Nissan Skyline GT-R - Car That Defined Nissan's Racing History

November 12, 2015
Cars, Spotlight
Marijan Malcevic

  • Nissan Skyline GT-R R32

In today’s world of racing, Nissan is being represented by various versions of GT-R racing cars, from GT500 and GT3-spec cars to LMP1 prototype. The GT-R mark has been synonymous with racing Nissans for more than 45 years.

The GT – R story had begun in 1969

The story about GT-R versions of Nissan Skyline started with the first Skyline GT-R back in 1969. The GT-R was born as a special version of the third generation Nissan Skyline (C10) and was also used for the fourth generation (C110) until 1973, when Nissan ceased its production. It was a rear-wheel drive car with 160 hp.

The GT-R was reborn with the 8th generation Nissan Skyline (R32) in 1989. The Skyline GT-R became the flagship of Nissan performance and R32 became Nissan’s most successful racing car ever.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32, 1989, 8th generation of Nissan Skyline

The GT-R mark was reborn in 1989 with the 8th generation of Nissan Skyline

Four-wheel-drive was a factor of success

It’s important to talk about the Nissan Skyline R31 GTS-R, which was the predecessor of the R32 GT-R, because the car was successful in racing and both models shared certain mechanics. For example, the R31 was the first Nissan with a proprietary 4-wheel steering system, dubbed as the HICAS (High Capacity Active Steering), and it was only the later generations that inherited the system. Unlike other rivaling racing cars, the GT-R had a four-wheel-drive system (ATTESA E-TS) and that was one of the factors which made it so successful.

Limited production of Nismo versions

The R32 GT-R prototype was first produced in 1988. The first six GT-R Nismos were built in 1989the other 554 were all built in 1990. The production was limited to 560 vehicles, 60 for races and 500 for public sale. The only available color was Gunmetal Grey. The total production of Skyline R32 GT-R was 43.934 cars (40.390 standard GT-Rs, 560 Nismo Group A cars, 2753 V-Spec cars, and 228 N1 race cars).

6-cylinder 2.6-litre engine was used for Nissan Skyline R32

6-cylinder 2.6-litre engine was used for Nissan Skyline R32

Engine of choice was RB26DETT

The RB26DETT engine was used (2.6L 6-cylinder straight) for R32 GT-R. The engine block was made of cast iron, while the cylinder head (with 24 valves) was made out of aluminium. For racing purposes, Nismo developed a modified RB26DETT N1 engine with a balanced crankshaft, improved water and oil channels, upgraded pistons and top piston rings, camshafts and turbochargers. That engine was used for many years later for R33 and R34 models.

Gentlemen’s agreement decreased the power

The engine was designed for 500hp in racing trim, but according to the Japanese car makers’ “gentlemen’s agreement,” the power was limited to 280hp. The electronic boost control had a small physical restriction in the control lines. It was marked in yellow so the new owner could remove it and enjoy a safe factory boost increase. After this increase, the car would put out around 310 hp and could do 0–100 km/h in 4.7 seconds and a quarter mile in 12.8 seconds.

Nissan Skyline GTR R32 interior

The interior of Nissan Skyline GTR R32

Lots of gauges in the interior

Compared to the ordinary Nissan Skyline R32, the GT-R had a significantly larger intercooler, larger brakes and aluminium front guards and bonnet. Among other distinguishing features are the flared front and rear-wheel arches. More supportive seats were fitted and the turbo boost gauge and digital clock were removed from inside the instrument cluster. The clock was replaced with a torque meter that indicated how much torque was being delivered to the front wheels (0%–50%). Oil temp, voltage, and turbo boost gauges were fitted just above the climate control.

Skyline GT-R R32 broke the Nordschleife production car record

The chief engineer, Naganori Ito, intended to use the car for Group A racing, so the design specification was drawn up in conjunction with a copy of the category A rules. The Nordschleife production car record at the time of development was 8m45s (set by a Porsche 944). Nissan test driver Hiroyoshi Katoh reset the record with the time of 8m20s.

Nissan Skyline GT-R Bathurst 1000

Nissan Skyline GTR R32 won the Bathurst 1000 race in 1991 and 1992

29 JTCC wins in 29 races for Nissan

R32 GT-R Nissan dominated the Japanese Touring Car Championship (JTCC), winning 29 races from 29 starts, taking the series title five years in a row, from 1989 to 1993, with Masahiro Hazemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiko Kageyama as championship winning drivers. The car was dominant also in Group N racing (Super Taikyu series) and together with R33 GT-R scored 50 wins from 1991 to 1997.

Immediate success in Australia

The R32 GT-R was introduced into the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1990 and promptly ended the reign of the previously all-conquering Ford Sierra Cosworth, winning the championship from 1990 to 1992. Nissan also won the biggest Australian race Bathurst 1000 in 1991 and 1992, with Jim Richards and Mark Skaife at the wheel in both races.

Nissan Skyline GTR, Australia auto view

The monster from Japan conquered Australia

Godzilla became one of the most popular cars in the world

This success led to the Australian motoring press nicknaming the car Godzilla due to it being a “monster from Japan”. That name spread all over the world and the Nissan Skyline GTR with next two generations (R33 and R34) became one of the most popular sportscars in the world.

Video : Mark Skaife with Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 at the 1991 Bathurst 1000

Lower price was an advantage

One of the advantages was that it had a lower price compared to its rivalsthe GT-Rs were affordable for ordinary speed lovers, not only to those who were rich. Although the Skyline GTR was never manufactured outside of Japan and export markets were limited, the car soon became an icon across the world and notable through pop culture, amateur races, tuning events…

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32, Godzilla

Australian motoring press nicknamed the car Godzilla

GT-R R33 wasn’t so successful

The R33 GT-R was developed in 1995, with the engine nearly identical to that of the R32 GT-R. The R33 was far from the success of its predecessor in racing. One remarkable result was to get the 10th place overall and the 5th place in GT1 class at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Nismo’s drivers fought against the mighty McLaren F1 GTRs. One year later, the Skyline GT-R LM returned to Le Mans, this time carrying an enlarged RB26DETTs displacing 2.8 liters. Again competing in the GT1 class, the trio of Japanese drivers finished 15th overall.

GT-R R34 was popular, but not successful in racing

The R34 GT-R, which was released in 1999, had a similar story. It was a globally popular car but without notable results in racing. The production of the R34 GT-R was stopped in 2002 and that was the official end of the story of Skyline GT-R as one of the most popular sports cars in the world.

Nissan Skyline GT-R, R32, R33, R34, R35

4 generations of Nissan GTR – R32, R33, R34, R35