While it’s considered less-desirable than the R32 and R34, tuning the Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 to maximize its potential is no harder than its siblings. Here’s how you can get the most out of your R33.
Hot on the heels of the all-conquering R32 GT-R – the first of Nissan’s RB26-engined homologation specials that dominated Japanese Group A touring car racing – the Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 arrived in 1995 and set the world ablaze as the first production car to set a sub-eight-minute lap at the Nürburgring.
The V-Spec (‘Victory SPECification’) offered a more advanced ATTESA PRO four-wheel drive system, an active limited-slip differential, 17in BBS rims and Brembo performance brakes to help rein in the claimed 280bhp from the RB26, a 2.6-litre, twin turbo straight six engine. As you can imagine, it was a tuner’s dream and being the first GT-R to be officially imported into the UK, it also satisfied Gran Turismo players’ thirsts for a real version of their favorite pixelated coupe.
What is the R33 GT-R Really Like?
Although somewhat bulkier that its R32 predecessor, the R33 is still surprisingly nimble and, like most ’90s Japanese sports cars, wildly overengineered. From a tuner’s perspective, that means the standard specification is practically crying out for upgrades.
In particular, Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 tuning is relatively easy thanks to the standard crank and rods being very tough; able to withstand 8000rpm and over 600bhp with ease. In fact over 500bhp is perfectly feasible with just bolt-on upgrades, as long as it’s healthy and well mapped, of course. The transmission is similarly tough and, with the exception of the standard clutch, is generally happy with handling upwards of 500bhp too. But don’t feel you to have to take everything to the limit, as even with modest power increases the R33 is a truly formidable machine.
To help you choose the right path to Nissan nirvana, we’ve broken Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 tuning into its component parts to give you specific advice on how to maximize each area.
We’ll show you which parts you’ll want to upgrade – as well as which ones work fine from the factory – to let you know the essential areas to spend your cash to make this extremely capable car even more pant-wettingly potent.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Engine Tuning
The 2.6-litre, twin turbocharged, six-cylinder RB26DETT is right up there with the most iconic engines ever made. Producing a claimed 276bhp straight from the factory (although the actual figure is likely somewhat more), it is capable of making well into four-figures with the right supporting modifications.
Just like almost all turbocharged cars, the R33 GT-R is strangled by the standard exhaust. A full 3in or larger system with a de-cat pipe (or a free-flowing sports cat) and new turbo downpipes will improve throttle response, let the motor come on boost faster, and can increase power by around 25bhp.
A full R33 GT-R performance exhaust system including the downpipes, de-cat, and cat-back system is not a cheap modification, with a Fujitsubo equal length downpipe retailing around $770/£630, a Tomei Expreme Ti de-cat pipe around $360/£300 and a 3.75in HKS Silent Hi Power exhaust coming in at around $1350/£1100, depending on supplier. For complying with emissions laws, you can swap the de-cat for a $1375/£1120 HKS metal sports catalyzer. For a closer look at some of the best aftermarket exhaust options available for all generations of the GT-R, click here.
Elsewhere on the exhaust side if you want the ultimate in exhaust gas flow, then for around $1100/£900 you can get a pair of Tomei Expreme manifolds, which come with a 41.5mm diameter and offer significant gains over the stock Nissan N1 manifold and are suitable with both stock and aftermarket stock fitment turbos.
To complement the freer flowing exhaust, an uprated panel filter element fitted to the stock airbox, modified with the bung removed from the side of it, is a great addition. This is a very simple and cheap upgrade, with most aftermarket panel filters generally costing less than $70/£50, and is perfectly capable at power levels up to about 500bhp. Check out some top air filter options, here.
Above this level, however, you will then be reaching the flow limit of the stock airbox and will need to ditch it in favor of a pair of aftermarket cone filters, one for each of the RB26’s twin turbochargers. An APEXi Power Intake kit costs around $550/£450 and comes compete with all the mounting brackets and hardware needed for hassle free installation.
Providing you get the engine checked for safety on a rolling road or similar and fit a set of colder grade spark plugs, a boost increase to around 14psi should be totally acceptable at this level, and can often be done quite simply with one of the many boost controllers on the market, or just by removing the brass restrictor in a pipe near the standard boost solenoid. Much above this level though and the standard turbos will be past their limit, meaning it’s wise to fit either standard turbos uprated with a steel internals, or slightly larger direct replacement turbos such as Nismo N1s, HKS GTSs, or Garrett GTX2860R Gen 2s, the latter retailing for around $1720/£1400 each. All of these turbos will make around 440bhp with ease, which is where you hit the limit of the standard injectors, fuel pump, and air flow meters.
