Swapping Sixes: The Barra-Powered Skyline R32
To Be Or Not RB

Engine swaps are as old as automotive culture itself.

Even mixing up manufacturers is a time-honoured tradition, with US hot rodders dropping Ford flathead V8s into anything with four wheels and a windshield as early as the 1930s.

So you’d think we’ve seen it all before when it comes to transplanting alternative power units. Matt — who’s been around the block more than a few times — certainly thought he had.

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But then while attending the Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge at Cootamundra back in April, he heard the distinctly non-RB26 throb of an Aussie Ford six-cylinder powering up the runway, only to discover the sound was coming from a Skyline cheekily wearing ‘XR32′ plates.

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Now, while alternative engine swaps are an accepted part of your average Speedhunters’ performance arsenal, desecrating the hallowed asphalt that the GT-R rolls on by removing its straight-six powerhouse and substituting it for one with a Ford oval cast into the block is perhaps not the best thing to do if a quiet life is all you’re looking for.

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Especially if that engine happens to be the inline-six Barra 24-valve turbo engine from Ford’s XR6 range of cars. While decidedly unique to Australia, the Barra has become famous the world over thanks to its availability, ease of tune, and seriously impressive power potential.

Rate Or Hate?

“There’s a lot of love and hate for this car,” admits Dennis O’Malley of Sydney-based Grim Performance, the main force and inspiration behind this build. “And unsurprisingly, the Nissan guys hate it.”

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But Dennis didn’t create this bastard child of Nissan and Ford for the controversy – he did it because the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense.

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“It was a customer of mine who suggested the swap, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t too fond of the idea at first,” recalls Dennis. “I tried to talk him out of it, but then I mulled it over and the Barra does have its plus points over the RB motor. It’s cheaper and easier to buy the base motor, the cast iron block is super-strong, and as a 4.0-litre it makes the same kind of power only with less effort required,” he reasons.

“Plus I love doing weird shit.”

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GT-R fans can possibly breathe a little easier at this point, though — this R32 didn’t start out as an R, but instead a slightly more conventional GTS-T, bought as a rolling project and pushed into the fabrication workshop at Grim Performance where Dennis could quietly crack on with the conversion over the course of its 12 month build.

While ideas may come easily, putting them into practice is much less so. Dropping the Barra into the R32’s engine bay proved to be one of the hardest part of the build — once the original customer bailed out of the project and Dennis decided to take it on and see it through, that is.

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“I wanted the conversion look as factory as possible, so that motor was in and out countless times to make sure it was right.

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“It’s a taller engine than the RB26, and I made it sit nice and low so that it fits under the standard GT-R bonnet, which involved modifying the existing crossmember and cutting up and re-welding the sump. I’ve since seen one other Barra-converted R32, and that has a hump in the bonnet to clear the cam cover, which I’m not sure looks right.”

Barra Boy

While Dennis was tackling the install using a dummy engine, Mick’s Motorsport was cracking on and building up the real thing.

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The specially-prepared bottom end was mated with a worked head and cams, Precision 6766 turbo, Plazmaman 76mm throttle body, inlet and intercooler, 2,400cc injectors, and a Haltech Elite ECU.

On E85 fuel, and mapped by Jeremy Gilbert at DVS Tuning, the result is a stomping 975hp on 26psi (1.76bar) of boost, with power delivery that Dennis describes as “a real handful on the street”.

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Backing up the Barra is the factory 6-speed Tremec T56 manual gearbox (both motor and transmission came out of a Ford BF F6 Typhoon), which though strong enough, Dennis admits isn’t ideal for the current engine spec — or drag racing, for that matter. “It’s not fond of being shifted too fast. At some point in the near future I’ll upgrade to an auto ’box that we can fine-tune to match the power delivery.”

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The T56 runs via a custom 4-inch diameter prop shaft to a standard R200 rear with 3.9:1 gears, which is holding up well so far. The upgraded brake system, meanwhile, come courtesy of Brembo 4-pots up front (from an Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX). These sit inside 18×10.5-inch Cosmis wheels, with 15×10-inch Belak forged split rims with drag radials bolted up for dragstrip and runway duties.

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Both sets are tucked into the GT-R arches courtesy of MCA Race Red coilovers.

Special Import

On the outside, only avid Nissan aficionados could tell this isn’t quite the R it’s claiming to be.

Dennis sourced genuine GT-R rear quarters, sills, front wings and bonnet from Japan (at eye-watering cost), to which panel man John Hogan added Jsai Aero side skirts and front diffuser, before the whole lot was resprayed in superb Solaris Metallic (a BMW M5 shade, no less — again purists cover your eyes) by local paint guru Matthew Maestri.

The illusion continues on the inside with R32 GT-R seats squeezing in between a half roll cage, with Dennis adding a digital dash and S1 shifter for strip duties.

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The end result is a pleasing package — even if it does get some people’s backs up. Not that that’s deterred Dennis, though – he’s keen to get out there and use the R32 as much as possible.

As well as GT-R Challenge, the XR32’s been to WTAC, and there are more events in the pipeline, with drag racing at the forefront once he’s sorted that new gearbox out.

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While the Barra swap may not have quite everyone’s approval, it’s keenly appreciated in some quarters.

Dennis is currently in serious talks with a customer to swap one into a Supra…

Simon Woolley
Instagram: fireproof_simon

Photography by Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham

Barra The World
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Wow this is just something straight out of the box
This is probably the best straight six build I have ever seen
The Barra is like Ford's rival with the Nissan RB26DETT, Toyota 2JZ-GTE, and BMW S54
I love this build and props to Matt for this creative swap


Dennis built it, but I'm sure Matt would be happy to take the credit!

Matthew Everingham

I'm not too fussed on credit, I'd be more interested in destroying tyres and going fast.


Dude this is awesome!


Now I don't want to 2JZ swap the new Supra
I want to Barra swap the new Supra now




so weird, this car just popped up in my youtube recommended videos about an hour ago


Opposite order here, but very similar timeframe.

Great write-up and a beautiful car. It's really cool to see this much love going into a cross-breed that was born out of practicality. I would expect to see stock bodywork and a no-frills approach that prioritizes nothing but going fast. The color is perfect.

Matthew Everingham

Because SKYNET.




Matthew, how much to send one of those Barra's stateside..? Asking for a friend... ;)

Matthew Everingham

I've got a mate who exports them. It CAN happen. ;)


Nicely done. He may be getting some hate from the Nissan guys now but he will really be kicking the hornets nest when he puts a Barra in a Supra because supra fanboys are absolutely rabid about their 2JZs. I look forward to seeing it. If you're going to go with a 600lb turbo I6, you may as well go with the one that has more displacement!


The Barra is actually lighter than both a Stock 2jz and RB26. Its just physically BIG


I can't say I'm surprised given how ungodly heavy 2JZs are, but knowing that just makes me wish we got the Barra here in the US even more.


purist just means boring anyway, more of this type of stuff please


+100 points for using stock steering wheel.


Pretty sure the Brembo's on the Evo IX is 4 pot and not 6 pot tho.


Dammit, you're right! Now updated