Keepin' It Legal: The LS-Swapped S13 That California Is Cool With
California is many things. It's a state known for its picturesque coastlines, majestic mountain ranges, booming technology and glamorous film industry, but a safe haven for car enthusiasts, it is not. In fact, many would call it quite the opposite. Although California leads the nation in clean air due to its hardline policies on emissions, it has had a severe impact on the options left for an average car guy who wants to swap in a more powerful engine. But that didn't discourage Steven Guevara from pursuing his goal of owning a smog-legal, LS-swapped Nissan 240SX.
Steven is like many Southern California car enthusiasts. He enjoys both the tuner world, as well as domestic power, and can appreciate a well built vehicle no matter what it is. After attending his first Formula Drift event around six years ago, Steven knew it was time to build a lightweight, fast, RWD street-legal car he could put on the AutoX course. Knowing what he wanted to build from the beginning helped him collect only the parts he needed, and minimized what he was going to part out or remove. Steven found a shell of an S13 for sale, and didn't hesitate to bring it home. "Starting out with something that is already blemished made it easier to start cutting into than a perfectly good body," Steven explained.
An Engine Made for California
Next came time to choose a power plant. Steven needed something powerful, but easily installed into the S13, and above all, an engine that would allow him to stay street-legal. Luckily for Steven, such a package does exist. Chevrolet Performance offers an eRod LS3 crate engine that is California emissions compliant, and can be swapped into vehicles for consideration from the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) to deem as an exemption. But simply getting this highly sought after tag from the BAR is not the end-all for swapped vehicles. They are still subject to smog inspections in California just the same as any other vehicle. However, the eRod LS3 package adheres to California's regulations and, as long as the emissions equipment is not modified, can be legally driven on the street.
Steven didn't hesitate. The eRod crate engine he ordered from Summit Racing showed up, and next was the transmission. Steven went with a Magnum T-56 6-speed manual transmission, also from Summit Racing. Having a brand new drivetrain with literally zero miles on it made the installation much easier, especially with a CX Racing swap kit that includes mostly everything needed to drop an LS-based engine into an S13. The only modification Steven made to fit the LS3 was a little massaging of the transmission tunnel to make room for the larger T-56.
Once the drivetrain components were in, Steven began adding to the rest of the car. Although this S13 is street-legal, its main purpose is for the track. This means the bare essentials are all Steven needed, which also helps keep the weight down. Suspension components are vital to an AutoX car, so Steven installed a set of Powered by Max coilovers all around. In addition, he also installed a set of front limit break control arms from Max as well. Max limit break hats were also installed on the coilovers to provide for nearly infinite adjustability in caster and camber, which is vital for Steven's needs. With 70 degrees of parallel steering angle, this S13 could really get sideways.
All that power and handling performance is meaningless without adequate braking, and this S13 has no shortage of it. Steven got a bit creative, and utilized a set of front brakes from a Tesla with 4-piston calipers. The rear brakes are also from a different car, this time a Z32 300ZX. Steven installed a hydraulic braking system for the rear, which is independent from the foot brakes, essentially making the rear a 4-piston setup when both the foot and handle are used together. But having a manual transmission means a parking brake is also needed, so Steven cleverly used a drum from the 300ZX to keep his S13 from rolling away on its own.
Rolling on Nittos
With over 360hp at the rear wheels, the stock rear differential and axles don't stand a chance. Steven swapped in a rear end from an Infiniti Q45, a popular stand-in for the weak S13 differential. Larger axle shafts were also used to handle the extra power. Lastly on our journey through this S13's drivetrain came the tires and wheels. Steven knew he would be driving this 240 on the streets, as well as competing in local AutoX and drift events. He wanted to run a setup that allowed him to effortlessly transition to and from motorsports. Nitto NT05s were the perfect fit. With a set of 265/35ZR18s up front, and 295/35ZR18s in the rear, Steven has the fitment he wanted with the performance he needs. "I wanted something very wide, with a low profile, and the NT05 was the perfect tire for that," Steven says. With superior grip in the corners and straights, the NT05 continues to impress Steven both on the street and on the track. They are tastefully paired with a set of Miro Type 398 wheels in satin black.
Steven's first track event was at LS Fest West this year, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After his sway bars came in the Wednesday evening before the event, he stayed up all night installing them and performing his own alignment before driving out to Las Vegas. After several AutoX runs, Steven is extremely impressed with the handling and performance of his street-legal S13. "My best time was a 38.001, and I'm hanging with brand new Camaros," Steven explained enthusiastically. Even if he doesn't win the event, perhaps the biggest win of this story is a California-based auto enthusiast who took the proper channels to build his dream car which he can enjoy for years to come, both on the track, and off of it, worry free.