Nissan Skyline GT-R | Ultimate Guide To Every Generation

It’s a car that dominated race circuits, starred in Hollywood movies, and kept tuners entertained for decades. Here’s your ultimate guide to every generation of the Nissan Skyline GT-R.

Japanese performance cars have seen their values spike in recent years, and the Nissan Skyline GT-R has often been found right at the top of that market boom.

The reason why is a simple case of supply and demand: for many people, the Nissan Skyline GT-R is the ultimate JDM model, and that status brings a suitably hefty price tag with it.

So, why are these cars so revered? Let’s take a quick tour through history to find out.

Nissan Skyline GT-R Guide

Nissan Skyline GT-R: Hakosuka

Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R ‘Hakosuka’

The ‘Hakosuka’ is where the Nissan GT-R story begins. Following a merger with fellow Japanese car marque Prince, Nissan nabbed Prince’s Skyline sedan model and slapped a Nissan badge on its newly prepared successor. However, the Skyline wasn’t just any old inherited family saloon. The Prince motor company was a regular entrant into Japan’s most prestigious races, and in the past it had used earlier Skyline models to take on Porsche – and win! Happily, that tradition of sporting prowess trickled through to the reborn Nissan-branded Skyline when it debuted in the late sixties.

Nicknamed ‘Hakosuka’, or ‘Boxy Skyline’ in English, a special high-performance variant of the car – known as the 2000 GT-R – arrived in 1969. The idea was simple: build a vehicle that was equally at home on both the city streets of Saitama, and the slick tarmac at Suzuka race circuit.

To achieve this, Nissan turned to a man named Shinichiro Sakurai. Sakurai-san had led the development of a Prince racecar know as the R380. Practically unheard of over here in the West, the R380 was a coupe-style prototype that won the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix. I guess you could think of it as Japan’s answer to the Ford GT40. Anyway, Nissan decided that the engine they wanted to put in the Skyline GT-R was the same 2.0-litre straight-six that Prince used in the R380. So, who better to task with the job than the man who originally designed it? Of course, the engine did have to be detuned for road use, but the rest, as they say, is history.

In stock form, the Hakosuka GT-R’s ‘S20’ engine redlined at 7500rpm and kicked out 170hp, which felt rather lively in 1969 – especially in something which weighed just 1100kg. What’s more, it also featured a five-speed manual gearbox and disc brakes at the front – all of which was pretty high-tech for the late 1960s.

Then, in 1971, the GT-R’s four-door silhouette was switched out for a two-door coupe body style. These new and improved cars were equipped with wider tyres, a wider track width, and shorter wheelbase. On top of that, a boot lid spoiler came as standard too. These evolutions helped the GT-R to maintain in its early dominance on the race circuit, culminating in more than 30 consecutive race wins over an 18-month period.

Naturally, these sporting successes were followed by sales on dealer forecourts. However, still only around 2000 examples of the Hakosuka GT-R were ever built, so today they’re considered a highly valuable classic. As such, most modified versions are kept very tasteful, much like this one.

Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R ‘Kenmeri’

By 1973, the Nissan Skyline GT-R had a very different look. A development of the coupe silhouette that the Hakosuka ended with, the next generation of GT-R emulated its sporty Stateside counterparts by incorporating a fastback rear end. A slightly more luxurious interior was another nod to the fact that the American market was intended to be a big part of the second-gen GT-R’s future. This was something that became pretty evident in the car’s advertising campaign too, which was centred around a fictional young Western couple called Ken and Mary. So, if you’re wondering where the ‘Kenmeri’ nickname comes from, it’s as simple as that.

Sadly, the oil crisis put an end to the GT-R’s American dream, and in fact, stricter emissions regulations nearly wiped out the Kenmeri Skyline entirely. Happily, before Nissan pulled the plug on it, 197 GT-R examples did make their way into the hands of customers. Nevertheless, if the Hakosuka is considered rare, then the Kenmeri is on a whole other level of scarcity.

That’s a shame really, because on paper the Kenmeri GT-R makes for an interesting vehicle. It retained exactly the same ‘S20’ straight-six as found in the Hakosuka, as well as the accompanying five-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential. Similarly, four-wheel independent suspension was another feature carried over between the two cars. However, unlike the Hakosuka, the Kenmeri benefitted from disc brakes all-round, which should’ve made a big difference on the track. That said, the Kenmeri was also a little bit heavier than the Hakosuka in roadgoing form, so it would’ve been interesting to see how the two cars stacked up against each other in reality.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much opportunity for such comparisons to be made, as Nissan’s motorsport division was paused; its resources and manpower having to be spent on developing new emissions-related tech instead.

