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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."