The 2000s marked a new start for the world but for the Japanese sports cars just reaching their apogee it became an abrupt end of their era. The R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R stands out as being the best of its breed and truly deserves the iconic status to which it is given.
1999 was the concluding year to a decade that warranted grand superlatives from all Japanese automakers. It was also the culmination of a string of years that had become the final fruition of decades of work. Japan’s carmakers had become recognized as industry contenders who were capable of building, in many cases, far superior automobiles than other nations.
In no other car classification was this truer than in their sports car offerings. For years they had struggled to be seen as worthy rivals to European and American offerings, but in the late 1990s, their cars could no longer be dismissed as second-class crafts. Nevertheless, as the millennium celebrations would close out a century, so to would it end an era of Japanese sports car stardom; taking with it the prodigious Nissan Skyline GT-R.
The Resolute Skyline GT-R
Since 1972, Nissan had been steadily perfecting and improving the Skyline GT-R series. In 1989, the Skyline finally emerged into the realm of performance we associate with the moniker today when Nissan introduced the Skyline GT-R (R32). Throughout the subsequent ten years, the car would evolve through the engine, suspension, styling, and computer technology that drastically set it apart from its contenders.
When the Skyline GT-R (R34) was exposed in 1999, the world saw a familiar, yet evolved exterior, but the evolved exterior belied the reality of its performance.
A Technological Titan
What was expected to carry on from Nissan’s previous R33 Skyline variant was still found in terms of technology oversight. Although there was no stability control the complicated ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive (AWD) system was still loaded with computer sensors to keep even the most ham-fisted pilots planted to the road. Now, though, it was updated to the newest specifications and programming to react faster and smarter. Coupled with the AWD system were two centrally controlled wet multi-plate clutches.
These were designed so well that a stability control system was unnecessary since the clutches eliminated under or oversteer. The ATTESA E-TS AWD system was so determined to keep you safe that the Skyline could individually apply pressure to each brake caliper to better balance the car, a carryover from the racier versions of the R33. Further confidence was imbued into the new Skyline with their HICAS all-wheel steering system that controlled the rear wheels during turning.
A lot of engineering wizardry went into the suspension and for good reasons. Carried over from the R32 & R33 was the RB26DETT straight-six twin-turbocharged motor, now painted with a beautiful Cherry Red valve cover plate. These handbuilt 2.6-liter motors have six individual throttle bodies that allow them to act like individual engine cylinders for better performance and are famous for their strength. The R34 Skyline’s turbochargers saw improvements with ceramic fan blades that, because of their lithe figure, actually eliminated turbocharger lag. Out of the engine, all of this energy was sent to the wheels via a six-speed Getrag transmission – classic.
Interior & Exterior Enhancements
Never meant to be a lightweight scalpel the R34 Skyline, like its predecessors, traded fine-edge finesse for driver confidence. However, Nissan did put in earnest effort to limit weight and intensify aerodynamics. While the chassis is stiffer and thus heavier, they curbed that accumulation by trimming pounds from the wheels, saving 17 lbs (7.7 kg). Another 2.2 lbs (1 kg) was saved by converting the aluminum used in the front wings and hood. Plus, now a carbon fiber spoiler adorned the rear of the GT-R, and even the audio system speakers were put on a diet.
Inside the Skyline carried on a tradition of driver awareness through a bigger, 5.8” LCD screen. Drivers could program the screen to display seven different readings, such as oil temperature, water temperature, turbocharger boost, and more.
Various Versions: The V-Spec
Although the R34 Skyline lasted less than five years, it had several distinctive variations that all bore improvements. The first was the V-Spec (Victory Specification) aimed to drastically increase track performance. They accomplished this through advancements including an ATTESA E-TS Pro system (more radical programming), active rear limited-slip differential (LSD), stiffer suspension, new carbon fiber front, and rear diffuser. The multi-function display also gained up to five more data points (intake temp, exhaust temp, lap timer, boost pressure, G-force meter).
In 2000 Nissan updated the V-Spec to the V-Spec II. An even stiffer suspension was seated below the bodywork, and a new carbon fiber hood with a NACA duct replaced the aluminum units. Larger rear brake rotors and revised interior colors (black cloth) and aluminum pedals were welcome alterations.
