Tom and Louise's Nissan Skyline R33 GTS25t

Brief

Black 2-door 2.5 litre turbo coupe. 5-speed manual. Ohlins suspension. Right hand drive, petrol, factory alloy wheels, power steering, electric windows, cat 1 alarm & immobiliser, remote central locking, turbo timer, electric mirrors, rear wash/wipe, MiniDisc/radio stereo. 1994 L-reg, 97000 miles.

Please note that we have now sold the car.

Some big pictures

The Car

The brief blurb says the essentials, but I'll expand a few of the bits.

It's a Skyline R33 GTS25t. Breaking that down - R33 is the "mark" number. So the R32 is an older style and the R34 is a newer one. All R33s have the distinctive large four rear lights - Ferrari/Corvette style. The R32's lights are smaller, and the R34 has two lights slightly bigger than the other two. The performance difference between the three is very slight - the main difference is in the looks. There are R30s and R31s, but they're extremely rare in the UK. Not that any sort of Skyline is particularly common.

"GTS" means it's the little sister to the "GTR" (I think the S is for Sport and the R is for Racing), so it is rear-wheel drive rather than four, and only has the one turbo. There's lots of other tweaks between the two that make the GTR faster (and a lot more expensive), but those are the main ones.

25t means it's a 2.5 litre turbo. The fun bit.

It's a 2-door coupe like most Skylines in the UK (though there are a few 4-door saloons around). However the Skyline is not a cramped little 2+2 - there are four proper seats in there with plenty of headroom and leg space. We're both over 6 foot, and have happily spent three-hour trips in the back seat. There's the usual slightly higher fifth seat in the middle which is fine for a smaller person. All five seats have seatbelts. We didn't buy it because it's got the extra seats, but it's a cool bonus for such a lovely car.

The Ohlins suspension was fitted in Japan, so we know very little about it, but it works well. It's quite a stiff ride, but in a good way. Cobbles, cattle grids and speed bumps don't feel any more painful than a "normal" car, so it's not uncomfortable, and in fact speed bumps are better because there's no bounce as you come off them - the one that always makes me worry about my exhaust pipe on our other car. There is no body roll in corners, ever, and very little nose rise or dip under acceleration or braking - the car is glued to the road at all times. The fancy suspension does not affect the insurance - it's only engine/powertrain modifications that drive the premiums up.

The Engine

The engine is lovely. 2.5 litres with 24 valves gives you plenty of power and response, it's a silky-smooth straight-6, and it purrs wonderfully - it's surprisingly quiet at low revs. When you have the turbo timer on and step out of the car, people have asked whether it's a ventilation fan that's still whirring. Around town it is a nicely-mannered car. The clutch is not heavy, the gearbox is very friendly, the steering is light, and the engine will pull from low revs very easily. You don't need to constantly be changing gears just to pootle from stop light to stop light - anywhere from 1500 revs to 5000 is perfectly happy motoring. This is a very driver-friendly car that can easily be driven by people without bulging biceps or car knowledge - just warn them to be a bit gentle with the loud pedal until they're used to it. At anything above 2000 revs, response is very quick - no need to change down to catch the lights, just push the foot down and it hurries along nicely.

And then there's the turbo, which kicks in around 3500 revs. Press the go pedal a bit more (no need to floor it) and it belts about another 100bhp into the engine. It's not a sudden yes/no switch, it comes on gently through the 3000 rev range, but you certainly do feel the extra power. The turbo starts to whine distinctively, and there's a solid push in the back. Resist the urge to change up until you're over 6000 revs, then you're at 4000 revs in the next gear and straight back in the power zone. Redline is at 7000 with a limiter at 9000 according to the rev counter, but I've never been there because the power delivery is pretty flat above 5000, so there's no need to stress the engine pointlessly.

The gearing is sensible. It's not a 200mph straight-line machine, so you don't have five gears of which only three are useful. First is over and done with pretty quickly for sharp getaways, but the rest are evenly spaced so that you can cruise at 70mph in fifth at a very comfortable 3500 revs. You can happily go down to 50mph in fifth at 2500 revs and still get good acceleration, so you're not constantly changing up and down on the motorway. Conversely if you want to get a move on, fourth gear will take you all the way to 100mph and still be right in the power band before you need to think about changing up to fifth. Not that I would ever do such an illegal speed, and certainly not while still accelerating like a weasel from a cannon. Of course not. Never.

