The R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R Is a Hero to the Ordinary Enthusiast

All R32 GT-Rs are special, but some, like this one from Ōmori Factory, are more special.

r32 nissan gt r
Brendan McAleer

"Dad, can we take the GT-R to school today?"

The Petriws live on a quiet street some distance from the city center, their yard ringed by tall evergreens. Dad Mark is an old autocross champion, previously running a Honda CRX in CSS/CSP. Mom Sandra drives a stick-shift Legacy GT wagon. Sons Dean and Chase are big Fernando Alonso fans. Uncle Yarko has a hillclimb record at Knox mountain. Aside from a mild obsession with motorsports, they are a nice, normal family. A nice, normal family with a sixteen-story-tall mutant atomic iguana in the basement.

Godzilla. You know the legend of course, the name given by an Australian journalist shocked by the complete annihilation of the touring car competition by Nissan's Group-A juggernaut. When the Skyline GT-R returned in the late 1980s, it was destined to become an icon, a return to the dominance of the Hakosuka original.

Brendan McAleer

But there is a difference. At time of writing, the air-cooled Porsche 911 market has gone absolutely apeshit. The E30 M3, once an accessible way to take box-flared DTM action to the street, is now priced like post-impressionist artwork. Everything is on the way up, an inflationary crisis that cuts the average enthusiast owner out, with speculators chasing dollars more than passion.

Yet somehow, the R32 GT-R remains relatively affordable. It's rare, but not so rare that you can't import one. It was never intended for our shores, but day-to-day ownership isn't onerous. Every gearhead knows what those four round taillights mean, but the price of Skyline admission is less about how much money you have, and more about how willing you are to spend time finding the right car and doing a little light wrenching yourself.

Brendan McAleer

And so, as the cherry blossoms gently rain down in the light spring breeze, we walk through the Petriw's family room, step over scattered Hot Wheels, open up the single car garage and prod the beast awake. Five thousand miles from where it was born, an RB26 straight-six coughs to life in the leafy suburbs, settling into a characteristic humming growl like an Akita clearing its throat at a stranger.

Mark's GT-R is a 1992, and is slightly unusual. The Canadian grey market is a decade more advanced than the US, so Japanese Domestic Market cars are a common sight here in Vancouver; all modern generations of the GT-R are present from R32 to R34, and even the related Stagea RS260 wagon.

The dark blue color here is a rarity for the R32-chassis Skyline, with most cars painted in the immediately recognizable gunmetal grey. The mix of modifications present is relatively light, with Nismo's S1 package supported by Tokico struts and a Trust turbo-back. However, at the front of the long straight-six is a small plate indicating that this is a Ōmori factory-tuned car.

Brendan McAleer

Some time ago I interviewed Hiroshi Tamura, Nismo's Chief Product Specialist. Talk to him about the current juggernaut GT-R, and he's hopeful and enthusiastic. Speak to him of the original Hakoska creaming the competition at Fuji Speedway, and he becomes even more animated. 

But it's when you start talking about the R32 that Tamura's professional shell really cracks wide open. He still has the 1989 model he bought as a young man, taking a very un-Japanese twenty-five year loan to afford it. It looks factory-fresh, but makes around 600hp; the eagle-eyed will spot a silver decal on the front bumper referencing the Midnight racing club, a secretive and illegal club that used to blitz the Wangan highway between Tokyo and Yokohama.

The original Nismo factory is now closed, with Nismo operations moved closer to Nissan HQ in Yokohama. Yet even though the new tuning division is in Tsurumi, such is the lasting power of the legend that the place is still referred to as "Ōmori factory." The original site where the factory-supported first-generation GT-Rs were tuned , Ōmori factory predates Nismo, and was a Mecca for the Nissan faithful for decades. 

Like Mercedes' AMG and BMW's M-division, before they became marketing tools to sell crossovers, Nismo originally operated as a tuning division supporting privateer racing teams and modifying street cars. You could take your R32 to the factory, sit down with a performance consultant, and have your GT-R tailored to fit. Petriw's R32 wasn't just cut-to-fit at the original Ōmori location, a little sleuthing reveals that it first belonged to one of the engineers that worked there. 

Brendan McAleer

It takes just twenty minutes or so to find empty tarmac and let the GT-R run a little. Getting there through traffic is easy enough despite the right-hand-drive configuration. Shifting with your left hand requires a slight mental adjustment, but the Skyline is an old car and that means thin A-pillars and generally excellent visibility. The bunker of a modern Camaro is worse.

And when let off the leash, it's just wonderful. Even in factory trim (an underrated 280hp) the GT-R is still a very quick car. The modest 330-350hp this one puts down is just about ideal for the street. It's fast enough to be interesting, with old school twin-turbo surge and chatter. The 2.6L RB26 is as perfectly balanced as the kanji pictogram for roku, as brushed by a calligrapher who spent a summer or two in Bavaria in the early 1990s. With six individual throttle bodies and twin turbos, it's a pleasure to rip it past seven grand and hear the echoes of Group A monsters tearing up Bathurst.

Brendan McAleer

The ATTESA all-wheel-drive in the R32 is primarily rear-drive biased, with the ability to direct power to the front wheels in cases of slippage. On the circuit, big-power GT-Rs came in hot under braking, unsettling the rear into slidey oversteer, then getting on the power early and clawing out of the corner. At more sane and reasonable road speeds in the dry, the experience is mostly about grip and the absence of the front-end push you get from most all-wheel-drive cars.

Compared to the hulking mecha-Godzilla that is the current GT-R, the R32 is surprisingly delicate. The curb weight's considerable, but the feel is raw and mechanical despite the high level of technology Nissan employed here. The modern R35 handles a lot of the fine work for you, the R32 is a manual tool.

If you grew up on Gran Turismo, it doesn't disappoint. More than that: driving the GT-R feels as special as you could hope for. If the legend's Nürburgring record is now eclipsed by hot hatchbacks equipped with modern e-trickery, it still thrills. Best of all, the R32 is neither fragile nor ephemeral, unavailable nor outrageously expensive. It's right there for the taking.

Brendan McAleer

Think about that for a second; think about what your personal dream-car might be and whether or not it's within your grasp. For the original and current owner of this car, the dream is as real as a pair of keys hanging on a peg. They wait for the weekend, for the road trip, or maybe just to turn an ordinary school run into a special day.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Vintage