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March 11, 2009 > Godzilla overpowers street racing scene

Godzilla overpowers street racing scene

By Naveen Swami

One car in the Japanese import racing scene inspires awe like no other, never failing to turn heads and commanding instant respect among street racers everywhere. That car is the Nissan Skyline GTR. Probably the most revered sports car ever to emerge from Japan, there were three iterations: R32, R33 and R34.

The original R32, dubbed "Godzilla" when first released in 1989, has sculpted good looks with angular yet soft lines. A 2.6 liter twin-turbocharged, straight-six engine produces 320 horsepower, rockets from 0-60 in five seconds, has a top speed of 175 mph, and melts your heart with its silky-smooth engine note. Godzilla is firmly planted through corners courtesy of a highly advanced all-wheel drive system that makes sure its tremendous power comes to all four wheels.

In 1990 Nissan Motorsports brought out the "Nismo" GTR, building 560 examples as required to qualify the car for racing. The N1 was unleashed in 1991. Made exclusively for racers in Japan, this car was strictly a hardcore track machine stripped of usual luxuries such as air conditioning, sound system, and sound deadening. Just 228 were built, making this the rarest R32 of all. The last version was the V-spec, or "Victory Spec," to celebrate the GTR's racing success. It added even more bite to the Nismo and N1 packages, with an upgraded all-wheel drive system and 17-inch wheels.

In 1995 the new R33 debuted, using a nearly identical engine but with a completely reworked body. Options included the base GTR as well a new V-spec model, both released at the same time. The V-spec included an upgraded all-wheel drive system, an active limited slip differential, and a four-wheel independent anti-lock braking system. There was another N1 model, with the new R33 N1 engine once again devoid of comforts.

But the ultimate R33 was the Nismo 400R. The standard GTR engine was injected with steroids, increasing from 2.6 to 2.7 liters with a bigger exhaust and a redesigned turbo and intercooler to increase the fury. On the outside it grew muscles, with wider fenders, big side skirts, bigger air scoops, a new carbon-fiber spoiler and a carbon-fiber hood with a mail-slot sized vent punched through it, all in the name of aerodynamics. It produced 400 horsepower, did 0-60 in 4 seconds, and screamed its way to over 186 miles per hour. Originally, 100 were planned to be built, but only 44 made it out of the Nismo garage before R33 production ended in 1998.

The R33 GTR was succeeded by the R34 in 1999. Once again it had a completely new body shell, this time shorter from front to back. This model was a technological showcase. A 5.8-inch LCD in the center of the dashboard displayed seven engine readings simultaneously. However, the power still came from the same 2.6 liter twin-turbo straight six. The N1 again came without comforts. The V-spec model had the professional all-wheel drive, stiffer suspension, lower ground clearance and a carbon fiber rear diffuser designed to smooth airflow under the car and avoid lifting at high speeds.

Things were really shaken up in 2000 when Nismo unveiled its newest creation, the Nismo Z-tune. Built to commemorate the anniversary of Nissan Motorsports, Nismo purchased 19 used R34 V-spec IIs, stripped them down, and rebuilt them from the ground up. It made an advertised power output of "only" 500 horsepower, courtesy of the new "Z2" engine enlarged to 2.8 liters - understated for warranty reasons. New body panels were lifted straight off Nismo's racing cars with new vents and wider wheel arches for fatter wheels. The body and chassis were strengthened and reinforced with welding and the addition of carbon fiber. A firmer suspension setup and Brembo brakes rounded out the performance package. Every one was painted in "Z-tune silver," a color made exclusively for this car. Each goes for upwards of $180,000, making it the rarest and most expensive Skyline GTR ever built.

This was the last Skyline GTR; production of this legendary sports car ending in 2003. It has achieved almost mythical status in the Japanese import racing scene - especially in the United States, where GTRs are difficult to acquire because of strict import and emissions laws. There are an estimated 80-100 here. For import fanatics, seeing a Godzilla is a rare opportunity. This car has a dedicated following and will continue to do well in the future.

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