The Handling

Rear-wheel drive, just like cars should be. Very controllable - though as with all powerful cars be careful in the wet with so much power under the right foot. I never realised tyres were so important until we switched to some decent Michelins and suddenly wet mini-roundabouts were no longer quite as scary (yes, there is a LOT of power under the right foot).

The four-wheel steer is slightly weird at first. Ignore the MOT man who wants you to demonstrate it in the garage (yes, we have had them ask), it only kicks in at speed on tight bends. It is a performance feature, not a parking aid! At low speeds the rear wheels stay absolutely fixed like a normal car. You need to be fairly aggressive to feel it - pushing about 0.5g on curving motorway slip roads in the dry is probably the only place on public roads you'll feel it.

At first it feels like you are losing traction on the back end and the back is sliding out into a rear-wheel skid, but it's just the rear wheels starting to steer. The wheels are still glued firmly to the road, and it's extremely predictable - ease off the power and the back comes straight back in. The rear only slides out so far and then stops. You are then driving around the corner with the car body pointing "further round" than you expect - you don't have to turn your head as far to see around the corner. It's only 5 degrees or so that the rear wheels turn, but you can certainly feel the effect. This gives a lot more poise and balance to the car, and once you get used to the feeling, it's really cool.

The Skyline is a surprisingly large car when you measure it with a ruler, but it has a very good turning circle, so you never notice around town except in the tiniest of multi-story car parks. And it isn't actually heavy, just long and sleek, and handles so well you'll never ever notice it out on the roads.

Practicalities

Like all almost all Skylines, it's imported from Japan, so insurance can be a bit of a lottery. Most major insurers won't touch imports, so you will need to ring around a bit, and quotes vary crazily according to whether the insurer even knows what a Skyline is - don't be put off by the first few you get. Make sure you say it's a GTS - frequently companies quote you for the GTR by mistake (a very expensive mistake). We can give you our insurer's number, since they are good, and obviously know the car's history already. Some of the websites below also have lists of insurers to try.

We have the full service history since it was imported it from Japan five and a bit years ago, but sadly nothing before then. Not that it would mean much to most people if we did have it - how's your Japanese?

We have an English manual. It's a translation of the original Japanese manual, and it's obviously been done by an English speaker (actually, probably an Australian speaker - Skylines are very popular Down Under), so it's perfectly comprehensible. However, you do still want to find a garage that specialises in fancy Japanese cars. Give them a quick quiz on the car, make sure they know the differences between a GTS and a GTR, all about the four-wheel steer and so on - if they don't, they're just faking it - find another garage. We didn't have much trouble finding one locally. Servicing costs are not crazy - fairly normal for a performance car. Parts are easy to get, but they do almost always need to be ordered from abroad, so warn the garage well in advance. The clutch has recently been changed, and should be good for plenty of miles yet.

If you do want to modify the car or do major work on it, there are a few key centres in the UK that really know their stuff, and you probably want to leave major mods up to them. The best-known one is Abbey Motorsport. This car has not (to our knowledge) been modified except for the Ohlins suspension and the required modifications when importing it into the UK.

It runs on either normal unleaded or super unleaded. The specs say you want 96 octane, which is between the two UK ratings (95 for normal and 98 for super). We have tried it on both, and I honestly can't feel any performance difference, but some people recommend it is run on super because it's apparently slightly kinder to the engine in the long run. So we do. But working fine on both is handy when you find a pokey little garage out in the country that doesn't have super.

The mechanical events in the car's history are few. The Ohlins suspension was fitted in Japan at some time. When imported to the UK, fog lights were fitted (new bulbs inside the rear brake lights - normally invisible), and presumably the engine timings tweaked for UK petrol. The timing belt was changed when we first got it in 1999, at the mileage recommended in the manual. The battery was replaced due to old age in 2001 - the original appeared to be the factory-fitted one (hard to tell since I don't read Japanese). The clutch was replaced in July 2003 - again, the original appears to be the factory-fitted one, so it's done perfectly well and the new one should last a while.

