If you’d told me at the start of the year that Tokyo Auto Salon 2020 would house a wide-body, naturally-aspirated Skyline slammed on air suspension I’d have put money on it coming from the Liberty Walk stables.
And in hindsight I should’ve got my wallet out, because that’s exactly what happened as Dino handily explained. But tucked away from the glitz, glamour and heavily-zoomed lenses trained to seek out the promou girlsu of Makuhari Messe’s Central Hall was another Skyline boasting the same credentials. A genuine GT-R courtesy of Garage Active.
One of these Skylines pushes the boundaries of what’s physically possible with an R34 chassis. The other combines almost 30 years of R&D to create what can only be described as an R32 GT-R in its final form. And that’s a bold statement, but I’ll stick my neck on the line right now and say this is one of the most incredible Skylines I’ve ever seen.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty, I’ve got a little confession to make: Despite being a self-proclaimed GT-R addict – functioning somewhere scarily close to the spectrum – I’d never actually heard of Garage Active until a few years ago. In fact, I wrongly assumed they were relatively new to the game given their lack of social media footprint.
Turns out they’re one of the longest-standing GT-R tuners in the world, first opening their doors back in July 1992. But while Yokohama and Chiba made the likes of Top Secret and Mine’s household names, Garage Active took a much more under-the-radar approach over in Fukuoka, first offering general GT-R maintenance before expanding to provide a one-stop shop for all Skyline-shaped headaches.
It wasn’t until 2017, or rather their first time exhibiting at Tokyo Auto Salon, that gaijin like me finally took notice of ‘em. Sumimasen, Garage Active.
What struck me most about Garage Active’s arsenal is that every build followed a specific theme predetermined by their president Kazushige Sakamoto. On a platform like Auto Salon it’s easy to throw every part at a car in the hope some YouTuber will use five jump-cuts to introduce the ‘Wildest Car Ever!’. While that works for some, it’s not how Sakamoto-san does business.
This is a man who, despite being old enough to call me his son, still manages to look more youthful than me. He dresses in smart, designer gear, but he’s the first to get his hands dirty. To this date he is the only man I’ve seen unload a car transporter without misplacing a single hair. Spend even two minutes in his company and you quickly understand why Active’s GT-Rs look and function the way they do.
“In Japan, there are [GT-R] shops that can make a fast car, but very few will focus on a super-clean and cool style,” Sakamoto-san explains, removing his phone from his pocket. “At Garage Active, we are aiming to create a GT-R with a good balance of style, speed and cleanliness inside and out.”
There’s a slight irony to this statement as Sakamoto-san loads up a video of their 2019 demo car – the blue Active Carbon-R – which happens to have 900hp and runs 9-second ¼-miles with himself behind the wheel. But crucially, that was always the goal with the blue car; to show the world that Active can hang with the best when it comes to building a balls-out, big-power GT-R.
Keen not to compromise their style, Sakamoto-san runs at the drag strip (and touge) in full street trim with 18-inch ‘show’ wheels and air suspension. Turn up, raise hell, go home. Check out the following film for proof.
And on the other end of the Active spectrum is the red Carbon-R pictured here…
Where exactly do you start with a car like this? First off, let’s establish the idea behind the red Carbon-R, as imagined by Sakamoto-san. “Until this point, we had always focused on cars which chased power. But there is much more to the GT-R platform than power. We wanted to build a more grown-up Skyline. One that is comfortable to drive, but with the best exterior and interior possible. Oh, and engine sound and response is very important. This is why we chose no turbochargers and an RB30.”
Within approximately 0.48-seconds of posting these images on Instagram a couple of weeks ago, the eagle-eyed amongst you queried why the car was advertised as being RB30-powered, yet the cam cover clearly states it’s an RB31. Well, like a modern school sports day, we’re all winners here. The engine block – as shown by Active’s properly cool custom chassis plaque – is an RB30E traditionally found in the R31 Skyline and VL Holden Commodore.
This block and crank remains standard, but the rest has been built to Active’s own spec including a ported and polished RB26 head fitted with 292-degree cams, oversized valves, solid lifters and double valve springs allowing it to flow all the way to 9,000rpm. 87mm pistons matched with custom con-rods give the Active R32 a total displacement of 3,066cc and a power output of 348PS with not a turbo in sight. That’s then sent to the rear wheels (no 4WD) via an OS Giken 6-speed sequential transmission for good measure.
