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Nissan Skyline GT-R Legacy: The R32 You've Always Wanted Can Now Be Yours

Americans have waited 25 years for this.

From its humble beginnings as a premium sedan in the late 1950s, the Nissan Skyline GT-R morphed into something very different than what the long defunct Prince Motor Company initially planned. The original Skyline bears no resemblance to today’s GT-R, but it really wasn’t until 1989 when Nissan launched an all-new Skyline GT-R that the modern era of the car began. As explained in yesterday’s article, the GT-R project was cancelled in 1973 due to the oil crisis as people bought more efficient cars.

Clearly a performance coupe like the GT-R didn’t fit into that category. But because of the Skyline’s success in Australian touring car racing and even Japanese drag racing, Nissan figured it was time to revive the GT-R lineup. That new car was the third generation Skyline GT-R, commonly referred to as the R32. Launched in 1989, the R32 was very much meant to replace the Skyline GTS-R. In other words, Nissan didn’t want to re-enter competitive racing in a half assed way. This car had to be done right from the get-go. And it was. Initially, 5,000 units were planned in accordance with racing homologation rules. Nissan management was fully behind the project and gave its engineers instructions to build a winning vehicle.

A twin turbocharged 2350cc bored and stroked version of the inline-six from the previous R31 Skyline was utilized. Power was damn decent (313 hp) but there was a problem: Group A racing regulations stated that a turbocharged engine had to have its displacement be a multiple of 1.7. This resulted in the new GT-R being forced into the 4000cc class. Not the end of the world but new engineering changes were required, such as 10-inch-wide tires. Doing that, in turn, resulted in the R32 receiving an all-wheel-drive system as opposed to rear-wheel-drive. Yes, Nissan was fully aware such a system would make the car heavier (by over 200 lbs.) but this was perhaps a blessing in disguise because some creative engineering was the result.

Basically, engineers developed a special racing-oriented AWD system, called the Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain (ATTESA). But it was the ATTES E-TS that was fitted to the R32. E-TS stood for Electronic Torque Split and it worked like this: A computer monitored the car’s movements 10 times per second in order to detect traction loss by measuring the speed of each wheel using the ABS sensors. Another sensor located underneath the center console provided lateral and longitudinal inputs into the computer. In turn, the computer could direct up to 50 percent of the power to the front wheels.

If slip is detected on one of the rear wheels, torque is directed to the front wheels that run a non-limited slip differential. Easy translation: the system divided different torque ratios to the front wheels accordingly, allowing the car to perform like a RWD car in ideal conditions but can also recover control even in bad road conditions. Very impressive for 1989. Because of the added weight of AWD, the engine was increased in size to displace 2.6-liters, which actually placed the car in the 4500cc class. The road-going R32 production began in summer 1989, and produced 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, while tipping the scales at a hefty 3,146 lbs. A five-speed manual gearbox with overdrive was standard.

The R32 made the sprint from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds. Top speed was clocked at about 112 mph. Handling was also quite something thanks to its Multi-link suspension both front and rear. It was an immediate hit. Motoring publications fell hard for it and, therefore, so did the public. That’s when Nissan made the decision to expand production in order to meet demand. All told, 43,934 units were built, quite a large number considering the R32 Skyline GT-R was essentially a halo model. But it was on the track where the R32 really stood out, winning a total of five consecutive championships in all Japanese Touring Car Championships, and a grand total of 200 race wins.

It also set an 8:22 lap record for a production car at the Nurburgring. 1990 saw the introduction of the GT-R Nismo, of which just 500 were made available to the public. Nissan kept 60 for racing purposes. Changes from the standard car included additional ducts in the front bumper for better airflow to the intercooler, a hood spoiler and another trunk lip spoiler for even better downforce. The GT-R N1 launched in 1991 and all 228 examples were for Japan only. Its engine was improved and overall weight was cut down thanks to Nissan ditching ABS, air conditioning, the sound system, rear wipers, and trunk carpeting. Even lightweight headlights were used.

In 1993, the Skyline GT-R V.spec launched in celebration of the R32’s success at the track. Nissan added Brembo brakes and a further refined AWD system along with unique 17-inch BBS wheels. The following year the GT-R V.spec II went on sale, but the only change was wider tires. Not surprisingly, a significant chunk of R32s were sold in white, Japan’s national racing color. As most already know, the R32 wasn’t sold in the US, but the 25-year import ban has just ended; several serious fans have already shipped R32s stateside over the past year or so. By 1994, however, the R32 was clearly showing its age despite its massive success, and Nissan went all out for its successor.

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