This car does not eat tyres and clutches the way people say performance cars do. GTRs are known for eating gearboxes, but they have the second turbo and people tend to thrash the poor things. It's not a problem with GTSs, and the gearbox still feels precise and solid.

Tyres are more expensive than normal cars, obviously. When the front tyres start to wear, on average once a year, we put a new set of Michelin Pilots on the back and move the back ones to the front. They cost roughly 250 for new pair including fitting, balancing etc. I highly recommend decent tyres - we got the car with some decidedly average tyres on and it was hard to use the power without simply spinning the wheels, and in the wet it was positively dangerous. The Michelins solved that nicely - don't skimp on tyres! How often you change the tyres obviously depends on your mileage and how hard you drive.

Fuel economy is surprisingly good. On an urban cycle you get around 20mpg, and on a mixed urban/motorway cycle it's around 30mpg, and that's being driven using all the revs and so on - enjoying the car properly. If fuel economy is your thing, just don't press the pedal as hard and don't invoke the turbo. Not that Skylines are about fuel economy of course. According to one of the websites, the fuel tank is 65 litres, but I generally fill up when the needle reads 1/8th full and fit 45 litres in, and see around 230-250 miles on the clock for that, so it's a good practical range and you don't have to stop all the time for fuel.

Some people think turbos are scary, but they're really pretty simple. The guidelines are much the same as caring for a normal engine. Until the temperature gauge has reached the normal range, avoid revving hard or going much over 3000rpm - drive normally rather than pushing it. At the end of the journey, if you've been driving hard, put the turbo timer on and leave it ticking over for a minute or so. The turbo gets extremely hot when you use it, and if the hot oil stays inside the turbo, it leaves carbon deposits which need cleaning out. Just leave it to cool down while the oil is still circulating and there's no problem - the turbo timer makes this very easy. If you've just been cruising around town sedately you don't need to leave the turbo timer on, although we tend to do this anyway because most car sites recommend letting all cars (not just ones with turbos) cool down this way, and it's no hassle. The only time you notice it is when you stop on the motorway at a service station - do let it wait the full 3 minutes before turning the engine off and filling up with fuel. Lots more about turbos.

Luxuries and frills

Power steering, windows and mirrors (and the mirrors fold in electrically to stop people hitting them when you're parked in narrow lanes or car parks). Central remote-controlled locking and Thatcham category 1 alarm with immobiliser. Leather steering wheel and gear knob, and the wheel can be adjusted for height. A "turbo timer" lets you take the keys out but leave the engine running for 1 or 3 minutes to let the turbo cool down. Factory alloy wheels. Sony MiniDisk+radio stereo with speakers all round and plenty of oomph.

Owning a Skyline is cool. It's a fairly exclusive car - I see maybe five a year. And when you do see a fellow Skyline owner, you always give a little wave - we're a friendly bunch. It is like being in a slightly geeky club, but in a nice way. Kids love them - so do "big kids". The name is surprisingly well known because they are one of the top cars in the Gran Turismo computer games, so the Playstation generation know and love the cars, even if they've never seen a real one. In traffic jams (grrr - M25) I frequently see kids with their noses glued to the windows of their cars, huge grins on their faces.

General Info

The UK Skyline GTS owner's club - lots of tech specs and owner's cars.

Skylines Down Under - a New Zealand site and probably the best source of English info about Skylines.

UK Skyline GTR register - GTRs are the expensive ones, but a lot of the info is still very relevant.

Abbey Motorsport - specialists in tuning and upgrading Skylines, if you're into that sort of thing.

Great car. So why are you selling it?

I'm moving to Seattle, and the car can't come. It would cost $25,000 to adapt it to the eccentric US regulations, and much as I love the car, I don't love it quite that much. So it has to go to a nice home. Will you look after it and play with it?

Email me at skyline.tom.forsyth@eelpi.gotdns.org for details or interest.