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Vintage Views: Nissan Skyline GT-R

When Gran Turismo burst upon the scene back in 1997, one thing immediately became obvious: We all needed a Nissan GT-R. While the driving sim featured many of the day’s top performers, that all-wheel-drive, twin-turbo Nissan stood out like a nuclear warhead at a knife fight.

There was one teeny, tiny, little problem: Even if you had the scratch, the car could not be legally driven on American roads because Nissan didn’t import that model here.

So, you figure, you’d just import one on your own, right? Therein lay the rub: The U.S. government said no. Defy them and bring one in anyway, and you’d face the consequences–like potential confiscation.

That modern GT-R, chassis code R32, debuted during the summer of 1989. The first generation ran through 1994, and not only did it rule Gran Turismo, but it dominated both Japanese and Australian touring car racing.

Here’s some good news: It recently got a little easier to have your very own GT-R. Those first examples have now celebrated their 25th birthday, meaning they can finally be legally imported into the U.S. without any safety or emissions modifications. Any car at least 25 years old automatically gets a pass from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA–although Californians have to meet state emissions specs as well.

Before you just put one on a boat and send it here, however, a caution from someone in the business: John Stagnitta, owner of JDM importing house Black Ops Performance, has been bringing in Japanese vehicles for more than a dozen years and warns, “The oil pumps were not properly seated to the crankshaft. As soon as the pump fails, you have zero oil pressure and you’re done.”

The preemptive fix, he explains, involves pulling the crankshaft and installing what is called a crank collar–or replacing the crank or even the entire engine with one from a later R33-chassis GT-R, since Nissan remedied the problem for the model changeover. Stagnitta also recommends buying a car that has cleared a radiation inspection.

How do you buy a car that’s not a ticking time bomb? Buy from a dealer with the proper resources. “You can’t inspect a Skyline in Japan if you’re Joe Customer,” he says. “You have to deal with someone you can trust. My rule is Google the name of the business and ‘scam.’”

Stagnitta says to budget at least $30,000 for a good car that’s been imported by a known, trusted outfit. If the engine fails due to oil starvation, he cautions, budget at least $5000 for a rebuild, assuming the plug was pulled soon enough.

“The positives are, it’s a race car,” he notes. “An NSX is an exotic. But a Skyline will annihilate it.”

Shopping and Ownership

John Stagnitta, owner of JDM importing house Black Ops Performance, offers this advice:

Installation of a crank collar to rectify the crankshaft issue is a job for a professional engine builder, as it requires a bit of work to precisely fit the collar onto the crankshaft. Most shops prefer to remove the crankshaft from the engine to do the work, and then reinstall the crankshaft with new bearings.

The last build we did because of an oil pump failure was really close to $5000. You can buy a complete R33 motor swap for right around $4000. Then you have a spare transmission. It’s a pretty plug-and-play swap.

The manufacturer used ceramic turbochargers, and if you overboost, the turbo fins on the exhaust side will shatter and crack. If you’re lucky, it will just run poorly.

If someone spent the money to upgrade the turbos, they probably spent the money to upgrade the oil pump.

A cylinder head pooling issue, where too much oil gets up into the head and is not able to return to the oil pan, is due to inertia pushing the oil to the back of the head. The fix is to install a drain on the back of the head that routes around the engine and is then attached to a hole that must be drilled into the oil pan. This job requires removal of the engine and the oil pan.

Everything about a Skyline is about oil. Use good motor oil. We run Valvoline VR-1. Warm up the car. Do not move it until the temperature gauge pops up to C.

Don’t buy a rusty car. You see a lot of rust, a lot of salt air corrosion.

One definite upgrade I would do is refresh the cooling system. These are 25-year-old plastic radiators. I’m afraid to even lean on one.

You can do the timing belt and water pump while the engine is in the car.

A lot of the systems are analog. They’re easy to work with.

You want the car that doesn’t have a lot of modifications. The stock downpipes are fine. Aftermarket exhausts and intakes are good mods.

You don’t see a lot of transmission failures.

A lot of the parts on the R32 are interchangeable with American-spec cars. The R32 uses the same oil filter as a 300ZX. It’s the specialized parts that get expensive.

The seats are comfortable. Back seat passengers won’t want to kill you. They can be a daily.

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Comments

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kanaric
kanaric Dork
3/31/16 10:47 a.m.

R32 GTR is more fun to drive than an EVO IX or X for used EVO prices that will turn far more heads.

The car can do anything you want. You can disable the AWD and drift with it. You can build a monster 1/4 mile car. You can build a track machine.

Someone even swapped a V8 into a Stagea (similar drivetrain, similar chassis) twin turboed it and kept the AWD. Used a Q45 engine.

I bought a GTS-T sight unseen but they don't have the same oiling issue and if my engine is destroyed it costs pennies to replace it. GTR engines are not too expensive though. A lot of the old cars with lots of miles or modded failed by now and/or were fixed but be aware of that issue.

You can roll the dice and use a site like Pacfic Coast JDM which requires you to buy an auction car. It can save you thousands or on a GTR like $10k or more. You just have 3 pictures to work on though and a Japanese inspection sheet. So in case you "fail" and end up with a problem car make sure to have extra money on the side to fix it. I know several people who bought that way though and have had no issues but the inspections don't find everything or sometimes undersell the car like with mine. However paying $15k for a GTR if you do that is possible, not including the shipping.

If you REALLY want a GTR wait until a year or so before the R33 is out, buy it at auction using the people I mentioned above nad have them store it until I becomes legal. You can pick up a nice for for like $6000-$10,000 that way instead of paying 10s of thousands more now. The R32 is at that mark hitting "classic car" territory plus it's the first modern GTR available so prices are high. Stagea 260RS's also often can sell for as low as $4000 in Japan, which is a wagon with R33 or R34 GTR drive train and AWD system so if you like wagons you are set in a couple years.

