Now as every car enthusiast knows, some models that come out from the many manufacturers of the world have a performance version, such as the Golf GTi or the BMW M3. These, largely, are confined to one or two models: again, using the BMW M3 as an example, you have your 'bog standard' M3, the Competition and the CS, each model being more beefy and track focused than the last. And that's absolutely fine.
However, the esteemed men and women over in the Land of the Rising Sun do things... Somewhat differently. Disclaimer - for the purposes of this article, 'special edition' refers to those models with a limited production number and are unique in some way, be it a particular paint scheme, bespoke engine etc.
The Nissan Skyline originally started life as a luxury car manufactured by Prince Motors, a Japanese manufacturer that made the original Skyline until 1966, where it merged with Nissan. After that, the Skyline underwent several distinct changes, gradually transforming from a Chevrolet Bel-Air lookalike to a compact sedan type vehicle. It's worth nothing that in 1969, the GT-R badge made its first appearance on the C10 Skyline. This car lost two doors becoming a coupé, sprouted two extra cylinders making a straight six, and thus the very first Skyline GT-R was born.
Spooling forward 30 years from the introduction of that GT-R moniker, the world was introduced to the Skyline R32 (pictured above). Nissan's desire to compete in the Japanese Group A race series caused a reunion of the Skyline and the GT-R badges, forming a vehicle that well and truly earned it's nickname: Godzilla. With a vastly compliant engine and a revolutionary 4WD system, coupled to a rear wheel steer system known as HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering), the R32 GTR absolutely dominated the track. During the tenure of the R32, it spawned quite a few variants:
Nismo Skyline GT-R - limited to 560 units (500 street, 60 racing), this Skyline features twin steel turbochargers, additional cooling ducts, Nismo decals and crucially, no rear windscreen wiper. Weight reduction, bro.
Skyline R32 GT-R V-Spec (or Victory-Spec) - not as rare as the Nismo at 1,396 units: this model features Brembo brakes front and rear, BBS wheels, enlarged tyres and a retuned 4WD system.
R32 GT-R V-Spec II - largely the same as the V-Spec, with the exception of even bigger tyres, further changes to the 4WD system and the all important sticker on the boot lid.
R32 Autech version - interestingly not the full GT-R, thus being the naturally aspirated RB26DE straight six engined vehicle. Changes include exclusive bodywork, a rear wing and a production number of only 201.
R32 N1 - one of the rarest of the breed. 245 made, all of which were in this exclusive Crystal White paint. Other changes include bits off the Nismo aero kit, uprated engine and some weight saving measures. No air conditioning for you here.
Following the sheer domination of the R32 in its various guises, Nissan thought it'd be a good idea to release a follow up model. Enter - the R33. In 1993, the R33 was introduced to the world, and along with it a thoroughly revised HICAS system (known as Super HICAS), the ubiquitous RB series engine across the board (early R32 GXis were equipped with a 90hp inline 4 engine), and the return of the GT-R badge. The R32 was deemed an excellent car with a solid foundation; not without issues however. Aspects of the car such as balance issues and a restriction on power brought by the Gentlemen's Agreement between the Japanese car manufacturers of the time, meant that Nissan had to get creative.
And boy, did they get creative. The addition of Brembo brakes across every GT-R model was but the start: Nissan began to utilise the dark arts of aerodynamics; the length and width was increased to balance the decrease in height, the body was sculpted to best make use of the air passing over and through the various new vents and bulges in the body. Weight saving measures went to their extremes; even the actuator that controlled the ABS was shrunk to save a few grams. All this resulted in a 21 second improvement around the Nurburgring - bearing in mind the R32's target during development was the Porsche 959. This produced some seriously capable vehicles:
R33 GT-R V-Spec N1: hell of a title, hell of a car. This model features a raft of upgrades and reinforcements to the engine, cooling and aerodynamics. Also features a unique white paint job, and a rather tasty body kit. 86 were built.
