Pinnacle of Rad: 1987 Nissan 200SX SE

The Nissan Silvia S12 generation was a sporty compact front-engine rear-wheel-drive coupe/hatchback that was sold as the Nissan 200SX in the USA from 1984 through 1988. Rust, misplaced confidence, and general negligence have all but removed most of these from the roads, so finding one in nice original condition is treat. Find this 1987 Nissan 200SX SE offered for $17,000 in San Francisco, CA via craigslist. Tip from Rock On!

From the seller:

1987 nissan 200sx se
VIN: JN1VS26S4HW034085
condition: excellent
cylinders: 6 cylinders
drive: rwd
fuel: gas
odometer: 89800
paint color: red
size: compact
title status: clean
transmission: manual
type: hatchback
227 FULL-RES PICTURES: (Gdrive) | (iCloud) – (paste in browser)

You’ve turned onto a street with timed lights, and the immediate intersection is green with little traffic. It’s been green for a while; you are catching the end of the electro-automated wave: this is an opportunity. You need to catch this and each successive light before they turn yellow, and the cycle starts over. Can you drive from the back of the timed sequence to the front of it? The 200sx SE is the vessel you want to ride in this mechanically predictable yet highly improvisational infrastructural wave.

The v6 provides consistent and delightful torque delivery, no turbo kicking in, and no 4cl struggle as that street grades up (as they all do in San Francisco). The shifter is firm but not heavy enough to make you think twice about downshifting as often as needed to pass through the pack of near-automatons gliding in cocoons of stain-resistant white leather. But you? You’re in a red wedge from the retro-future where human-mechanical connections were celebrated instead of feared. Even a basic drive through the city is an occasion to be celebrated.

That evening, you’ve got a red eye to NYC. It’s 21:30, there is no traffic, the sky is dark, and after a moment of calculation, you realize four days in short-term parking is cheaper than two Uber rides. You can park a 5 min walk from security and leave 30 minutes later… Fuck yes.

Sitting down, the dark velveteen cloth holds you tight. You turn the key, vroom vroom, then the rotation of the left stalk brings up the lights, a satisfying mechanical rotation in the background while the foreground gauges light up with a warm incandescent glow. But the stereo is green, a mid-90s Alpine, a period upgrade with new speakers, carefully selected to play nice with an 80w head unit—the tinkle of a heavily delayed guitar, the opening phrase of Dirty Boots by Sonic Youth… Suddenly you’re at the airport, wishing you had more time in the car but needing to get on that plane.

I pursued this car for the same reason I buy all my cars: charm at first sight. But looks deceive with the s12. It can resemble an ae86 or Pulsar, but it’s much more in the GT class. A surprisingly legit back seat, a bit longer than my 928. Plastic and cloth on the inside but with a lovely eye for detail (and durability, apparently). However, even with this scale, it stays light on its feet, unlike the mk3 supra or 928 (both cars I’ve owned.)

I purchased this one in September ’21 from a young guy in Portland who bought it out of passion and sold it out of penury. I shipped it to A&R Motorsports, which was universally recommended by everyone I asked who’s into this kind of thing up there. They kept it for three months.

@ 87844 Miles (2k miles ago), they completed:

  1. valve cover gasket
  2. E brake cable
  3. radiator hoses
  4. clutch service / fluid
  5. brake service / fluid
  6. transmission service / fluid
  7. differential fluid
  8. timing belt
  9. water pump
  10. camshaft seal
  11. thermostat
  12. spark plugs
  13. spark plug wires
  14. fuel filter
  15. rear brakes and rotors
  16. front lower control arms (Moog)
  17. rear lower control arms
  18. front sway bar end links
  19. alignment

The timing was somehow off once it got shipped to me; my mechanic here got it through smog with a new 02 Sensor and then gave it a little advance for extra fun.

Once it came to me, I did the following:

  1. custom floor mats
  2. trunk mechanism
  3. sunroof mechanism
  4. NOS 90’s Alpine
  5. New Hertz speakers
  6. sound deadening indoors
  7. sound deadening in trunk/wheel well
  8. various interior plastic bits
  9. custom car cover
  10. week of detailing the paint is truly silken

Having been through many Japanese sports cars of the era, I can confidently say they all smell of cigarettes, Dude, or air freshener in various proportions. I have a 4 stage process to remove bro-aroma (debroma): Deep Vacuum, wet vac shampoo, baking soda, and finally, ozone generator. IT WORKS. This car is neutralized.

I removed some real janky and real sticky dark purple window tint.

I replaced the stereo with a late rad-era top-of-the-line Alpine and new (nice) speakers all around. I sound-deadened the entire hatch area as well as the doors. I also replaced the floor mats and various bits and bobs in the cabin. This means there is very little road noise or rattle, just engine, and music.

It comes with many extra parts:

  1. OEM moonroof cover
  2. AC compressor rebuilt
  3. AC compressor salvaged
  4. two control arms
  5. front struts
  6. tail lights
  7. dash controls
  8. rear fascia (in white with decals)
  9. Fender liners
  10. mud flaps
  11. OEM EQ
  12. OEM gear shift and rubber boot

Digital and physical receipts are provided for all work and parts.

The AC is not working. The shop up in Portland basically wouldn’t touch it because they “didn’t have an r12 machine” I’m pretty sure they just didn’t want to deal. I bought a used and rebuilt AC compressor but have not yet attempted the fix. As all SF residents know, it’s not needed here.

In addition to the compressors, I have an additional set of tail lights, all kinds of plastic pieces, brand-new in-box front struts, a complete set of manuals, the factory EQ, and stuff.

This car currently has some mid-wear, mid-tier Japanese tires; its handling would benefit from a new set. But shoes are personal, and I will leave that to the next owner, or if the car is being shipped or driven back to some far-off land, we can arrange to have a new set installed here before pick up.

To restore something is an attempt to erase time, to bring an object “back to new.” I have done this with a car; it is labor-intensive and gratifying when complete. But it can only set you up for disappointment if the goal is to enjoy the elevated utility of a cool old car. With every drive you are moving away from the restoration you’ve just completed, you are at war, stuck between binary pleasures.

To preserve a car is to operate in a less precious and more celebratory mindset, to embrace patina. It is Japanese denim that gets worn daily and creases to perfection but only gets washed twice a year with cold water and vinegar. It is the 50-year-old telecaster, shiny but battle-scarred with a brand new set of strings. This 200SX is preserved, stabilized for pleasure, asking to be loved, parked inside, and then driven on the backroads to prom. It shows its age with pride, well moisturized, exercised frequently but untouched by botox.

I have sold nine cars in the last five years, most have gone out of state, and not one experience has been negative: New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Colorado. I can provide references for all these sales and describe our process. Across the country or Hawaii is typically around $1500.

I am Aaron; I run a relatively well-engaged automotive imagery and philosophy account called Rad Report. Me and my cars have been covered in multiple outlets, including Car & Driver, Jalopnik, and Huckberry. (Links for all these can be found below).

I collect experiences, not cars; this has been a great 18-month journey. But, it’s time to find this 200sx a new caretaker.

I took these pictures with a Fujifilm X-S10. I have done my best to capture the unique red of the car and document the (charming) moments of wear and repair throughout the car. These are not Photoshopped.
Craigslist allows for limited pictures at limited resolution; you should never decide based solely on what you see here. I have provided over 200 full-res images of the car for you to peruse and zoom at will, files in duplicate on iCloud ( and google drive (


See a better way to drive something red?