I finally found my answer!
As gear heads, we are always looking for the answer. The perfect vehicle that will make our automotive dreams come true. The transport that will take us to new places and adventures and deliver smiles along the way.
Cars are machines of desire but also purpose. And the deeper you delve into the automotive rabbit hole, you quickly begin to realize that one car cannot do it all. As a newly minted teen driver, we only have the resources to drive one car. And as a result, that car lives a hard life – taking us to school or work, hauling friends and gear, braving the weather year round and of course… hooning! As we mature, and funds allow, we begin to diversify – a daily hack, a truck or mini van for hauling things, and if we’re lucky a toy car to tinker with on the weekend. Clearly, there is more than one answer to the question of what vehicle to drive.
As life progresses, that answer can also change. I thought my automotive answer was a 1965 Mustang. But after years of exhaustive searching and dwindling funds, it was beginning to look like a classic Mustang for car shows, track events and weekend fun was not the answer anymore. Maybe 10 years from now, if my fortunes allow, but I needed something a little more pocket book friendly, and with a little more utility, to help ignite and share the automotive hobby with my son Clay. Although he loves the video game Forza Horizon, nothing beats real work experience on wrenching and blasting through the gears.
When you are between cars, it’s kind of like being single – there are so many potential matches out there, but always the worry about finding the right one. The perfect answer. I could not be happier to report that for now, my search is over and I finally found my ride – this 1992 Nissan 240SX. Yep, I am now a fully-fledged, card-carrying member of the Nissan S Chassis crew!
Have I lost my mind? If you know me, and you look a bit closer, you can see exactly why this car is clearly the answer. To put it bluntly, it’s the Japanese Mustang. Front engine. Rear wheel drive. Lightweight chassis. Lively sports car performance right out of the box. And endless opportunities for tuning. Like the Mustang, 240s come in both coupe and fastback (hatchback) form. For me, it had to be the hatch!
While I moved in Honda/Acura circles for most of my automotive life, I really didn’t have much experience with Nissans. But my car guru Tony Rocca mentioned 240s to me years ago AND I SHOULD HAVE PAID MORE ATTENTION. Oh well. Better late than never. The 240SX is now 25 years old – a newly minted classic. It is old enough to deliver a lightweight, drive-centric, nanny-free driving experience, yet still young enough to drive more often thanks to modern Japanese electronics and reliability. For me, it is the perfect daily driver for the summer months, while still being interesting enough to take to car shows and events. And it will allow me to save my Jeep Cherokee for the tough winter months.
The clincher for me, which really sealed the deal with this 240 was the price. Although mint examples can touch 14K, you can still find good examples in the 5-10K range. The problem is that this is also the prime price point for teenage enthusiasts, the great consumers and destroyers of cars! If the salty roads here the Midwest have not claimed the majority of the 240 population, what is left has been drifted, modded, riced, crashed, rattle canned or thrashed into the grave by eager and fearless teen drivers. The cars are not valuable enough yet in their life cycle to merit restoration, so finding a good, driver-quality project is like finding a unicorn.
When it comes to finding a cool, vintage ride in the sub 10K range, you’ve got to be vigilant and lucky. Cheap, rear wheel drive cars on Craigslist go very fast indeed. And it is hard to justify a multi-state search for such an inexpensive car – you can go broke paying for plane tickets on mis-represented Craigslist specials. In the end, luck is a factor. And after 4 months of serious shopping for a 240sx, and almost driving all the way to St. Louis, a decent looking example came up for sale in nearby Elmhurst.
The seller, Matt, was probably the best young custodian of a 240 I have ever met. He was on his way to Grad school, lost his parking spot, and decided to sell. Matt put in the legwork and time to track down a clean, rust-free 240 when he purchased the car – he drove to Georgia to buy it 7+ years ago. Before that, the car came from Texas. Thankfully, under Matt’s care, this car was stored during the winter, providing a rust-free platform for his 240 plans.
Purchasing such a heavily-modded car is not exactly in character for me. But 240s are different. It is THE platform for modification. While it may have been marketed as an affordable entry-level sports car when new, the car has blossomed with potential later in life. It is not uncommon to see tuned examples tearing it up on the street, Autocross, track days, rally events and of course DRIFTING. Besides teens, the sport of drifting has consumed many a 240. And while Matt may have captured the look of a drift car with his modifications, he thankfully restrained from backing it into a wall sideways!
Matt’s mods included: a full Origin Body Kit (fiberglass), Stance Coil Over suspension, Tomei 2-way limited slip diff, JDM tail lights, 5 lug hub conversion, MB Motorsports Battle 17” wheels, twin 4” ISR “blast pipe” exhaust, 2000 watt stereo with 15” sub, Big End purple (!) steering wheel with NRG quick release boss, and a bubble shift knob. And of course a stuffed animal mascot zip tied under the back bumper. While it is kind of a crazy list of mods, it all kind of works together, fitting the drifting theme well. After a test drive, I decided I needed to own it. And after a few miles behind the wheel, I feel like I should drive the car as-is for a few months and let the vibe sink in before I start making changes. I think Matt, and the 240 deserve it!
That’s not to say the car does not have needs. It is getting increasingly hard to find a 240 with a complete interior – part of the drifting lifestyle includes gutting the interior (and a lot of the creature comforts). Thankfully, the interior was all there, but in need of a good cleaning. The front seats are ripped and worn – the originals were not great to begin with. So new seats are top on the list. Followed by getting the Air Conditioning functioning again. And there are abundant warning lights on the dash – those electrical gremlins will need to be sorted. The car is also loaded with dents and dings, which is a Paintless Dent Repair task for my talented friend and miracle worker Ryan. And most importantly, the engine mounts are shot – way too much play in the drivetrain. Thankfully, the motor runs sweetly up to redline and all the emissions equipment is still in place.
It feels good to have a car I can call my own again. It feels great to finally have the answer. With each task completed, this 240 will get a step closer to the ultimate awesome driving experience. It will be a fun and rewarding journey for me and Clay!