Coastal areas have become the norm to give birth to the majority of the beautiful cars we see published today. Sure they have larger populations near the coast, and more tuning companies, but does that mean beautiful cars don’t exist elsewhere? Of course not! Chris Nichols lives in the heartland and comes from a family that loves to build appealing automobiles. He’s had a long journey with his ’96 240sx, full of blood, sweat and tears. I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the effort.
Chris first got into 240s when he was 15. After reading a copy of his father’s Consumer Reports showcasing the 1995 automotive lineup, including the debut year of the S14, it was love at first sight. Three S14s later, we have what you see today. In 2002, Chris flew out to Colorado to pick up his new pride and joy, a 1996 Mediterranean Blue S14 240sx. The car was originally bought so he could learn from it, but he was smart enough to realize that at the time, he wasn’t familiar enough with cars to try and make his daily driver a project car. Originally intended to be a drift car, with absolutely no rust and only 60k on the chassis, that designation will wait for another, less-pristine version Chris plans to buy.
When he bought it, the car originally came with an HKS USA prototype KA-T setup that never made it to production. Chris was tricked into thinking it was just a starter problem, and a new starter was even thrown in with the car. As it turned out, the #3 cylinder was done for, which he suspected, but didn’t know enough about cars at the time to be sure. He also figured that replacing a KA wasn’t all that expensive and the the cost of all the parts on the car was worth more than he paid, so it was a decent enough deal. From there, Chris decided to perform the swap himself, dove into it, and soon found himself in over his head. Over the next four years the car went through multiple engine setups making small changes to the chassis and elsewhere, using the opportunity to learn as much as he could about the car and how all the systems work together as one.
After tinkering with other engines, it was decided that Chris wanted something simple and fun to work on. He did not want the complications associated with a turbo motor as he experienced with his prior engine tribulations. Space was something Chris wanted more of, and adding a turbo decreases space and increases heat, which is good for some, just not for him. He was looking for something simple, that did not require loads of electronics, that would provide great torque, good powerband, and a sound to match. With the only logical choice being a V8, he toyed around with the ideas of the Nissan VH, Toyota’s 1UZFE, and others before finally settling on the LS1. It was an easy choice in the end because the LS1 makes gobs of power, responds to mods like no other, is all aluminum with a composite intake and is a breeze to work on. The intake manifold design was also a huge factor due to it’s low profile fitting under and clearing the hood.
After moving to St. Louis in 2006, Chris had been on an extended break from working on the car while he moved into a new house and got settled in. After getting his personal things in order and saving up some money, he found and purchased an LS1 motorset for $2300. Following the purchase was another period of money-saving and life events until December when it was finally time to get things started. This swap gave him a good feeling, one that he did not feel with all of the other motors prior. Chris was finally knowledgeable and experienced enough to tackle anything that presented itself and he did just that for the next five months.
When it came time to fire it up, not only did it start right up on the first try, but it also went from being on jackstands with no exhaust or front end on it to roadworthy and ready for it’s first test drive in one day. It rolled out of the garage under it’s own power courtesy of the Chevy powerplant under the hood on the first attempt and survived it’s maiden voyage with no problems. From there it was just a matter of yet again saving money as well as deciding what to do with the car next.
If there’s one thing Chris is known for, it’s his relentless attention to the details. Knowing that he would not be the only LS(x)-swapped 240 out there, he had to set himself apart from the rest. Forced induction was an option, but one of the main reasons for doing this swap was to avoid it. Chris opted to make it one of the cleanest swaps of it’s kind out there, and he succeeded. Since he didn’t have the money to go LS7 or upgrade the intake, headers, or exhaust, he spent the money he had on making everything clean and pristine. Countless trips to ACE hardware for stainless allen-head bolts for everything in the engine bay resulted in the girl at the counter not only recognizing him, but talking to him everytime he showed up. Aside from everything associated with the motor, Chris also bought and sold another S14 that needed a front end, giving his up and taking the oppurtunity to swap to the coveted, later-model, kouki version.
Aside from using stainless bolts, Chris also used locking nuts and washers on anything that was critical in an effort to make this swap as reliable, or moreso than stock. He removed everything from the bay that wasn’t required in order to make the car run and ran all the wires under the fenders. The engine harness was routed through the heater core holes in the firewall and allwires were covered inbraided loom or fiberglass-coated loom rated to 500 degrees Celcius, which was used on wires exposed to a heat source. Most lines were redone using -AN fittings and stainless, nylon, or nomex braided lines. Any splicing was done using marine-grade, solder-filled heat shrink connectors and all wires and lines were secured using rubber coated Adel clamps with locking nuts to asure they never move. Theentire exhaust from header flange to exhaust tip is 304 stainless steel and all fluids from the coolantto the differential fluid was changed.
To date, Chris feels that the best mod he’s done to the car would have to be a combination of Nitto 555R drag radials and SPLparts solid aluminum differential and subframe bushings. He also believes that the first modification anyone should do to a 240 is suspension components and take their time to do it right. I asked Chris that if he were to do this swap over if he would do anything differently, and he said, “I honestly can’t think of anything. Now if I would have had more money, yes. But, with everything being the same, no. It turned out better than I expected.” Well Chris, it did indeed.
Story by Dan Vogelsberg, CAO, Nicoclub.com
Photos courtesy of cnichols