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Lets Upgrade the 180SX...! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 21:30

Something different this time around here at The Brash Australian. As most regular readers know I’m planning on entering my Nissan 180SX in some motorsport events, so I’ll utilise this site to tell you what I did to convert a daily driven road car into something that was appropriate to start doing some race events. Now I don’t want this site to become a simple how-to-do-this type instructional site, I want it to be about cars and enjoying them. But I also want more people out enjoying motorsport, so if we can show how easy it is to get out there then all the better.


The other reason I’m putting all this stuff out there, is because there is a distinct lack of detailed information regarding parts of this exact swap. Plenty of people talk about having done it and there’s plenty of answers to some of the questions, but there’s lots of things that you just don’t find out until you’ve got the thing apart. I'm also justifying why this took nearly 5 months - we initially thought we could have had it done in a weekend!

Since buying the 180SX the plan was always going to be a 5-stud conversion and a brake upgrade. Converting from the factory S13 chassis 4-stud hubs to 5-stud not only improves the available wheel selection, but it also means I can take advantage of easy bolt on upgrades to late model Silvia and Skyline brake parts, all the while continuing to use factory Nissan parts if I wish. While I’m always happy to upgrade to aftermarket parts, I like the idea of starting with OEM Nissan gear because we know that the amount of testing that the factory has put the systems through will far exceed anything the aftermarket does. Probably. It also means I can use the rims I already own, as I have three or four sets of spare 5-stud rims.

  180SX.UpOnStands.RearOut01   180SX.UpOnStands.RearOut02

To start with I found a full front and rear brake and hub conversion from an R33 Skyline GTS-T on Scumtree. Because the seller was lazy, I also managed to snare the rear subframe too. Now originally the plan was simply to replace the brakes and hubs both front and rear, but a mate informed me that the R33 rear subframe was the same as fitted to the S14 and S15 and R34, and thus is an almost-direct bolt-in replacement for the S13 rear subframe. Fitting the entire subframe would improve the rear roll centre and would increase rear track by 10mm, thus improving rear stability and traction. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Now please let me say this: if you’re not competent with few spanners or don’t have any mates that are, then don’t embark on this conversion. It’s a lot more effort than it seems, and while nothing is exceptionally difficult it is quite technical in places. While I’m trying to detail as much as I can here, it’s not all straight forward. It also needs to be said that if I had realised that the car would be off the road for as long as it was then I probably would have just done the hubs and sent the subframe back to the scumtree from whence it came. In other words - if you read this then break your junk attempting it, that's your responsibility and not mine!

Rear Parts List:
-Rear subframe from R33, S14, S15
-Handbrake cables from R33, S14, S15
-Brake rotors, callipers, pads
-Adapter bushings (GK Tech)
-Flexible brake lines (GK Tech)
-Differential housing with 2-bolt rear cover (factory S13 diff has 4-bolt rear cover and won’t work) (The 2 nuts are M17x1.5 thread if you have to source them separately)
-Left and right driveshafts
-Differential bushing kit (I used Nolothane PN 49161)
-Taarks handbrake adapter plate (http://www.taarks.com/product_p/taark-brakeplate-r33s13.htm)
-Rear HICAS system, HICAS lock bars or adjustable toe arms.
-Wheels with 5x114.33 stud pattern

This is apparently a very common conversion for S13 Silvias and 180SXs, however detailed information on some of the more fiddly bits is not easily available. Maybe it’s like the manual gearbox conversions on these cars, which is apparently a very easy and common conversion except for the fact that most cars get sold with the conversion parts not fitted to the car.

So we started work on the conversion. Now I had scored the full R33 cradle, driveshafts, brake rotors, callipers and handbrake cables - the only thing missing was the differential. Since everybody knows that all the turbo Skylines and Silvias have the same diffs, naturally I figured that I could just use the Viscous LSD that I had, but more on that later. (So you can tell that I probably couldn’t…)


First things first; ordering parts. The obvious thing you need when beginning this conversion is the adaptor bushings, as the S13 subframe mounts sit just that little bit inboard of the R33/R34/S14/S15 subframe mounts. I used the GK Tech solid bushes, which slip straight into the factory mounting cups once the OEM bushes are out. I also ordered the handbrake adaptor plate as this is required for the conversion. (Even though nobody could actually tell me why).


First thing is to remove the OEM rubber bushings from the R33 cradle. I used my cheap imitation Dremel to cut the steel part of the bush out, and some techniques I’m not real proud of to get the rubber bits out. Google is your friend here, and the less I know about how you get them out the better!

