Dubbed “Godzilla” by Wheels magazine in Australia when released there in 1989, it was rated by many motoring magazines, including the well-respected Wheels, as providing performance and handling equal or superior to that of European icons like the Porsche 911 and the Ferrari Testarossa, at a considerably lower price. The Skyline’s home-market competitors have included the Honda NSX, Toyota Supra, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Mazda RX-7.
History of the brand
The Skyline name originated with the Prince automobile company which developed and sold the Skyline line of sedans before merging with Nissan-Datsun. The earliest predecessor of the GT-R, the S54 2000 GT-B, came second in its first race in 1964 to the purpose-built Porsche 904 GTS race car. The next development of the GT-R, the 4-door PGC10 2000 GT-R , later to be superceeded by the 2-door KPGC10 version, scored 33 victories in the one and a half years it raced and by the time it attempted its 50th consecutive win, its run was ended by a Mazda Savanna RX-3. The car took 54 victories by the time it was discontinued in 1972. The last of the original GT-Rs, the KPGC110 2000GT-R, used an unchanged S20 120 kW inline-6 engine from the earlier 2000 GT-R and only sold 197 units due to the worldwide energy crisis. This model was the only GT-R to never participate in a race despite only having one built which now resides in Nissan’s former factory turned storage unit for historical cars in Zuma.
The Skyline model continued into the 1990s when it became popular largely because it remained rear wheel drive, while most other manufacturers’ models were front wheel drive (which had certain complexities inherent in achieving high performance in power or handling when compared to a rear-wheel drive car).
After a 16 year hiatus, from the KPGC110 Skyline GT-R of 1973, the GT-R version of the Skyline was reintroduced with the eighth generation Skyline R32 in 1989. The GT-R became the flagship of Nissan performance, showcasing many advanced technologies, including the ATTESA-ETS system (a hydraulic on-demand four-wheel drive) and Super-HICAS (four-wheel steering). The 1989- GT-Rs remained (relatively) cheap, with a list-price of ¥ 4.5 million (about US$ 31,000).
GT-R Skylines of the 1990s progressed from the R32 (1989), through to the R34 (1998). Production of the GT-R ceased in August 2002. Although Nissan continued the Skyline name with the release of the Infiniti G35 (sold as the Nissan Vitesse/Skyline in Japan), a new GT-R has not yet been released. Throughout its lifetime, various special editions, containing additional performance-enhancing modifications, were released by Nissan and its performance division Nismo.
R32 Nismo, N1, and V-Spec
Total production of the R32 GT-R was 43,394 units, with production starting on May 22, 1989 and ending in October 1994, which actually overlapped the release of the R33 Skyline by nearly a year. Four special editions were produced.
The Nismo GT-R was introduced in February 22, 1990, and had a total production of 560 units. It was used to homologate a number of changes to the original GT-R for Group A racing. These included additional ducts in the front bumper to improve airflow to the intercooler, a bonnet lip spoiler to direct more air into the engine bay, and an additional boot lip spoiler to reduce drag and provide more downforce.
The N1 GT-R was introduced on July 19, 1991, and had a total production of only 228 units. N1 cars were produced to compete in Group N racing, and included the Nismo aero kit; but also, to improve the cars reliability during endurance events, an upgraded engine block, higher flow oil and water pumps, and more reliable ball-bearing turbo-chargers. The GT-R’s 16″ wheels were replaced by 17″x8 wheels with 225/50/17 tires. N1 GT-Rs were made lighter (1470 kg) by removing the ABS, rear wiper, air-conditioner and radio, and installing lighter headlights. All N1 cars were painted in color code 326 (Crystal White). The list price of the N1 was ¥ 5 million.
To celebrate the success of the GT-R in both N1 and Group A racing, Nissan introduced the V-Spec (“Victory Specification”) car on February 3, 1993. The V-Spec added Brembo brakes and a retuned ATTESA-ETS system to the Nismo package, as well as 17″ BBS wheels with 235/45/17 tires. The V-Spec had a list price of ¥ 5.260 million. N1 cars were then based on the V-Spec.
Finally on February 14, 1994 the V-Spec II was released, the only change to the V-Spec being wider 245/45/17 tires. Total production of the V-Spec I and II was 1,453 and 1,303 units respectively.