Supporting Mods & Bigger Turbos
At this level injector sizing will need to increase to either 550cc or 750cc units (Deatschworks 550cc units start around $610/£500 for six), and an uprated 255lph in-tank fuel pump from the likes of Walbro will cost around $150/£120. It might not be the most exciting set of upgrades, but the car will need both of these mods to handle the increased demand of super unleaded. In most cases you’ll also need to fit larger airflow meters, usually RB25 or Z32 items.
Much above this level and you might want to consider junking the twin turbo setup for a big twin-scroll single from the like of Garrett or Borg Warner, as this will offer the biggest increase in boost as well as offering even faster spool times and improved response. Of course, this will also require additional parts such as a new inlet, exhaust manifold and waste gates, but some tuners such as Garage Whifbitz offer a complete single turbo kit starting at just over $5500/£4500 but the extra performance and insane noise will be well worth it.
While the stock ECU can generally take care of things at the lower end of the tuning scale, there is no doubt that having the ECU re-mapped to suit the modifications perfectly will free up some extra power when you venture further down the line. The best option for optimal power increases is either a remapped standard ECU using Nistune software, or the popular APEX’i PowerFC, which is a direct replacement for the standard ECU.
Extra boost means the stock intercooler will start to struggle so an intercooler upgrade is highly recommended if you are upping the boost considerably, even though the standard items have been proven at over 600bhp. For $1500/£1250 an HKS Type R intercooler will not only be able to cool and flow enough air for just about any power you want, but it will also be around 25% lighter than the stock item too. While you’re at it, we’d recommend adding an oil cooler and uprated aluminum radiator to beef up the car’s cooling system too.
When it comes to cams you can go mild or wild, but beware that the more aggressive you go with the cams, the less drivability you’re likely to have as a result. For most people some mild cams, such as a set of $700/£650 ‘drop in’ Tomei 260 degree PonCams, is enough. Along with a suitably remapped ECU, these give impressive gains with little to no downsides.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Transmission Tuning
The original OEM clutch will likely be on borrowed time even without additional modifications, so it is wise to budget for an uprated item if you plan on upping the GT-R’s performance. At $860/£700 a Competition Clutch stage three clutch with lightweight flywheel is a worthwhile investment and should suffice until approximately 600bhp, with almost standard levels of drivability too. For higher levels of tune, we’d recommend going to either a twin or triple plate item such as Exedy’s $2000/£1680 Hyper Multi Twin or Triple kits. These come with lightweight flywheels and can handle extreme levels of torque while retaining comfortable driving.
The R33’s five-speed gearbox in a brute of a cog swapper and is largely capable for most power levels, however, it does have a weakness in its fourth and fifth synchro. The best solution is to drive a little more sympathetically when gear-changing. Keep ramming that gear home and you’ll chew up the baulk ring double quick. But if you really can’t drive at less than ten tenths, then uprated gearsets are available from the likes of OS Giken and Quaife. These are not only stronger, but often use closer ratios to improve acceleration and straight cut gears with dog engagement to allow extremely fast and reliable shifts with minimum transmission losses. They can be noisy and are certainly not cheap, with the Quaife six-speed set offered by Tuning Developments starting at $7600/£6250.
The R33 uses Nissan’s clever ATTESA PRO four-wheel drive system, with front and rear limited slip differentials and a trick torque-splitting center differential that can send torque to whichever wheels need it the most. But even with such an advanced system, you can always make improvements and OS Giken offer uprated Superlock LSDs for both front and rear axles. Designed for combined street and circuit use, with more predictable traction and cornering performance, these $1700/£1400 (each) units can handle the highest levels of horsepower and improve high speed stability compared to standard all the while giving increased levels of durability.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Suspension Tuning
Springs and dampers
The Skyline’s suspension is decent out of the box, but can feel a bit wallowy when trying to contain higher power levels and the cornering forces generated at those greater speeds.
V-Spec cars have suspension that works well on track, but even a non V-Spec car can be slightly lowered and stiffened up with a set of replacement springs and some Nissan V-Spec dampers.
For anyone who wants to get a bit more serious, a Nismo S-Tune kit that gives adjustable damping would be a nice upgrade, or an R-Tune kit would be pick for any trackday heroes who hardly ever run the car on the rubbish that passes for our roads these days. Of course there is the option of a huge range of coilovers with all the options they give for not just height, but also damping adjustment, plus the in-car gadgetry some now offer.
A set of Ohlins Road & Track units would be an excellent choice for street and circuit and retail for around $2900/£2350, or a more wallet friendly option would be a Meister R kit for $1100/£900. For a closer look at some of the best Skyline suspension options out there, click here.
