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1990 Nissan 180SX - Thrill Pill

Power and Performance: Welcome To Tokyo's Version of the Daily Driver

Richard S. Chang
Mar 1, 2002

At 7:30 on a lovely Thursday morning, a lone worker bee steers his car out of his quiet street onto the madness of city traffic. A horn blares behind him. He spills his coffee-so much for the new mats. Spotting the culprit-an E-Class Mercedes-as it swerves a sideways U to his left and then ahead of him, he drops the car into Second gear and gets the turbo spooling in a mad rush toward critical mass. He pushes through Third and Fourth-boost well reached. By now, he is well beyond the E; he makes a quick lane change before dumping the clutch, fanning the rear end out in a monster power slide, which lands him perfectly in line with a quiet mountain road and onward toward his destination: work.

In the Super Street world, superhero moves and power slides aren't limited to '70s reruns. On the streets of Tokyo, the term daily driver can be as extreme as the haircuts on those who own them. A better reference point would be this '90 Nissan 180SX. The SR20DET has been upgraded to a level that would make a NIRA pro car eat its shorts. The chassis sits on a fully tuned race suspension with Ohlins coilovers and Cusco front and rear strut tower bars. The body has been modified with the addition of an S15 Silvia front end and a Bomex aero kit. But in the seemingly endless list of parts and performance specs, there is something glaringly awkward about the whole thing. And I don't really know how to say it. Well, the interior is a mess, filthy actually. Nothing shines, all the black is matte and dusty, there are no A-pillar pods. No pods, man! And for that, it's perfect.

This is the essence of the daily driver: nothing to worry about, everything's there, everything works. Well, since we're in Tokyo, everything works as well as a fully built circuit car, which is what matters most because the interior doesn't just look like it's been prepared for the worst, it looks as though it's already been through it. And then who cares?

All the essentials are in place (barely), but there are no flush-mounts, no match-painting, no color schemes. It's an interior in the purest form of the word. Just look: the Add-zest (Clarion in the U.S.) navigation system hides among the unpolished nooks; the Recaros need vacuuming; and the Trust gauges are screwed into the dash with no effort to conceal the wires. They are angled perfectly toward the driver, which is all that counts.

Performance carries the most weight in Japan. Wings and air dams mean nothing if your car can't push out plenty of horses. This is pretty much a universal creed in Japan: Screw the looks, give me the works. For Akihiro Okubo's 180SX that means (and is not limited to) a Trust T-518 turbocharger, a Trust R-SPL intercooler, a Trust PRofec boost controller, a Trust 10 Mission oil cooler, and a Hirata Engineering SPL computer. The overall concept is simple-monster air, monster cooling, and steady boost. With the SR20DET, that's good for more than enough power to give you a spirited jaunt to work and back. Don't worry, the car is capable for much more than that. On the straights, the 180 accelerates from cruising to cruise missile in the blink of an eye. Though the shift knob looks as though it's been left out in the rain for a month, it does the job-hitching and switching the gears with precision, partially assisted by the Nismo clutch, which was swapped in to handle the extra horsepower. And there's still power to spare.

Sure, the car was built for daily driving, but who says you can't have fun in it? Light Volk Racing Challenges (17x7 in front and 17x8 in back) and Bridgestone RE-01 tires and a brake combination of Project U rotors and Trust AF-Pro pads mean that the 180 can join any grid at a whim. But in Tokyo, that's no great advantage. It's a daily driver.

A quick look around the Super Street garage will reveal that we haven't quite caught on to the trend. We've found it to be a difficult task, but we're on our way. The sloppy interior we've got down. Now we just need to shore up on the power and performance, and then we'll be getting somewhere.

By Richard S. Chang
84 Articles

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