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Changing codes: 1994 Nissan Silvia (S14)

6 January 2015

From plus Ts to smashed quarter panels, this S14 has lived a role as a drifter, but is now taking on a new lease on life as a grip racer

You’re probably looking at this S14 thinking it’s a drift car, or if you’re not a fan of that sport, “another bloody drift car,” but that assumption would prove you wrong, my friend. You see Elliot Osborne has turned his hand to grip racing, and this unassuming street car is actually his grip-racing weapon of choice in the Auckland Car Club Summer Race Series. That said, this particular car and driver did spend their fair share of time sideways, before deciding to make the switch. 

It all began four years ago when a few of Elliot’s mates purchased Silvias. At the time he was blasting around in a track-spec Honda Civic: “I had never even considered owning a Silvia until a few mates bought them. I really liked the way the boot kicked up. I wanted to get an S15 at the time, but couldn’t afford one, so I bought the S14.” He had to sell his Honda to purchase this S14 Silvia with a poverty-spec SR20DE plus-T conversion. 

The honeymoon period was short — the head lifted and broke a water fitting. “Being young and dumb,” as Elliot puts it, he didn’t realize what had happened, and figured it was just using a little water. But the head was stuffed and needed replacing, and so began rebuild number one. 

That was the beginning of four years of melted engines, smashed rear quarters and plenty of frustration as he worked to make the combination perfect. The second engine gave three years of trouble-free motoring, with a chipped ECU and a dodgy tune. But that too failed, the day before it was due to be tuned on the dyno, as Elliot explained. “The tune in the car was pretty shit. I had booked it in, and the day before the tune I began changing over the wastegate spring etc. ready for some more boost. Some mates planned a cruise and gave me the call after I had swapped over the spring. I thought it would be OK to just cruise it, but it detonated and ran a bearing. I put the dyno session off for a week and quickly built another plus T.” 

With his interest in drifting (especially the competitive side of the sport) now fading, he began what he calls the “natural progression to circuit racing”. Marcus Heke, a mate of his, was competing in the Auckland Car Club Summer Race Series Production Saloon class, and convinced Elliot to get his cage homologated and give it a try. On paper the S14 was making good power, nothing stupid, just a solid 200kW. But underneath all that, the catalogue of suspension parts from Parts Shop Max, Cusco and Hardrace had the S14 handling perfectly. “I went into it thinking I would be happy to be running off the back of Marcus’ WRX, as he was running up front, but I went out and qualified three or four seconds ahead of everyone.” 

Sadly engine dramas again struck when a piston melted during the second race, ending his racing debut early. But that was enough of a taste to let Elliot know he had made the right choice, and over the next 12 months he prepared the car for a full assault the following season. But again engine dramas meant he saw no result at the first round, after not one, but all four pistons smashed on the opening lap due to some questionable tuning. Elliot took it on the chin, and got stuck into engine build number five. 

Enough was enough, and the plan was to do things right this time and start with a turbo block. With a five-week window until round two, there was no time to waste, so an SR20DET block was sourced and sent away for machining. In went new piston rings, rod bearings, main bearings, front and rear crank seals, rod bolts, main studs, head studs, a steel head gasket and bigger 740cc Nismo injectors. A week before the deadline the S14 was dropped to Hitech Motorsport to have a Link G4+ wired in and tuned. With two days to spare the car was tuned, and was making 217kW at the rear wheels, while maxing out the Garrett T28 turbo. A quick wheel alignment and it was back to Pukekohe. 

Again Elliot qualified four seconds ahead of the field in the dry, but with rain falling before the first race and no wets to run on, he was forced to use his road tyres (not ideal) and placed second in race one, third in race two and first in race three. 

A promising result, despite the lack of decent rubber. There is no doubt the S14 is a competitive package in the Production Saloon class, now it has a reliable block and ECU to match the rest of the engine combination. But to us, what makes this car cool is the fact it remains road legal, with only a switch to a set of slicks once Elliot arrives at the track. Once he has finished racing, the wheels are swapped back and he can drive home. 

After numerous failed plus Ts and a few drifting panel-beater lessons, it’s great to see the S14 emerge out the other side an all-round better car. That’s proof for all those drift haters that there is life for an S-chassis after drift, it just takes the right owner to nurse it back to health. But then again, the shots taken on race weekend of Elliot crossed up through Castrol — while leading the field of grip racers — are proof that although he is now a circuit racer, there is still a little mongrel left in him.