Words: Andy Butler
In standard form, the Skyline GT-R is one of the most capable road cars money can buy and, therefore, it requires the least amount of corrective surgery to improve its performance. And yet there are stacks of performance parts available for it.
The good news is that, instead of decimating our budget to put some decent suspension and brakes onto the car before we begin on the engine to make it quicker, we can rely on all that Nissan testing around the Nurburgring to give us a solid base to work with, and just go mental on the ultra-tough RB26DETT motor straight away. Well, that’s partly true, but even the underpinnings of the R34 Skyline can be improved in a few ways. It really depends on how you want to use the car.
After speaking to a few well-known Skyline tuners, the same sort of upgrade paths kept being mentioned. At the same time, a great deal of praise for the original equipment on the car was also highlighted. What soon became clear was that, because of the wealth of tuning parts available, there comes a point in the tuning process where the path to Skyline perfection is more down to what you want rather than a definite stage-by stage set of mods
As a first step, the general consensus among tuners is that the exhaust system needs to be replaced with a system with much less back-pressure. While this isn’t as cheap as fitting a performance air filter, the gains are much more worthwhile. Bearing in mind that a standard R34 should be giving somewhere over 300bhp to start with, this mod releases plenty of power and makes for a very lively road car. Most pipes work well with a standard motor but, if you were planning to go a lot further with the engine, pick something much less restrictive.
In almost all cases, the standard ECU should cope with a slightly increased boost level, and that the factory airbox won’t strangle the performance at birth. In the occasional case where fuelling is a bit leaned out, a fuel computer would be sufficient to alter the mixture enough for this level of tuning, and maybe Iridium spark plugs to stop the originals melting.
The next logical step was to swap the exhaust down-pipes to really let the motor breathe easily. Doing this means that an ECU upgrade is pretty much essential and, if you plan to go much further with the mods, there are lots of choices out there.
Replacing the Skyline’s intercooler with a bigger unit increases power and will vary on cost depending on core size. If boost pressures are going much above 1.O bar, a hard-pipe kit is essential to stop hoses ballooning and collapsing or popping off, and there are kits that comprises air filters, induction pipes and intercooler pipes. The twin air filters are not cheap, so getting the full kit makes sense if you are going to do much more tuning work. So far, we’re up to about 400bhp, maybe a bit more.
Once we move away from the simple bolt-on bits, things get a little more complicated. It really depends on which way you and your tuner have decided to head, and how much power you think you need in the end. The wrong choices now will cost you a lot more money in the long run so choose the right route, and then stick to it.
To upgrade the standard turbos to a pair of bigger units capable of around 500bhp, you’ll need to also add the metal head gasket, bigger injectors, uprated fuel pump and more suitable cams and cam gears; and you should have the required power. But it isn’t a cheap road to take. Then there’s installation and set-up on top of that and an ECU swap/upgrade if you haven’t already done so. A bit of preventative maintenance is a good idea, so add an engine oil cooler if there isn’t one already there.
The problem comes when you decide that a puny 500bhp just isn’t enough. Now you’re faced with getting a different set of even larger turbos, or swapping the twins for a big single. Obviously, the new kit wont include everything needed to do the job such as different pipework, but you’ll be able to recoup some of that expense by selling your twin-turbo kit second hand.
Be warned – if you have an inkling that you want to go all-out with your Skyline, plan it that way from the start. It might seem like a hell of a tot more outlay in the beginning, but it’ll be cheaper in the long run. Honest!
The standard forged alloy wheels are well up to up to the task of supporting an R34. Light, tough, wide enough for seriously sticky rubber and with plenty of room for the biggest of brake kits, the only reason to change them is if you want to change the style. Just check out how heavy the replacement is and if it allows for those big brakes you may want to be fitting soon. Tyre life is surprisingly good on a well-adjusted Skyline.
Unless you are planning on running more than 600bhp and drag racing at every available opportunity, the Getrag six-speed gearbox and ATTESA four-wheel-drive system will do the job just fine. Just look after them with regular oil changes, and fit the UK-spec oil coolers and pumps if the car doesn’t have them and you hit the Autobahns regularly.
If you do go for big power, you should investigate a multi-plate clutch assembly which will cost a little or a lot more depending on whether you go for twin- or triple-plate or even quad plate. Be warned though – they can be unfriendly around town so, if it’s a regular road car, make sure you can live with it before you stump up the cash.
Once the excellent standard Brembo discs have worn out, start looking for something aftermarket, maybe a six-pot conversion and monster discs. This set-up can set you back a few quid. Performance pads willl be excellent on the road, and pretty good on track. For hard-core circuit use go for something that will bite better and reduce fade, but they munch discs in a couple of days on track.
For a road car, the non-V-spec suspension is very capable and a little more compliant than its stiffer-suspended brother. Both types can work well on the circuit, too, so, unless you are only going to use the car on trackdays, leave the original suspension set-up alone. If you think you can do better than Nissan with a set of lowering springs, you’re wrong! Japanese coil-over systems will dent your wallet and endanger your teeth fillings on the road, but will give the adjustability needed for full-on track work.
This isn’t an upgrade we mention a lot but, when you’re dealing with a car as competent as this, it pays to tighten up the nut behind the steering wheel. Let’s be honest here. How many people can honestly handle a car that can be quite easily tweaked to run at 175mph, without having a few lessons in on-the-limit car control first? The extensive electronic aids don’t stop a Skyline from falling off the circuit if it’s badly driven, and the same is true when it comes to the road. Get the most from your car by having some proper high-performance driving tuition and rip up the tarmac in safety.