The fact the billet throttle bodies and tubular exhaust manifold just so happens to look like a work of art is a handy bonus which backs up Sakamoto-san’s claim of building a GT-R with equal measures of style and performance.
And then you get to the exterior. Every panel with the exception of the door handles has been reproduced in-house and in carbon fibre by Active. From afar it looks like a traditional respray (nicknamed TKO Red), but peer a little closer and the carbon weave is easily visible through each panel. What’s more, the perfectly aligned carbon gives an insight into how much work Active have put into this bodykit.
I’m not usually a fan of wide-body GT-Rs, mainly because they’re pretty much wide-body as standard. But the way Active has retained the OE shape is bang on the money in my eyes. The Nismo-style spats, N1 vents and side steps are all aero tweaks I’d do on a stock body. Throw the arches into the mix and it’s more like a GT-R which has had a few special injections down at the local gym.
Elephant in the room time; its stance. Looks properly good, doesn’t it? But before I hear cries of practicality, you’ll be both surprised and not surprised to learn it’s on air suspension – just like Active’s blue Carbon-R mentioned earlier on.
The air suspension debate is one that will always polarise opinions, which roughly translates to 50% of people shouting good things and 50% of people shouting bad things. But 100% of people shouting. So, before we open a 140psi can of worms, let’s hear from Sakamoto-san to explain his choice which handily protects us from the boiling pot that is the Speedhunters comments section.
“Understand that the red Carbon-R theme is a car than can drive comfortably with good speed, comfort and style,” he says. ‘It’s not a car built to race. It’s not built for maximum speed. It’s a fun street car, which must look good and drive good in both city and countryside. Air suspension technology is very good these days and provides the best balance for our demo car. What a customer wants is their choice however.”
Whatever your view is on air, it’s refreshing to see a technology we’ve come to accept as commonplace on newer models making its way into the older, more traditional markets. Garage Active aren’t afraid to push the boundaries with GT-R tuning. In fact, they’re currently finishing an electric steering conversion for this very car. You could argue this loses some of the feel compared to a hydraulic rack, but it’ll also improve the drivability, especially at low speed. Because not everyone fancies a workout when they go for a drive.
The same theme is carried on with the interior, too. There’s a roll cage, it’s partially stripped out and sports two bucket seats. Yet every panel is trimmed in leather (including parts of the cage), there’s sat nav, air con and even carpets. It’s almost confusing as it’s neither ready for the track nor is it a luxury Grand Tourer, especially when you factor in the OS88 6-speed sequential ‘box complete with LED gear shift indicator. But that’s what makes it brilliant. Comfort, Bluetooth audio and instant gear shifts. It’s a fantastically Japanese approach to getting the best of both worlds.
Truth be told, you could pore over the details for hours. Every component from the exterior to the interior has been carefully planned and matched to create a ‘total package’ GT-R, which in reality is the result of nearly 30 years’ experience obtained by Sakamoto-san and his team. On paper it shouldn’t work, but in reality it’s a game changer.
Given the state of the used car market, specifically those ’80s and ’90s performance bargains – which are no longer bargains – it’s properly refreshing to see tuners like Active pushing the boundaries in a scene otherwise obsessed with phrases like ‘appreciating classic’ and restoring cars to standard in the quest for maximum value.
That aspect will always exist to some degrees. But thanks to people like Sakamoto-san, the tuning culture which made the GT-R a cult classic is the same culture which will ensure its future for the next generation in a rapidly changing automotive world. And that’s worth celebrating every day of the week.
Garage Active 1994 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R
RB30 engine block, RB26 head, 3,066cc displacement, 292-degree cams with oversized valves a& double valve springs, Active exhaust system including tubular manifold, Rising Sports fuel injection with Active delivery pipe, Active billet throttle bodies, DRL radiator, 87mm forged pistons & custom con-rods, Active head porting & polishing
ATS Carbon clutch, OS Giken OS88 6-speed sequential gearbox (RWD), ATS Carbon differential, T-Demand traction rods, upper arms & suspension, Nismo lower arms, GK Tech front upper arms, Active 4-piston big brake kit (front &rear), Work Seeker MX wheels 18×11.5-inch front & rear, Toyo 295/30R18 semi-slick tyres
Exterior & Interior
Active full carbon wide-body kit, Active TKO Red body colour, one-off Active roll cage, interior leather re-trimmed with rear seat cover, Active carbon steering wheel
Thanks to Kazushige Sakamoto, Hikaru Motoda and the rest of Garage Active for making time after Tokyo Auto Salon to shoot ahead of their long drive back to Fukuoka.