The R32 GT-R built between 1989 and 1994 made major waves in the Japanese car market and has become a legend because of its racing pedigree. The R32 is definitely one of the most iconic Japanese cars of all time. A legendary car with real racing pedigree, and it’s a car every car guy should at least drive at some point in his life.
And that pedigree means history, a history you may or may not be all too familiar with. Well, strap in! We’re about to get you a bit more familiar with a bunch of facts about the GT-R you probably don’t know!
Nurburgring in 8:22
In today’s world where car manufacturer’s are pushing the envelope more and more, lap times at the famed Nurburgring in Germany are a gold standard for just how fast a car is. With the mind-blowing laps that modern cars are putting down, such as the 7:08 time of the new Nismo GT-R R35, the 8:22 lap set by the R32 GT-R doesn’t seem all that fast, but in 1989, the R32 GTR was the king of quick.
The R32 essentially demolished all of its competition, and then some. Its lap time was basically unbeatable in its class for a while, and I’m going to guess that had a lot to do with it’s all-wheel drive platform, the one that almost didn’t come to be.
Almost Rear-Wheel Drive
Of course, the R32 is all-wheel drive. And I bet you know about that multi-plate clutch system too, but it wasn’t always going to be that way! When planning the 8th-generation Skyline, Nissan originally wanted it to be rear-wheel drive.
Would that have changed this car’s history forever? Who knows? Nissan thankfully changed to the ATTESA E-TS system that was inspired by Porsche’s 959 hypercar. This was an advanced system that stayed fully rear-drive until it detected rear-wheel slip. As soon as slip was detected, the system would shift up to 50% of torque to the front wheels.
An even more modern, higher-tech version of the same ATTESA system is in today’s R35 GT-R, which just goes to show how ahead of its time the R32 really was. But if you’re really interested in the history of the R32 GT-R, you have to go back to the beginning, to the first ever Skyline!
Not Originally a Nissan
So, yes, the R32 GT-R was very obviously a Nissan, but the original Skyline wasn’t! The soon-to-be-famous Skyline name was first used by Prince Motor Company in 1957. No, it’s not owned by the singer of Purple Rain.
In a merger with Prince Motor Company in 1967, Nissan adopted the Skyline as their own, and raised that little baby into a trophy child. Nissan would go on to develop and engineer the Skyline to be one of the most capable cars in the world. It’s pretty hard to believe that we’re here, 63 years later, and the Skyline is still a well-known and highly respected name in the car community.
However, the R32 GTR may not have gotten where it is today if it didn’t do a little bit of cheating.
It Broke the Agreement
Back in 1989, Nissan gave the Skyline exactly 276 horsepower, and that was no coincidence. In that year, all of the Japanese automakers came to what they called a gentlemen’s agreement, or a pact, to limit the horsepower of their vehicles to 276.
Extreme Turbo Systems apparently didn’t agree to that agreement. They cranked 3,500 horsepower out of a GT-R back in 2018. Godzilla, indeed.
However, the reason for this agreement was to avoid having companies in Japan build insane power, when the highest posted speed limit in the country was 62 miles per hour. Meanwhile in America, our top speed limit was 55 miles per hour at the time.
Everyone in Japan agreed with this limit on paper, but rumors quickly circulated that there were a bunch of cars exceeding the horsepower limit, including the R32 GT-R. Now, lying is bad, but when it comes to bumping up horsepower, I’m a little more forgiving.
A poorly-kept secret is that stock examples of the R32 GT-R had been reporting dyno numbers of well over the 300 horsepower mark. Now, you can make a lot more than 276 horsepower from an RB26DETT, but should you?
Overnight Parts From Japan
Since the R32 was a Japanese market vehicle, surprisingly few parts have carried over onto the USA market. Some small bits like power window switches, dashboard trim pieces, and light bulbs were shared with the Nissan cars that we got in that era. But even then, old stock is slowly but steadily vanishing from our dealership parts shelves.
Major engine components, drivetrain bits, and especially body parts are not easy to find here. So, if you’re thinking of getting one, keep this in mind! You just might be overnighting parts from Japan to keep your prized Skyline on the road!
And always keep an eye out for fake parts, or fake GT-R’s!
Who’s the Imposter?
Upbadging is like the Snapchat filter of cars, fooling no one and only making you look more desperate. The GT-R is not immune to this. A surprising number of GT-R’s in the United States are, well, not actually GT-R’s.
The names “Skyline” and “GT-R” aren’t exactly synonymous. Lesser models like the GXi, GTE, and GTS cars were not turbocharged, and hence were much slower and less capable than the big-daddy GT-R. Luckily, they’re not desirable, and thus not really worth importing.
