Very few Japanese cars evoke passion and popularity like the GT-R. Of course, even lower-tier Skylines garner much attention thanks in no small part to media exposure, such as in movies, TV shows, and video games. The GT-R dates back to an era in Nissan Motor Co’s existence under the name of “Prince Motor Company“.
When Prince Motor Company merged with Nissan in 1966, they left a lot of carried-over hardware to be re-engineered into the Nissan lineup. When the C10 generation Skyline, the first to feature the GT-R variant, debuted Japan-only in 1968, it utilized 1.5 and 1.8 liter engines designed under license by Prince. However, Nissan Motor Co engineered their own series of inline-6 engines: the L20 for the 2000GT, and the S20 for the 2000GT-R. When the PGC10 Skyline GT-R released for the public in February 1969, it featured the 2.0L S20 as its powerhouse. The S20 developed 160 horsepower and 130 ft/lbs of torque. Typical of the era, the GT-R had an FR drivetrain layout like the rest of the Skyline range. A popular Japanese nickname for the PGC10/KPGC10 Skyline was “Hakosuka”, which roughly translates to “boxy Skyline”. The second generation GT-R, the KPGC110, made its debut at the 1972 Tokyo Motor Show and released for the public for 1973 only. The “Kenmeri” GT-R was short-lived due to the Energy Crisis, and as there was very little demand for high performance sports cars, the GT-R was ultimately discontinued (or at least on hiatus) from the Skyline range for many years.
In 1984, former chief engineer Shinichiro Sakurai left development of the 7th-generation R31 Skyline to his “student”, Naganori Ito. Ito then became chief of engineering for the 7th Skyline, which was set to debut in 1985. However, due to negative reception from Skyline aficionados, Ito gained a bad reputation. Ashamed of the R31 Skyline, he ventured to develop the 8th-generation R32 Skyline. Ito was determined to bring back the GT-R which had been on hiatus for 16 years. Ito gained a good reputation when the R32 Skyline and its GT-R variant debuted in 1989.
The BNR32 GT-R started production in August 1989. Whereas lower-tier Skylines were rear-wheel-drive, the GT-R transitioned to an all-wheel-drive layout. Of all the Skyline GT-Rs produced, the R32 was the lowest-slung: its height was at 1340 mm (52.8 in). Power came from a 2.6L twin turbo RB26DETT inline-6 throwing out 276 horsepower. A limited-run Group A racing homologation special, the GT-R NISMO, released in February 1990. Performance modifications included were improved airflow to the intercooler, front and rear bumper lip spoilers, larger ceramic turbines in place of the standard turbochargers, and ABS delete. In addition to the limited 500 NISMO models, 60 more were produced for Group A competition; however the ABS delete was not legal under Group A regulations. February 1993 saw the introduction of the V-Spec. The V-Spec added larger Brembo brakes, retuned suspension and ATTESA ET-S all-wheel-drive, and lightweight aluminum hood. It also featured 225/45R17 tires. February 1994 saw the addition of the V-Spec II, which, although the same as the V-Spec introduced in 1993, featured wider 245/45R17 tires. Production of the R32 Skyline GT-R ceased in November 1994, and public sales ended in December that year.
When the R33 Skyline debuted, Kozo Watanabe was appointed as chief engineer of the Nissan Skyline. Watanabe worked on both the R33 and R34 Skylines. When it released for the public in January 1995, the R33 GT-R was notably longer, wider, taller, and had a longer wheelbase than its predecessor. It kept relatively the same drivetrain as the R32 GT-R, with exception to improved air intake and oil circulation. Nissan Motorsports (NISMO) built a racing version of the GT-R, called NISMO GT-R LM, for competition in 24 Hours of Le Mans. This vehicle featured a body kit unique all to itself, such as a bulkier rocker panel side skirt. Only one roadgoing homologation special was ever produced, making it extraordinarily rare. In May 1996, the V-Spec LM Limited debuted in the GT-R lineup. This model should not be confused with the one-off NISMO GT-R LM which was entered for Le Mans competition. The 1996 LM Limited was a commemorative car which featured Champion Blue as its only available exterior paint color, unique carbon front splitter with air intakes, and a carbon fiber rear wing blade. This model was available for sale for two months only. Also that year, Nismo built a special model called 400R. The 400R was undoubtedly very unique in its own right, as it featured a heavily modified version of the Nissan RB engine, named RB-X GT2. Because it was bored out to 2.8 liters, a similar engine called RB28DET was produced. This modified engine with reinforced block and heads, along with forged crankshaft and connecting rods, had the potential to throw out 400 horsepower. Loosing even more weight, a lightweight driveshaft and exhaust muffler were installed. Nismo planned to produce 100 examples of the 400R, although a rumoured 44 units were built.
Autech, another in-house tuning firm, also modified the coupe-only GT-R and made a rare 4-door sedan variant in 1998. The Autech version 40th Anniversary merged the designs of the 4-door GTS sedan and GT-R models, keeping the power train of the GT-R intact. Some Autech GT-R sedans were converted to highway patrol use and ordered by and/or delivered to the Saitama Prefectural Police and Kanagawa Prefectural Police departments. The R33 GT-R ceased production in November 1998, with sales ending in December that year.
The R34 Skyline GT-R released for the public in January 1999. The new model had a shorter overhang when compared to the outgoing generation. Inside, the R34 Skyline featured a 5.8-inch infotainment screen with such features as engine and turbocharger pressure and temperature, as well as GPS navigation. Midnight Purple II was a limited color option available only at the time of the R34 GT-R’s launch in January of 1999. In 2000, Midnight Purple III was made available as a sequel to the discontinued Midnight Purple II exterior color option. Also, the V-Spec trim was discontinued and replaced with V-Spec II. In addition, 18 variants of the V-Spec II were given an upgraded N1 package. In May 2001, the M-Spec was introduced to the lineup. The M-Spec was a performance package quite similar to the V-Spec II; however, it was the only model to feature aluminum construction for the hood. By 2002, the R34 Skyline had reached the end of its production cycle. To commemorate, a final special edition called GT-R V-Spec II Nür was introduced. The “Nür” was a reference to the infamous Nürburgring racetrack in Germany. This package made the N1 performance upgrade standard, which brought power up from the advertised 276 horsepower to an admirable 330. Auto tuning enthusiasts may upgrade this engine to above 400 horsepower if they want. The Nür featured different interior stitching, gold valve covers, and gold VIN plates. Production of the Skyline GT-R ended in August 2002.
When the GT-R discontinued in 2002, the rest of the Skyline range continued production without an ultra-high performance model. In the works were two prototypes based on the Skyline, but officially distinguished as a model lineup separate from the Skyline. These were the aptly named GT-R concepts which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2001 and 2005. When Nissan Motor Co announced GT-R production would begin in 2007, the production variant would be based more on the refined 2005 prototype. Also, unlike past Skylines, this model wouldn’t be exclusive to Japan. This was an international rollout. In essence, the GT-R, although a model separate from the Skyline lineup, proved a worthy successor to carry on the legacy of past Skylines.