Parts are not as hard to come by as you may think. You can't go to a pick a part for most though it's possible for some like brake calipers which are on a 300ZX. However I ordered new front end parts off of ebay from Virginia. Canada has a TON of parts. Most import websites that are in the US have aftermarket for it. UK and Australia have parts, you don't pay the GST or VAT, and the shipping isn't as bad as you owuld think. Like I just bought a Blitz intercooler for $600 (incl shipping). In the US the same part was $800 from FRSPORT so often buying overseas is even more economical. Just DO NOT buy this car as daily driver. It is purely a 2nd car. If something goes wrong you will have to wait for part shipment.

Another thing, which shouldn't be a problem for people here, is if you have issues working on your own car or don't have much knowledge make sure you live in an area with a reputable shop that works on Nissans for enthusiasts or tuners. I know two places in the Phoenix/Las Vegas area, the one in Phoenix builds GTR for road race so ANYTHING you need done they can do and know how to work on the car. However most people will not be so lucky. Likely you will need to be in a major metropolitan area.

That's all the input I have on this car I guess.

There are plenty of JDM cars too which are great that more people would be familiar with. Like a Toyota Soarer. Which is either very similar to a MK3 Supra or in the next-gen after that was a SC300 but with an optional 1JZGTE. If you want "JDMness" but want something people are familiar with there are plenty of options.

kanaric
kanaric Dork
3/31/16 10:53 a.m.

BTW it says it say 276hp officially but like any Japanese car from that era with that power it is highly undersold, this car even more than the others. If it was well taken care if it will feel as fast as a modern car.

The article has very good advise. I had the cooling problems myself that will be the case with ANY car you import.

You can buy a RB26 without getting a trans and it won't cost as much money. If you berkeley up the trans in this car you know what you did.

Advan046
Advan046 SuperDork
5/6/16 12:25 a.m.

There is one of these just down the street from me. I marvel at how small it looks next to my other neighbor's modern GTR. I can see the point of the car on paper but would just like to drive one for a while to see if I would like it.

The instant I drove my Evo8RS I knew it was perfect for me. Just needed a radio and the rear diff plate fix.

icaneat50eggs
icaneat50eggs Dork
5/6/16 9:16 a.m.
kanaric wrote: If you REALLY want a GTR wait until a year or so before the R33 is out, buy it at auction using the people I mentioned above nad have them store it until I becomes legal. You can pick up a nice for for like $6000-$10,000 that way instead of paying 10s of thousands more now.

This caught my attention!
Question, when does the fed get these things and have them crushed? is it at time of import? or is it because people were driving them around on the street? If I could import it, and say I just happen to have a privately owned track that I could drive and store it at until it hits the magic 25 year mark, would that work?

icaneat50eggs
icaneat50eggs Dork
5/6/16 9:22 a.m.

wait wait wait. Your telling me this

has the r33 drive line?
This is a THING?

WHY DID I NOT KNOW THIS IS A THING!!!

4cylndrfury
4cylndrfury MegaDork
5/6/16 9:50 a.m.
icaneat50eggs wrote:
kanaric wrote: If you REALLY want a GTR wait until a year or so before the R33 is out, buy it at auction using the people I mentioned above nad have them store it until I becomes legal. You can pick up a nice for for like $6000-$10,000 that way instead of paying 10s of thousands more now.

This caught my attention!
Question, when does the fed get these things and have them crushed? is it at time of import? or is it because people were driving them around on the street? If I could import it, and say I just happen to have a privately owned track that I could drive and store it at until it hits the magic 25 year mark, would that work?

From my limited understanding about these topics, I think there are 2 separate issues in your question:

  1. You can bring any car in any time, but you cant document and title the imported car unless its 25 years old
  2. If its not documented and titled, you run the risk of it being confiscated if youre pulled over (because you have no tags), at which time it will likely be crushed.

The issue, as I understand it, is because the EPA hasnt cleared those cars for emissions, and the NHTSA hasnt cleared it to be safe on American roadways...i.e. the gov't didnt extort Nissan for cars that werent imported new, so, theyre not letting you play on their playground until they get theirs.

I could be all wrong, or wrong in part with that stuff, but, my guess is that the plan where you buy your R33 now, keep it in lockup outside of the US until you hit the 25 year mark, then bring it in under the Historical car provision, is going to be your best low-buck bet for getting one on the streets legally.

Theres an R32 running around Northern Cincinnati right now. Hideous burnt orange matte vinyl, and spray bombed black wheels covered in brake dust. Complete with ill fitting wing and poorly self-tinted windows. Rice is rice folks, JDM rice just costs more.

...i would still trade my new-ish Cruze with its factory warranty and sub 25k mile driveline in a heartbeat for the thing lol

icaneat50eggs
icaneat50eggs Dork
5/6/16 10:02 a.m.

So could I trailer it to track days without risking the ire of the Feds? After a brutal run in with the irs I'm gun shy.

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
5/6/16 11:35 a.m.

I don't think there is any issue about owning one here in the states. You just can not register it for "road use" In short it would be like every other race car / track car that is not road legal.

If I remember the Porsche 959 was the same. All but the last couple of years of production are now legal due to the 25 year thing.

vfrbill
vfrbill
7/14/16 6:05 p.m.

Just in case my other comment didn't reach you, there's an R32 lurking around Milford, spotted it coming into Gold Star as my Z32 and I were having lunch with a fellow Z enthusiast.........In reply to 4cylndrfury :

Blitzed306
Blitzed306 HalfDork
7/14/16 10:02 p.m.

a guy in my car club owns a very nice GT-R, here it is next to my Miata.... It's stock and I got to ride in it

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