Can you believe it’s been half a century since Nissan launched its first GT-R? For those of us in Britain the relationship has been far shorter, of course, because no GT-R-badged model was officially launched here until the R33 of the mid-nineties - and even that came in extremely small numbers. But the GT-R has a long and illustrious history, which actually began before Nissan took ownership of that famed trio of letters. The story starts in 1957…
It’s sometimes overlooked, but the car that first birthed the Skyline lineage was produced by Fuji Precision Engineering, better known by its later name, Prince. The 1957 Skyline was nothing like the GT-R cars that indirectly succeeded it; it was a luxury saloon with little interest in performance driving. Until 1969, that is, when Nissan took the helm and decided to use a motorsport-derived Prince 2.0-litre inline-six in the first Nissan-badged Skyline, the KPGC10. With 160hp it provided The Artist Formerly Known As with energetic, revvy performance, while a coupe version that followed created a more purposeful-looking form. The GT-R’s path was set.
But it was still restricted to the Japanese domestic market. The KPG110 arrived in 1973 as a two-door model from the off and used an evolved version of its predecessor’s S20 straight six, so the ingredients for a legend were all there. Although the GT-R’s life was to be cut short before the year’s end thanks to an oil crisis that sent demand for performance models tumbling. Fewer than 200 KPGC110 GT-Rs were built, and the GT-R name lay dormant until the arrival of the R32 in 1989. As we know, that’s when things really got going.
It was never officially sold in Britain, but plenty of R32 Skylines were imported here over time. It became just too tempting for JDM enthusiasts to ignore, what with it turning the three-letter moniker from one that represented delicate sports cars to one that represented supercar-aping turbocharged performance. Nissan dealerships might not have stocked them, but the R32 had a serious impact on the brand’s image on this side of the globe.
It was for good reason, too. The R32 stayed true to the form of its earliest ancestors by using a race-derived engine, the now legendary RB26 twin-turbo 2.6-litre straight-six that produced a gentleman’s agreement 280hp out of the box (or probably a bit more, in truth). But the R32, equipped with Nissan’s ingenious ATTESA four-wheel drive hardware,went further because it was conceived as a homologation model to go racing itself. Nissan fielded it in Group A from 1990 onwards and, as we all know, some of the coolest racing cars ever were born.
In fact, many purists label the R32 as the greatest GT-R of them all. Finding an unmolested one in 2019 is extremely tough, though, as this was the cheapest variant during the most intensive years of car modification. Skylines of this generation were therefore subject to some extensive mechanical and aesthetic changes; you only need to skim through PH’s classifieds to see the extent of work that’s been done and the enormous claims for engine output that accompany them.
But we’ve found a clean example, one that has seemingly slipped through the cracks of the Fast & Furious years and is listed with its factory output and without a wide-arch bodykit or sun visor sticker in sight. It’s covered just 30,000 miles and even the spare wheel’s in place!
This is where the UK story started, officially. Using an updated version of the RB26, the R33 arrived in 1995 with the same gentleman’s agreement output (that rather undersold its potential) and a better ATTESA driveline. It included an active limited-slip differential to provide immense traction and help make this 1.5-tonne car a serious threat to the 993 911 and even Ferrari’s F355.
Nissan’s entry of the GT-R into the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans helped convince traditionalists that the R33 was an icon worthy of attention. The engine beneath the racer’s bonnet was considered to be only lightly modified, yet it raced to tenth place overall and ran amongst significantly more exotic models, including McLaren F1 GTRs and the Ferrari F40 LM. And, well, it looked awesome in GT1 trim.
Conversely, though, the racer perhaps also played a key part in encouraging so many to drastically increase the output of their R33s. The R32 had shown that the RB26 motor was capable of two or even three times the factory output, so when the R33 arrived numbers were edging north of 800hp. See the car we’ve found in the classifieds, which is said to be in 850hp specification.
It is running with a NISMO-sourced N1 block, the one that was used in the Group A and Group N racers, and has gained Tomei pistons and rods, as well as an HKS counter crank to help the motor spin more freely. Added to a series of surrounding upgrades too long to list here, it’s a recipe fit for Gran Turismo; although in real life it’ll cost you thirty-three thousand pounds, not credits.
Nissan introduced its next GT-R just before the close of the 20th century with the same 280hp output as the earlier cars from the RB26 motor - or so it said - and like the R33 before it, some of the biggest improvements from factory were to be found within its driveline. Now, the two-door could place its power down with tremendous confidence, helping it to do as its older siblings had and provide the real-world performance to worry Stuttgart, Maranello and the rest.
Prices for UK cars by this point had, admittedly, increased beyond the £50k mark, so the GT-R was no longer significantly undercutting its rivals. And while the R34 made strides forward in terms of ergonomics, usability and design (as far as the tastes of the time were concerned), it still couldn’t come close to European alternatives for plushness and cabin quality. But in many ways, that was typical of the Skyline breed. And it certainly wasn’t lacking tech.
When the first Fast and the Furious film came out in 2001, enthusiasm to modify GT-Rs skyrocketed - the R34, despite being the latest version, was unable to escape the trend completely. That makes the standard one we’ve found on the PH classifieds all the more special. It comes with an all-original interior and even the engine bay stickers that so rarely survive are in place. The fitment of a NISMO front bumper, G-Attack suspension and an HKS boost controller were all done from factory.
The Skyline moniker was dropped when the most recent GT-R arrived in 2007, because Nissan wanted to use the name for non-performance cars in its home market. But, as we all know very well, the R35 picked up where the last car left off - and then took several strides forward. No longer laden with a gentleman’s agreement output and using a new 3.8-litre twin-turbo straight-six, the R35 arrived 12 years ago with a supercar-worrying 485hp.
It was much, much heavier, tipping the scales at 1,740kg, mostly thanks to its much larger structure and all the extra hardware to enable its performance. But the tech within helped it mask the mass with savage straight-line performance and enormous mechanical grip. Flat out, the GT-R could hit 62mph in under four seconds and nudge 200mph, plus, with 434lb ft of torque, rolling acceleration was enough to embarrass far pricier machines.
Of course, this most ferocious GT-R still didn’t win over everyone. Its performance would impress all, but its weight and the way it went about things wasn't perhapst to all tastes. This wasn’t its brief, though; instead, it set out to take the GT-R to new heights in a manner familiar to the previous versions - and it did that very well. So much so, in fact, that the vast majority of R35s in Britain have received some sort of modification, because they can so reliably handle it. Litchfield’s GT-R LM20 was offered with apparently conservative 675hp output - and, as we found out in 2017, suited that power output just perfectly.
We’ve managed to sift through the tuned cars to find a 2013 R35 that comes with no enhancements, though. It gets the later 550hp factory output and is finished in black, so as far as R35s go, it looks to be a mature option. And at £44k, it’s a heck of a lot of performance for the money - just as every GT-R should be.
Even more than a decade later, the R35 has the power to shock - something Nissan seems keen to build on with the latest raft of revisions. Best news of all? Bayside Blue is back as well...