A really common model you’ll see imported here to the States is the GTS-T. GTS-T models got a single turbo RB20, and were obviously quite slower than the GT-R. It also came in rear-wheel drive, making it a good choice for a drift car.
If you’re shopping for real GT-R’s, it’s worth verifying the VIN and doing some research to make sure you’re getting the real deal and not a three-kids-in-a-trenchcoat kind of situation.
You have to admit, though, imitation is the best form of flattery. I mean, the fact that there are fake R32 GT-R’s out there means they’re kind of a big deal, a bigger deal than any Skyline that came before it.
There were a number of generations of the Skyline produced before the R32 from 1957 to 1988, but I bet you can’t picture a single one! Well, maybe the Hakosuka if you’re a nerd like me. That’s because the R32 finally put the Skyline name on the map.
The R32 was the first GT-R to get a taste of the legendary RB26 twin-turbo engine, and also the first one to get four-wheel-drive. It was track-burning fast and an overall wicked race car.
Oh yeah, and it didn’t hurt that it had a manual transmission that was actually nice to drive, rather than the loose, rubbery mess on the R31 before it.
But that’s not the only sweet new feature the R32 got hooked up with, I think it’s time to talk about four-wheel steering.
It’s Like the New Hummer
That’s right, the R32 GT-R had four-wheel steering! You know, like the Crab Mode coming in the new Hummer EV! I guess it wasn’t totally unique for 1989, the Honda Prelude also offered four-wheel steering.
But the R32 was the only car to have two turbochargers, four-wheel drive, and four-wheel steering. Quite a trifecta of tech before the 1990’s. Nissan called this steering system the HICAS system, and it was also in many of the GT-R’s that came after the R32.
Up until now we’ve been talking about the R32 GTR coupe, but it may surprise you to hear that’s not the only version Nissan rolled out.
There’s a Four-Door GT-R
Although the R32 coupe is the car most people can immediately identify, Nissan also made an R32 four-door sedan! It only existed up to the GTS trim, which means they didn’t send any out of the factory in GT-R form with the RB26 engine, but that’s just a quick engine swap away!
In the Skyline community online, there are a ton of R32 sedans with full GT-R drivetrain swaps. While not authentic GT-R’s, adding a couple more doors makes the car more practical, meaning I might have given it a better score in our review!
The R32 sedan actually has clean, sexy lines that have aged extremely well, with that nostalgic 90’s look sharpened up in the best way possible. Plus, it’s got those iconic four circular taillights like spider eyes staring into your soul.
It’s good that the taillights are so iconic on the R32, because its competition got a real good look at them on the track.
It’s a Winner
The R32 was developed to decimate competition in the Group A races of the Japanese Touring Car Championships. And you could say it did just that. Nissan entered the All-Japan Touring Car Championship in 1990 and caused every single one of its rivals to withdraw after the first year.
Yeah, they were that scared of the GT-R. Better to go home and watch Takeshi’s Castle than to show up and take a loss, I guess.
And that’s not the only track where this car excelled. Races like the 24 Hours of Spa, Australian Touring Car Championship, and Bathurst 1000 were all places where the GT-R earned its keep. Cars like the E30 BMW M3, the Ford Sierra Cosworth, and the Toyota AE86 all had to go home with their tails between their legs.
All in all, the R32 took home over 25 trophies in its first year, which was absolutely unheard of for the time. I guess you could say the R32 GT-R scared off anyone that tried to challenge it, kind of like Godzilla.
Godzilla as F**k
Despite it being as much of a household a name today as Amazon Alexa or Post Malone, 1989 was also the first time the GT-R name was used since 1973. GT-R was a cool name, sure, but it didn’t really mean anything until after the world saw what the R32 was capable of.
Dominating races worldwide earned it another name: “Godzilla”, after the pissed-off lizard that would crush anything and everything in its path.
That nickname stood through the R33, R34, and R35 generations after it, and I’d say it’s just as appropriate today, because the R35 GT-R is also a sleeping Japanese giant ready to dominate and destroy.
Yeah, so Nissan benchmarked a hypercar, but not just any hypercar, Porsche’s 959 produced from 1986 to 1993. The 959 got a twin-turbocharged 2.8-liter flat-six good for 444 horsepower and a six-speed manual.
Nissan looked right at the all-wheel drive 959 for inspiration when designing the R32 GT-R, with dynamics yanked straight from the best of Stuttgart. The four-wheel-drive, boosted setup, and racing pedigree is all something we’d seen before in the 959.
But even the 959 didn’t win as many races as the R32 did. Another point for the Nissan!