I surely can’t be the only one thinking that we need to celebrate the R33 Skyline GT-R, can I?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for quite some time, you’ll know that the values of performance-related or slightly collectible cars from yesteryear have skyrocketed. Sure, Italian exotica or any McLaren F1-shaped unobtanium have been on the rise for decades, but now the once affordable stuff has gone crazy.
Perhaps we took things for granted; cars had a certain value and we accepted it. We knew what a pristine model was worth, same as a ropey or tatty example, right down to bare shell projects. For a long time values were stable.
It seemed like the collector car market was reserved for supercars and old Porsches, and no one wanted a turbocharged AWD Japanese car for their collection. But in thinking this way, most overlooked the US 25-year import rule.
To plot the sudden surge, think back five years or earlier. Sure, buying the real top-tier stuff from Japan wasn’t cheap by any stretch, but at the time Supras and Skyline GT-Rs were still somewhat affordable and definitely an attainable dream for many.
Compare those days to now. An EK9 Honda Civic Type R sold at auction in June for ¥11million (US$100,000/€84,000/£72,000). In April, we brought you a story on the US$312,555 Subaru Impreza 22B.
So, as the market for Japanese icons becomes ever fiercer, it’s no wonder that the true king has seen its value continue on an upward trajectory. From the late ’80s to early ’00s, across three generations, Nissan’s Skyline GT-R was the daddy.
We saw the opening shots of the impending gold rush a few years back as early R32 GT-Rs passed the United States’ mandated 25-year age for import. Now, as R34 GT-Rs near the quarter-century-old mark, they’re only becoming more valuable on the used market.
As I write this, a delivery-mile R34 V-spec II Nür just sold for ¥60.5million (US$550,000/€465,000/£400,000).
Enthusiasts and investors are clambering to get their hands on an R32 or R34 GT-R no matter the cost it seems, but there remains a sizeable question in the market logic: Is it time we think about the R33 GT-R?
As the middle child of the glorious tech-laden Skyline GT-R trilogy, the R33 has always had a troubled reputation. Those that own them rave about their improvements over the R32 GT-R, but those that don’t continuously poke fun and point to the quantum leap they feel the R34 GT-R to have been.
Personally, I’ve always been one to champion or enjoy the often overlooked or derided. My favourite Volkswagen Golf is the Mk3, and similarly my favourite BMW M3 is the E36. Perhaps it’s an era thing, but I just feel models like these are misunderstood.
The R33 Skyline GT-R seems to fall into similar company. It’s very easy to make the lame stereotypical jokes and form another baseless opinion, but I’ll give you a top piece of advice: spend any time with one and you’ll quickly see how great they are.
Meeting Dave and his 1996 Skyline on a Friday afternoon, the first thing that struck me is the incredible presence that GT-Rs – regardless of generation – have in the wild. Amongst everyday traffic, this snarling Japanese beast looks incredibly alien even now, so I can only imagine what meeting one on the roads in the ’90s must have been like.
Stood still, a GT-R is pure theatre, but I’d never fully appreciated the aggression of an BCNR33 body shape before. The wide, pumped-up arches grab your eye as you walk around, and they take some proper filling.
It’s often pointed out that OEM R33 GT-R wheels look mega on everything except the R33 GT-R. Looking at Dave’s car, you’d wonder how RAYS Volk Racing TE37s in classic bronze were never delivered as standard.
Measuring in at 18×10.5-inch all round and wrapped in very sticky Yokohama Advan AD08R rubber, the Volk Racing wheels really add to the visual nature of this R33. But they are just the shiny icing to lure me in; this Skyline is full of incredible touches that add to a really special build.
Behind the TE37s is an R35 GT-R-based brake conversion, including Brembo callipers, DBA 388mm 2-piece slotted rotors and Nismo braided brake lines.
The R33 is often lamented for its rather floaty ride, but you could say all standard Skyline GT-Rs were somewhat ‘soft’. A totally original R32 can feel like it wallows along, but the R33 improved upon the design. Dave knew his Skyline needed extra sharpening, so in came a set of HKS Hipermax IV coilovers along with a GKTech HICAS lockout kit to disable the factory rear-wheel steering. An HKS Kansai strut brace rounds out the main handling enhancements.
While shooting the Skyline, chat eventually turned to the soaring values of JDM cars from the rad-era, something that seems almost impossible to avoid at the minute.
Dave is one of the lucky ones who bought at the right time. The R33 bug was set from a young age when his father owned the 350hp GTS25t pictured above, so when funds allowed there was only ever going to be one Japanese performance icon heading Dave’s way.
Since arriving on Irish shores in 2017, the evolution of Dave’s GT-R has been steady and wonderfully executed. While the updated Series 3 splitter and Xenon headlights were already fitted ex-Japan, the goodies have kept coming. Nismo carbon wing tips for the rear spoiler add a subtle contrast of colour against the QM1 White, while the addition of Ganador mirrors is an instant win.
Step inside and everything is pure ’90s JDM.
Black plastics were the thing then, but then again, that could be said for pretty much any car of the time. Besides, when you’re blitzing down the Wangan at night, I doubt the dash material is going be anywhere near your mind. It is, as always, all about the driver touch points, and the combination of a Momo steering wheel, Nismo titanium shift knob and 320km/h/11,000rpm cluster is all anyone needs.
As we moved from location to location, the R33’s allure only grew. I can’t help but wonder how these things have had such a life of unacceptance and derision in the face of their R32 and R34 stable mates.
Lifting the deceptively-light aluminium bonnet reveals the beating heart of this GT-R. Although detailed and upgraded, the RB26DETT engine is the same one that Nissan fitted in this chassis 25 years ago.
The straight-six breathes through an HKS intake and drinks through a Walbro 450lph fuel pump and 1,000cc Bosch injectors. A pair of Garrett 2859-9 turbos handle the output, and combined with a Link G4+ ECU send 550bhp to all four wheels via an R34 GT-R Getrag 6-speed transmission and Nismo Coppermix twin-plate clutch.
HPI Turbo elbows and Reimex equal-length down pipes dispatch exhaust gasses through a Tomei Expreme titanium system, while a HPI Evolve radiator keeps everything cool and happy.
I could spend hours in the company of this Nissan, such is the sheer aggression and detail in every angle. As the market for JDM icons grows ever crazier by the day, it’s quite likely the R33’s unloved status will wane and finally people will come around to realising what incredible machines these are.
Is it time we celebrated the R33 Skyline GT-R? Damn right it is!Gallery