Nissan GTR : The Evolution of Godzilla

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To say the Nissan GTR brand is something of a Japanese motoring institution would be quite a massive understatement.

Affectionately nicknamed ‘Godzilla’ by owners and enthusiasts over the years, the brand – and that badge – are now instantly recognisable the world over. But we have to look back over 40 years to see where the seeds of the GTR’s long legacy were first sown.

Originally introduced in 1969 as a 160bhp two-litre straight-six version of the four door Skyline sedan and intended to showcase the Skyline’s racing heritage, it was released in coupe form 2 years later. Both versions were rear wheel drive. Quickly gaining popularity, Nissan decided to commission a successor with the release of the second generation Skyline in 1973, again utilising a two-litre 6-cylinder, but this time available only in coupe form. Unfortunately a fuel crisis put a spanner in the works; demand for high performance models dried up, and only 197 models were ever built during the short production run. Although the Skyline name continued on in various lower-powered guises, for a number of years the flagship GTR brand lay dormant, and Godzilla slept.

It wasn’t until 1989 that the beast was woken from its slumber, with Nissan reviving the badge for its R32 Skyline model. Already available in a lukewarm version – the 212bhp, 2.5 Turbo ‘GTS-T’ – the more ferocious GTR upped the ante considerably. A number of notable features differentiated the GTR from its milder siblings; wider front and rear arches, larger brakes, more sculpted and supportive bucket seats, an advanced 4WD system and most notably, the first incarnation of the famed 2.6 litre, 6-cylinder twin-turbo RB26DETT engine, producing somewhere in the region of 320bhp. Officially though, this was claimed by Nissan to be 276bhp, owing to the infamous and informal ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ in place between Japanese manufacturers of the time –  an agreed and restricted baseline on published power figures. 

The R32 GTR was a critical success, outperforming some of the fastest competitors of the time and besting the Porsche 944’s Nordschliefe lap record of 8 mins and 45 seconds.

In 1993, the R33 GTR was introduced as the R32’s successor. Utilising the same basic formula as before – wider flanks, 4WD, RB26DETT – the R33 was every bit as devastatingly effective as its predecessor, and achieved a similar degree of success, spawning some limited edition variants such as the VSpec and Nismo models. Although heavier than the slightly more nimble R32, it did benefit from certain improvements – electronic HICAS (as opposed to hydraulic), a more rigid chassis, and an active LSD on the V-Spec models.

Production of the R33 ceased in 1998, with Nissan ushering out its replacement – the R34 – in early 1999. Again opting to go with the same tried and tested approach as before in terms of engine and transmission (bar a switch to a Getrag 6-speed gearbox), the R34 GTR was nonetheless a more technological tour de force than the previous models; more advancements were made to the electronically controlled 4WD system, whilst a 5.8” LCD screen was added to the dash to allow drivers to view boost settings, G forces and an array of other readouts. As with its predecessors, the R34 was also available in a number of limited run special editions before production ceased in 2002.

The R32, R33 and R34 GTR models all followed a very similar design path during the 13 years that they were in production. Like Porsche with their perpetual and iconic 911 shape housing its rear-slung engine, Nissan realised that they had hit upon a very successful formula with the first model and opted for evolution rather than revolution with subsequent releases. Visually similar bar contemporary styling updates, the GTR models all benefitted from the same methodology of an advanced 4WD system married to the heart and soul of the GTR experience, the inimitable RB26DETT engine. It was this engine which ultimately came to define what the GTR meant to most fans, and which helped coin its Godzilla nickname: domination of all rivals.

Anyone who has driven an unmodified GTR and also a tuned version can attest that the difference between the two is staggering. So widespread is the tuning scene built around the GTR, and so responsive is that particular engine to tuning, that an unmodified one feels almost strangled nowadays; restricted, its boost throttled by electronics and its narrow airways selfishly limiting the amount of oxygen reaching the engine.

Like Mike Tyson in his prime, full of rage and pacing the ring floor but with his hands tied together, it almost feels like a disservice to inhibit such an engine; to not increase the boost, let the engine breathe more freely and allow the car to cast off its shackles and flex its muscles. The tuning ethos which has built up around the GTR has grown to the degree that an unmodified car is now the exception to the rule.

But what else could we expect when the RB26DETT has proven to be so strong, and even a simple Stage 1 upgrade – replacing the exhaust system, downpipe, intercooler, air filters, remap – can push the car close to a useable and reliable 400bhp? How far you go after that depends entirely on your bank balance; it’s not unheard of for some GTR owners to run their cars up to 600bhp, 800bhp, even 1000bhp or more.

By the time that Nissan began working on the R34’s replacement – the R35 GTR, finally shedding off its ‘Skyline’ moniker’ – the RB26DETT was beginning to get a little long in the tooth, despite its capabilities and reliability. So with the new GTR came a new engine; the 3.8 V6 twin-turbo VR38DETT.

Potential customers who may have been worried that the new engine would be too complex or hampered by environmentally-friendly restrictions need not have been concerned; like its forerunner, the VR38DETT has proven to be equally robust and malleable, proudly allowing the R35 to uphold and continue the tuning legacy of the GTR brand.

What will be of interest to GTR owners and potential owners worldwide will be the technical specification of the upcoming R36 GTR. To date, Nissan have released no firm details on the car but there have been strong hints that it will be a hybrid, with electric motors – perhaps one at each wheel – augmenting the combustion engine under the bonnet and also being utilised to fine-tune handling and cornering characteristics.

How this factors into the GTR tuning market is anyone’s guess at this point, but we would be very surprised if this aspect of ownership is something that Nissan hasn’t considered given the history of its brand. No matter the outcome, the GTR’s long legacy and the multi-million pound worldwide tuning industry build around it will no doubt continue – in some shape or form.



About Author

Gaz is an avid car enthusiast who has been part of the RMS admin team for over 10 years. In his spare time he enjoys writing car articles, teaching his son bad manners and fantasising about his lottery win garage.

RMS Forum Comments

johnm replied at 09:23, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
For the R32, the step down from the GTR was the 2.0 inline 6 turbo gtst and it had the hicas too 8-| Wasnt until the r33 did they up the gtst to a 2.5 turbo.
Gaz replied at 09:35, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
Noted and revised (Y)
euge07 replied at 10:34, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
r34 gtr :heart::heart:
Neil_M replied at 10:34, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
Great article @Gaz I must get an R32 or R33 GTR at some stage.
TheDaniel replied at 17:31, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
Skylines are some of the greatest cars ever built and my personal favourites. Would love another some day. R33 GTR is my choice!
anlygi replied at 18:29, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
I have more want for an R34 GTR V Spec than any other car on the planet except maybe an F40.
SMURF1 replied at 18:35, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
[email protected] I love skylines...... OO______OO
davey-dimples replied at 18:45, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
Did the R32 GTR for sale in the classifieds find a new home ... I enjoyed ogling it and now its gone :(
Eager replied at 21:31, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
Seen the price of 34 GTR's lately ? Crazy money.
JH86 replied at 23:08, Tue 04 Apr, 2017
| For the R32, the step down from the GTR was the 2.0 inline 6 turbo gtst and it had the hicas too 8-| Wasnt until the r33 did they up the gtst to a 2.5 turbo.
The 20det is still very capable tbh