When you think about your favorite Japanese tuner cars from the '80s, chances are machines like the AE86 Toyota Corolla and FC Mazda RX-7 come to mind. These wedge-shaped classics continue to have large and loyal followings, but the S12 Nissan Silvia (known stateside as the 200SX) has been mostly forgotten by the American tuner community for whatever reason. But in other parts of the world - especially Australia - the S12 Silvia has a strong following, and for good reason. With its lightweight (2,500 to 2,600 lbs) RWD chassis and a wide variety of factory engines, including the tuner-friendly FJ20ET (a turbo-4 it shared with the R30 Skyline), its appeal is undeniable.
For Colin Masterson, it was the distinct '80s body lines that drew him to the S12. "Honestly, I wasn't actively looking for this chassis, but I knew the style of car I wanted. It goes back to my older brother, really. He was in high school in the '80s and wanted a Z31. Coupled with 'Knight Rider' being on TV at the time, my love of '80s-style cars was cemented. Fast-forward 15 years or so to April of 2004, and my preferences were brought to the forefront as I began shopping for a car. One of my closest friends, Micah, had a FC RX-7 I fell in love with, but I couldn't afford one. That's when another friend of mine, Sean, found this S12 in the newspaper. It was beige, housed a VG30E V-6, both the suspension and brakes were going, and it had a little superficial body damage. I didn't know anything about cars at the time, so for the most part it all escaped my attention. Luckily for me, it was a solid driver, fit my budget and had that '80s look I wanted."
Although you may be thinking, "Hey, wait, did he say VG30E V-6? But that's the 300ZX engine!" and you'd be correct, but the USDM SE model S12 actually came standard with a normally aspirated VG30, while other models came equipped with everything from the normally aspirated CA20E to the turbocharged CA18DET. According to Colin, "For many, the Silvia name is all about the SR20 4-cylinder engine, while 6-cylinders define the Z and Skyline. Well, since my S12 is an SE model, which in the U.S. housed the same VG30E V-6 as the Z31 300ZX, I quickly developed a taste for 6-cylinder torque."
When Colin's thirst for 6-cylinder power began to outstrip his tired old VG30's ability to deliver, a number of different engine swaps were under consideration. "I had seen a picture online of a guy who'd done a VG turbo engine swap into his S12, but it was too tight a fit for my taste. The VQ was a bit more expensive than it is now, so it didn't fit my budget, not to mention it'd also be a very tight fit. This left me with the RB, an inline-6 that meant easier access throughout the engine bay. I couldn't afford one of the higher model RBs, but knew that if I set myself up in general for one, I could upgrade from a RB20 to a 25 or 26."
With the very reasonable goal of 300 hp at the rear wheels, Colin went in search of someone who could help him convert his S12 to RB power. "When I bought the car in '04, I didn't have a clue about the car's potential, pedigree or how to work on it," Colin says. "So I went to a local Nissan dealership, which referred me to Doug at U.P. Garage [based in Tacoma, Washington]." Unfortunately, U.P. Garage didn't have space to work on Colin's S12 at the time, so he tracked down an experienced S12 mechanic in the area by the name of Randy Sisler. With the RB20 swap happening under the skillful guidance of Randy, Colin's RB-powered S12 graced the pages of Modified as a Readers' Ride back in 2007.
After that, Colin really started to turn up the wick, deciding to fully build his RB20 in an effort to reach his power goals. However, Randy only got halfway through the upgrades before unforeseen circumstances meant he couldn't finish the job. After renting a storage unit and attempting to complete the engine build himself, Colin soon realized his RB20 was in rougher shape than he had hoped. The time had come to sell all his RB20 parts and step up to the big daddy of RBs, the heart and soul of the R32/33/34 Skyline GT-R, the RB26DETT.
That's when the U.P. Garage connection finally happened, with Doug Smith playing the role of lead surgeon on the Godzilla heart transplant, a job that required custom engine mounts, a wiring harness, a cooling system, a one-piece driveshaft, a downpipe and an oil pan adapter plate. According to Colin, "Doug was actually always helping me, even while I was at other shops. He helped me find parts for my car that were all but nonexistent and was always willing to give me information that assisted me with my swaps. In addition, Erik worked for Doug and he completed the wiring for my RB20 swap despite having never touched an S12 wiring harness before and knowing that nobody had done this conversion in the U.S. before."
With the RB26 swap complete and the 300-whp mark eclipsed (355 whp and 285 wtq on a Mustang dyno, to be exact), Colin began to focus his attention on a variety of cosmetic details, with the objective of winning some trophies at car shows and maybe even landing a full feature in a magazine. With a car as rare as the S12 is in America, Colin had to literally scour the planet in search of those rare pieces he knew would help set his 200SX apart. Euro-spec taillights and headlight guards were sourced from the UK, JDM RS-X model grille, corner markers, Nismo horn button and the RB26 itself were imported from Japan, while the S12 license plate, R34 GT-R engine garnish, Gates Racing timing belt, and Vipec ECU came from the land down under. Colin even did a little shopping north of the border, the custom PRC radiator and Canuck Motorsports lowering springs coming from Canada.
Having recently nabbed first place in the '80s Datsun/Nissan category at the Japanese Classic Car Show and having earned himself a feature in his favorite magazine (the one you're holding, Einstein!), Colin Masterson has built himself a truly unforgettable S12. But now that he's achieved his goals with the S12, what's next? "I haven't had a chance to take her to the track or dragstrip," Colin says, "so now that I've reached my goals in terms of trophies and a magazine feature, she will be prepped for the track." Time for a Super Silhouette race car conversion, maybe?