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Why you shouldn’t sleep on the Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R

By Alex Affat, 25 Mar 2021 Features

Why you shouldn’t sleep on the Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R

Traditionally viewed as the black sheep of the R-chassis family, today the R33 is probably the one to buy

In case you hadn’t noticed, Skylines are on an absolute tear at the moment. For a while it seemed like world records were being toppled at auction week after week; and run-of-the-mill examples are now asking numbers once unimagined by those who were around in the glory days that were the mid-late 2000s. This is aircooled Porsche stuff people, and I’m sorry to tell you but no, these are most certainly not $15k cars anymore…

The R33, in particular, had traditionally been regarded as the middle child of the lineage; its bloated dimensions made it the butt of many ‘boat’ jokes and it had less significant racing history than the mighty R32 (Godzilla), and it also wasn’t as rare as the R34.

MORE Why Australia built its own R32 GT-R race cars

Today though, it’s the one to buy. They weren’t always ‘cool to own’ so you’ll notice that median condition is generally better than that of R32s, which were treated as bargain performance missiles for years. They’re also a far superior chassis and, in certain key regards, represent the greatest generational dynamic leap between the three RB-powered iterations.

While internet experts are quick to assert that the R33 is over 100kgs heavier than its Godzilla predecessor, the extra mass is distributed smartly. You get a more solid feel, better torsional rigidity and much greater mechanical grip than the oversteer-happy R32. Its claim to fame was a production car lap record at the Nurburgring, and the first car to break the eight-minute barrier.

MORE Nissan R34 Skyline GT-R M-Spec NUR sells for eye-watering sum

It may not be as raw an experience as the R32, but if you want to get from point A to point B, or around a track, as fast as you can – the R33 might still be the better mousetrap. Value-wise, the R33 also likely has a little more immediate headroom for future growth compared to the R32 GT-R. Given it’s the previously Skyline-starved USA and their rolling 25-year importation rules that are chiefly contributing to rising global values; R33s are expected to see significant growth in the next few years, while R32 GT-Rs are far more plentiful and have likely plateaued for now.

As for why you’d pick an R33 over an R34 GT-R? Well… you simply won’t get laughed at for having anything less than $200,000 to spend.

IN THE MARKET

Unlike the 100 Australian-delivered R32 GT-Rs, R33 GT-Rs were never officially sold Down Under but were brought in by the literal boatload amidst the once-flourishing import industry. Available since near-new, the first R33s were sold in import yards for quite a princely sum, however, by the mid-late noughties were readily found between $15-20k (R32s much the same, and base BNR34s were a gut-punching $35k proposition).

Today, you’re talking anywhere from $60,000-$90,000+ depending on originality, condition and level of modification.

BODY & CHASSIS

Regarded as somewhat more rust-resistant than some of its contemporaries, R33s are getting to the age where every prospective purchase should be inspected for the silent killer. R33s are markedly more rare than the R32s (16,668 v 43,937 produced) so original components may be harder to source, although Nismo's heritage line of reproduction parts continues to grow in scope.

Check for accident repairs by inspecting engine bay and boot for overspray, paint inconsistency between panels, and consistency of panel gaps.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

The iconic RB26 is generally durable with routine maintenance and a little sympathy.  Oil and spark plugs should be replaced every 5000km at least so be sure to seek out any proof of servicing.

Given that these cars weren’t very valuable for so long, it’s fairly commonplace for cars to come with patchy physical service history. I always advise people that they are inspecting the seller, as much as the car, when it comes to GT-Rs. Ask as many questions as you can, especially if it’s a modified example.

Original head and block? Unopened? What exactly is in the engine? Standard internals? Standard bore? How much boost is it - and has it been - running?

Answers should hopefully paint a picture on the car’s health as well as how hard a life it has lived under its previous ownership.

A total engine rebuild can easily exceed $10-15k, so always strive for the best you can afford.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Inspect pads for life, and discs for scoring and cracking. The car under braking should be smooth and free of juddering or squirming.

It’s highly likely that a previous owner has tossed the original suspension in the bin, in favour of fancy adjustable coilovers. Even if you weren’t planning to run the original system, they are a nice-to-have and will boost your car’s future value as original components grow increasingly scarce. The same goes for original wheels.

Also check the state of bushings as they should soon be replaced from age, if they haven’t been done already.

INTERIOR & ELECTRONICS

Not much to go wrong in terms of tech, however, Japanese interiors of this era were notorious for ageing badly. Check for sun fading on seats and tears or bubbles on the dash. Check clarity of buttons and gauges, and observe any wear and tear to the steering wheel, seat bolster, gear shifter and any other high frequency touchpoints. A car claiming low kilometres but showing lots of wear and tear should ring alarm bells.

THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER

1. 997 Porsche Carrera

GT-Rs are now living in a totally new price-bracket when it comes to cross shopping, and you can afford yourself some seriously tasty metal. It’s well worth taking a close look at a manual 997 Carrera, but you could take a 996 and call it a day with $20-$30k to spare.

2. E92 BMW M3

A very collectible E30 M3 would also fall into this price bracket, but would likely be a downgrade. On the other end of the spectrum, the E92’s thumping 4.0-litre V8 offers the slick coupe experience with a powerhouse of an engine. Manuals can be had with change.

3. MkIV Toyota Supra

Perhaps the closest competitor in terms of value, age and ethos - is another Japanese household name immortalised by film and video games. The Supra offers the same cult appeal, and propensity for modification. A simpler package with a busier interior.

1995 Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R Specs

Body: 2-door, 4-seat coupe

Engine: 2568cc inline-6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo

Power: 206kW @ 6800rpm

Torque: 355Nm @ 4400rpm

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Weight: 1530kg

Used range: $60,000-$100,000