There’s a bit of a drought at the moment if you’re a Japanese sports car fan. If you’re a Honda fan, the sportiest one you can buy is actually a hybrid with 15-inch wheels. The best handling Toyota is a Subaru with only 205Nm torque. There’s still a few glimmers of hope left – the Subaru Impreza WRX for example. It’s still cool and goes like the clappers, despite having all the visual appeal of a gangrenous limb. Oh, there’s the Nissan GT-R, too. If you’ve got $180,000 to spend. Perhaps I am just getting old, but to find any truly cool Japanese sports cars, you have to go back in time..
More precisely, back to the 1990’s. Every single Japanese manufacturer built a sports car that was beautiful, powerful and desirable. Honda had the bonkers NSX. Mazda, the stunning RX7. Toyota, the iconic twin-turbo Supra. Mitsubishi had the heavy-hitting GTO and Nissan with their 300ZX and various Skyline GTR’s. We were spoilt for choice – and if you couldn’t afford their top tier models, there were plenty of others to fall back on. Couldn’t afford a Nissan 300ZX? How about a 240SX instead? Is the Mazda RX7 too hardcore for a daily driven car? Try the MX6. Don’t want a twin-turbo Supra? Go for the Celica. For those who didn’t want the all-wheel drive complexity of the Skyline GTR, there was the Skyline GT & GT Turbo, both available in 2-door coupe or practical 4-door sedan body styles. The R34 GT-T has been the darling of Japanese import car enthusiasts for the past decade or so now, thanks to it’s comparatively cheap cost, reliable turbocharged straight-six engine, sharp handling and squared off Japan-tough body styling. I’m sure you’ve admired one from afar, or perhaps even ridden as a passenger in one that belongs to a mate of yours. But what is an R34 GT-T like to live with?
Pretty good actually. So long as you’re under 35. And haven’t had any children yet. Opinions on styling are subjective of course, but I feel the R34 in stock standard form looks great even today. It has a very solid feel to it as you slide in to the low, snug front seats and close the nicely weighted door. The first thing you’ll notice is the size. The R34 is actually a mid-sized sedan and while there is plenty of room up front, passengers in the back may struggle for leg room if the front seats are slid back too far. For drivers that are 6ft or less it works well. All the switchgear and touch points around the interior have a quality feel about them and are actually quite impressive when you remember the R34 is now 16 years old.
The RB-25 is one of the most iconic engines to ever come out of Japan and the one you get in the R34 is a real gem. Six cylinders, 2.5L and a single turbo pushing out up to 7psi in standard spec. Get the R34 out on the road and you’ll find it has good mid-range punch from 3000 – 6000 rpm, meaning you don’t really need to rev the tits off it extract all the power out of it. 206kW hardly sets the world on fire but it comes across as a very refined engine which can also achieve good efficiency if you drive it sensibly. The other thing you’ll notice is the unique HICAS 4-wheel steering system the R34 employs. At slower speeds it’ll turn the rear wheels the opposite direction to the front by a couple of degrees to help the car change direction quicker and it actually feels quite strange at first. Get on the power on a long sweeping curve and you’ll feel it shuffling around as the speed and steering wheel angle changes. At highway speeds the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels to help the car perform smoother lane changes. It’s rare to find 4-wheel steer systems in newer vehicles so it really is a unique feature here.
So far so good then. The R34 performs well around the city, where it is comfortable and reasonably economical. On the highway, 110kph is a walk in the park and it remains fairly quiet on the inside – there’s no cruise control though so you’ll have to keep an eye on the speedometer. The interior is very well put together as well but the real let down with it are the plastics used on the centre console – they’re incredibly easy to scratch and pretty much impossible to repair, unless you have it recovered in vinyl. Of course, no car is ever perfect – and I had a few issues with the R34.
The big one would have to be the automatic transmission. Most R34 sedans came fitted with an automatic as standard and it’s a pretty ordinary thing. Sure it shifts smoothly and does a good job of choosing the right gear exactly when you need it, plus you can knock the shifter to the left to enter tiptronic mode, but you’ve only got 4 gears to play with. The ratios are spaced pretty far apart too in order to get decent economy when you’re belting down the highway in 4th. It simply feels like it is missing a gear or two. And while the tiptronic mode works well, the steering wheel shift buttons are a bit fiddly. Most would expect a set of paddles, one on the left to shift down, and one on the right to shift up. The R34 has a button on each side of the wheel face itself – but instead of each one handling up and down shifts, you can use either of them to do it – as they’re a rocker switch that rocks up and down. They work but really it’s not the best arrangement and I’m not really sure who came up with the idea. But I’d like to think they lost their job over it. I actually had my car converted to a 5-speed manual during the time that I owned it, which improved things somewhat.
The other downside is not actually a fault of the R34’s at all – but rather the people who buy them. Most R34’s have been modified by their owners in the pursuit of speed and as such it has a reputation for being the car of choice for hoons. Police will watch you like a hawk as you drive it, but generally they’ll respect you and leave you alone if yours is stock standard and kept in good order. Be prepared for hoons to try race you at every set of lights though – something that gets tiring after a while.
If you’re in the market for an R34, I’d suggest you steer clear of modified examples. Modifications really need to be done properly in order to achieve any benefit with the car. If the previous owner has thrown a larger exhaust on it, you’ll find the engine will run rich and actually decrease performance slightly. Lowered suspension increases wear and tear on almost all aspects of the car and by far the biggest thing to watch out for are engine modifications. It’s extremely easy to use a boost controller to up-the-pressure and gain power – but it comes at the expense of decreased engine and turbo life. The previous owner might say it has been running in that configuration for years and it has been fine, but there’s no guarantee it’ll continue being fine in to the future. And believe me you don’t want to blow a turbo in an R34 – the compressor wheels are made of nylon and will shatter and then be ingested into the engine to create all new levels of engine damage. Mmmmm, expensive.
It’s actually rather difficult to find an R34 these days which hasn’t been modified in some way. Which is a shame really, because if left alone the R34 is a fantastic vehicle that’ll serve you well for many years to come. I believe the it would have done very well in Australia had it been released here by Nissan Australia back when it was new in 1998. It would have thumped the 6-cylinder VT Commodore and EL Falcon’s of that era in everything except sheer size. It is a refined car that feels like vast amounts of engineering went into creating it – and the way it drives even today is a testament to that.
So go grab yourself a slice of Japanese 90’s car porn before all the good ones are gone forever.
Specifications: 1999 Nissan R34 Skyline GTT
Price: from AU$10,000
Service intervals: 6 months/5,000km recommended
Spare tyre: Space saver
Engine: 2.5-litre six-cylinder 206kW/343Nm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic / 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body: 4705mm (L), 1725mm (W), 1375mm (H)
Thirst: 10L/100km (98RON)