1987-1988 Nissan 200SX SE | Hemmings Motor News

29 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 1987-1988 Nissan 200SX SE | Hemmings Motor News
Nissan 200SX

A Japanese Pony Car in the American Big-Cube Tradition

Buyer’s Guide from Hemmings Sports Exotic Car

As the 280Z grew into the 280ZX, Nissan (then plying its trade as Datsun) decided that it needed an entry-level sporty coupe in its lineup to combat the six-figure-selling Celica. Its answer was the original 1977 200SX (blessed overseas with the legendary Silvia moniker), an origami-folded rear-drive coupe that made more than a few wonder what Nissan was thinking. The all-new 1980 model was a vast improvement, leaping to the head of the class with a choice of sharp coupe or hatchback styling and underwhelming dynamics.

So hopes were high when Nissan launched its third-generation 200SX (known internally as the S12 generation) in mid-1984: It was slickly styled, featuring pop-up headlamps, a fully-independent, 300ZX-based rear suspension (on performance models) for the first time, rack-and-pinion steering replacing the recirculating ball system, a drag coefficient of 0.34 compared to the old hatchback’s 0.42, a turbocharged four-cylinder engine good for 120 horsepower, and rear-wheel drive.

Now, you and I both know that rear-drive means hanging-the-tail-out fun. But for the mid-’80s, it seemed an odd choice. Three entirely sensible reasons–namely flexibility in powertrain choice, the idea that rear-drive meant performance, and Nissan’s WRC rally participation–were floated, but in the enthusiast press, the notion that Nissan stuck with rear-drive was met with dour faces. Why, virtually all of the competition–Honda Prelude, Renault Fuego, VW Scirocco–was front-drive, after all. (Toyota Celica remained a rear-driver until its 1986 redesign.)

The turbo, and its attendant 120hp, wasn’t enough for Nissan’s American arm. Boost control in the ’80s wasn’t what it is today, and it was more of an on/off switch than the smoothly integrated feel that Nissan North America wanted. It also seemed that the turbo four wasn’t sporty enough, and that something needed to be done.

And so Nissan built, exclusively for the American market, a V-6-powered 200SX. (The rest of the world made do with an increasingly powerful turbo.) For 1987 and 1988 only, the top-of-the-line 200SX SE became a mid-life facelift for one of the last compact, rear-drive sports coupes on the market (only the aging Isuzu Impulse still had rear-drive). The engine was Nissan’s first V-6, the naturally aspirated 3.0-liter that was cribbed from the naturally aspirated 300ZX and rated at a healthy 160 horsepower, thanks in part to port fuel injection, aluminum heads and single overhead cams. That 40 additional horsepower (and 40-lbs.ft. more of torque at the same time) could be channeled through the same five-speed stick or four-speed-automatic options as the other 200SXs got; the SE also received beefier driveline components, which added about 200 pounds to the curb weight.

That trumped just about every other sport coupe out there. A V-6 Camaro (oh yes, they were considered competitors) had fewer cubes and a lot more weight to haul around, and the aforementioned turbo Impulse was hiding a Chevette chassis under its Italian designer bodywork. None of the others in its class even had a V-6, much less rear-wheel drive.

Other changes accompanied the mid-generation facelift: The turbo’s tacked-on-looking hood scoop was gone, and the rear wing was body color instead of black. The former on-again, off-again bumper rub strips were now carried completely around the beltline of the car, and topped a gentle ground-effects kit. New alloy wheels were included, the optional digital dash had been banished from the option sheet, and a new three-spoke steering wheel was installed.

And strangest of all was the low production run: Just 5,000 were built for 1987 and 1988.

Car and Driver admired the aesthetic changes of the 1987 SE in their March 1987 issue, calling it a step closer to the German ideal of functionalism. [it gets] the job done without gimmickry or theatrics. Even so, they questioned the mechanical alterations, which made the car 200-300 pounds heavier and sapped up the 40 new horsepower despite quicker responses and smoother power delivery. We suspect a lazy engine, they wrote.

It could well be: While their top speed was 122 MPH, members of Club-S12.org (a top site for 1984-’88 200SX models) claim to have seen 130 MPH and higher. They also accused the all-independent-suspension chassis of being strictly average.

But Greg Lindsey of Milpitas, California, thought differently when he walked onto his local Nissan dealer’s lot in late 1987 to find a daily driver. How you see the Hot Red machine in these photos is how Lindsey drove it off the dealer lot: filled with luxe items like alarm, cruise control, electric windows, locks and mirrors, automatic transmission, and some appearance items like 15×7 Enkei wheels and Bosch foglamps.

In the years intervening, he’s gotten used to the complete lack of parts availability for his baby–despite hundreds of thousands sold sharing this body and chassis basics, bits and bobs can only be found at the local U-Pull-It parts yard.

And so the S12-generation Nissan 200SX SE occupies a strange nether-region: It doesn’t have even the modest following of the first 300ZX, making reproduction parts thin on the ground, and it’s old enough that just about all of the original parts have dried up. Luckily, it’s in decent enough shape that it’s mostly routine maintenance items that need tending to.

Nissan 200SX

Model year 1989 saw an all-new chassis, designated S13, underpin the new 240SX coupe hatchback here in the States. It would become a performance legend among those of a certain age, but without the S12 being what it was, the S13 couldn’t have been what it was. The V-6-powered 200SX deserved better than its forgotten stepping-stone status: it was a formidable sporty coupe in its own right.

Low production numbers and a lower survival rate mean that this could be one to keep an eye on as the Japanese collector-car market accelerates its ascendancy.


Type: 60-degree V-6, SOHC, 12-valve, EFI, iron block and aluminum heads

Horsepower: 160hp@ 5,200 RPM (1987); 165hp @ 5,200 RPM (1988)

Torque: 174-lbs.ft. @ 3,600 RPM

Induction: Nissan ECCS with port fuel injection


Nissan 200SX
Nissan 200SX
Nissan 200SX
Nissan 200SX
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