In fact, with the Kenmeri GT-R canned after just six months on sale, the world would have to wait another 16 years for those famous three letters to return…

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32

If you’re going to do a reboot, you’ve got to make sure it’s good. With hindsight, it seems almost silly to have worried about whether or not the R32 Skyline GT-R would live up to its badge’s billing, but there were certainly question marks hanging over the car in the build up to its launch.

Since the Kenmeri, Nissan had built further sporting variants of its Skyline models, such as the R31 GTS-R, but none bore the GT-R name. None of them lived up to the Hakosuka’s legacy either. So, if Nissan was to finally revive the GT-R moniker, its engineers knew that they’d have to step things up a notch.

Illness meant that Nissan could no longer rely on Shinichiro Sakurai to deliver the goods, so instead the task went to his understudy – Naganori Ito. Ito-san had headed the development of the outgoing R31, and given the car’s mixed reception, the pressure was on to get the R32 right.

If he was going to do the GT-R name justice, Ito-san knew that the emphasis would have to be placed upon track performance. An upgraded engine was therefore high on his to-do-list, and so the R32 became the first GT-R to be blessed with the now-legendary RB26 motor. This was effectively a twin-turbocharged, bored-out version of the existing 2.0-litre RB block used in the previous car. However, it now had a capacity of 2.6 litres, and an official power output of 276hp. I say ‘official’ because at the time Japanese marques were bound to a so-called ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ that none of their road cars would exceed that figure. In reality though, the R32 GT-R was producing something closer to the 310hp-mark.

The engine wasn’t the R32’s party trick though. Instead, that was its all-wheel drive system. Known as ATESSA E-TS, the car was engineered with an electronic system that could vary how much torque was sent to each axle. So, compared to its biggest rivals – all of which happened to be solely rear-wheel drive – the R32 GT-R had a major traction advantage.

On the racetrack, this translated into a form of dominance that not even the Hakosuka could claim to have achieved. Between 1989-1993, the R32 GT-R won every single professional race it entered in Japan, and it caused quite a stir in Australia too. In fact, the Aussies got so tired of the exotic Nissan trouncing their domestic Fords and Holdens that they brandished it with the beastly ‘Godzilla’ nickname. It certainly wasn’t intended as a compliment, but the Godzilla title was quickly claimed as a badge of honour for the car, and these days simply adds to the GT-R’s near-mythical status.

It goes without saying that the R32 was just as good a road car as it was a race car, and thankfully Nissan got to make quite a few more of them than the original Hakosuka and Kenmeri. So, if you’re thinking of buying one second-hand, be sure to check out our dedicated buyer’s guide, which is crammed full of extra R32 details. There’s also a vast array of modified examples for you to check out around the website, so why not give some of those a look while you’re here.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R33

What’s more difficult than rebooting a beloved brand? I’d argue that it’s coming up with a sequel.

Unfortunately for the R33 GT-R, that trend seems to apply to the Skyline too. Compared to both the R32 and the R34 that succeeded it, the R33 doesn’t tend to get as much love. So why is that?

Well, it’s not because the R33 is a bad car. Instead, it’s mostly down to the fact that Nissan altered a key part of the GT-R’s identity: its size. The R32 had a reputation for being a sporty, nimble car, and so when Nissan decided to extend the Skyline’s wheelbase for the R33 (and add 80kg of weight on top), people feared that the GT-R was heading down the wrong direction. Even today, nearly 30 years later, you’ll hear similar criticisms voiced about it.  At the time, concerns were hardly eased in the form of motorsport either, as although the R33 did achieve success (in a highly modified form) in Japan’s Super GT Championship, it lacked the international sporting credibility that the R32 had built for itself.

Nevertheless, if you were to actually get behind the wheel of one, you probably wouldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Sure, it was a bit bigger and a bit heavier, but it was still unmistakably a GT-R. In fact, in many ways, it was better.