Hicas lock out
As well as an advanced four-wheel drive system, the R33 GT-R also features four-wheel steering via the rear Hicas system. Unfortunately, especially on older models, the Hicas system can often fail, leading to unpredictable and sloppy handling as well as an MOT failure. Fortunately, companies such as Driftworks offer the $280/£230 HICAS Eliminator kit, which removes every part of the flawed Nissan rear steer system, replacing it with fully adjustable, heavy duty rod ends toe control arms giving precise adjustment and confidence inspiring handling.
Most OEMs fit their cars with rubber bushes. These are cheap and vulnerable to wear, so replacing them with a firmer polyurethane upgrade makes a lot of sense. Not only do you get a genuine performance benefit of the stiffer bush and less unwanted flex in the suspension system, but they’ll never need replacing again in the future. The R33 is up to 27 years old now, so the OEM bushes are very likely well past their best, so replacing them will be a priority, especially if you are planning any other suspension upgrades.
A full bush kit from the likes of SuperPro will cost around $710/£580, but individual areas can be upgraded at a time to ease the financial burden.
Anti-roll bars and braces
Anti-roll bars do exactly what they say on the tin – resist your car’s propensity to body roll. By fitting stiffer items you can increase their effect. For the R33, we’d suggest replacing the stock items with thicker and stiffer items from Aussie chassis tuning experts Whiteline. An adjustable 22mm rear ARB is around $260/£210 while a 24mm item is $270/£220. Keeping things Japanese you could also chose a Cusco front ARB for around $310/£255.
Any performance car will benefit from a proper alignment of its suspension geometry and the R33 GT-R is no different. But don’t just add it on at your local tire fitters when you have your new tires fitted, as their equipment is not really set up to get the best out of your modified ride. Your best bet is to go to a specialist who has the specialist equipment and knowledge to dial in custom camber, toe and caster settings to give you the handling you want from your car. If you want the ultimate setup, get them to corner weight the car with you sat in the driver’s seat too and upgrade to some adjustable suspension arms from the likes of Hardrace, which let you dial in more aggressive angles that you would otherwise be able to with the stock setup.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Brake Tuning
Being a well-developed car, the Skyline’s brakes are pretty good as standard, and with some performance pads such as the excellent Dixcel Z Type pads ($220/£180 front and $200/£160 rear) they can bite well and haul the big Nissan to a stop pretty sharply. The problem comes when the standard Brembo rotors need swapping, as they are very costly. It’s probably a better option to take this as an opportunity to swap for a set of aftermarket front discs such as those from EBC ($300/£245). But before you do this decide if you want to go for bigger rims, because this can open up all sorts of options for big brake kits from the likes of K-Sport, Alcon and TarOx, whose 350mm discs and 8-pot calipers come in at around $3000/£2500 with pads and braided hoses included.
Performance Wheels & Tires for the Nissan Skyline GT-R R33
With 9x17in ET30 rims as standard, the R33’s cavernous arches can accommodate 18s or 19s without problem. Being four wheel drive you will need to ensure front and rear tires are the same size but you should be able to run a 10 or even 11in wide rim with some 305-section tires without much more than a light rolling of arches. Of course, being such a high performance machine, and especially when tuned, it’s well worth fitting some high performance tires such as Michelin Pilot Sport 4s or a dedicated track tire such as a Nankang AR1 if you plan on using your Skyline predominately on track. Skylines aren’t particularly tire-hungry unless there is something out of whack on the suspension geometry. As far as alloys go, here’s a compilation of some of the best GT-R-compatible rims on the market.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Interior Upgrades
Being nearly 30 years old, even cherished examples are likely to have worn floor mats, so why not give it a spruce up with a fresh set of genuine Nismo mats. The full set costs around $280/£230, but will lift the interior no end. The same can be said for the stock gearknob, which is likely pretty tatty. We’d go for a $100/£70 white Nismo S-Tune knob in Duracon rubber as its domed surface is smooth to the touch and never gets overly hot or cold, unlike aluminum or titanium alternatives. The stock seats in an R33 aren’t bad, but could be more supportive, so a pair of buckets or recliners (if you prefer to retain rear seat access) from the likes of Corbeau – starting at around $460/£375 for some Evo RB recliners – would be well worth a punt.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 Styling Upgrades
Being a bit of an old timer the R33 is well catered for in the styling department, with everything from subtle lips and diffusers to full on wide arch kits available off the shelf. We’d go for a vented carbon bonnet from the likes of Seibon for $1500/£1250, along with a matching boot lid and spoiler blade. Vented front wings are also a nice touch coming in at around $270/£220 from Knight Racer, who also offer an engine cover set in genuine carbon fiber for $440/£360. This might also give you the drive to create a full on show quality engine bay, which we wholehearted approve of!
Words: Dan Sherwood.