Gran. Turismo. Racing. No, I’m not talking about the video game, I’m talking about the three words synonymous with performance, passion, and a good price. Earning a spot in fantasy car lists and garages worldwide over each of its generations, the Nissan GT-R is an iconic supercar killer at a reasonable price point.
But, the R35 is thicker than clay, the R34 is extremely pricey and difficult to source, and the R33 is a bit of a misplaced middle child. But thanks to the 25-year import rule here in America, the R32 GT-R is now available, and it’s just right.
So, whether you’re seeking four-digit horsepower figures, or an iconic daily driver for around $30,000, early Godzilla’s got you covered. Without further ado, let’s find out why you should probably buy an R32 GT-R.
What Is the Nissan R32 GT-R?
Before you can truly appreciate the GT-R from a mechanical standpoint, you should know its history and why it was made. It might be hard to imagine Godzilla as anything other than a twin-turbo fire-breathing monster, but it actually came from humble beginnings, and a bit of a rocky start.
You see, the R32 isn’t the first generation of Skyline, it’s the third. And the R32 GT-R’s predecessor, nicknamed the “Kenmeri”, named after the couple of Ken and Mary they used in a TV ad, was only built in 1973 and only 197 units were ever produced. With the gas crisis of the 1970’s, the Kenmeri Skyline was unsuccessful and the GT-R name faded away.
16 years later, in 1989, Nissan blew off the cobwebs and unveiled the R32 GT-R. GT-R was back, and back in a big way. Nissan revived the GT-R namesake to build a racecar, and not just any racecar. It had to be capable of dominating Group A racing in Japan. Thanks to homologation, Nissan needed to make at least 500 examples of their racecar to compete, and that 500-car production rule was largely responsible for Godzilla’s resurrection in Japan and consequent worldwide fame.
Luckily, Nissan didn’t stop at 500. They made over 40,000 GT-R’s over its lifespan, and every single one was a 2-door, 5-speed, all-wheel drive monster! There are a few special variants, like the V-Spec and V-Spec II, and the Nismo and N1. I won’t break down exactly what’s involved in each model, just know that they’re really rare and expensive, so you probably won’t be shopping for one.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be talking about base model GT-R’s. Because, in my opinion, they’re the best bang for the buck. The R32 GT-R was undoubtedly aimed at younger demographicsm harboring a serious addiction to performance, yet in spite of its racecar DNA, its exterior is quite plain, but for good purpose.
Exterior At a Glance
Unlike the flashy, future tech, big body monstrosities that the R34 and R35 became, the R32 is far from over-the-top. And that’s what makes it so damn special. It’s unassuming and it blends in, hiding its raw power and cutting edge tech beneath subtle, contemporary bodylines.
That may turn you off when you’re thinking about buying a $30,000 used car, so if you’re more style over substance, maybe the R32 isn’t for you. Get yourself a Lancer Evo or something instead. But, in my opinion, the sedated look of the R32 GT-R is exactly why it’s the best looking generation, well, modern generation at least.
Now, when you go shopping for your ideal R32, I’m going to bet you’re getting one in Gun Gray Metallic, since over half of the cars were produced in that color. The rarest color of them all would be Greyish Blue Pearl, only 141 were painted in that shade, and that’s a damn shame, because it is beautiful.
As for changes over its lifespan, in 1991, they did some minor tweaks like updated projector headlights and improved the safety, but a little weight was added with those tweaks. If you’re able to get some of those rare models like the N1, you’ll be getting some additional aerodynamic modifications. These mods are actually pretty easy to source and add to your base model GT-R if you don’t want to spring for the rare models.
All in all, the R32 is just so 90’s. And as a kid who grew up in the 90’s, that’s what makes Godzilla so beautiful to me. Now, that subtlety of the exterior extends to the interior too.
Inside the R32 GT-R
Most of you probably know this, but the R32 was never sold in America. So, if you’re buying one, and you’re a member of the bald eagle nation like me, you’re going to be sitting on the right side of the car to drive. So, you know, be ready for that.
Also be ready to be very unimpressed by the interior of the R32. It’s pretty basic, looking essentially like a Nissan 240SX interior that someone sprinkled some racecar seasoning on. Cloth bucket seats, 90’s shiny plastic everywhere, and a few knobs and buttons will surely have your friends asking you, “You spent $30,000 on this?” Yeah I did, stop being so judgemental! You drive a Jetta, so you know, stuff it.
Right, where was I? Oh, right, the crappy interior. What also won’t help is that there are basically no garages in Japan, so you can expect that cloth to be faded, that plastic to be bubbling, that dash to be cracked. And with true mileage being really hard to confirm on these cars, the wear and tear on the interior is going to be your best way of knowing just how old your GT-R actually is.