The ATESSA-ETS four-wheel drive system received a handful of upgrades which ultimately enabled it to react quicker to its environment. Plus, despite the increase in dimensions, the sleeker styling of the car meant that it was more aerodynamic than the R32 as well. The much-loved RB26 powertrain remained under the hood, but again, in slightly better shape than it had been before. For example, whereas the R32 was occasionally criticized for having weak oil pump auxiliaries, this was addressed in the R33. Similarly, the five-speed manual gearbox was strengthened too.

However, if the standard R33 GT-R simply wasn’t to your liking, you were in luck, as the tradition of having multiple trim levels and special editions was another feature that continued on from the R32 days. The most common of which is the V-Spec, or ‘victory-spec’, a variation of the GT-R which was brought in to mark the R32’s success on the track. In this guise, the R33 sits lower than it does as standard, thanks to uprated sports suspension, meanwhile the ‘Pro’ version of the ATESSA system was also fitted for even better roadholding.

Next up there were the N1 models. These Nurburgring specials were perhaps the most hardcore of the initial R33 package options, as ABS, air conditioning, and plenty of other creature comforts were all thrown in the bin in the name of weight saving.

However, if you ignore the GTR-LM (and we’re going to, since there’s only one roadgoing version in existence), the pinnacle of the R33 family tree was the NISMO 400R. Introduced in 1995, the 400R came equipped with a 400hp version of the RB26 engine, as well as a refined cooling system, beefier brakes, and fruitier exhaust. The exterior of the car also got the NISMO treatment, adding aggression to its sleek lines without going overboard.

It’s best not to think about how much a 400R would cost you in the present day though, so instead if you want the R33 to live up to its reputation as being the ‘cheapest used Skyline’, you’re better off setting your sights on a V-Spec.

If you’re serious about getting your hands on one of these, check out our buyer’s guide. Or, if you’ve already got one and now want to start modifying it, give our R33 tuning guide a read instead. There’s also a number of feature cars on the site to give you some inspiration. While it may lack the ultimate street cred of the R32 or R34, the R33 nonetheless remains a brilliant canvas for tuning.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R34

If you’re of a certain age, this is the car that’ll spring to mind when you’re asked to visualize a Nissan Skyline GT-R. The R34 was much more present in Western pop culture than any of its predecessors, taking star roles in both Playstation’s Gran Turismo video games, and Hollywood’s Fast & Furious franchise. In fact, its presence on our living room TV screens probably did far more for the car’s reputation than a successful motorsport history ever would’ve done. And that’s just as well, as the R34 was rarely seen on a racetrack outside of Japan.

That said, don’t go thinking that this car was simply a PR masterclass. There was a reason why it was handed so much respect in the media, and that’s because it had the performance and stature to warrant the attention.

For a start, Nissan addressed the styling complaints about the R33, leaving the R34 with a shorter, boxier silhouette that was reminiscent of the R32. Weight was also kept to a minimal increase, which meant that in the minds of GT-R customers, two important boxes were already ticked before they had even gotten behind the wheel.

Once they did take to the driver’s seat though, their smiles would’ve only grown wider. The R34 was to be the last hurrah for the beloved RB26 engine, and so it was only fair that it received further enhancements for its send-off. The twin turbos, for instance, were switched out for ones that made use of ball bearing architecture, which in turn improved reliability and decreased spool time. Overall, power now unofficially stood at 320hp, without harming the block’s bulletproof reputation.

To go along with that extra oomph, Getrag was enlisted to develop a six-speed gearbox to replace the old five-speed manual transmission, while Brembo were asked to increase the size of GT-R’s brake discs.

Naturally, more goodies came with the limited-edition variants. The V-Spec, for example, once again benefitted from ATESSA ETS-Pro’s electronic differential. In fact, the V-Spec was the only R34 model officially sold in the UK, and if you find one of those British cars, you’ll notice that it also comes equipped with leather seats, stiffer suspension, and three (!) more oil coolers. The ECU settings are programmed slightly differently too in order to deal better with the climate and road conditions that’ll be thrown at the car in this country.

The stripped back N1 trim level made its return as well, while on the other end of the spectrum, M-Spec introduced a more comfortable, laid-back persona to the GT-R.