RearSubframe.Prep.01   RearSubframe.Prep.02

AssembledSubframeOnFloor.BushesOut.Prep01   AssembledSubframeOnFloor.BushesOut.Prep02.LookShiny

Budget a full afternoon here, we had 3 of us working on it at one point and it still took this long. If you’re cutting, then make sure not to cut the outer ring of the metal retainer cup. Once the rubber is all gone, spend the time cleaning up the inside of the cup. The better you make the surface inside the easier time you’ll have later on. We spent a couple of hours cleaning them up with a wire wheel attached to the cordless drill. Really, actually I mean a couple of hours – killed the battery on the drill twice!

Put the solid bushings in the freezer for a while. I had them in for a couple of weeks – thermal contraction of the aluminium should make the new solid bushes fit in easier. (Admittedly thermal contraction of these parts would be measured in tenths of a millimetre but still, every little bit helps…) You can see in the above pic that they stayed next to the ice cream and frozen veggies. Use some spray grease, silicone spray or a penetrating oil (such as WD40 or CRC) and get the bushes out of the freezer. I grabbed one at a time, because I figured the longer they were outside the more they might return to their intended size. An easy way to line them up is to scribe a line across the centre of the top of each new aluminium bush. They fit in with the offsets closest to each other on the inside, so if you have the line across the top you can simply line them up with a straight edge or a spirit level. Or a string line like we did.

The solid bushings go in from the bottom. Don’t make the mistake we did and put them in the top first!

AssembledSubframeOnFloor04   AssembledSubframeOnFloor01


We bolted the whole deal into place, had the subframe nuts torqued up and were connecting brake lines before we realised we’d done it wrong. So we grabbed the jacks, undid the nuts and tried again a day later!

This (above) is what we had to go on, a poor quality phone pic of my mates' car. Guess what? That's not right either!! Compare this with the old GK Tech stock photo we were able to find (below). To their credit, GK Tech were very quick with the support and instruction that this is an old version of the kit that they don't make anymore
GKTech Old

Anyway, removal of the S13 subframe starts with disconnecting the brake lines from the rear callipers. The driveshaft connects to the differential with 4 nuts and bolts, so undo them and put them somewhere safe. You don’t need to remove the whole thing, you can leave it attached at the centre bearing. We had it sitting on the floor so it wasn’t just hanging from the bearing. Remove the exhaust from the catalytic converter to the rear muffler as you’ll need it all out of the way sooner or later. With the driveshaft out of the way and the exhaust sitting elsewhere you can see the handbrake cables, remove them from the bottom end of the handle. We disconnected the coilovers at their base connection to the subframe, but left them attached to the car at their top mounts.

Now it’s time to start removing the subframe itself. Make sure the car is safely lifted. We left the front wheels fitted, chocked them both and only lifted the rear - with the rear supported on jack stands ahead of each rear wheel arch, which we felt made it more secure. Maybe. Lift it as high as you safely can.

AssembledSubframeOnFloor03   AssembledSubframeOnFloor06.FixItBoys

Use as many trolley jacks and mates as you can get your hands on. We had two trolley jacks and a scissor jack, but would have been better if the scissor was a trolley jack. Being able to raise and lower each corner independently would make it easier again, especially if each corner can be pushed or pulled in a particular direction.

Pump up the jacks until they are supporting the weight of the cradle. An easy way to tell this is by loosening off the nuts that hold the subframe a bit, this will enable the jacks to lift the subframe a little without lifting the car itself. You may need to hit the thing with a hammer once or twice. (A big hammer and a rubber mallet will become your best friends during this deal) 

SubframeIn02.JackDoingHisJob   SubframeIn03.OtherJackDoingHisJobToo   SubframeIn04.WellNotQuiteButAlmost

 Once all the nuts are undone, gently lower the subframe. How you’ve raised the car will determine the best way here; we thought about rolling it out on wheels but did didn’t raise the rear of the car high enough to do so. You can roll it out on the trolley jacks, or you can carry it - it’s a 2-person lift, don’t try to do it on your own.

Once the standard S13 subframe is out you can start to pilfer stuff off it. You might not need much, but keep it handy just in case you do. And remember not to tip it upside down unless you have to, as the diff will leak oil over whatever you sit the whole deal on. And diff oil stinks so best to leave it inside the diff.

