Following the departure of the Primera and Sentra/Sabre performance models,

Nissan relies on the 350Z and off-road racing Hardbodies and Navaras for its sporting cred in SA... Nevertheless, Nissan's 2,0-litre 16-valve motors of yore have a cult following and we spoke to Cape Town enthusiasts about their prized possessions.Following the departure of the Primera and Sentra/Sabre performance models,

Nissan relies on the 350Z and off-road racing Hardbodies and Navaras for its sporting cred in SA... Nevertheless, Nissan's 2,0-litre 16-valve motors of yore have a cult following and we spoke to Cape Town enthusiasts about their prized possessions.content here

By Kelly Lodewyks


I've come across many (and I mean many) guys who are into Honda VTECs, 1,6-litre 20 valve Toyotas, Fords with Cosworth engines and, of course, the infamous Golf VR6s and GTIs. So, it came as quite a relief when a friend told me that he would choose a Nissan Sabre GXi or Sentra STi over any of these cars. But why?


I embarked on a mission to find out just what these high-revving vintage Nissans have to offer... To match the "oh-so-wonderful and overly-worshipped" VTECs, they've got to have something extra special... and they do. It's called the SR engine.


Nissan's SR engines are available as 1,6-, 1,8 or 2,0-litre units. These poweplants have an aluminium DOHC four-valve design, and some versions incorporate variable valve timing. Under the bonnet of the Sentra STi and Sabre GXi lies one of the most successful SR engines to be produced by the Japanese marque: SR20DE.


This 2,0-litre unit first powered the Nissan Bluebird (badged at Dutsan or Pintara in many countries) in 1989, and the first units had an output of 102 kW. The output soon increased to about 105 kW, and then, under the bonnet of the Nissan Silvia (a sports coupe that was never released in SA), peak power output increased to 121 kW through the use of Nissan's new VTC variable valve timing system.


According to a 1998 CAR road test, the 2,0-litre under the bonnet of the local 200 Sabre GXi had an output of 105 kW. The road test claims that the Sabre has a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 8,69 seconds and a top speed of 210 km/h.


To fully understand the hype around this vehicle and its engine, I enlisted the help of Sabre owner Clayton Jacobs, and a few other Nissan fanatics that own either a 200 GXi or a 200 STi.


According to these guys, those vehicles hold appeal for various reasons. Most have found that Nissan 200 GXi or 200 STi models are very reliable and according to owner Roshan Bachan, "{the parts last longer than what they've experienced from other manufacturers' products". Some have described the braking ability in the GXi and STi models as "outstanding".


The engine of the GXi and STi seem to be the main appeal for the younger, PlayStation-generation crowd. Apparently, it's not that difficult to modify and Jacobs says that "once you spend a couple of thousand to enhance the performance, you've got a pretty strong car that can compete with many cars, such as the VW Golf 5 GTI."


The 200 GXi and 200 STi owners like to boast that their vehicles, some of which are more than ten years old, can outperform some of the new models on the market.


Some people who I spoke to mentioned that these cars became so popular because they entered the South African market at a time that some people weren't really interested in Toyota's high-revving (16-valve) Conquests and Corolla/Sprinters anymore. In addition, the "20-valve Toyotas develop their peak torque at least 800 r/min higher than the SR engines in the Nissans - making them more peaky," an enthusiast said.

CARtoday's Kyle Kock is an avid Nissan fanatic, and says that "age, interior condition, mileage, spec, and comfort doesn't really matter. It's what the Nissans are capable of that make people opt for these rather than the newer vehicles on the market".


However, as with every car, SR20 models have their fair share of problems.


Several owners complained that when they DO need parts for their cars, they can cost an arm and a leg! Other common problems include: the clutch pedal becomes heavy to operate after a while (which suggests that the pressure plate needs to be replaced), rear main seal leaks and a fifth gear that unexpectedly disengages on the old-spec models (1992 to1995). Admittedly though, those owners did add that they believed many of the problems resulted from the hard driving their vehicles are sometimes put through.


Despite those problems, Nissan Sentra/Sabre models are still quite popular among younger drivers. It has to be said that Opel still has the upper hand in this segment... Opel's Superboss made a big impact in its heyday (the few out there that are in good nick, still do), and now the OPC variants of Astras and Corsas are continuing the ultimate Kadett's legacy. Look out for an upcoming feature on fans of the Kadett and Monza GSi.

Click here to watch a video of Clayton Jacobs' Sabre GXi in action.