Realizing the SE-R's Performance Potential
by Evan Griffey
[Put into HTML format by Dan Thompson]
This article originally appeared in the Turbo & Hi-Tech Performance May 1993 issue and was reprinted with permission. For more info on Turbo Magazine check out their website.
When the Sentra was redesigned in 1991, Nissan added a sport model to the lineup. Designated the SE-R, the car featured a muscular 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 16-valve double overhead camshaft powerplant. Demand for the car was high, while they weren't selling for $4000 over sticker like the Miata was at the time, dealers had a hard time keeping SE-R's on the lot. The car was designed to be a sleeper, an inconspicuous pocket rocket. It received rave reviews from the automotive press.
After hearing the accolades and seeing "Bob's car" ads, E.K. Cozzene purchased his '91 Sentra SE-R in March of '91. He got a kick out of the car's performance and told his friends having this much fun and getting 28 to 32 mpg was practically blasphemous. He ran the odometer up to 30,000 and decided to up the ante. Cozzene was looking for an autocrosser that would be as happy on a maddog blast to Vegas as it would be blasting through the cones. In keeping with the car's sleeper design, the new-and-improved Nissan would have to have a split personality. It would have enhanced performance but look like the thousands of its brethren that have rolled off the assembly line... well, almost. Before beginning the build-up, some baseline 0-60 performance figures were taken. The Sentra's best acceleration to 60 mph was 8.49 seconds, chewing up 436 feet of concrete in the process. The Sentra also ran 8.54, 8.56 and 8.60, which averages out to 8.55.
With the proper notations made, Cozzene called around in search of parts. One of these calls was to Grimmer-Philips Performance Automotive in Fountain Valley, California. Impressed with the company's inventory and technical knowledge, Cozzene opted to go the one-stop shopping route. The project would involve improved performance on two fronts; engine and suspension.
Under the hood, the constricting stock box air cleaner was swapped in favor of a Grimmer-Philips Pop-Charger outfitted with a K&N filter element and velocity stack-type air horn. Air flow is a key for getting more out of an engine via bolt-on components. So with more air getting into the engine it only makes sense to expel the waste gasses as quickly as possible. To reach this end, a two-inch Grimmer-Philips Stromung aluminized-steel exhaust was bolted to the stock mounting locations. To take advantage of the small typhoon blowing into and out of the motor, a Jim Wolf Racing P.O.P. EPROM computer upgrade assures the correct amount of fuel reaches the combustion chamber. Proper planning resulted in a combination of components that complemented one another and delivered the goods. Grimmer-Philips estimates these products are good for a 22 to 28 horsepower gain.
You can tell that much just by listening to the Sentra, it has a throaty rumble associated with V-8 powerplants. After the 2.0-liter was up to operating temperature we took to the open highway. The pumped up Sentra was revved to a fever pitch and turned loose. The speedo needle arced to 60 mph in 8.20 seconds (419 feet). Two additional runs netted 8.23 and 8.31 runs. That averages out to 8.24, a whopping .31improvement over stock. During our empirical testing the Grimmer-Philips short-throw shifter proved invaluable. It made the throws, now 25 percent shorter, a breeze and added to the tightness of the vehicle. The additional power was evident in all facets of performance; low-end launch, at-speed acceleration and top-end velocity.
The suspension upgrades, just like the motor modifications, are designed to work in concert, providing slot car-like handling characteristics. The suspension consists of Eibach progressive-rate lowering springs that drop the Sentra 1.25 inches, Grimmer-Philips sway bars (32mm front - 29mm rear) and G.A.B. Super HP externally adjustable shock absorbers. The front struts are four position units that use a custom-built Grimmer-Philips strut tower support. The rear struts feature eight-way adjustment. Traction is enhanced by a set of hefty P205/50ZR15 BFGoodrich Comp/TA III radials mounted on DP Motorsport Enduro one-piece alloy wheels. Even though they deviated from the split-personality/sleeper approach of the project, the chromed 15x6.5 DP wheels were "gotta have" items. The Comp IIIs are the foundation of the suspension. When they sink their teeth into the asphault, the BFG's allow the SE-R to really put the rest of the suspension to the test.
Once we got over the adrenaline rush of the additional ponies, we looked for a nice winding, twisty road. We found ourselves on the Ortega Highway, a two-lane road frequented by bikers (Hogs and Ninjas) that carves its way through Cleveland National Forest. The Nissan was pushed to its ragged edge (literally) but never wavered. Usually a performance suspension will have a weak link, either not enough tire to challenge the suspension or not enough suspension to challenge the tire - not this one. Forget autocrossing, having this setup with the shocks cranked up, the Sentra could probably hold its own in the IMSA International Sedan Series. The ride is a little rough but very exhilarating. Dialed-in to a softer setting, the G.A.B. shocks offer a better than stock ride.
One of the most overlooked areas on build-up projects is braking power. Too often the focus is on only going fast. Cozzene believes one should be able to get out of trouble faster than he got into it. For the proper 60-0 performance Grimmer-Philips installed its Trackpro® braking package. The Trackpro® features Carbon-Kevlar racing pads, stainless steel braided brake lines and Motul 300-degree Centigrade racing brake fluid. The Trackpro® package was chosen because the Sentra will see some track time. Grimmer-Philips offers a Streetpro® package that is identical except for the pads. The Streetpro® package uses high-temperature, semi-metallic brake pads.
The brakes are a confidence builder. Like an old school marm slapping the hands of anyone who gets out of line, the brakes put the tires back online with a touch of the pedal. During the Ortega Highway shakedown the brakes met every challenge thrown at them. There was no fade and pedal modulation was effortless.
Cozzene is a happy camper, the SE-R has met or exceeded all his expectations. Now his monthly car payment is happily paid. The biggest problem is keeping his right foot in check. We predict he'll soon be making monthly payments for track time as well.