New.2Bolt.Diff   New.2Bolt.Diff.Again   NewSubframe.Underside.NolathaneBushesFitted

Next, build your new subframe ready for installation. Install the subframe adapter bushings (from the bottom!), fit the differential using the 2-bolt cover and bolt the front of the diff to the cradle using the new bushes. Now would actually be a really good time to replace all the bushes on the control arms if you wanted, or to replace them with lighter weight or more adjustable items if you plan on doing so later down the track. I also replaced all my brake pads prior to fitting the subframe as it meant I could change pads on the workbench and not on the floor! Connect the diff to the driveshafts – if you need to find new ones remember that S13 and R32 driveshafts are a 6-bolt mounting pattern (3x2 bolts) but S14, S15 and R33 driveshafts are all 5-bolt. The driveshafts will likely be defined by your differential, so it’s easy enough to be prepared. Don’t forget to fill the diff with oil. Open the top bung, and pump oil in there until it splooges back out, and don’t forget to replace the filling bung. Also, if you have a R34 or S15 diff there will be a hole up the front for an ABS sensor. That can be covered relatively easily with scrap steel and silicone.

AssembledSubframeOnFloor01   180SX.UpOnStands.RearOut03.StillOut

We rolled the new subframe under the car and somewhat close to the required location on the trolley jacks and then carefully lifted. Lift the rear then follow with the front, using the rear jacks to position the bushes on the subframe mounting studs. This takes patience, and as many hands as you can muster. When the subframe is high enough on the studs that you can start the nut, do it. Get the washers and nuts on, but don’t be afraid to use the jacks or a hit with a hammer to get the thing fitted. Tighten the nuts, and torque them to the appropriate specs.

SubframeIn01.NoteHoleInFrontOfDiffHousing   SubframeIn02.JackDoingHisJob   SubframeIn03.OtherJackDoingHisJobToo

SubframeIn04.WellNotQuiteButAlmost   SubframeIn05.VeryCloseNow   SubframeIn06.LookTheBushIsUpsideDown

SubframeIn06.VeryCloseNow   SubframeIn07   SubframeIn08.ButtonedUp.SomethingIsNotRightHere

SubframeIn09.ButtonedUp.SomethingIsNotRightHere   SubframeIn11.WashersLeftOverForSomeReason   SubframeIn10.VictoryBeersImminant

With the subframe in place victory beers can be had. You deserve them if you make it this far!

Before you reconnect the driveshaft to the differential it’s a good idea to fit the handbrake cables. Make sure they are hanging down the front of the subframe as you lift it into place otherwise you are unbolting and lowering the subframe again. Ask me how I know! Using the adapter plate, connect the handbrake cables to the S13 mechanism. Despite the lack of instructions to go with the plate, you can see how it works when you’re under there. It’s one of those things that makes total sense once you’re doing it. Finish by connecting the brake lines - annoyingly the GK Tech brake lines have an imperial-size hex rather than a metric one - the driveshaft, exhaust, etc. If you have ABS then now is the time to re-connect that too. Remember that you’ll need to re-adjust the handbrake cable inside the car and at the handbrake drums themselves.

Another thing that we found that nobody had told us, we ended up swapping the R33 upper control arms with the S13 ones. The R33 items did not leave enough clearance space for the coilover struts that are fitted to my car; so we swapped them with the S13 ones sitting on the subframe next to me. Once again, these could be swapped out with a lightweight item if you feel appropriate.

SubframeIn14.ForgotAboutHandbrakeCables   SubframeIn15.OhForFucksSake   SubframeIn16.Fixed

SubframeIn17.LookAtThoseHandbrakeCables   SubframeIn18.ThatLooksBetter   SubframeIn19.WhatHaveWeForgotten

SubframeIn20.ThatLooksBetter   SubframeIn21.ObnoxiousToeIn01   SubframeIn21.ObnoxiousToeIn03.HalfwayThere

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the HICAS. Now my S13 didn’t have HICAS, the subframe was equipped with a solid lock bar. These can be built for about $50 if you don’t have HICAS or if you’d rather not. If your S13 had a solid lock bar you can probably make them fit, or leave it for your wheel aligner. Otherwise you can leave the standard HICAS system in place. Alternatively you can use this opportunity to fit some lightweight adjustable toe arms. Either way you’ll need a wheel alignment when you’re finished, so make sure that’s in the budget.

S13HICASLockBar.vs.R33HICASSystem   S13HICASLockBar.vs.R33HICASSystem.WithShoesForComparison



Front Parts List:
-S14/S15 front hubs
-S14/S15 front uprights
-S14/S15 lower balljoints
-Brake callipers, rotors and pads
-Flexible brake lines (4-line set http://www.gktech.com/index.php/r32-gts-t-gst-r33-gts-t-gtr-braided-brake-lines-front-rear-set.html)

Now the front should have been the easy bit. And I suppose it was, but you need to get the right parts first. It turns out that contrary to what we got told the R33 stuff does not fit with the S13, S14 or S15 stuff. The R33 hubs have the stub axle attached and it fits through the upright. S14 or S15 hubs come with bearings, and if you buy these new from CBC or similar then they’ll already have brand new bearings pressed into them. Apparently you can press these bearings out and press a S13 sized bearing into but nobody I spoke to was able to find an appropriately sized bearing to do this. The S13 stub axle is part of the upright and is approximately 31mm diameter, and the S14/S15 stub axle measures about 34mm. So you need the S14/S15 upright too. You can do it without the S14/S15 lower control arm, but you’ll need to replace the lower ball joint in the S13 lower control arm, but this is easy enough. If you can find them feel free to fit the S14/S15 lower control arms too but don’t stress if you can’t.

