super Lap wheels, simply timeless and the right choice for this build.

1993 nissan 240SX R20DET redtop engine Photo 10/29   |   The Redtop SR20, though no longer sporting a red valve cover, is a time capsule into the way things were done back in the day with as many JDM parts you could find.

On the build sheet, the S13 sports a lot of JDM merchandise from the expected bits from the half-cut to more than a few NISMO pieces. It's obvious Duke kept his focus razor-sharp during the build, which took two years. Though, that's not the whole story. "It wasn't hard, but it also was not easy to find parts," he explained. "It took a lot of time and patience to accumulate the parts for the build."

This also goes back to the relative lack of aftermarket support at the time. The Red top came with a smaller turbocharger and put out somewhere around 200 horsepower at 7 pounds of boost. That wasn't going to work for Duke, but he also didn't want to compromise reliability or drivability since the S13 was meant to be his daily driver. A Garrett GT2560 dual ball-bearing turbo lives under the hood now, which helps crank out 277 hp to the wheels, with a very drivable 268 lb-ft of torque at 16 psi thanks to the tuning efforts of Martin at Z-Fever. The supporting-parts list reads a bit like a who's-who in the Japan aftermarket: HKS, GReddy, Tomei, Koyo, APEX'I, Blitz, RS-R, and Samco.

1993 nissan 240SX work RS sport steering wheel Photo 24/29   |   A Work RS steering wheel shows evidence of daily usage, with a few missing letters and a absent horn button-how a daily driver should look.

The car sports more than a merely usable interior, in fact it's a full interior complete with air-conditioning. In Florida, with days frequently boasting nearly 100 percent humidity and 90-plus degrees, you don't daily-drive anything without a few creature comforts. "You can drive [the S13] to the track and back to work the very next day," Duke told us. "That was my goal from the very beginning."

Perhaps one of the most striking parts of the build is the fact that something that comes off as so understated and classy was also built in a backyard. The car isn't a trailer queen, it's Duke's daily driver, and it shows. Look under the hood and you'll see a little grime on the NISMO strut tower brace. Likewise, you can't see your reflection in the Tomei exhaust manifold. Inside, the Work RS steering wheel isn't pristine, and it's even missing the right horn button and a few letters. Duke's been daily driving the S13 since '13 when he finished the car, and we wouldn't expect it any other way: well appreciated.

1993 nissan 240SX TE37 super lap diamond black wheel Photo 18/29   |   1993 Nissan 240SX TE37 Super Lap Diamond Black Wheel

At this point, Duke doesn't have any future plans for the S13, though that doesn't mean he hasn't stayed busy. He also has a '88 and '97 Land Cruisers that serve as a family haulers. That, and a second S13, a Fastback, that he plans on transforming into a 180SX, likely in the same JDM style that inspired his S13 coupe. He laughs, "That's another two-year project though."

1993 nissan 240SX DMAX taillights Photo 22/29   |   1993 Nissan 240SX DMAX Taillights
1993 nissan 240SX duke ratanakarn Photo 26/29   |   1993 Nissan 240SX Duke Ratanakarn
By Austin Lott
15 Articles
1993 Nissan 240SX - Long Live JDM
Tuning Menu
Owner: Duke Ratanakarn
Hometown: Bangkok, Thailand
Occupation: Sushi chef
Engine: SR20DET Redtop engine with Garrett GT2560 dual ball bearing turbo; Stance clocking adapters, braided turbo water and oil lines; Tomei exhaust manifold, 3" stainless turbo outlet; NISMO 550cc injectors, thermostat, motor mounts; Z32 MAF; RS Enthalpy ROM tune; GReddy Type-M intercooler, RS blow-off valve, aluminum pulley set, water temp hose adapter and oil cap; Koyo aluminum radiator; Samco radiator hoses, HKS turbo timer, air filter; RS-R 3" stainless steel downpipe; A'PEXi N1 cat-back exhaust; Walbro 255lph fuel pump; Optima Red Top battery relocated to trunk; Blitz Type R dual solenoid boost controller
Drivetrain: Exedy stage 2 three-puck HD clutch; NISMO slave cylinder and pivot ball, transmission mounts; Agency Power conversion clutch line; Infiniti J30 VLSD
Footwork & Chassis: TEIN coilovers, camber plates, inner and outer tie rods and ends; Battle Version/SPL adjustable suspension arms; NISMO front strut bar; ISIS braided power steering line; S14 lower control arms and ball joints
Brakes: Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R brake conversion with Project MU pads, calipers powdercoated root-beer metallic; SPL conversion lines; Z32 brake master cylinder
Wheels & Tires: 18x9.5" front, 18x11" rear Volk Racing TE37 Super Lap Limited Diamond Black wheels; 225/35R18 front and 245/35R18 tires; RAYS Duraluminum extended lug nuts; NISMO 60mm extended studs; S14 five-lug conversion
Exterior: JDM Silvia "Brick" headlights with IPF bulbs, fenders, hood, aero bumper, Vanquish lip, turn signals, window visors, sunroof visors, Chuki side skirts, trunk lock; Ganador Aero mirrors; DMax Crystal tail lights
Interior: Recaro SR IV "Raptor" driver seat; Bride Brix l passenger seat with SL rails; Cusco bolt-on rollcage; Tomei 70mm Duracon shift knob; B&M short throw shifter; JDM digital climate control, bronze tinted windows; Work RS Sport steering wheel; Works Bell hub; NRG quick release; GReddy 52mm boost, oil temp, water temp, exhaust temp gauges; AEM UEGO wideband; Sony head unit and speakers
Thanks: "My dad, who passed away last year, for getting me into cars; my mom who is always supportive in every aspect of my life; my family; my wife Yui and my children Cher and Ty, for keeping up with me and my time-consuming hobby; Mike Sessa who is the most helpful and knowledgeable about 240-this build would never finish without you; Matt Sargent who helps along in the build; My good friend Don Samranruen who is always willing to wrench; all my friends who are involved in this project; Thi, Victor, Corey, love you all!"

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