R33 GT-R LM Limited - this features the bodywork from the N1 and a commemorative Championship Blue paint scheme to celebrate Nissan's entry into Le Mans. 188 made; 86 GT-Rs and 102 V-Spec versions.
The legendary Nismo 400R. Featuring a specially Le Mans developed engine known as the RB-X, this car was one of the rarest, distinctive and capable Skylines ever made. Only 44 were produced, a handful were featured in this Midnight Purple colour.
Moving on from the R33 was a difficult act to follow. Cars such as the Nismo 400R as featured heavily in the original Gran Turismo was starting to produce a whole new generation of petrolheads. Nissan once more, had to get creatively. Thus, in 1998, the Skyline R34 was introduced - the GT-R version cropping up in 1999. The RB26DETT was significantly uprated by this time, yet still retaining the 276hp as mandated by the Gentlemen's Agreement. However, given the new ceramic turbos and the legendary reliability of the RB unit, a simple remap of the ECU could yield an extra 80hp, a figure that was easily manageable by the chassis and freshly tuned HICAS and ATTESA systems. What was also yielded was a raft of various editions and variants. Here goes..
The 'boggo' GT-R. Unmodified examples are in of themselves an absolute rarity. Small wonder, given the RB engine is good for roughly three times the 276hp output as standard...
Return of the V-Spec; 4,193 produced, this featured an ATTESA Pro 4WD system, an active LSD at the rear, and firmer suspension.
V-Spec II; stiffer suspension, carbon fibre bonnet and an iridium centre console. Lovely. 1,855 produced in all.
V-Spec/V-Spec II N1 - all in this unique white paint, all with significant weight reductions, all with the uprated N1 engine featuring steel turbine turbos. Very very rare; 38/18 of the V-Spec/II produced.
2001 M-Spec - most featured this well titled Silica Breath paint job. Based on the V-Spec II, it had 'ripple control' dampers, a stiffer rear sway bar and heated front seats. 366 produced in total.
The legendary V-Spec II Nur. Nissan also produced an M-Spec Nur, both named after a certain German racetrack. This was to commemorate the R34 production coming to an end, with 718 V-Specs and 285 M-Specs being made.
Nismo Z-Tune - the GT-R's true swansong. 19 V-Spec IIs were completely stripped and rebuilt with parts borne out of Nismo's extensive race experience. The end result was a car that was capable of 0-62 in 3.8 seconds, top speed 200mph. Truly special.
As the Skyline production drew to a close, Nissan looked ahead to the development of this truly remarkable chassis. One decision they made was to separate the Skyline name from the GT-R model, thus ending a partnership that has produced some utterly spectacular machinery. The GT-R was introduced in 2007, waving a fond farewell to the Skyline we knew and loved. The lineage however, lives on; the GT-R's chassis is based on Nissan's Premium Midship platform, the code for which is DBA-R35. Or simply, R35.
As we can see through these models over time, Nissan were never quite content with developing a car and simply sticking it on sale. Incremental improvement was the order of the day; from adding a set of Brembos here, to stiffening the Bilstein suspension there, what we saw was a gradual development of what was once a humble sedan car to a fire breathing, track destroying monster. Even today, the Skyline is still one of the most highly revered and developed cars to ever put tyre to tarmac; it inspired an entire generation of petrolheads, deified game titles such as Gran Turismo, and gave the rest of the performance oriented automotive stalwarts a serious run for their money.
Not bad for a little sedan from Japan.
Honourable mentions: R33 LM, R34 R-Tune, R34 S-Tune, Nismo F-Sport GT, Nismo S-Tune Sports Resetting and the various Clubman Race Spec vehicles. I felt it unnecessary to include these versions as they are homologation specials/race derivatives or aftermarket tuning kits installed by the factory.
All images belong to their respective owners.
Huge thanks to GTR-Registry.com which has provided a wealth of valuable information for this article.