The R32 Skyline GT-R is unquestionably an incredible thing, but don’t forget the unsung heroes of the model range like the GTS-t. As Rich Tapp’s impressive turbo-swapped conversion demonstrates, you don’t have to sport that ‘R’ badge to win the game…
To a generation who grew up playing Gran Turismo, the R32 Nissan Skyline begins and ends with the GT-R. This mighty bruiser earned its Godzilla nickname by utterly trouncing everybody throughout the Group A racing universe. GT-Rs entered 29 races of the Japanese Touring Car Championship and won all 29. They also took victory at the 1991 Spa 24-Hour, and made the competition in Australian Group A look rather silly.
It’s a formidable car. But those in the know will happily tell you that there’s more to the R32 range than simply Godzilla. Take the GTS-t, for example, which came from the factory with a 212bhp 2.0-litre turbo straight- six. That’s hardly to be sniffed at, is it? And it’s the GTS-t you’re looking at here. Well, it is now anyway. It wasn’t originally. But don’t worry. We’ll get to that.
“I chose the R32 as I’d had one previously, and regretted selling it pretty much straight away,” says owner Rich Tapp. “This one came up for sale locally, but was a non-turbo car, although it had a manual gearbox. So it wasn’t all bad. I went along to have a look and it was so clean I had to have it, turbo or not! This was just before R32 prices started to go up loads, so was a bit of a bargain by today’s prices.” The car was wearing the shade of gunmetal grey so beloved of GT-R fanboys, and rocking a set of Rota Grids, albeit four-studs with teeny-tiny brakes behind, along with a GT-R bonnet, grille and bumper. “The first owner imported it in 1997,” says Rich. “So it’s spent more of its life in the UK than Japan.”
With the R32 itch scratched and balance restored to his life, Rich set about a gradual programme of improvements over the next four years. Around 10 months into ownership he finally got sick of the non-turbo motor. By happy coincidence, his housemate at the time was swapping an RB25DET into his R32 drift car, so Rich pinched the outgoing RB20DET (the ‘T’ stands for turbo) for his own car. The fellas carried out the engine swaps side-by- side over the Christmas holidays.
So now he had the power, but power – as those old Pirelli ads will tell you – is nothing without control. So Rich set about the chassis with ninja force: Tein coilovers, with the front items being GT-R units for lower ride height, a five-stud hub conversion and GT-R brakes, this was the recipe for success. He also junked the welded diff and swapped in an LSD, because Mr Tapp doesn’t mess about.
“After a while I decided that it needed painting and sorting out bodywork-wise,” Rich recalls. “It was 50 shades of grey! So I started saving and doing lots of overtime, and in spring 2014 the car came off the road to be painted. The initial plan was to just go over it in original KH2 metallic grey. But my paint guy, Chris, said a colour change wouldn’t be too much more work. This led to weeks of thinking. I was pretty much set on red, but then I couldn’t decide which red!” After endless deliberation, he eventually settled on Mazda true red, which Chris then mixed and took home to paint the car. In a single garage next to his house! “I still find that amazing,” says Rich, in awe. “That it was even possible, let alone the finish he got with it!”
A GT-R rear spoiler found its way on, and Rich set about the task of bolting the whole thing back together, taking the time to replace the (“hideously expensive”) window rubbers and make up his own GTS-t badges. He wouldn’t, after all, want people to think he was pretending it was an actual GT-R. The GTS-t is formidable in its own right, and Rich is very proud of his freshly converted model to turbo specs.
“I went to a couple of shows, with Players 2014 in Essex being the first, and the inaugural Ultimate Stance in Telford,” he recalls. “I only applied for these as a mate said I should, and I was shocked to get in the hangar at Players and inside at Ultimate Stance. I really enjoyed the shows, and have a regular at most since then. I never intended it to be a show car, but kind of got hooked on it!”
