Gran Turismo Racing. GT-R. What’s the first image that springs to mind when reading those three letters?
Maybe it’s the sight of a Hakosuka tearing around Tsukuba? How about a Top Secret monster hurtling down the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line at 300km/h? For our younger readers, it might even be the sound of a satanic YouTuber repeatedly testing their R35 GT-R’s pop and bang map.
Whatever the image – even that terrifying last one – few badges carry quite so much emotional baggage as the GT-R one.
It’s had plenty of time too, half a century in fact. So it’ll come as no surprise to learn that, over those past five decades, the GT-R badge has spawned its fair share of official (and unofficial) special editions.
In the world of GT-R geekery, being able to recite every model and its associated tweaks is like currency. First there’s the obvious ones – Z-Tune, 400R and V-Spec. Then you’ve got the slightly more obscure ones – N1, M-Spec and S1. Fancy stepping away from Nissan and Nismo altogether? Enter the world of Autech, Tommykaira and my favourite, the HKS Zero-R.
The list is endless, and that’s before you even get to the R35. Rumour has it that 98.4% of Wikipedia’s server space is taken up by GT-R topics.
But there’s one model I’ve deliberately ignored, partly for dramatic effect and partly because I’d forgotten all about it until recently. The LM Limited.
Based on the R33 GT-R, the LM Limited isn’t to be confused with the R33 GT-R LM. It should be; the names are almost identical. Anyway. The LM (not limited) was a one-off built for homologation so Nissan could go racing in the GT1 class at Le Mans.
This car resides at Nissan’s Zama storage facility, and with its super-wide bodywork filled by RAYS Volk Racing wheels you can see why it demands the most attention between the two. But for the purpose of this feature we’re talking about the similarly named – but entirely different – LM Limited. Another model with its roots buried in Le Mans, but much more subtly.
Only 188 examples of the LM Limited were produced from May 1996. Eighty six of these wore the standard GT-R badge and the remaining 102 were built on V-Spec models. Every car was finished in Championship Blue paint, featured commemorative GT-R decals, and gained a carbon spoiler blade and N1 cooling ducts/bonnet lip.
That was basically it. There wasn’t a different engine block like in the N1, and the interior didn’t change at all. So, if the homologation LM already existed, and (spoiler alert) Nissan never won any class at Le Mans with a Skyline, what was the point of the LM Limited?
The short answer was to commemorate Nissan’s return to Le Mans. But the fun answer dates back to 1986, the year in which Nissan first kicked-off their love affair with the French endurance race. The goal was simple: become the first-ever Japanese manufacturer to stand atop of the podium. Yet another spoiler alert, Mazda put an end to that with the 787B a few years later.
By 1990, and after four years of heavy investment within the Group C class, Nissan launched the R90CK. It was a monster, and arguably their best shot at the title yet. In qualifying with Mark Blundell behind the wheel, it clinched the top spot – the first Japanese car ever to do so – and its 1,100hp engine registered the highest ever top speed down the Mulsanne Straight (with chicanes). That 226.9mph (365.1km/h) record still stands today.
Everything looked promising… until the race. Four of the five entrants would retire, and the one remaining R90 could only finish 5th overall. With rule changes incoming for the 1991 season, Nissan suspended their French challenge indefinitely.
But as the Le Mans door shut, an infinitely larger one opened in the form of the R32 GT-R.
Whenever you search the history of Skylines in racing, one of the first stories you’re presented with is Bathurst. This is followed with the term ‘Godzilla’ and a phrase along the lines of it being so fast it was banned. There is truth to all of that, but the takeaway fact is the GT-R wasn’t just fast; it was dominant.
In the Australian Touring Car Championship it won the 1991 and 1992 seasons, finishing first in 16 of the 24 races. Not content with this alone, the R32 proceeded to win the Bathurst 1000 back-to-back in the same years. Over in the All Japan Touring Car Championship, it won every championship from 1990 to 1993. And it won all 29 races, too.
For the N1-spec Super Taikyu endurance series, the R32 won consecutive titles between 1991 and 1994. It even won its class at the Nürburgring 24 Hour race in 1990 and 1991, along with the Spa 24 Hour, too. Rule changes may have scuppered its performance abroad, but in Japan at least the R32 remained dominant up until its retirement.
What’s all this got to do with the R33 GT-R LM Limited? Like having an ultra-successful big brother who could do no wrong, the launch of the R33 meant it had some Godzilla-sized boots to fill. But Nissan had the perfect solution in 1995 – a rejuvenated Le Mans program spurred on by both Nismo and GT-R fans. What better way to promote the new Skyline than to do something not even the R32 could boast?
If you’ve made it this far, you already know Nissan didn’t achieve that goal. Ironically, a year before their return, Steve Millen won the IMSA class in his 300ZX during the ‘94 race. But in the four seasons Nissan pushed the R33 GT-R, a class win never materialised. That’s not to say it wasn’t mighty impressive.
In typical Japanese form, the 1995 year was approached purely as an R&D exercise. They finished 10th overall and 5th in class, beating competition from the McLaren F1, Ferrari F40 LM and Porsche GT2 EVO. But as each season passed, it became tougher for Nissan to win with a ‘production’ GT1 car. Attention was instead focused on their fully-fledged GT car in 1998, the R390 GT1, but after a best result of 3rd the plug was once again pulled after the 1999 season.
That might sound like a bit of a failure, but the reality was far from it. During its Le Mans stint, the R33 had been competitive – albeit plagued with reliability issues – and outside of France it was almost as successful as its predecessor. Back in the N1 series, the R33 picked up right after the R32, winning every championship between 1995 and 1998 along with 27 of the 29 races. The Calsonic-liveried R33 took the JGTC Championship in 1995 and, three years later, the Pennzoil R33 did exactly the same. An R33 even won its class at the 1999 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with Rhys Millen behind the wheel.