But once you get past all that, the Spartan interior means that nothing sits between you and the driving experience. Some thin cloth and plastic is all that separates your hands from the snarling beast, the city-crushing monster, the kaiju under the hood, the RB26DETT!
Under the Hood
Pop the hood of an R32 GT-R and the subtlety stops there. One peek at the shiny valve cover, six individual throttle bodies, and twin-turbo setup, and you’ll immediately realize this ain’t no Sentra. Behold the beauty of the RB26DETT.
The 2.6-liter straight-six produces 276 horsepower officially, but real world data puts it closer to 310 horsepower. Peak horsepower is made at 6,800 RPM, a good bit under its atmospheric 8000 RPM redline. Torque is 260 pound-feet. In terms of power, that’s right on par with its Japanese competition, the Lancer Evo and 22B Subaru STi.
What makes the RB26 so special? It has a cast iron block, forged pistons, and aluminum alloy cylinder heads, translation. Big power and lots of boost! In stock form, the two Garret T25 turbochargers create about 10 to 14 PSI of boost sufficient for 109 horsepower-per-liter, but not quite enough to terrify your passengers.
Upgrade those stock ceramic turbines for some steelies, slap a tune on that bad girl and say hello to over 400 horsepower! But wait, the RB26 has still got more to give! Swapping the two tiny snails for a big one will yield around 600 horsepower on stock internals.
Be warned, however, maintaining this much horsepower will require constant service and attention. So, how does the understated yet overengineered R32 GT-R perform out on the road?
Facts and Figures (Performance)
There are few things in life more satisfying, and perhaps terrifying, than an all-wheel drive launch in a Nissan GT-R. Especially in the R35 that cracks 60 in 3.2 seconds, much faster than the R32.
But the R32 GT-R is no slouch, coupled with its manual transmission, ATTESA all-wheel drive system, and 3,150-pound curb weight, the old school R32 is perhaps the most exhilarating generation of them all.
Just spool up those turbos, drop the clutch, and hold on, because elderly Godzilla will launch you to 60 miles per hour in a snappy 5.3 seconds, which is as quick as a first generation NSX, or a new Ford Explorer. Yeah, somewhat unimpressive by today’s standards, but keep in mind that this car is older than most of you reading this!
Now, the R32 wasn’t designed to be a quarter-mile dragster, but tuned for the racetrack and twisty Japanese mountain roads. The multi-link suspension, limited slip differential, and ATTESA all-wheel drive result in a whole lot of grip, and here’s why.
Starting with ATTESA, Nissan’s Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain, this technology is similar to the design found in the legendary Porsche 959. A wet multi-plate clutch is electronically actuated inside of the transfer case determining how much torque is sent to the front wheels. The system is predominantly rear-wheel drive until it detects slip, and at that point can transfer up to 50% of torque to its front wheels.
Another quirky piece of suspension technology that the R32 GT-R uses is the Super HICAS system. When you think about classic cars, you don’t typically think 4-wheel steering. But, yeah, this Godzilla’s got it. The Super HICAS system was designed to increase stability and maneuverability through corners by using a hydraulic steering rack in the rear that turns the rear wheels up to 1 degree in either direction.
At least, that’s when it’s working properly. Most owners that experience HICAS system failures simply remove or bypass the system. Even though this problem is easily fixable and won’t typically cripple your GT-R, it’s a perfect segway into our next segment, reliability.
It’s no secret that the RB26DETT is one of the most tuner-friendly motors of all time. Overengineered and capable of quadruple-digit horsepower figures, the sky’s the limit. But the best reliability mod for your R32 GT-R is to keep it stock. And that’s going to be where shopping for a GT-R gets complicated.
You want to find one as stock as possible, which might be hard! With their age and racing heritage, you’re likely to find one with a little seasoning on it. At 276 horsepower, the RB26DETT is an almost bulletproof powerplant, but a motor’s a motor, so here’s what you’ve got to watch out for.
The engine’s main pitfall is an inadequate oil pump that would cause oil starvation during prolonged high speed driving. So, keep an eye out for an upgraded pump, or be ready to buy one!
Check if the car’s boost has been raised, and if so, if the ceramic turbine blades have shattered. You don’t want a naturally-aspirated GT-R. Check that the gears all shift smoothly on a test drive, as its synchros have been known to fail. Aside from that, check that the timing belt is in sound condition, properly maintain the fluids, and your RB should be happy.