Nismo R34 Z-Tune
On 14 January 2005, Nismo resurrected the R34 GT-R for one last tour of duty before the introduction of the anticipated next generation GT-R. Labeled as the R34 Z-tune, the Nismo engineers made the car the most powerful road-going GT-R ever created. Using rebuilt R34s with much technology borrowed from the GT500 Racing GT-Rs and endurance racing GT-Rs, the Z-tune has a 2.8 L twin turbo instead of the stock 2.6 L engine, racing pistons, connecting rods and camshafts, and an upgraded ECU, giving the Z-tune 500 hp 370 kW and 540 Nm of torque. The car became affectionately known as the “Mother of all GT-Rs” and is carries a price tag of about US$ 170,000. Nismo has stated that this car will be a limited edition, and only 20 will ever be made and sold.
The GT-R of the 1990s included a 2.6 L straight six-cylinder twin-turbo motor producing 206 kW (276 hp). The turbo-chargers were of a hybrid steel/ceramic design allowing them to spool up faster due to the light nature of the ceramic exhaust wheel.
Power was delivered to all four wheels using an electronically-controlled all wheel drive system referred to by Nissan as the ATTESA-ETS system. The ATTESA-ETS system uses two G-Sensors mounted underneath the centre console, which feed lateral and longtitudinal inputs to the ECU. The ECU would then control the feed of power by allowing a limited amount to be delivered to the front wheels via an electronic torque split converter. V-Spec models were equipped with (amongst other things), a faster reacting ATTESA-ETS Pro four-wheel drive system with adjusted ECU settings, improving oversteer considerably.
The car also had computer-controlled all wheel steering system referred to as HICAS. The HICAS system activated when the vehicle exceeded 80 km/h and controlled the steering of the rear wheels in the same direction as the front to improve turn in on entry to corners.
While the published figures from Nissan were as quoted above, practical tests showed the car had a factory power output of closer to 220 kW at the flywheel. The lower published figure was Nissan’s response to the need to abide by a gentleman’s agreement between the Japanese auto manufacturers not to release a car to the public exceeding 206 kW of power output.
The Skyline GT-R is a popular target for modification due to the strength of the RB26DETT engine. This engine, common to all GT-Rs, is widely considered as one of the most durable engines when heavily modified. Many aftermarket suppliers have produced “bolt on” upgrade kits for the GT-R to boost power output beyond the factory specification.
The ceramic turbochargers that are equipped from the factory, are set to make 7psi of boost pressure (0.5bar). Being ceramic, they are not as durable as a steel turbine would be. Most owners limit their boost to 14psi of boost, as they are prone to shattering at high heat conditions when past 14 psi. A common upgrade for the turbocharger is the N1 turbo. It is equpped on the RB26DETT-N1 version of the Skyline GT-R engine, intended for motorsports. It is capable of much higher power than the standard turbochargers.
Without making upgrades to the mechanical parts of the engine, it is commonly believed that the engine can handle around 500 hp. After this level of power, it is most important to upgrade the oil system of the engine. The factory oil-pump is not capable of properly lubricating the engine at higher power levels. After that, most owners upgrade the pistons, and connecting rods. As well as the bolts that secure the cylinder head, and connecting rods.
Some tuning garages in Japan, UK, and Australia, have managed to upgrade the RB26DETT to power levels past 1000hp. Veilside, in Japan, has modified an R34 Skyline GTR to 1600hp. They have also modified an R32 Skyline GTR to accelerate to 300kmh in 20 secs
The GT-R’s success in motor racing was formidable, particularly in the annual 1,000 km race at the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, Australia, where the champion in 1991 and 1992 was a GT-R (despite receiving additional 100 kg in weight penalties and a turbo pop off valve in 1992 due to its unbeatable performance), and in the Japanese GT series where it has remained dominant up to the present day.
No other race victories by the GT-R could escape without controversies, at the 1990 Macau Grand Prix Guia touring car race, the factory backed R32 driven by Masahiro Hasemi led the race from the start to the finishing line which caused a wave of protests by the European entrants. The following year, the car was forced to carry a weight penalty of 140 kg and finished in fourth place. The GT-R’s success at Mount Panorama in 1991 and 1992, both by Jim Richards, led to a change in formula regulations, which came to exclude turbocharged and four-wheel-drive cars in subsequent years. It also led indirectly to a move to the Super Touring Car category in the JTCC and the creation of the JGTC grand touring car series in Japan, where GT-Rs can only compete in rear-wheel drive form.
In the UK Andy Middlehurst took the Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32) to two consecutive championship wins in the National Saloon Car Cup. Other championship titles include the 1993 Spanish Touring Car Championship.