Tied into the V-Spec was the M-Spec (named after Cheif Engineer Mizuno). This package had a leather interior, heated seats, new dampers, rigid anti-sway bars, and a reworked suspension arrangement. It was the luxury version of the GT-R.
Always intended to be raced the Skyline GT-R needed to be homologated through the sale of cars to the public- the N1 was this version. These homologated versions came without air conditioning, radios, audio systems, and other superfluous accessories to help limit weight. Only 45 of these cars were built, and almost all were sold to racing teams or used by NISMO racing.
Designed for durability the cars were outfitted with advanced oil and water cooling systems. To prevent cracking under race conditions the motor’s cylinder walls were thicker. The lightweight ceramic turbocharger fans were replaced by stronger steel units. Plus, piston rings, crankshafts, and connecting rods were all scrapped for improved designs.
1,000 of these N1 engines made it into streetcars in 2002 via the Nürburgring editions of V-Spec II Nür and M-Spec Nür cars. The only alteration being that these N1 motors were adorned with gold painted cam-covers instead of red – how bling-bling.
By 2003, the R34 Skyline was dead. Nevertheless, as a last hurrah, Nissan repurchased 20 V-Spec II cars and then went crazy with them. They installed the Z1 motor, which was a 2.8-liter RB26DETT concept engine modeled for use in their Le Mans GT2 and GT500 racing programs.
The engine, thanks to improved displacement and revisited turbochargers pushed out 500 horsepower! This power increase was enough to take the Skyline to 60 mph (100 km/h) in 3.8 seconds and to a top speed of 203 mph (326 kph). Entirely built by hand the cars were rigged with vast swaths of carbon fiber, were seam-welded in specific areas, were adorned with aggressive venting and bodywork, and an authentic race car-derived suspension setup. Although 20 were repurchased only 19 ultimately received the special Z-tune Silver paint that makes these cars among the most expensive street-legal Skyline GT-R ever sold.
Despite its short lifespan the R34 Skyline did manage to see some racing success in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship (JGTC). Founded in 1993 the series aimed to reduce the black-hole budgeting that would plague racing in the late 1990s. Strict impositions of weight, power, and other aspects of racing were strictly enforced to ensure competitive balance.
In 1999, the R34 entered service and would score points in all six rounds of the JGTC series with the Pennzoil-sponsored #1 car going on to win the driver’s trophy two years in a row. 2002 was a sad year because Nissan decided to put the RB26DETT out to pasture. Replacing it with a V6 (VQ30DETT) motor significantly improved handling and the turning speed of the GT-R.
2003 was the last year a Skyline GT-R would race in the JGTC series. Nissan replaced the front and rear structures of their GT500 racer with a new tubular space frame. The results were impressive. The car was wider, lower, and speed capability dramatically increased. Despite not winning a single race overall, their dependability and consistent pace helped them score enough points to win the championship. This racing success was the solidifying measure of their mission to build a race car that merged mechanical and electronic technology together.
The End of an Era
When production of the R34 Skyline ceased in 2002, the GT-R had ascended into its most potent form. While most cars meet their fate at the hands of decrepit technology the Skyline was still at the bleeding edge, and the RB26 was not even close to being at its performance capacity. All of this makes the end of the Skyline lineage more tragic since there was no replacement scheduled.
Yes, with the onset of the new millennium automakers turned their attention to a new market segment – SUVs. The halcyon of Japanese performance cars, the decades of tireless work to garner respect and establish themselves as capable performers was wiped away for the sale of the modern stagecoach. Nissan wasn’t alone in their departure either. Mazda’s RX-7, Toyota’s Supra, and three years later Acura’s NSX would all be meet a dead-end extinction.
Thankfully, our memories of these titans cannot be erased – especially the R34 Skyline. With its Romeo-esque death, we only find ourselves fonder of it. The original era of Japanese sports cars may have ended in the early 2000s, but the message of what these cars were capable of was certainly not forgotten there.
- Years – 1999-2003
- Layout – Front – engine
- Drive – All-Wheel Drive
- Body Style – Coupe
- Seating – 2+2
- Motor – Inline 6
- Displacement – 2.6 liters
- Power – 276 horsepower
- Torque – 216 lbs-ft
- Transmission – 6-speed manual
- Wheelbase – 2665 mm (104.9 in)
- Weight – 1536 kg (3386 lbs)
- 0-60 mph – 5.2 seconds
- Top Speed – 294 km/h (155 mph)