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1999 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-Spec

Talking about the R34 GT-R is like mentioning everyone's favorite music band from high school. Every car enthusiast feels compelled to emit their treasured recollection. "Hey that's the car Paul Walker drove in 2 Fast 2 Furious" they'd say. Maybe they'll talk about the time they drove one in Gran Turismo 2 on PlayStation. Or they read about it winning multiple podiums in the Japanese Gran Touring Car Championships in car magazines. Anime and manga readers of Initial D will converse its potential in a street race. Americans like to discuss its legality and how much it sucks they'll have to wait so many more years before being able to import one.

But no matter where they've seen or drove or heard about the R34 - the common thread between every quibble is the fact that it evokes a strong memory. It's a car that's appreciated by cult fans and casual car lovers alike. Its rarity on American and European streets notwithstanding. Unlike the music we used to enjoy when we were young and stupid, the R34 GT-R still retains its coolness. And the memories we have tied to this car is part of why it's a Japanese sports car icon.

Waxing poetic about our encounters with the R34 could last all day, but the car in its parts is just as amazing as the car in its whole. Its RB26DETT engine is a name that's almost as famous as the venerable Toyota 2JZ-GTE. Both are twin turbo powered straight-six setups, both are tunable to massive amounts of power far beyond its factory spec, both make an incredible sound, and both were featured in the Fast & Furious movies. Comparing one to the other is a pointless endeavor, but it should be known the engine in the R34 plays an important role in the narrative of its popularity.

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Under the hood is - as mentioned before - the 2.6-liter inline-six engine. It feature 24-valves, 8.5:1 compression, 276 horsepower at 6800 rpm, and 289 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. Two parallel ball bearing ceramic Garrett T25 units make up the turbos, and they're set to run 10 psi of boost. The cast iron block uses aluminum cylinder heads and individual throttle bodies for improved revving response. Redline is at 8,000 but everyone knows the best part about the engine is the noise it makes from lift off so the blow-off valve creates its signature noise.

Power is sent to a Getrag 6-speed manual transmission. Close ratio gears puts 5th at 1:1 and 6th as the only gear for overdrive in an attempt to improve acceleration. Similar to the R32 and R33, the R34 uses Nissan's distinguished Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain Electronic Torque Split Pro or ATTESA E-TS Pro all-wheel drive. Nissan loves initialisms. With ATTESA, an active transfer case is connected to the driveshaft where the car uses a series of sensors and computers to determine how much torque should be sent to the front. In a normal driving situation, the car is always rear wheel drive but users can disable all front transfer for hectic skids.

If the R34 is not in V-Spec (Victory spec) trim, the rear axle is equipped with a helical limited slip differential. V-Spec models use an active limited slip differential allowing the R34 to send power to each rear wheel individually - a feature separating Pro from non-Pro ATTESA systems. HICAS or High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering is another initialism used to encompass its rear wheel steering. HICAS is hydraulically powered to turn the rear wheels in parallel to improve its handling at speeds greater than 50 mph (80 kph). Wheel angle is determined by more sensors and computers. Although it's not as appreciable as ATTESA, it's one feature typically unseen in cars of this era and market.

For parts that owners like to replace the most, the R34 uses 245/40 ZR18 Bridgestone Potenza RE040 tires. Factory standard 18" forged aluminum wheels saves 8.8 lbs (4 kg) per car over the ones used in the R33, though many owners love to use their own aftermarket set. Four and two piston Brembo brake calipers are utilized in the front and rear, with both benefitting from Jurid brake pads. The discs are not drilled, but they are ventilated for improved cooling. Its suspension uses multi-link geometry at each corner. If the wheel hubs weren't so crowded already, you can be sure Nissan would use some kind of adaptive damper too.

Aerodynamics are aided by a front splitter, rear carbon fiber diffuser, underbody sculpting, and colossal rear wing. The spoiler features two planes; one fixed main wing, and one aluminum alloy variable wing with four ways of adjustment. R33 models only used a single level spoiler. Additional body changes over its predecessor involve 20 mm of shortened front overhang, 55 mm shorter wheelbase, and 75 mm of shorter overall length. Nissan's modifications to the shape of the body play a large role in why the R34 so much more attractive than the R33.

