To many of us, the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R is the holy grail of JDM cars. Wherever the influence came from, we all tend to share the same appreciation for this forbidden fruit from Japan and fantasize of the day we might actually own one.
Unfortunately for those of us stateside, the rules for importation still require cars to be at least 25 years old. That makes the most cherished version of the GT-R produced from January 1999 to August 2002 just out of reach right now, never mind the buy-in price these days. There are however, a few ways to get around the former issue.
You can purchase a Motorex car (I am sure most of you are familiar with these, and if not a quick Google search will net you days’ worth of content) and use it as a pure track car. Or, you can import one under the ‘Show or Display’ exemption, but only the 282 Midnight Purple II V-spec cars, along with the 285 M-spec Nür models that were produced in various colors, fall into this category. In importing a car under this exemption, you can’t do more than 2,500 miles per year, and must agree to make the car available for federal inspection when requested, until the car is over 25 years old.
You might be aware of the R34 GT-R that sold a couple of weeks ago for US$314,000, along with the one that sold last week for US$310,000. The R34 GT-R I’m going to share with you today is neither of those cars.
Through my own Skyline ownership, I’ve been able to meet many people online with the same passion, one of whom is Brad Nielson. Brad has become a friend to me, and is known locally as ‘The GT-R Guy’.
Brad has always loved cars, and like many of us, he caught the bug early on from his father. “When I was young, my dad had a ‘68 Ford Bronco called ‘Fred’. He would let me sit on his lap and drive Fred around. I loved driving from that point on. Several years later, I saw the movie ‘No Man’s Land’. I haven’t seen the film in about 30 years, and it’s probably terrible, but I remember Charlie Sheen driving a Porsche 9111, and that was the first car I fell in love with. I will own a GT3 RS one day.”
I inquired about Brad’s first car, which as it turns out wasn’t an import but a ’91 Fox Body Mustang 5.0 “with a big diesel-sized turbo on it. Before that, it had a 150 shot of nitrous. One time, I had a nitrous backfire and blew half the intake manifold off. To the Mustang’s credit, it drove three miles back to my house.”
I was curious about how Brad ended up becoming such a huge fan of the GT-R. “In the ’90s and 2000s, Skylines were [relatively] cheap, and you could do a moon tune to them and make them rip, so that was the first thing. Then, ‘The Fast and the Furious’ came out and I got a bit more into JDM cars. I started buying ‘Best Motoring’ DVDs. I was pretty into the Skyline at that point. When I got the Best Motoring DVD where Keiichi Tsuchiya drove the white Mine’s R34, I was amazed by how quickly it revved and the way it handled. That was the moment I knew I needed one.”
This attraction ultimately led Brad to a mutual friend, Chris Driver, who owns and operates Driver Motorsports in Lynchburg, Virginia.
This introduction really opened Pandora’s box. “I got into a place financially that I could afford to buy and modify a Skyline, so I searched the internet and found Driver Motorsports. Chris, the owner of Driver, and I spent months looking for the right one. I ended up buying a pretty much stock R32 GT-R that had a roll cage already installed. That project grew and grew to the point that I realized I wouldn’t be street driving it very often. I wanted to have the ‘Skyline experience’, so Chris found me a low-mile R33 and had his team give it a ‘Stage 1′ build with upgraded turbos, suspension, TE37s, and some other minor mods resulting in 420whp. The R33 is a dream of a car. If you hate them, then perhaps you haven’t seen one in person. Around the same time that I bought the R32, I also bought a lightly-modified 2016 R35. I don’t think at any point I thought I was collecting Skylines, then people locally started calling me ‘The GT-R Guy’. It’s a title I’m very proud of. I think cars are like significant others; you don’t choose who you fall in love with. I just happened to fall in love with Skylines, and my wonderful wife, who sees how much I love the cars, supports me and has never tried to talk me out of buying any of them.”
Brad now owns a total of five GT-Rs – one R32, an R33, two R34s and an R35. With his obvious love and admiration for these cars, I was curious if he had become more interested in the history of these cars and whether he still loves them as much after experiencing his halo cars. “Honestly, I know a lot about the history of the Skyline and the high praise it has received and still receives. After owning a few I think it’s just made my appreciation grow. Something that always makes my day is when a kid on a bike sees me in my R33 and points and yells ‘Skyline!’. I would like to shake their parents’ hands. To me, and many others, the Skyline is more than a car – it’s Godzilla. Watching people react to seeing their first Skyline in person is my favorite thing; more than beating up on supercars in it.”
The car before you is Brad’s 1999 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-spec in famed Midnight Purple II, sitting on the perfect set of wheels for a JDM icon – bronze RAYS Volk Racing TE37s.
