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How to Buy a Nissan Skyline GT-R in America

Nissan Skyline GT-R - Front
The latest regular production Skyline GT-R (but not the last) was the 2003 edition of the R34.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Profile
The Skyline GT-R Z-Tune may be the hardest accelerating production car ever built (or rebuilt) and Japan's most exotic car ever. But it still shares much of its structure, sheet metal and basic suspension with the rather ordinary Skyline coupe.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Wheel
The completely hand-rebuilt Skyline GT-R Z-Tune uses carbon-fiber fenders and hood that subtly reshape the entire front end of the car.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
The reshaped hood and fenders of the Z-Tune are blunter and meaner than the standard Skyline GT-R's. That extra space is used to accommodate a more aggressive engine with even larger intercoolers for the turbos in the nose.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
(Enlarge photo)
The Z-Tune just looks mean.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Interior
The Z-Tune's interior is more lavish than a normal GT-R's, but still designed more for the serious business of speed rather than comfort.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Interior
Part of the Z-Tune is a pair of NISMO seats wrapped in leather and grippy suede.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Profile
This is a stock Skyline R34. Notice the Brembo brakes.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Taking the power from a six-speed manual transmission, the "ATTESA E-TS Electronic Torque Split 4WD System" in this R34 varies the distribution of torque from 100 percent to the rear all the way to 50/50 front and rear.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Engine
The heart of the Skyline GT-R is the legendary RB26DETT 2.6-liter, twin turbocharged, DOHC, 24-valve inline six. The complex turbo plumbing on the engine's left side makes conversion to left-hand drive difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Interior
The R34's cockpit, like that of all Skyline GT-Rs, is more starkly functional than indulgently luxurious. But it does feature such tasty performance elements as a thick, leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel and aluminum pedals. The cockpit is comfortable enough, though rather narrow.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Interior
The R34's seats are built for serious performance driving. Not for eating In-N-Out while commuting to work. The interior features not a single cupholder, which is enough to strike it off many Americans' shopping list.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Exhaust
The Z-Tune uses a titanium exhaust system and includes coolers for the various differentials. Note also the aircraft-style fittings for the fuel system.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Rear
The car upon which the Skyline legend is built is the R32, the first edition to feature all-wheel drive and the RB26DETT twin-turbocharged six.
Nissan Skyline GT-R - Front
This early example Skyline R32 has been modified by NISMO, Nissan's in-house tuning firm.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Caught testing earlier this year at Germany's Nurburgring is this prototype of what is assumed to be the next version of the Skyline GT-R. Obviously based on the car we know as the Infiniti G35 Coupe in America, Nissan has promised that this next car is coming to the States most likely wearing the name "Infiniti GT-R." The final production version will likely be shown at the 2007 Tokyo motor show. It should go on sale next year as a 2008 model.
                                                                               1000hp Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Tuned by JUN Tested by Jeremy

How to Get One of the Most Desirable Sports Cars in the World

To watch exclusive spy video of the 2009 Nissan Skyline GT-R testing in California

When you think "gray-market" cars, European exotics usually come to mind first. Back in the 1970s, the only way an American could get a Ferrari 512 BB or a Lamborghini Countach into his garage was to have a converter slip it under the government's emissions-control radar. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, it was German machinery like the Porsche 959 and a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen that became the automotive forbidden fruit of the moment.

Today, it's the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Nissan Skyline GT-R that's the darling of the gray-marketers. The right-hand-drive-only supercar, which Nissan has never sent to America, sits atop the Japanese performance pyramid. It's the standard to which the Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX aspire. It's the obsession of tuner magazines, and it's the car all those tweaked Hondas are pretending to be.

But gray-market cars have always been fraught with risk. "We're flattered by the enthusiasm," said Nissan spokesman Dean Case when asked about gray-market imports of the Skyline GT-R, "but Nissan isn't supporting the car in this market." That means parts and service will be an improvisational challenge for anyone who wants to drive one in America. A factory warranty? Forget it.

Despite this, a trickle of Skylines has made it into the United States. In fact, buying one can be as simple as typing "Skyline for sale" into Google and writing a chunky-sized check. And if you're lucky it'll even be a legit and legal car. If you're lucky.

But there's also a less risky way to get your hands on a Skyline. Read on.

The Ones to Want
Nissan built the first Skyline GT-R way back in 1969, but it didn't ascend to its throne until the eighth-generation Skyline ("R32") debuted in 1989 and the GT-R was endowed with a spectacular straight-six engine and world-beating chassis.

The new 2.6-liter double-overhead-cam 24-valve six engorged by twin turbochargers was rated throughout the car's life at 280 horsepower. But that figure was only there to satisfy Japanese government engine-output regulations — it more likely made somewhere near 330 hp. And it didn't take much to boost that to 400 hp or beyond. Well beyond.

The new chassis carried an all-independent suspension, all-wheel drive and Nissan's Super HICAS electronic four-wheel steering system. Taking the power from a rather conventional five-speed manual transmission, the "ATTESA E-TS Electronic Torque Split 4WD System" varied the distribution of torque from 100 percent to the rear all the way to 50/50 front and rear. Complex? Absolutely.

