Nissan’s current situation is more tragic when you remember some of its past vehicles. The Z sports car and Patrol SUV are icons in their own right. But when you think of JDM performance, there’s another car that springs to mind: the Nissan Skyline GTR. It’s perhaps the quintessential ‘forbidden fruit’, and its place in Fast and Furious lore only added to its allure. And now, some of the later models are finally eligible for US importation.
Getting a Nissan Skyline GTR in the US
The reason why the Nissan GT-R (note the lack of ‘Skyline’) was such big news when it debuted in 2008 wasn’t just its performance. Up until then, Nissan had never sold it in the US. You could try to import one, but that would require expensive and extensive modifications to meet US safety and emissions standards.
Luckily, after 25 years, US customers can import vehicles without having to meet these regulations. Some states, like California and Hawaii, do have their own regulations. But, for the most part, if you want a Nissan Skyline GTR, you just have to find an importer and pay for the car like in any normal dealership. The importer takes care of all the paperwork and titling, so the only thing left to do is register the car and pay any license fees.
And you actually have several to choose from.
The first Nissan Skyline GTR
Another Japanese carmaker, Prince, had modified its Skyline sedan for racing and kept up with the mid-engined Porsche 904 at the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix. This impressed Nissan so much, that when it bought out Prince, Prince’s engineers were told to begin working on a Nissan racer, based again on the Skyline. This became the 1971 Nissan Skyline GT-R, or as it’s better known today, the ‘Hakosuka’, a portmanteau of ‘hako’ (box) and ‘suka’ (an abbreviation of the Japanese pronunciation for ‘skyline’).
For its time, the Hakosuka GTR was fairly advanced. It had a limited-slip rear differential, front disc brakes, and an inline-6 that would later become a Skyline GTR hallmark. And the Hakosuka was a very successful racer, winning 49 consecutive races in its first 3 years of competition.
Unfortunately, the gas crisis killed the Hakosuka’s replacement, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Nissan made another Skyline GTR. But it would definitely prove to be worthy of the name.
Road & Track called the 1989-1994 R32 Nissan Skyline GTR “a technological powerhouse” for good reason. Like the Hakosuka, the R32 had an inline-6, only with two turbochargers attached. Nissan also gave the R32 Skyline GTR all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. As with the Mitsubishi Montero, these features are relatively normal now, but at the time they were practically unheard-of. And they made the R32 a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack.
The R32 won the Japanese Touring Car Championship in 1990 and 1994. It also won the 1990 24 Hours of the Nurburgring outright. But it was in the Australian Touring Car Championships that the R32 would earn its moniker. After winning the 1990, 1991, and 1992 ATCC, it was nicknamed ‘Godzilla.’
Nissan produced several variants of the R32 Skyline GTR. Hagerty reports Nissan produced 560 Nismo versions in 1990, with a different rear spoiler, body modifications, no rear windshield wiper, and front bumper air intakes. The Nismo version also came with no ABS, steel turbo wheels instead of ceramic, and a cast stainless steel exhaust manifold. After that, R&T reports, came the Vspec and Vspec II models, with a beefed-up transmission, Brembo brakes with larger rotors, and a strengthened clutch. N1 models came with some parts, like the A/C, removed to save weight.
As of this writing, the 1995-1998 R33 Nissan Skyline GTR has just become import-eligible. Jalopnik reports that the R33 tends to be ignored compared to the earlier R32 and later R34, due to the R32’s racing success and the R34’s starring role in Fast and Furious.
Nevertheless, R&T and users on the r/Cars sub-Reddit report that, in many ways, the R33 improved on the R32. It didn’t (allegedly) make more power, due to the gentleman’s agreement, but it had more torque, a stronger transmission, and it resolved an oil pump issue that plagued early R32s. It was also stiffer, with an improved AWD and four-wheel steering system, as well as better weight distribution.
In addition, unlike the R32, a Vspec model was available from the start. Garage Dreams reports that the R33 Vspec featured sportier suspension, with a further-improved AWD system, complete with a limited-slip rear differential. And again, there was an N1 trim, which had no ABS, A/C, stereo system, or even trunk carpet.
Pricing and availability
R32s, in contrast, are both more plentiful and more popular. However, many were modified over the years, which means stock models carry a premium, especially with lower mileages. Nismo and Vspec models are also generally more expensive. Nevertheless, Toprank Importers has several R32 Nissan Skyline GTRs available between $30,000-$40,000.
It’s difficult to gauge R33 pricing because imports are just starting up. However, they seem to be hovering around $50,000-$65,000. Again, Vspec models are more expensive: as of this writing, Montu Motors has an R33 Vspec available for $64,900.
But that doesn’t seem like a lot for getting Godzilla in your garage, though.
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