I have to say, Midnight Purple II is the hardest exterior paint color I have ever tried to capture. Depending on the light, you get purple, blue, green, brown and even burgundy. But it’s simply stunning, and one of my all-time favorite automotive paint colors.
When Brad purchased this car, he sent it straight to his friends at Driver Motorsports. The crew got to work on some fairly extensive modifications, most notably the use of Vibrant Performance tubing and hardware. You can clearly see the heavy use of titanium in the piping with perfectly-executed pie-cuts and welds. Devin at Driver also added some custom-fabricated tanks and lines for the breather, coolant lines etc.
To top this off, a Custom Plenum Creations carbon/billet runner intake manifold and CNC’d valve covers were added. These items are masterfully crafted. The valve covers are a simple but effective touch, and are more in line to how many feel Nissan should have designed them.
Feeding the RB26 is a single Precision Turbo Gen2 6466 turbocharger. Not seen in the photos, a number of other modifications were made, including Tomei 262-degree cams, an ARC front-mount intercooler, TiAL 38mm wastegate, Nismo Super Copper twin-disc clutch, and a Haltech 2500 engine management system with a host of Haltech sensors. While all of this work was being done, and with the engine out, full maintenance was addressed to keep this R34 leak- and trouble-free for years to come.
Another major change to the car was the addition of Fortune 500 coilovers with Swift springs and air cups, the latter allowing Brad to raise the car for better clearance. I can attest to the fact that this car is low, but with the cup feature you can put the fear of speed bumps and sharp incline/decline angles behind you.
With the modifications and in-house tune from Driver, the Skyline makes 505rwhp and 378ft-lbs on 17.5psi (1.2bar) boost pressure, but feels even faster. It has tons of power but doesn’t suffer from major lag.
When I started writing this, Brad had yet to even receive and experience the R34. It was surreal to be shooting and riding in his car before he was able to see it in person. He has since taken delivery and had the chance to enjoy the car a bit, so I asked for initial thoughts. “I bought the car in October , and had it shipped straight to Driver Motorsports to do all the modifications that Chris and I had talked about. I thought it would take a couple of months, but thanks to some global pandemic that you may not have heard of, getting parts became very challenging. It ended up taking about eight months to have the build finished.”
“If I’m being honest, with the value of these cars going up like they are, I thought I might sell it when it becomes too valuable, but when I saw the car for the first time in person, I knew that I would never be selling it. It was incredible. I had been worried that I wouldn’t be as excited as I would’ve been if I hadn’t had eight months of build-up, but it was better than I could’ve ever imagined. Devin, Dan, Ed, and Chris really knocked it out of the park. My first drive in the car was about two hours after taking delivery, to a Cars & Coffee event about 10 miles from my house. My R33 feels like a car from the ’90s and I love it, but the R34 honestly feels like a new car. It drives so well.”
I had to inquire as to which GT-R is Brad’s favorite. “Looks-wise, my white R34 that I have in storage in Japan with the assistance of Driver Motorsports [until it becomes 25 years old and can be sent to the US], probably because of the Mine’s R34 I talked about earlier. There’s just something about a white R34 GT-R; they’re stunning. However, my favorite to drive is my R33, and because the value hasn’t gone up too much I don’t feel guilty driving it like Ricky Bobby. The Midnight Purple II Skyline is kind of nerve-wracking to drive down the street because they are so sought after and the value on them is so high.”
I was also curious about Brad’s first experience of GT-R ownership in general. “It was a strange experience. When you buy one from Japan it takes a couple of months to get them to the states. It’s a lot of waiting. I flew to Virginia and was picked up at the airport by Chris from Driver Motorsports in a JDM import FD3S RX-7. That was my first time being in a right-hand drive car. We got there and I toured the shop, and we took the R32 for a drive. Driving right-hand drive isn’t all that difficult – you are used to it within minutes – but the things that are strange are really strange. Like the rear-view mirror being on your left side, and the blinker being on the right side. I just remember being really disoriented but so excited with the way it felt.”
In wrapping up the interview, I also had to ask, if there would be any other cars added to his collection, particularly, Hakosuka and Kenmeri GT-Rs. “Honestly, when it comes to a Hako or a Kenmeri, I don’t think I will ever own them. I love speed and power, so if I bought either of the older models, I think I would probably do something to make them fast. However, if I find a Hako that is in really bad shape, I would love to build one with a rotary. Imagine a Hako with an naturally-aspirated three-rotor with semi-peripheral ports… Aside from that, I will build my collection. I need to get some non-JDM cars eventually. For instance, I currently own an NSX that is being imported. I will own a Porsche or two. I really have the itch for a V12 Ferrari, but I don’t know that I will ever own one. I probably will.”
I plan to feature Brad’s extensive R32 GT-R build in the future, but until then, make sure you check out the video above to see and hear his Midnight Purple II R34 GT-R V-spec in action.