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skyline gtr

Updated on October 16, 2009
The legendary Skyline GTR Badge
The legendary Skyline GTR Badge

The legendary Skyline GTR

Make no mistake, the Nissan Skyline GTR is completely deserving of its mythical status. This is a car that, for lack of a better term, destroyed the competition. In the late 1980's, Nissan wanted to go racing. And they wanted to win. In order to win, you need a car that handles, accelerates, and brakes better then any other car on the track. 

Enter Skyline GTR.  The R32 Skyline GTR took the racing world by storm, its complete domination was unheard of at the time, to many, the car was unbeatable.  In order to participate in the racing series that they were interested in entering, Nissan had to homologate the car (produce a certain amount of units for sale to the public).  Nissan, in a leap of faith, decided to try their luck with mass sales.  The legend was born.

That very 1980's car on your right is the first of the "modern" Skyline GTR generation. The GTR was originally produced from 1969-1977, at which point it went on a vacation. In 1989, the GTR was back, and it wasn't happy about its long absense! Sporting a squared off, aggreesive, muscular look, the motoring public (at least those fortinute enough to live in Japan at the time) took to the R32 Skyline GTR like butter to bread. Here was a very angry looking car, with its large, wide arches ready to swallow any small children unfortinute enough to wander past. The rear wing sits atop the wide rear end, waiting the do its duty as speeds increase.

This was a car that was all business. To some, it was ugly. To others, it was a prime example of the Japanese take on a muscle car. Mean, and fast. What really made the whole of the motoring world weak in the knee's, however, was not the purposeful, rugged good looks the R32 GTR offered. It was what lurked underneath. Nissan decided that a car can only corner as well as traction allowed it to. So they re-wrote automotive physics. Starting with an all-wheel-drive concept, Nissan developed the ATESSA-ETS all wheel drive (AWD) system. Here was a car, that under normal circumstances, was rear wheel drive. As such, tossing it from corner to corner in a continuous drift was as easy as pie. So just how did Nissan's ATESSA work?

Imagine a car smarter than its driver. Up until this point, AWD cars weren't handling monsters. They tended to understeer and plow through corners without much finesse. Even Audi's legendary quattro was an understeering pig until you really got angry with it and started tossing it from corner to corner. Nissan decided that they needed AWD traction, with rear wheel drive prowess. In order to accomplish this, a massive system of wiring, hydrolics, clutches and transfer cases were incorporated. Various sensors located throughout the car would keep the computer up-to-date on exactly what was happening. From there, the computer would determine the best course of action. Under normal driving, the only wheels recieving power are the rear wheels. Launch the car from a standstill? The various sensors and computers determine that the rear tires are spinning. Time to start transfering power from the rear to the front. Still not quite enough traction? Transfer some more. This also worked while cornering. Where a front wheel drive car would plow and a rear wheel drive car would oversteer, the Skyline GTR would shine. Perfect neutral handling balance was the goal, and that was achieved. Many drivers, keen to drive like a pro, mistook the ATESSA system, believing it would be more conventional and cause understeer. Many a unlucky owner found their car spinning out of control - It was a car that could make a good driver great, and a great drive a pro, but it wouldn't save you, like many owners believed.

Like I said, imagine a car smarter than its driver.


So what about power?

The Skyline GTR was powered by a very underrated, very de-tuned RB26DETT engine, the same engine (albeit in a milder state of tune) as the race cars. Nissan opted for an inline six design. In the name of strength, iron was chosen as the base - an ideal material for an engine with two turbochargers attached to the cylinder head. The turbochargers featured state-of-the-art ceramic turbine wheels, which allowed for nearly instant throttle response, even low in the rpm range. In addition, nissan opted to rate the engine at a mild "276ps", or around 276 horsepower. Many owners found their cars produced closer to 310 horsepower, indicating Nissan was severely underrating the engine due to the gentlemen's agreement between car manufacturers at the time - No car was to exceed 276 horsepower. The agreement however was just that, an agreement, and was not law. As such, many cars of the era, while rated at 276 horsepower, produced more.

Oil Gremlins

All Nissan RB26DETT engines suffer from the same oiling system problems. Early R32 GTR's were particularly likely to experience oilpump failure do to incorrectly sized oil pump drives, and weak oil pumps made of subpar metal. Even the newest RB26DETT engines feature the same problems. The oilpump drive was fixed, but the pump itself was still always very weak. Sustained high rpm operation or repeated hits against the rev limiter could potentially destroy the oilpump, leading to engine failure.

The aftermarket has adressed this issue, with oil pump drives as well as much stronger and larger oil pumps. Unfortinutely, many oil pumps available are incredibly expensive. As such, most owners chose simply to be careful not to over rev their engine, or hit the rev limiter.

Despite the oiling system gremlins of the RB26DETT engine, it powered the Nissan Skyline GTR right up until 2002 when the R34 GTR was discontinued with no successor. The new GTR (Nissan opted to drop the Skyline name and simply go with "GTR") features an all new 3.8 liter twin turbocharged V6 developing 480 horsepower.

There's no such thing as hacking the computer for 1000 horsepower.

Many people believe (as a result of a program on television that will remain unnamed) that the Skyline GTR holds an immense amount of horsepower, that can be unlocked simply by "hacking" the computer (whatever that means - not much, really). It is certaintly possible for an aftermarket engine management system to be used to re-tune fuel and ignition maps, but there will certainly never be the "1000hp" gains people often talk about. At best, a completely stock car could gain 20-30 horsepower with an ECU retune. That's it. There's no 1000 horsepower "hack".

Hopefully this helps to settle this issue, as it's the most ridiculous rumour ever spread about any car... Ever.

The aftermarket

Due to the incredible performance offered by the Nissan Skyline GTR in stock form, the aftermarket was quick to embrace the car. It wasn't long before street GTR's were producing in excess of five hundred horsepower with upgraded turbo and fuel systems. Eventually however, the engine does require a rebuild with stronger components. Many people argue that while a Skyline GTR may be incredibly quick in a straight line, it's the cars track-road handling that really makes it a great car to own. As a result, the aftermarket has also made it possible to replace nearly every component in a Skyline GTR's suspension with adjustable aftermarket parts. As a result of this, the modification potential of a GTR is limitless.

Nissan never intended the Skyline GTR to be a drag car, however that's what many people love most about the car. With it's ATESSA in full tilt, the car will outlaunch most any car on street tires. The best way to launch a Skyline GTR is really very simple (albiet hard on components). Spin the engine nice and high, say around 6000 or 7000rpm. Now drop the clutch and hold on. Be ready, because first is over very quickly, and second isn't much longer. It's very, very easy to get a Skyline GTR up to very illegal speeds in no time at all.

Those looking at a Skyline GTR who are worried about fuel economy had best look elsewhere.  While not terribly thirsty, the Skyline isn't exactly a fuel miser either.  Expect around twenty miles per galon if you have a light foot.  A heavy foot on a racetrack, you'll be lucky to see 100 kilometers to a tank of fuel.


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