However, as was the case with R33, the ultimate R34 was built by the likes of NISMO. Known as the Z-Tune, these 20 unicorns were all built atop converted donor cars and featured a bigger 2.8-litre version of the RB26. Carbon fibre was also used in swathes to reduce weight, and as such, the Z-Tune is considered by many as the holy grail of all Skyline GT-Rs, let alone the R34.

These days though, even a V-Spec is likely to set you back in excess of £100,000, but if you’ve got that sort of cash lying around, feel free to check out our R34 buyer’s guide. Plus, if you want to read our hands-on review of the car, you can do so here.

As you can imagine, there’s plenty of modified R34 feature cars for you to cast your eyes over on the site as well, so make sure to give those a look!

Nissan GT-R ‘R35’

Ok, technically speaking, this isn’t a Skyline at all, but it most definitely is a GT-R. The R35 marked a split between the Skyline and GT-R nameplates, perhaps because Nissan felt that to take the GT-R to the next level, they’d have to leave its humble family sedan DNA behind. Instead, the R35’s bespoke platform straddles the divide between sports coupe and all-out supercar, thanks to a spec sheet as nerdy as Professor Frink.

For example, the nitrogen-filled tyres were a much-spoken about element of the R35 upon its launch, such was the nitty gritty detail that had gone into its R&D. The car also boasted impressive-sounding features such as carbon-composite crossmembers, while the engine tasked with replacing the old faithful RB26 had been built in a hermetically sealed lab… whatever that means. What an engine it was, too. Designated the ‘VR38-DETT’ code, its six cylinders were shifted from an in-line orientation to a ‘V’ position, while capacity now stood at 3.8 litres. The twin-turbo idea stuck around from previous GT-Rs, but as the Japanese gentleman’s agreement had been cast aside by 2007, Nissan could now proudly laud the VR38’s 480hp in an official capacity.

In a bid to show off the new GT-R’s capabilities as much as possible, it wasn’t long before the R35 was seen in the realm of motorsport. Like previous iterations, it felt right at home in the Japanese Super GT championship, however the R35 also marked Nissan’s return to elite international racing as well. German duo Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr would drive the car to outright glory in the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship, while a successful GT3 programme would follow suit.

Those race cars were rear-wheel drive in order to fit their respective championships’ regulations, but the GT-R’s staple ATESSA all-wheel drive system remained in place for the roadgoing version. The one found in the R35 is effectively an upgraded variation of the R34 V-Spec’s ATESSA-ETS Pro, whereby varying amounts of torque (and therefore traction) can be sent to each of the car’s four wheels.

Already the most mechanically advanced GT-R ever built when it debuted, Nissan never quite managed to stop tinkering with the R35 over the next decade of the car’s (unusually long) lifespan. The first major facelift arrived in 2011, when revised engine architecture and ECU mapping boosted the VR38’s output to 530hp. A stiffer chassis was introduced too, but then just two years later, power was increased again; this time to 544hp, while the suspension was also reworked. That particular trend continued on into 2015, when ride quality had become the key focus, resulting in more work being done to the car’s underpinnings. Finally, in 2017, the R35 GT-R got a light visual facelift at the front, smoother transmission, and an engine which now kicked out 565hp. Beyond the changes made to the base model, there was also a plethora of limited editions built along the way. In fact, there’s simply too many to cover all of them here.

The most important special editions, however, were arguably the Spec V (for old times’ sake) and the GT-R NISMO. The 2009 Spec V was an homage to the V-Spec cars of yesteryear, and featured a sprinkling of extra engine torque, as well as a weight-loss programme that ensured it remains one of the lightest R35 GT-R variants to date. The NISMO edition, meanwhile first arrived in 2013, but got an update in 2020. The latter version of the car adds more aggressive aero and red trim to the facelifted bodywork, as well as the same turbochargers found in the aforementioned GT3 racecar. Its carbon ceramic brakes are the largest ever fitted to a GT-R, and plenty of carbon was also used in its reworked bodywork to keep weight down. Nissan claims that this means the GT-R NISMO can accelerate to 60mph in less than three seconds, while top speed sits at around the 200mph-mark.

Given how long the R35 GT-R has been around for, we could go and on, however for all the key bits of information you need about buying one, check out our dedicated buyer’s guide. And, as ever, be sure to take a look at some of our R35 feature cars.

The future is almost certainly electric for the GT-R nameplate, but thanks to this lineage of six-cylinder heroes, its legacy amongst the tuner culture will last forever.

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