Now, what does that all mean? How does it stack up? Well, if you’re old like me, movies used to be reviewed with thumbs up or down, and for the R32’s reliability, I’d give it two thumbs up. It’s relatively easy to maintain, the block itself is damn near indestructible, and parts are common and cheap!
The Skyline GT-R is a motorsport icon. And driving the street car, all of that history and performance-focused engineering that Nissan poured into it really comes though. Downshift and hear that RB26 snarl, turn in on a tight turn and feel the incredible grip the R32 has to spare, and smash that skinny pedal and listen to two snails shove a bunch of air into 6 cylinders. You’re sipping on 90’s automotive bliss.
This is a true driver’s car. No frills, just you, a light car, and a big motor. For an enthusiast like me, driving an R32 GT-R is definitely two thumbs way up.
Will you be as happy walking out to your GT-R in the garage as you will be driving it? Let’s talk about that.
Visually, the R32 is the dictionary definition of subtlety. In stock form, you’d hardly even notice it passing you on the highway, especially since they’re all basically gray. The only hints that this is something special are the four red taillights in the back, a mild spoiler, and a little bulge around the wheel arches.
So, the R32 might not get you much attention on a red carpet, but it will get you all kinds of attention from car nerds. Pull up to any gas station, step out of the wrong side of the car, and get ready for some kid who grew up on Initial D and Gran Turismo to bombard you with questions!
Now, if you’re like me and you see every car as a platform for making something uniquely yours, the R32 is one beautiful sheet of canvas. There’s a lot you can do to make the R32 really stand out, like a widebody kit, big wheels, drop vent hood, GT wing, canards, you name it.
This is a Japanese tuner car that people have been modifying for decades. There’s essentially unlimited options to make your R32 yours. And as beautiful as I think the R32 is, when I think of curb appeal, the R32 has very little out of the box.
So, I’m going to say it’s a solid one thumb up, just because it stands out to other JDM car dorks like me. Now, I know you’re buying an R32 because it’s a racecar, but how is it to own one?
First things first, are you American? Probably, I think like 60% of our audience is. The GT-R is an import, it’s right-hand drive. Say goodbye to drive-thru’s if you’re a single loser like me, prepare to feel super weird driving down left-hand drive roads.
Prepare to parallel park against a wall and have to climb out the passenger door. Prepare to have cops get frustrated when they pull you over and go to the wrong side. Prepare to turn your windshield wipers on everytime you go to use your turn signal. Yeah, right-hand drive is JDM cool, and also kind of a pain in the ass.
The backseat is tiny and the trunk a decent size, but that doesn’t stop many R32 GT-R owners from happily daily driving theirs.
Great, but what about miles per gallon? Well, if you aren’t radicalized by the skinny pedal, it’s around 19 miles per gallon, but if you have a heavy foot, you’ll soon have a stack of gas station receipts.
So, is the R32 GT-R practical? Well, it’s not impractical, but it ain’t no four-door crossover. But it is a totally daily driver-ready car if you can deal with getting in on the other side of the car. No thumbs here! Now, this is Ideal, and we’re all about one thing here, value. Is the R32 a good value?
As more R32 GT-R’s hit our shores, it becomes apparent that they’re far more valuable than just their chassis and engine suggest. An automotive icon with infinite tuning potential, trending appreciation values, that’s entrusted with three of the most coveted letters in the automotive industry. No small honor.
But, if you want one to call your own, act quickly! In the last few years, the market for R32’s has skyrocketed, making them much harder to afford for the average automotive enthusiast. Right now, you’re looking to spend close to $30,000 on a good example, and a lot more for any of the more limited editions.
While not particularly rare, the R32 generation is getting long in the teeth, and good examples getting harder to find, so appreciation might be in your future. There’s no better value than a car that earns you money, right?
For a 25-year old male with a clean driving record, insurance would cost roughly $175 bucks a month. That’s roughly, 7% of the car’s value in premiums every year, which isn’t too bad. The best bumper-to-bumper insurance for this car we found was Hagerty, but you’ll need some deep pockets for your insurance application to be accepted.
All told, for what you spend, you get a hell of a car that may appreciate, and won’t cost you your life’s savings to keep running. That’s a double in my opinion!
Add it all up, and the R32 GT-R recieves an Ideal rating of 7 out of 10 thumbs! Ideal? Hell yeah! So, if you wanted to buy an R32 GT-R tomorrow, which one would you buy? Well, since you’re asking us, we would choose this one.
We found a 1991 with just over 65,000 miles and painted in the iconic Gun Grey Metallic. This one had coilovers, a catback exhaust, and a couple other goodies that, in my opinion, only supplement the driving experience. Even though it isn’t completely OEM, it’s clean example of one of the best sports cars to come out of the 1990’s.