An aerial view of a Nissan Silvia

Beyond Drifting: Original Nissan Silvia – A Heartbreaking Work of Understated Genius


The first generation Nissan Silvia CSP311 is one of the pioneering Japanese sports coupés. That’s the journalistically balanced way of making a statement about this gorgeous little car. What I really think is as follows: The first generation Nissan Silvia CSP311 is the most beautiful car ever to be produced in Japan. 

There. I’ve said it.

The Silvia was named after a Greek Goddess. And in its architectural lines, airy poise and almost dainty finesse, it matches ideals of aesthetics that the classical world would indeed recognise as art.

A Nissan Silvia steering wheel

The Silvia’s interior has all the elements of a mid-1960s sex machine. Picture: NISSAN

The classical references are cogent in more ways than one. When you first glimpse this bella macchina, it comes across as a classic Italian slither of hand-tempered gorgeousness. This car is obviously something that could have emerged from the drawing board of one of the classic Italian Carrozzerias. 

Yeah we know. Japanese car makers were always adept at the art of imitation. But in the first Silvia the simulacra surpassed the originals of Northern Italy.

The Silvia was unveiled at the 1964 Tokyo Motor Show, and it had been penned out by Nissan internal designers K. Kimura & F. Yoshida, with advice from German-American stylist Albrecht Goertz.  Goertz had worked extensively as a consultant designer and was notably responsible for the very lovely BMW 507 sports car – as well as one of the other classically beautiful Japanese sportster of the era: the 007-famed Toyota GT2000.

A rear light on the Silvia

Period-perfect glassware and an exactitude of trim. Picture: NISSAN

And though these other two cars are probably more obviously stunning and more epoch-making in their own way, the simplicity and the proportions of the styling of the Silvia is the thing that makes the car truly remarkable.

And bringing this level of styling to what would become an everyman production car is the nugget at the heart of the story – and the legacy it left created the mould for 60 years of Japanese car culture.

Let’s look at the elements of this design success. One of the most subtle but fundamental features is the sculpted body. It is jewel like in its lateral lines — the result of a partly hand-wrought metal work process hammered out of the existing ‘Fairlady’ platform. This made the car a rare and expensive goddess, as it retailed for almost twice the price of its closest competitor in terms of spec. 

A view of the Nissan Silvia front grill

A carefully constructed piece of front-end vehicle beauty. Picture: NISSAN

And look at the details. Notice the delicately bevelled work around the lights and the handles. Close attention to the lighting work and the steel of the wheels reveals a remarkable, handwrought attention to detail. It came with a pretty standard four-cylinder 1,600 engine with overhead valves and twin SU carb that revved decently and produced a little under 100 BHP. Nothing mind-blowing under the bonnet. 

Because of its profoundly detailed production process, only 550 or so of this first gen Silvia were made. The next iteration didn’t emerge until 1974. But by raising the level of design and execution on a sports car aimed ultimately for the masses, it set a tone for a few generations of JDM obsessives.

A side view of the Silvia
An aerial view of a Nissan Silvia
A steering wheel
Controls inside the Nissan
A wheel
A rear light

All pictures supplied by Nissan.