The many faceted Nissan Silvia.
The Silvia series, if it can be described as such began at the Tokyo motor show in 1964, when an elegant Italianate coupé was shown, based upon the existing Fairlady platform (hence the rather stunted-looking wheelbase). Powered by a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine, it was no roadburner, but for the nascent Datsun car business, it was to prove something of a halo car, somewhat in the manner of Toyota’s perhaps even more comely, and technically more accomplished 2000 GT. With slightly over 500 built, they were vanishingly rare at the time, and remain so a good sixty years later.
The name remained dormant within Fukuoka until 1975, when it was disinterred as a more louche derivation of the 180B series. Offered primarily in JDM and US markets, the 200SX (as it was denoted in the land of the Freeway) was no technical trailblazer either – indeed, it was anything but, cleaving to Datsun’s mid-Seventies predilection for beam axles and a therefore somewhat tenuous relationship with undulating macadam. Styling was what might be charitably described as ‘Yokohama does Zagato, but perhaps before the design team had their coffee’, being a somewhat disjointed collection of lines and surfaces in frantic search of a cohesive theme, much like the similarly formatted 120Y of blessed memory.
1979 begat a new generation of Silvia. Just as the outgoing model reflected the somewhat baroque styling themes of mid-Seventies Nissan, the S110 (as it was denoted) reflected not only those of a new decade, being resolutely rectilinear in form, but that of the contemporary American personal coupé, down to the ‘Opera’ rear quarter windows. The S110 was offered in both three-volume and fastback versions, although the latter seems to have been predominantly confined to Japan. This generation model was also notable for the bodyshell becoming the basis for Nissan’s steroidal WRC contender, the 240 RS, fitted with a DOHC 2.4 litre six, which was rallied with some success between 1983 and ’85.
Better known to European eyes in fastback coupé form, the 1983 Silvia was also offered with a rather severe looking three-volume body, akin to that of the contemporary Toyota Celica; both being somewhat influenced by the American domestic styling trends of the time, which favoured conservatism and stylistic formality. The S12 series it seems was offered with a wide variety of engines (depending on the market in question) ranging from a 1.8 litre four to a 3.0 litre V6.
The S13 arrived in 1988, again offered both as a fastback or a three-volume coupé. In JDM coupé form, it differed markedly from its fastback sibling, with a bluffer, better integrated nose treatment to that of the rather generic, if perhaps more aerodynamic European/US market version. US market cars (badged 200SX as before) employed this retractable headlamp treatment, regardless of bodystyle. The S13 would prove to be amongst the best-selling of the Silvia models and perhaps the best regarded, being in possession of a fine chassis, courtesy of a multi-link independent suspension, limited slip differential and on some models, four-wheel steering. Styling was particularly well judged; for the first time since the 1965 original, one could be forgiven for imagining the S13’s exterior being the work of an Italian carrozzeria.
Not so its successor. 1990s surfacing was not a harmonious mating with the Silvia’s styling themes by this point and with the S14 eschewing a fastback variant, the rather amorphous looking three volume coupé was pretty much one’s lot. Still in possession of a fine chassis, the 1993 vintage model, despite being lower and wider than its predecessor, not only failed to improve upon its predecessor’s appearance, but fell adrift of more alluring European rivals, and a palpable shift in buying patterns in its previously predominant US market. The Silvia’s decline can probably be traced from this point.
By 1999, the sands of time were running out for mainstream-manufacturer coupés, but Nissan at least saw merit in one last lap of the stadium for the Silvia, introducing the S15 that year. More dimensionally compact than its immediate predecessor, its styling marked a return to the fussiness of earlier models, lacking the clarity and restraint of its best-wrought exponents. It’s probably apt that the model went out with a whimper in 2002, the market for such cars having largely dried up by that point anyway.
It’s hard enough to maintain a bloodline over four decades even if one cleaves to a clearly defined visual template. The Japanese four-year model cycle may have had its benefits, but it could be said to have done little for marque identity or product definition. Certainly, it cannot be said to have benefited the more specialised of the Japanese carmaker’s offerings. The Silvia clearly fell foul of changing market conditions, but its haphazard and fragmentary execution may too have hastened its demise.
Note: The S15 Silvia was only offered in Japan, Australia and New Zealand markets.