Rather than look upon its Le Mans challenge negatively, Nissan chose to embrace their efforts instead. The only LM car in existence was for homologation, so in 1996 Nissan immortalised their return with 188 special editions. The R33 GT-R LM Limited was born. It wasn’t ground-breaking or anymore performance focused. Instead, it was more of a subtle nod towards the race which (even to this day) still escapes ‘em. Rewarding hard work regardless of the final outcome. Peak Japanese culture.
Speaking of Japanese culture, if there’s one place in the world you can guarantee no car is overlooked – regardless of how exclusive or obscure it may be – it’s Japan. And this is made all the more apparent as you feast your eyes on Shinchiro Shirasaka’s R33 GT-R.
Shinchiro-san’s approach to his LM Limited follows a path very similar to many others in Japan I’ve met over the years. It goes something like, ‘I own X car because I like it. However, I also enjoy the style of Y car which I don’t own. Therefore, I will combine the two and create Z car instead.’
Given the history of Skylines in racing, it’s unsurprising that Shinchiro-san shares a love for old racing cars. His particular favourites are those with lashings of carbon, huge spoilers and deep-dish wheels. A handy coincidence. But what drew him to the LM Limited above all else was nothing more than its colour, Championship Blue. This is a colour exclusive to the LM Limited and hasn’t been used on another GT-R since. Shinchiro-san isn’t secretly French, nor was he involved in the Nismo Le Mans program. He just really likes the LM Limited colour.
To be fair to Shinchiro-san, I’ve bought cars on far more whimsical reasons than just the paint, so I respect his honesty. Keep in mind that R33s have always been viewed as that awkward middle child of the GT-R range, and when he first bought the LM Limited more than a decade ago it wasn’t looked upon as being particularly rare or iconic. It was just an unusual shade of blue for an otherwise standard R33.
“I love my car, but there are other Skyline owners who think otherwise,” Shinchiro-san explains with a grin. “They tell me, if I want a low car, I should have used a standard GT-R. But it really isn’t different from stock, and the colour is why I wanted this model. Why respray a normal car to look like this? I don’t pay attention to those comments though. This is my car, and I enjoy it every day. But it is quite funny seeing people get upset about it.”
To say Shinchiro-san’s R33 is low would be a bit of an understatement. It has one of the wildest stances I’ve ever seen, and there’s not a single airbag in sight. It boggles my mind how it’s even drivable, but it doesn’t just move, it gets properly thrown around. Don’t for a second think this is a show queen; the best way I can describe it is a mismatch of every style Shinchiro-san enjoys wrapped into one.
The interior sports a full Cusco bolt-in roll cage and a stripped rear section. The Status GT-X bucket seats look pure motorsport, yet they’re retrimmed in plush Alcantara along with the gear shifter and handbrake. Even the Renown wheel follows the blue and black theme throughout.
This hasn’t been thrown together from the spare parts bin, it’s all coloured to match.
Under the bonnet might look clean and relatively unsuspecting, but that RB26 bottom end has grown to 2.7-litres. The stock turbos have been ditched in favour of HKS GT2530s, meaning power is doubled from 276hp to 550hp. That suspension – despite being as low as humanly possible – has been built using Buddy Club P1 Racing Spec dampers with custom 14kg springs. Tucked behind the 18×11-inch black-on-black Work Meisters are 6-piston Endless callipers up front and 4-piston Brembos at the back. The spec sheet for this car wouldn’t look out of place at a time attack event. Providing there wasn’t a speed-bump en route to the circuit.
It’s easy to get hung-up on the ride height, but Shinchiro-san has built this LM Limited for his own enjoyment. He’s not trying to chase lap times, nor is he doing it for the ‘gram. It’s a representation of what he loves most about cars. The fact it’s a special edition is a bonus. A specific shade of blue he really likes bonus.
Because when you break it down, it’s far more rewarding to do something for your own enjoyment or personal goal. Even if the end result isn’t what other people expect, you’ve had a hell of a journey in the process – just like Nissan did at Le Mans. All too often we focus on the end goal; we wait for that to determine whether something is to be celebrated or shunned. In reality, it’s those steps along the way which should be appreciated most.
Having spent time shooting with Shinchiro-san, I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who doesn’t allow a car’s exclusivity or backstory determine how they’re supposed to enjoy it. The LM Limited may be one of 188, but Shinchiro-san’s R33 is now one of one. And that would’ve been a brilliant way to end this story right until the point another stripped, caged and tuned LM Limited owned by Shinchiro’s mate turned up to join us.
Japan, never stop being brilliant.
Shinchiro Shirasaka’s 1996 Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R LM Limited
RB26 enlarged to 2.7-litres, HKS GT2530 turbos, HKS 264-degree cams, HKS hard pipe kit, HKS intercooler, HKS air filters, HKS fuel rail, ARC oil catch tank, R35 coilpack ignition, GReddy radiator, HKS boost controller
ATS carbon clutch, Work Meister 3-piece 18×11-inch wheels, Endless 6-piston brakes (front) and Brembo 4-piston brakes (rear), Cusco HICAS delete, Buddy Club coilovers with custom spring rates
Exterior & Interior
Cusco roll cage, Status Ring GT-X seats, Renown steering wheel, Voltex carbon wing, Wurz carbon bonnet, Real Factory M front wings, Hasemi side skirts, Top Secret carbon diffuser, Auto Select splitter/canards