Famous for its starring role in the Fast & Furious movies, the Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 is a technology-packed marvel revered the world over by tuning enthusiasts and performance car collectors alike. Here’s how to tune one to make it even faster.
Nissan launched the R34 Skyline GT-R in Japan in late 1998. Based on the R33 model, it featured sharper, more aggressive styling. It also got a 75mm shorter body shell, a larger rear spoiler and improved handling.
It employed the same RB26DETT engine as the R33 but with major revisions including Garrett turbos and an alloy head. While officially it had 276bhp, but the real figure was much closer to 320bhp. The R34 added an extra gear to the transmission too, running a tough six-speed Getrag unit. Lightweight aluminum wings, bonnet and wheels helped shed weight over the R33.
Nissan’s HICAS four-wheel steering remained and combined with a revised version of the R33’s ATTESA-ETS PRO four-wheel drive system and active limited-slip differential. In normal driving conditions the Skyline’s torque is directed solely to the rear axle. When needed, the front wheel can employ up to 50 per cent of the power via a transfer box and a hydraulically operated clutch.
With prices for even the most basic of R34 GT-Rs now into six figures, tuning one takes some guts. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, as they have so much potential when tuned and the right mods shouldn’t affect the value.
In this guide, we’ll show you which parts you’ll want to upgrade to let you know the essential areas to spend your cash to make the R34 the ultimate driving machine. Here’s our Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 tuning guide.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 Engine Tuning
The R34 features the most potent version of Nissan’s RB26DETT engine, even if the quoted figures state that it produces just 276bhp. But that’s just the starting point. With the right modifications it is capable of producing power figures well in excess of 1000bhp.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 Exhaust Tuning
Emissions and noise regulations mean that most turbocharged cars have exhausts that are far from the most free-flowing. A bigger bore exhaust will radically improve the performance. The R34 requires an exhaust system with an internal bore of 3in or larger, with big gains made with the fitment of a de-cat pipe or a free-flowing sports cat. Throw in some new turbo downpipes and you will not only increase the peak power by up to 25bhp but also speed up turbocharger spool and improve throttle response.
A full R34 GT-R performance exhaust system including the turbo outlet pipes, downpipes, de-cat, and cat-back system is far from cheap. A pair of Tomei cast turbo outlet pipes cost around $1000 / £950; an HKS equal length downpipe retailing around $700 / £630; a Tomei Expreme Ti de-cat pipe around $350 / £300; and a 3.35in HKS Silent Hi Power exhaust coming in at around $800 / £1100, depending on supplier. If you want a sports cat that will pass the emissions tests, then you can swap the de-cat for a $1000 / £1120 HKS metal sports catalyser.
The stock manifolds actually flow really well and are strong too, so most won’t need replacing unless you want to go for really big power. Use a cast replacement for best heat dissipation and resistance to cracking. Tubular ones can often crack if the get too hot. A Tomei full cast manifold is around $1200 / £1400 including all gaskets and is compatible with all standard frame turbos.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 Intake Tuning
With the recent surge in prices, many people are looking to put their R34s back to stock specification. A a result, you might find a few that have retained the original airbox. If so, a decent upgrade to the breathing would be to swap out the stock filter for an uprated panel filter element that fits inside to the stock airbox. This is a very simple and cheap upgrade, with most aftermarket panel filters generally costing less than $60 / £50. It’s perfectly capable at power levels up to about 500bhp.
Above this level, however, you will then be reaching the flow limit of the stock airbox. Opt for a pair of aftermarket cone filters, one for each of the RB26’s twin turbochargers. An A’PEXi Power Intake kit costs around $500 / £450 and comes compete with all the mounting brackets and hardware needed for hassle free installation. Alternatively, a pair of HKS Super Power Flow air intakes costs around $400 / £380. These cool mushroom filters will give the iconic 90s tuner look to your engine bay.
Unlike the earlier R32, the R34 has turbos which feature steel internals. As a result, you don’t have the issue of disintegrating ceramic turbines being sucked into the engine to worry about. They are also going to be much newer too, but with early R34s now nearly 25 years old, any car still on its original snails will likely benefit from an upgrade.
If you have had the car checked over and are confident that the turbos are in decent nick however, you can run a colder grade of spark plugs and up the boost to around 1 bar with an appropriate boost controller such as a £336 HKS EVC-S electronic boost controller.
Much above this level of boost, however, and the standard turbos will be running out of puff. It’s wise to fit either slightly larger direct replacement turbos such as those from HKS, Precision or Garrett GTX2860 models, the latter retailing for around £1400 each. All of these turbos will make around 450bhp with ease. This is where you hit the limit of the standard injectors, fuel pump, and air flow meters.
When it comes to the air flow meters, if you are sticking with the stock ECU, you will need larger items, usually Z32 items from the 300Zx or modified R35 items. However, most aftermarket ECUs will not require the use of air flow meters, so they could be blanked off.