Practical effects are where the R34 shows its age. Front headlights use Xenon low beam and halogen high beams. Three-channel ABS (2 in front, 1 in rear) is not as sophisticated as it could be, but Nissan runs the slipping sensors on double duty for its ATTESA system. Its battery is mounted in the trunk for better weight distribution, an idea borrowed from the R33, though the result has minimal effect on its nose heavy FR 57/43 balance. Total curb weight is 3395 lbs (1540 kg). Light for a car with this many features by modern standards - portly when compared to cheaper AWD sports cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI.

Its interior cabin is a marque of space aged technology. The most prominent feature is its 5.8" LCD hardmounted to the center console. With it, drivers can view statistics about the R34 like boost, G-meter, water temperature, oil temperature, torque split, fuel injector rate, voltage, and throttle opening. Cars with the V-Spec upgrade gain air intake temperature and exhaust gas temperature readouts. Original documentation showed a navigation option with highway lane guidance and birds-eye-view featuring 3d buildings but since it's in Japanese and never really discussed, it's unlikely this feature was ever made available.

Riding in an R34 GT-R is said to be stiff but manageable. Its sport seats with large thigh and abdomen bolsters have great body-hugging properties for long and short term comfort. Road noise is lower than expected, though there's no shortage of exhaust volume from its stainless steel tailpipes and 80 mm exhaust tips.

Driving one instantly reveals the fruits of Nissan's efforts. On normal roads, the power delivery is effortless. Zero-to-60 mph takes just under 5 seconds and its top speed is 155 mph. If you push it to its limits on a track, the R34 will respond in kind. Low and medium speed corners are managed with relentless front end grip, but the way it handles high speed corners has earned some flak for its HICAS intervention. Its driftability, if you consider it a real word, is as real as ever. Flicking the rear end out and gunning the throttle after a clutch kick will keep the R34 GT-R sideways for as long as you have the gas and rubber to spare. It's heavy but tossable - and there's no way you can leave the driver seat without a huge grin on your face.

Some of the criticisms regarding the R34 pertain to availability. GTR-Registry.com lists 11,577 R34 GT-R models sold worldwide. Sales ran from 1999 to 2002, and over a dozen variations had been released during its run. It's impossible to track how many are still operational today, and the number of R34 GT-Rs that remain in factory stock condition diminishes with each passing year. Residents of the United States will have to wait until 2024 to bring one to their shores - or they'll have to register one from Canada where it only takes 15 years to import a car instead of 25. Even if a zealous U.S. owner goes through all the loopholes, they'll have spent enough money to be able to afford an R35 GT-R - and all that trouble could've been avoided if Nissan just sold the R34 in the States from the beginning.

The second most common criticism is its HICAS system. Available on the R32, R33, and R34, disabling the HICAS entirely is a decision many drivers opt for as their first mod. Some disable it because they don't like how it drives when enabled, and some drivers take out all of its relevant parts to save weight and reduce complexity. Naturally, some choose to do so because both reasons are valid. In the case of the R34, its rear wheel hydraulics runs off of the power steering pump (also hydraulic) so turning it off sets the steering at maximum weight. The R34 uses variable steering weight, and its connection to HICAS allows the car to increase or decrease steering weight as the car changes speed. With HICAS disabled, the R34 has no choice but to force drivers to work out their forearm muscles every time they're behind the wheel.

So yes, the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R is complicated and heavy. And not all the features it brings are pinnacles of its technology. But car enthusiasts love the R34 because it's the perfect example of combining analogue and digital technology. Many sports cars today tend to go one way or the other, but none straddle the line as well as a GT-R.

My first encounter with the R34 was in the 2003 game Need for Speed: Underground. It was the final boss of the single player mode, and I hated it because it cheated - darting around corners at impossible speeds, breaking the laws of physics to catch up when you're in the lead, and accelerating too fast on a road slicked with permanent rain. And no matter which late model car I used and modified - be it Mazda FD RX-7, Nissan 350Z or Honda S2000 I never seemed to match the brutal performance of the R34. Back then, I was unfamiliar with the Skyline GT-R due to it being relatively new, and because I live in the U.S.; I never understood its true capabilities. I knew it was a force to be reckoned with, I just didn't know to what degree. Now, over 18 years later, I'm thinking its representation in the game was closer to reality than I could believe.



All photos by Chikako Yuasa ©2017 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's