And you know what happens at shows? You get wheel ideas. So the next job was to change up what was going on under the arches. Rich sourced a set of OZ Futura split-rims, which were a proper Nissan fitment but, at ET24 and 9×17 inches, a little too narrow for his liking. So, like a true wheel whore, he sourced some 3-inch lips from Germany and rebuilt them himself with the help of his old man, widening to 10 inches and ET12. Much more like it. “The centres were painted in an OEM silver by my mate Scott,” says Rich. “They’re finished with old-style centre caps – from Budapest! – and the old- style OZ badge to finish them off, along with new stainless bolts from Wheel Unique.”
All of this wheel tinkering clearly flicked a switch in Rich’s brain, and he decided to quit his job as an architectural technician and go to work for Fifteen52. That’s commitment for you.
So all was sunshine and roses. Rich had a shiny new set of Tarmacs to swap on when he felt like it, and he was generally just winning at life. Right up until the moment somebody following him decided that they didn’t fancy stopping when he did, and drove right into the back of the Skyline.
“The car was pretty battered,” he grimaces. “But the insurance company did an awesome job helping to sort it out, and I managed to get it back on the road in time for Players 9.0 three weeks later.”
You’ve noticed the shift in tone here, haven’t you? Rich has made the full transition from somebody with little interest in shows to somebody who measures their timetable and their project’s progress against the rigidity of the show calendar.
“In the run-up to the 2016 season I got new red covers for the Motordrive seats I’d fitted,” he recalls. “I also got the carbon-fibre Fujimura Rocket Dancer aero flap to go on top of the GT-R boot spoiler, which was really pricey but looks so good, in my eyes. The car appeared at the Players Classic and Japfest Rockingham shows, but then the engine let go! So I missed Gravity, FittedUK and RollHard. Stuck for ideas whether to replace or rebuild that engine, a used one came up locally for sensible money, so that was bought and fitted with lots of help from my mates Brinn and Jason. It all came together nicely, and was back on the road for the Retro Rides Gathering 2016 at the end of August.”
Trials and tribulations, eh? What’s most endearing about this build is that it’s been with Rich through thick and thin, and he’s teaching himself to patch it up as well as make it better. “Without being big-headed, it really does turn heads everywhere I go,” he beams. “That’s something I never intended to happen. I just built the car for myself. But it’s so nice to see people sharing pics of it all over the world. I’ve always wanted to get a car into a magazine since I started reading Fast Car in the ’90s.”
Well, we’re happy to oblige. And we think it’s awesome that this lowly four-stud non-turbo has been built up to GTS-t specs and given a contemporary twist, rather than being just another GT-R rep.
TECH SPEC: NISSAN R32 SKYLINE GTS-T
Mazda True red; genuine GT-R aluminium bonnet, grille, bumper, splitter and boot spoiler; Fujimura Rocket Dancer carbon-fibre rear spoiler aero flap; GTS-T Type M sideskirts and rear spats; pulled and reshaped rear arches; front wings reshaped for clearance.
RB20DET 2.0-litre straight-six; hybrid turbo; front-mount intercooler; APEXi air filter; stainless steel exhaust system; 220bhp (est); stock transmission; LSD.
10x17in ET12 OZ Futura with 215/40 Nankangs; R32 GT-R brakes; Tein coilovers (including shorter GT-R fronts for lower ride height); polybushes; adjustable rear camber arms.
MOMO Model 78 steering wheel; early ’90s Nismo gearknob and horn button; Motordrive race seats; Sabelt harnesses; Nomad boost gauge; JDM cup holders; late ’90s/early ’00s Alpine headunit; illuminated Carrozzeria shelf speakers; Pioneer door speakers; JBL sub and amp.
Dad, for all the help with building it, Mum and Grandad; Brinn at KingfabUK for the fabrication and engine swap help; Jason for help on both engine swaps and loads of other bits; Chris for doing the bodywork and painting it; and anyone else who’s had a hand in building the car and/or keeping it going.