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Friday 25th January 2013


PH HEROES: NISSAN SKYLINE GT-R R34

A hero on screen, road and track we celebrate Nissan's mighty R34


Like all true PH Heroes the Nissan Skyline does things its own way. That way mainly comprising the relentless pursuit of technology to set new boundaries, confound expectation and, just occasionally, really annoy Porsche. In both the virtual and real world Nissan has set its own agenda and forged a car with a unique and unmistakable identity, carefully managing the GT-R's role as an all-conquering hero car for generations of gamers into exactly that for the same folk as they graduate into the real world of performance cars. No small feat. No mean car.

Final Skyline also the meanest looking
Final Skyline also the meanest looking
We could have focused on any car from the GT-R lineage for these purposes. The current one will, no doubt, have its moment in the sun on these pages. But we'll concentrate on the R34, the last to wear the Skyline badge and the one that truly bridged the gap between the GT-R's reputation as a gaming legend and a giant-killing supercar slayer.

The example featured is a rare beast indeed - a totally standard V-Spec R34 GT-R exactly as they were sold in the UK from 1999 in a limited run of specially imported cars for 54,000 a pop. Modding is at the heart of Skyline culture and most of those that went into private hands will have been tweaked (the only UK car currently in the PH classifieds is a typical example) but this one from Nissan's historic fleet is exactly as they came, 80 cars eventually following the 100 R33s imported by Nissan in 1997 and SVA'd for UK roads by Skyline experts Middlehurst.

Famously tuneable RB26DETT engine
Famously tuneable RB26DETT engine
Preaching to the converted
Each R34 required 32 hours of conversion work, including a new ECU to run on UK fuel, Connolly leather for the seats, oil coolers for the transfer box, gearbox and engine and more besides. 55mm shorter in wheelbase than the R33 (75mm shorter overall) and, according to Nissan, 56 per cent stiffer in the body it also got a six-speed Getrag gearbox as standard. Lighter wheels, revised Super HICAS four-wheel steering and ball bearing turbos were also fitted, the latter contributing to an increase in torque from the R33's 271lb ft to 289lb ft, in standard form at least.

Famously tweakable, Skyline experts Abbey Motorsport reckon 400hp-plus is easily attainable with boost raised to around 1.2bar from the standard 0.9bar. With a boost controller, mappable ECU, racing cats and quality aftermarket downpipe and exhaust system a safe 430hp is achievable without pushing the standard injectors or transmission too hard. As delivered the cars were putting out 340hp, considerably more than advertised though less than many achieved. Not bad for a 2.6-litre six.

The view many of us know from virtual experience
The view many of us know from virtual experience
Rear lights glowing like afterburners, the view most recognisable to those of us raised on hours of Gran Turismo is the Skyline's rear, those circular lights incongruous against the hard-edged blockiness but creating an iconic visual signature. To see that in the metal after long nights in the virtual is almost surreal.

Age shall not weary them
It's aging well too. It lacks the origami sharpness of the current GT-R but years haven't dimmed the sheer aggression and, ahem, powerfully built swagger. There's some lovely detailing too, from the carbon fibre diffuser to the gold Brembo calipers nestling within anthracite alloys. It's one of the best looking engine bays you'll ever see too; all braided lines, Nismo-branded fittings and expensive looking garnish surrounding a blood-red cam cover nestled beneath a burly looking strut brace. OK, it's a geek's car. But it plays to its chosen audience well.

Interior is surprisingly simple and straightforward
Interior is surprisingly simple and straightforward
There's a classic simplicity about the interior, only the odd bit of 90s Nissan parts bin switchgear detracting from the experience. Of course the GT-R is anything but simple beneath but for all that reputation it's a pretty straightforward twist'n'go machine.

It's amazing how compact it feels - narrow especially - against more modern cars and how this contrasts with the muscular image. For a car famous for its electronic trickery your interfaces with it are refreshingly mechanical and analogue too. The shifter has a firm, positive action, the steering is weighty but full of feel and surprising delicacy and everything has a deliberate sense of purpose.

Broad spread
The engine is gorgeous too, brimming with character and sensation. At lower revs there's a gruff hint of old-school M BMW about it, but then that's not so surprising really. There's a degree of softness to the initial power delivery too that can lull you into a false sense of security because as the revs build and the turbos start spinning it begins to take on a very different character indeed. Whooshes and gurgles emanate from under the bonnet, the exhaust note hardens and then plays second fiddle to the roar of forced induction as things really pick up. It's a lot revvier than you'd expect of a relatively big lump and really hangs on too, spinning up to the mid sevens with real ferocity. Even in this standard form it feels hugely potent and very, very rapid. It's not a savage wallop of power like you might get from some boosted cars, more a rush of power and, with it, adrenaline that builds and builds.

Feels a lot more potent than the numbers suggest
Feels a lot more potent than the numbers suggest
You sense it's a car that could easily run away with you and even with all that clever stuff to keep you on the straight and narrow one that needs a firm hand to really exploit fully. Chris Harris was less won over by the R34's eccentricities in extremis and, indeed, was moved to write about it in a Tell Me I'm Wrong not so long ago. At a slightly more relaxed pace the surprising delicacy to the controls means there's real satisfaction in keeping things neat, tidy and precise. For a car that looks like such a bully it's actually got real finesse.

Favours the brave
You've got to drive it proactively and hold your nerve though. An easy car to drive at eight tenths, it's one that makes bigger and bigger demands of you the further you're willing to push it.

A true hero car in the real and virtual world
A true hero car in the real and virtual world
And that's what makes it so compelling. It's not a car you master on first acquaintance. Or even second or third. You keep learning with it, always aware it's got a whole lot more to give if you've got the balls. And a karate kick to them if you haven't and try and back out, as both Harris and your humble correspondent can attest.

There are 'better' cars out there, for sure. There are prettier ones. But heroes aren't always good looking or without flaws. Indeed, that's often what makes them interesting. And for a generation of gamers turned drivers there'll always be a place for this car in the hall of the greats.



NISSAN SKYLINE GT-R (R34)
Engine:
2,568cc 6-cyl, twin-turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@6,800rpm*
Torque (lb ft): 289@4,400rpm*
0-62mph: 5.2 sec*
Top speed: 155mph*
Weight: 1,666kg
MPG: N/A (NEDC combined)
CO2: N/A
Price: 54,000 (new)

*Official figures as quoted by Nissan

Author: Dan Trent