The early-1990s Nissan Skyline GT-R wasn’t the first hot version of the Japanese manufacturer’s saloon range, nor the first to carry GT-R badges. But the R32 GT-R car did cement the place of those three letters in the psyche of Nissan aficionados. So much so that when the latest GT-R was launched in 2007, it wasn’t a Skyline at all. But the car of today does tip its hat to the race-bred machine that was first shown to the world 30 years ago.
The R32 type GT-R was the original ‘Godzilla’, a nickname reputedly coined in the offices of the Australian Wheels magazine. It stuck through multiple iterations of the GT-R, right through to today’s R35-shape machine. It was an apt moniker. The R32 was a monster designed to conquer the world of touring car racing.
That explains why the GT-R version of the Skyline coupé had two Garrett turbochargers mated to a 24-valve straight-six engine – each turbo blew three cylinders — of 2.6-litre capacity and the conservative rating of 276bhp, though cars were reputed to roll out of the factory with nearer 300bhp. And, of course, the uprated brakes, the flared arches front and rear, and an aluminium bonnet and front wings.
Then there was four-wheel drive, via an active system that was cutting-edge for the day. It didn’t have a catchy name — the ATTESA acronym stands for Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-terrain — but it was effective on race tracks. During cornering the car would essentially be rear-wheel drive, but under acceleration power would progressively be transferred to the front wheels in the name of traction.
There was four-wheel steering, too, operated by hydraulics that could be locked out for the track. Racing drivers, of course, don’t want the car deciding what the rear end should be doing.
The high-tech Nissan was an immediate success in the Group A tin-top ranks. Nissan dominated on home turf in the Japanese Touring Car Championship, claiming the crown four seasons in a row between 1990 and ‘93. It won in Australia, too, though just the three times! It also claimed victory in the Spa 24 Hours in 1991, with a young David Brabham on the driving roster.
That was a rare success for the car in Europe, at least for the GpA version. But then the R32 GT-R road car was never sold in Europe. Its legend did, however, quickly spread all over the world, which explains an influx of ‘grey’ personal imports that continues to this day.
Japanese R32s — right-hand-drive cars, of course — started coming into the country almost from the moment they went on sale in Japan. How many have reached UK shores isn’t clear, but it is estimated to be somewhere just shy of 150. That makes an early-1990s Skyline GT-R rare today, doubly so if you want one that hasn’t been modified.
The engine is said to be good for 1000bhp with the right single-turbo set-up, and the R32 is loved by the Fast and the Furious set (although it was the R34 that featured in the franchise’s 2003 film). But find an original one and you’ll have a road car that will outstrip most things. Many reckon it’s more than a match for a Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth, only it will set you back perhaps a third of the price and will be much more useable on the road. It offers a rewarding drive even with the active rear-wheel steering. And the thing will rev up to 8000rpm!
Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R
Price new ¥102 million (c£42,000)
Price now £20-£30,000
Engine 2.6-litre, 24-valve twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder
Top speed 156mph
Rivals Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth, BM3 M3 Evo
Verdict The forgotten homologation special road racer that punches above its weight for the money you’ll pay today
Why it’s boom time for Japanese classics
Over the last 10 years a modern classic market has emerged, led by Japanese brands.
As the generation raised on Gran Turismo now looks for affordable ways to get a foot onto the collector’s ladder, Japanese performance cars such as the R32 GT-R are now a realistic option.
In 2014 as the oldest R32s struck the ripe old age of 25, it was possible to import them into the US. This heralded an uptick in prices as international demand grew. In March 2015, Brightwells sold a 1993 “fairly standard” vehicle with 78,000 miles for £7280. Fourteen months later Silverstone Auctions sold a 1994 model with 62,000 miles, non-original paint and part-service history for £20,250. Current vehicles range from £20,000 to £50,000, averaging £33,000.
Despite the R32 being hugely tuneable the market is being led by original, low-mileage cars; in 2017 Bonhams sold an original RHD 1992 R32 GT-R with 4200 miles for £67,000 at Monterey.
The R32 is the most plentiful of recent Skylines with just under 44,000 produced, four times that of the later R34, so apart from the best ultra-low mileage examples prices are unlikely to skyrocket.
Original, unmodified example with under 50,000 miles, £28 – £30,000.
Robert Johnson, Classic and Sports Finance
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