By 1993, the slightly larger and more luxurious R33 was in production. The R33 was clearly an evolution, and carried the best stuff of the R32's engine and drivetrain. But GT-R fans felt the R33 was too big, so Nissan retightened the car's dimensions and sharpened its styling to create the "R34" Skyline GT-R for 1998. Again clearly evolutionary, the R34 retained most of the drivetrain with the addition of a Getrag six-speed transmission. The R34 left production in 2003.

Demand and respect for the R34 is still so high in Japan that Nissan's performance arm NISMO recently bought back 20 slightly used R34 GT-R V-Specs to completely rebuild into the ultimate GT-R: the Z-Tune. For about $170,000 the Z-Tune offers 500 hp, fortified suspension and drivetrain, carbon-fiber bodywork, and disc brakes the diameter of a sumo wrestling ring. Designed as the ultimate street-going vehicle, NISMO claims a Z-Tune will crush through a quarter-mile in just 10.6 seconds on street tires. That would make it the hardest accelerating "production" car ever.

In America, though, the R34's highest profile came in that 2003 cinematic classic 2 Fast 2 Furious where actor Paul Walker's character drove one. During filming, the actor was so impressed with the car he bought himself a 2001 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec II. And then he spent a fortune exaggerating its abilities with the dozens of aftermarket components available for the car from Japan. And if Paul Walker can get one, so can you.

How to Buy One
Most Skylines in America ultimately come from Motorex in Torrance, California. Nissan never exported any Skylines to the United States, so a few had to be sacrificed to prove their crashworthiness to the Department of Transportation (DOT), and it's Motorex that did that testing. It's been applying what it's learned to producing DOT-approved Skyline GT-Rs ever since and has put somewhere between 170 and 180 on America's roads, says General Manager Quincy Yamada.

The conversion process is straightforward, explains Sean Morris, who used to work for Motorex before opening his own shop, RB Motoring specializing in Skylines. "The biggest thing was proving to the DOT that they were crashworthy," he says. Getting the car's emissions in line takes some work, but it's doable. Then there are dozens of details like making sure all the labels and identification numbers on the car conform to standards that go into making a car strictly legal.

A few less-than-strictly-legal Skylines have snuck into the U.S. and registered. But if law enforcement catches up with one, it's likely to be confiscated and exported — or worse. If you want to import a GT-R yourself, be prepared to learn all the intricacies of certification that a company like Motorex already knows. And Motorex isn't sharing its knowledge.

But if you're determined to go it alone, start with the Web sites of the federal agencies with which you'll be dealing: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Customs. All three are packed with information on importing vehicles, but none make the task appear less than daunting.

What It's Like to Own One
Just remember, there's nothing more tempting than forbidden fruit, but there are always risks when you bite into an exotic apple.

"My biggest challenge was the difficulty of getting the DMV in the state of Ohio to issue a title to a non-standard VIN number," explains Kyle Bacon, 33, of Columbus and the owner of a 1995 R33. "They just couldn't handle a VIN that had dashes in it. They needed a 13-digit number without any special characters. So we took out some dashes and added some zeroes."

Fortunately while the Skyline GT-R is a unique vehicle, it's not so exotic that no parts interchange with Nissans sold in America. "I haven't had any problem with parts," says Bacon. "A lot of filters and stuff can be substituted with items originally sold here for cars like the 300ZX Twin Turbo. RB Motoring has cross-referencing information that it provides. Of course it's not like I can wreck the car and just go pull a body panel out of the junkyard. And I can't expect to ask the Nissan dealer for a titanium exhaust for a Skyline and expect them to have it in stock."

For Bacon and other buyers, the most serious challenge is dealing with driving a right-hand-drive car in left-hand-drive America. "If you're not paying attention, you wind up driving down the center of the road," Bacon says. "I scuffed up the left-side rims when I was parking. And the turn signals and windshield wiper stalks are reversed so that when you click on the turn signals you wind up turning on the wipers."

Ultimately, though, Bacon has found the car very satisfying. "I had built my old car, an RX-7, to be a 600-hp beast," he says, "and I wanted my next car to be an 800-hp beast. I looked at a three-rotor version of the Mazda and the Toyota Supra. But I knew I'd have trouble with traction. I wanted all-wheel drive and that's what led me to the Skyline."

The GT-R That's Coming
Motorex has such a large backlog of cars already in its shop that it has stopped importing Skylines until it's caught up. It does have a few used GT-Rs for sale (R32s and R33s ranging from about $48,000 to $72,000, with the R34s going for around $95,000), but all the R32, R33 and R34 GT-Rs that will ever come to America may already be here. But this isn't the end of the GT-R story.

In Japan, the current Skyline two-door is the car known as the Infiniti G35 Coupe in America, and there is a GT-R version coming. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has promised that this GT-R will be exported to the United States. It's about time.

Strongly rumored to debut in production form at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, the "V35" GT-R will likely use a twin-turbo version of Nissan's often lauded VQ-Series, DOHC, 24-valve V6 displacing somewhere between 2.8 and 3.5 liters and making power at least comparable to the gray-market engine feeding a new all-wheel-drive system. And unlike every previous GT-R, this one will be produced with left-hand drive. Don't expect the "Skyline" name to make it over to this country, though, as it will likely be called the Infiniti GT-R.

Will the next GT-R make anyone forget its predecessors? No. But buying a new one at any Infiniti dealer may make the hassle of importing an older one less attractive.

But don't count on it.

See arso (2008 Nissan Skyline GT-R)

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