For those of you who don’t know, I have a 1989 Nissan 240sx (S13 Hatchback) that you may or may not have seen in the reels section of my profile on Instagram. It’s dinky, it’s gross, and it’s a little bit clapped, but it’s mine. I’ve been in the drifting and 240 game for a couple of years now when I bought my first gray ’91 Hatch.
My first 240sx was a car that I had been working towards for years. The first time I tried to buy a 240sx was in 2011/2012 when I first got my license, but nothing ever lined up. Ever since then, at least once a year, I would try to buy a 240sx to no avail. It was almost like it wasn’t meant to be. I had a lack of funds when the right car came up and when I had money the right car wasn’t around. No matter how many years passed I never forgot how the 240sx made me feel when I saw it on track or at shows. I thought I would never own one, until that changed in 2018.
This gray hatch was the definition of “keepin’ it simple.” I bought it as a bone stock grandma car from Miami and only threw on coil-overs and a welded diff. This thing got down! It went where I wanted it to and the KA24E that was in it was bulletproof. I swear this car was put on this earth to give me just the biggest smile. It used to leak coolant until it didn’t when I was getting tech inspected at Orlando Speed World (where you fail for leaking coolant) and it never did again. Radiator popped and overheated three times on the way home from school? Just swapped a new radiator and did 4 more drift events without even thinking about the head gasket. Ran like a champ. Couldn’t even begin to tell you how or why that worked.
I drove this car everywhere, even parked up my 2015 Subaru WRX daily because I just loved my 240 so much. Popping up the headlights at night, clutch kicking with the homies, sending it at every left turn, everything about this car made me feel so lucky to be able to drive it every time. I bet you supercar owners didn’t feel as satisfied as I did driving that car. Not all about it was sunshine and rainbows, however.
I got a huge check from my school as a refund for my tuition and I immediately said to myself “It’s SR20 time!” If you don’t know, the SR20DET is the turbo 2 liter engine that was put in the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) Nissan 180sx, which is the same car as mine but for Japan. In the United States, since Nissan didn’t think, these would sell too good, we got the 2.4 liter non-turbo KA24E and KA24DE. These were sluggish truck engines that were re-used to save on cost. I always loved how SR20DETs sounded, having lived in Japan for a year before I bought this car I was around a lot of 180sxes overseas. I knew I had to have one that authentic 180sx turbo sound.
I almost wish I didn’t decide to go with an SR. I started pulling the motor to absolute heartbreak. The more panels came off the car to pull wiring harnesses for the swap, the more painful details I found. The car was totaled in rust alone. The previous owner didn’t care too much for the car after she retired and parked it under a tree, where it would stay long after she died. Her son kept renewing the registration and insurance for years until I picked it up. This meant that for years this car sat below a tree collecting leaves in all its drainage runoffs meaning water piled up in places it shouldn’t and ate through the metal over the years.
My heart was absolutely broken, the car was beyond the point of saving. The rust was so bad to the point that it posed a serious hazard if I were to get into a front-end accident, I was afraid it would essentially disintegrate. The 90s nugget that brought me so much joy was gone. I decided to “re-shell” or buy another chassis without a motor and transmission (referred to as “shell” or “roller” if it has suspension and rolls on all four wheels) to swap everything from my gray car over to a new chassis. I picked up a red 1989 Nissan 240sx.
Being a 1989 it was a bit older, but body wise was in way better shape than my ‘91, that’s for sure. I bought the SR20DET and the shell the same day and immediately got to work. I thought I had a pretty good deal as the guy who sold me the motor told me it was freshly rebuilt to OEM spec and ready to rock for miles and miles.
What he didn’t tell me, however, is the guy that built it had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t knowingly pawn off a bad engine to me and was very supportive in helping me getting up and running. He even fronted the bill for a head gasket replacement which he didn’t have to do.
This marked the start of headache after headache. So many things failed on this car that I don’t think there is anything more to fail on it. The car had a bad wiring harness that, when fixed, revealed injectors were dead. When injectors were fixed, it was found the head wasn’t properly sealed and leaking onto the back of the transmission. When the head was fixed, it was found it had no oil pressure. With no oil pressure was a bunch of leaks of both vacuum and fluids. I’m summarizing and going very quickly from here but what was supposed to be a weekend project of taking the best from the gray car and throwing it on the red car turned into a two year long rebuild.
I have sweat over this car, and I have bled over this car. And when I kept finding more and more issues, I cried over this car. I felt like I was back in high school. “The 240sx wasn’t meant to be.” It seemed like the universe was plotting against me driving this car ever again. I considered trading it as a project for a 350z just to get back into drifting, at least. I thought that would give me enough of a scratch to my itch for a rear-wheel-drive chassis. But much like how the universe can fight you to not do something you can fight back.
I never forgot the feeling I felt driving my car. I never forgot the toil at crappy part time jobs to be able to attempt to pay for one of these cars. I never forgot that this car is the only thing I have ever wanted for the past almost 11 years now. There was no way I was going to quit, but the road ahead was long. Not going to lie, it becomes very emotional (and not to mention frustrating) when something you’ve cared so much about for years doesn’t work. But I want this long story of my emotions and feelings over a piece of metal that wakes my neighbors up to be a lesson to you about life.
The only thing that should matter to you when the going gets rough is what you want to do. Remember what you’re working towards. Remember the goal you set for yourself. Remember what you’re doing this for. And do not be afraid to rely on friends!
The only person in this life who is going to do things for you is you. You are the master of your own destiny and the outcome. At the end of the day, it only matters if you are happy with what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to take leaps of faiths like it was for me to re-shell and buy this motor and take on such a huge project.
Most importantly, be well to yourself. You are human, it’s okay if it takes longer. It’s okay if you make mistakes. It’s okay if you feel down from the stress of it all. Don’t rush the process, rather trust in it. You will get to where you need to be one day if you keep working towards it. As for my 240sx…
…It’s dinky, it’s gross, and it’s a little bit clapped, but it’s mine.
Thanks for reading and hearing my story. Hopefully you’re inspired to take on a big project yourself. Here's a rad drift video that got me through the process. Never forget what it is you want to do!