The fourth event of its kind and the largest Nissan Skyline gathering in Australia, the 2012 Skyline Nationals in Goulburn brought together enthusiasts of all kinds of Skylines imaginable, from an immaculate original Prince S54 GT-B to the Australian-built R31 Silhouette and the high-powered R34 GT-R.
Since the first Prince Skylines hit Australian showrooms the renowned nameplate has been an integral part of Australia’s motoring landscape. Making its way onto Bathurst‘s famed Mt Panorama circuit in 1966 with the triple-carb S54 GT-B, the history of the Skyline is intertwined with that of Australian motor racing.
Through many generations the Skyline has remained a favorite chariot among many Australians, and the subject of several controversial episodes in Oz’s racing history.
This was brought to light particularly when the R32 GT-R dominated the Australian Touring Car Championships, prompting the governing body to change its regulations from international Group A to the Ford/Holden two-horse race that continues to this day.
Peter Jackson was a brand of cigarette (not to be confused with the Lord of the Rings director, and of course in the 80s tobacco sponsorship was very common in motorsport. The Skyline Group A DR30 was raced by George Fury and Glenn Seton in the mid 80s. Based on the FJ20DET-engined RS-Turbo C model in Japan, it was always a strong contender for the overall title, and came second in the 1987 championship. It had a reputation for being a bit of a beast to tame, an image reinforced in a very famous drive by Glenn Seton in Bathurst.
He was on slicks when it started to rain, and the resulting in-car footage of insane dorifto is Hall of Fame stuff down here. At the time, Seton complained that the DR30 wasn’t really up to its rivals the Ford Sierra and BMW M3, both of which were substantially modified homologation specials that had a lot of upgrades compared to their mom ‘n’ pop versions. In comparison, the DR30 was based on the vanilla RS-Turbo production car and didn’t have any special aero tweaks or big turbos to make the racing version more competitive.
Nissan Japan would get the message though, and for the R31 Skyline there was of course the GTS-R homologation special with its massive T04 turbo and various other tweaks that allowed the racing version to have 100hp more than its DR30 predecessor.
The Group A R31 GTS-R replaced the DR30 in 1988, as campaigned by Gibson Racing for Nissan Australia. The GTS-R is based on the regular JDM GTS-X coupe, and has an RB20DET-R with a bigger high-mount T04 turbo and various other subtle tweaks.
In 215hp stock form, it’s not much of an upgrade from the plain-Jane 180hp version, but in race trim all the various homologation parts added up to a 450hp potential, which was a neat 100hp more than what they could squeeze out of the DR30 in Group A trim. 800 GTS-R road cars were made for homologation with an aggressive aero package, but while the race car was a significant advance on its predecessor, in the 1988 season Ford released the upgraded 550hp RS500 Sierra Cosworth, which took the championship easily.
The R31’s moment in the sun came in the 1990 championship, where it won a few rounds before handing over to the R32 GT-R, and Nissan took the overall title that year. It did the same in the Japanese championship too, so the R31 has to share some of the limelight for the 1990 season wins.
Some useless trivia about this car: the ECU needs an 80s-spec Apple IIe to program it, and is encased in a sealed box which the fuel passes through (the fuel acts as a coolant for the motherboard). The stock air flow meter is required to be “part of the induction system” according to Group A rules. But it’s bolted to the strut tower, out of the way of the somewhat bigger custom pod filter tubing. It’s “part of the induction system” and is plugged into the loom, but no actual intake air goes through it. A creative interpretation of the rules, one of many that everyone did back in the Group A days.
The Winfield R32 GT-R is most famous racing Skyline in Oz. Winfield is yet another cigarette brand, and this particular car won the 1992 championship. In that year the R32 won half the rounds in the series outright, and this was even after the organizers had added ballast and boost limits to the car to try to slow it down. Its most controversial moment was in the famous Bathurst 1000km race, where it won under unusual circumstances.
It was leading comfortably when a sudden downpour caught everybody out on slicks. A big accident caused the red flags to come out, but as the camera panned to the main straight, everyone was horrified to see the Skyline lock up its wheels and slide helplessly into the wreckage.
Now this is where it gets interesting. One of the Ford Sierras weaved through the wreckage and returned to the pits, celebrating its win, but according to race rules the results are frozen in the last lap before the red flag (i.e., when the Skyline was leading). So while the Skyline was sitting in a pile of rubble without wheels, it had actually won the race. This didn’t go down with the fans at all.
Earlier in the race ex-F1 champion Denny Hulme had suffered a massive heart attack while piloting an M3. He pulled to the side of the track and quietly passed away during the race. The Skyline’s driver, Jim Richards, was a good friend of Hulme’s, and was pretty torn up by the news, but when he went onto the podium after the race, there was an angry mob booing and chanting. All the emotion spilled over and Gentleman Jim (as he had always been known) called the mob a “pack of arseholes” and angrily shuffled off the podium in disgust.
A few years later, Jim Richards won the Bathurst race for GM, and this time his victory speech was “And you’re all a pack of….REALLY LOVELY PEOPLE.” Only in Australia, eh? Since then the Winfield GT-R, which was the winningest R32 in Oz, was restored and is now a million-dollar historic race car.
The R31 was the only generation of Skyline manufactured outside of Japan. From 1986 to 1990 they were made in Australia, hence the large number of them at this event.
Aussie R31 primer: 6-cylinders were “Skylines” (with live axle and 160hp 3.0 single cam RB30) and 4-cylinders were “Pintaras” (with CA20). They had the same bodies, and both were available in regular sedan and wagon. Early ones had a flat nose, later ones had the JDM slantnose.
JDM Skylines came in all sorts of flavours, but the top models were the two-door GTS-X coupe and the GT Passage pillarless sedan, which looks just like the Aussie sedan, except pillarless. Top engine was the turbocharged 180hp RB20DET and they had independent rear suspension with rear wheel steering.
Ninety-nine percent of R31 sedans in Australia are the locally-made ones, possibly retrofitted with twin-cam motors, body kits, grilles and lights from the JDM versions. Pintaras are the 4-cylinder poverty model, very few survive, and if they do, they’ve been converted to 6-cylinders anyway.
This red sedan with white wheels is an Aussie-only SVD GTS limited edition. Nissan Australia cashed in on its racing successes by forming an in-house performance division, which they called SVD. They made a couple of runs of GTS sedans, which had header, ECU and intake mods for a 30hp power hike to 190hp, in order to make them actually slightly more powerful than the JDM 2.0L turbo.
This white sedan is another SVD-tuned car. They came with Bilstein suspension, bigger brakes from the JDM turbo coupe, an LSD, and the interiors were sportified with aftermarket seats and wheel. I think only 400 were made. They were a pretty nice package back in the late 80s, with a great handling balance and smooth revvy power. With all that history, it’s no surprise that the R31 series has quite a following in Australia, even 20 years after they ceased production here.
Before we go, here’s a present for JNC‘s resident wagonist Ben, an R31 wagon coming off the track at Wakefield Park wearing some lovely Enkei AME meshies.
In Part 02 of our coverage of the 2012 Skyline Nationals, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the other Nissans that have made a lasting impact on Australia’s motorsports landscape. In the meantime, check the gallery below for more photos.