S13.4StudHub   S14.FrontHubBrandNew.CBCBearings   S13.StubAxle
S13 4-stud hub (Left), S14 5-stud hub (centre), S13 stub axle (right)

Like I said, this should be the easy part of the swap – 2 bolts from coilover strut to upright (again we left the coilover attached at the top), one nut on the tie rod end, one nut at the ball joint and remove the brake hose. The forums all say that you need to fit an S14/S15 balljoint because the S13 one won’t go into the S14/S15 upright, but I’m not sure that’s technically correct. But anyway, we found out through our own stupidity that we couldn’t remove old the ball joints ourselves, so we removed the entire control arms and took them to a workshop to have the ball joints pressed out and the new ones fitted. They slugged me $50 for the job, and took all day (but only because they forgot about it). I just wish I’d done that before spending half a day trying to get them out.

FrontEnd01.RemoveTheSteeringKnucleUsingDoubleHammers   FrontEnd02.OhLookABallJoint   FrontEnd03.CutBackBackingPlate.MaybeShouldBePainted

FrontEnd04.LookAtThatThread   FrontEnd05.LookAtThatThread   FrontEnd06.NewBallJointFitted

Also with the S14/S15 uprights, you may need to sleeve the bolt holes where the coilover attaches to the upright. The S13 uses 12mm bolts, and the S14/S15 use 14mm bolts. You can either fabricate a sleeve or simply drill out the holes and use bigger bolts like we did.

Putting it back together is the reverse of disassembly and it’s the same on both sides. Now is probably as good a time as any to replace the sway bar end link bushes too (note to self, order replacement sway bar end link bushes). If you are removing the control arm you’ll need to remove the end links – use a socket on the nut underneath and a 12mm open ender spanner to stop the link from rotating. At least I’m pretty sure it was 12mm, might’ve been 10mm.

FrontEnd07.WorkingOnCarsIsHungryWork   FrontEnd08.BrakeDiscComparison01   FrontEnd08.BrakeDiscComparison02

FrontEnd09.LooksKindaComplete   FrontEnd10.WheelOn   FrontEnd11.VictorySnacksAndMaybeBeers

FrontEnd12.EinHelpedToo   FrontEnd13.TimeToBleedTheBrakes

Once it’s all back together you’ll need to bleed the brakes. Start on the right rear – the furthest calliper away from the brake master cylinder – and work around until you get to the closest. I won’t explain how to bleed brakes in this segment, if you don’t know how then you probably shouldn’t be attempting this. Don’t run the system dry, and praise the clever people at Nissan for being clever enough to make the bleed nipples the same size, unlike a certain Mazda I worked on last week.


One last thing; check what brake master cylinder your car was fitted with. If you’ve got a BM50 then you may well be ok. If your car is factory fitted with a BM44 you’ll probably need to upgrade. You won’t be stopped from driving the car if you don’t upgrade, but your brake pedal will be much longer than it should be. Basically the bigger callipers need a bigger master cylinder feeding them. In fact my car was downright scary to drive straight after the swap! If you’re going second hand for a master cylinder ensure the seals inside the cylinder and around the pistons are all still sound. I believe the BM44 was fitted to normally aspirated and boosted-CA powered cars, and in theory factory SR20 DET cars are already fitted with a BM50, so check the part number on the side of the tube – it’s on the driver’s side. These can be obtained cheaply through scumtree or skid sales pages, but Repco can order them brand new too. Google can provide you with a definitive list of part numbers, but I merely called up my mate at Repco and ordered one to suit R33 GTS-T.

So if you’ve made it this far, you deserve victory beers again. Get the car wheel aligned and go and enjoy your newly upgraded car. In all honesty I parked my car until I could get it wheel aligned properly, figuring that it probably wasn’t really safe to drive with the wheels pointing whichever direction…

And then, I heard a terrible noise that side lined the car for another week while I found somebody who knew what it was…

But having said all that, it's finished. With only minimal testing, I entered a Hillclimb event at the Collingrove Hillclimb. And while I was fastest in my class, the real victory is that I drove the car there, raced all day, and drove home. The only thing that broke was a cable tie that holds the exhaust on (long story...)




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