Much above 400bhp will require larger injectors and an uprated high-flow in-tank fuel pump. A Walbro 255lph unit will cost around £120, while a set of Deatschwerks 1000cc injectors cost around $750 / £670 for six. These should be able to flow enough super unleaded for even very big power builds. They will also offer the ability to be precisely tuned at lower levels meaning they will work great whatever your engine’s state of tune. Although this would require an aftermarket ECU to control them.
Head gasket and internals
Although many cars have been reported to stay reliable with up 600bhp with the stock internals, many tuners recommend a more belt and braces approach. This is especially true with the age of many of the cars approaching quarter of a century. This includes the installation of a metal head gasket and forged rods and pistons, all put together with stronger ARP bolts and studs. An ARP head stud kit for the R34 costs around £350; while main studs are around £270.
A full set of forged pistons and rods would set you back around $1600 / £1800; while a Cometic metal head gasket will be around £180.
The R34’s stock ECU can self-adjust for some of the more basic bolt-on modifications. However, to really take full advantage of the potential of your upgrades, a standalone aftermarket ECU is recommended. This will offer much greater scope for altering the parameters of the engine including fueling, timing and boost, plus additional control for extra sensors and hardware.
There are various aftermarket ECUs to choose from at varying price points, however none are exactly cheap; especially once you factor in fitting and expert tuning too. Many do tend to offer a greater variety of safety functions too though. These can sense any issues early on and shut down the engine immediately to avoid any further damage; this could potentially save you from even larger bills further down the line, so is definitely worth considering. The popular Link G4X starts around $1700 / £1600 without fitting or mapping.
The stock intercoolers have been proven at over 500bhp, but can struggle when extra boost is added. An intercooler upgrade is highly recommended if you are upping the boost considerably. For $870 / £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 uprated aluminum radiator from the likes of Mishimoto or Koyorad. If you plan of tracking the car, an oil cooler such as those from Mocal.
Uprated camshafts can be a great way to improve power, but they are not always without their downsides. The more aggressive you go with the cams, the less driveability you’re likely to have. Power can become peaky and require more revs to get the best from the motor. For most people, a set of mild cams, such as a set of $700 / £650 ‘drop in’ Tomei 260 degree PonCams, would be an excellent upgrade. Along with a suitably remapped ECU, this would increase both power and torque with little to no adverse effect on driveability.
Bear in mind that more aggressive cams will also require more extensive head work with uprated valve springs and retainers needed too, drastically increasing the cost for both parts and labour.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 Transmission Tuning
There are not many cars with stock clutches these days, but even a brand new OEM replacement will start to feel the strain at much over 350bhp. If you are looking for more power than this – which is likely – then you’ll need to budget for at least a stage 1 replacement. A big step up in power to the realm of 500-600bhp will require something meatier, such as a £700 stage three Competition Clutch with lightweight flywheel. This comes as a kit and is a worthwhile investment that can handle approximately 600bhp. It has 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 £1680 Hyper Multi Twin or Triple kits. These come with lightweight flywheels and can handle extreme levels of torque while retaining comfortable driving.
Unless you are planning on running more than 600bhp and drag racing at every available opportunity, the Getrag six-speed gearbox and ATTESA four-wheel-drive system will do the job just fine. Just look after them with regular oil changes. Also, fit the UK-spec oil coolers and pumps if the car doesn’t have them and you hit the Autobahns regularly.
Driven sensibly, the stock gearbox can cope well to around 800bhp, but above this uprated gear sets from the likes of OS Giken and Quaife are available. 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.
Finally, for the ultimate in ratio swapping, you can go down the route of a sequential gearbox from the likes of Hewland or PPG. But while they may be the ultimate, they’re certainly not cheap. The PPG six-speed starts at $20,000 / £14,400.
The R34 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, wear can still occur, so rather than replacing with an OEM item, why not take the chance to upgrade to an aftermarket item from the likes of Nismo or OS Giken, or Quaife. 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 £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 R34 Suspension Tuning
Springs and dampers
Being a highly developed performance car, the Skyline’s suspension is decent out of the box. However, it can feel a bit soft when trying to contain higher power levels and the cornering forces that can be generated at those greater speeds.
Swapping the standard springs and dampers for a set of good quality coilovers such as Meister R GT1’s (costing around £1500) is a good start. It will not only give you stiffer springs and dampers to offer greater body control, but it will also give the opportunity to greatly tailor the way the car looks and handles via way of both height and damping adjustment.
Hicas lock out
As well as an advanced four-wheel drive system, the R34 GT-R also features four-wheel steering via the rear Hicas system. Unfortunately, the Hicas system can often fail, become worn, or some owners simply don’t like the feel of it. Issues with how the Hicas functions can lead to unpredictable and sloppy handling as well as an MOT failure. Fortunately, companies such as Driftworks offer the £230 HICAS Eliminator kit. This removes every part of the Nissan rear steer system, replacing it with fully adjustable, heavy duty rod ends and toe control arms giving precise adjustment and more confidence inspiring handling.
Most cars are fitted with rubber bushes from the factory, these are cheap and replaceable, meaning many will be worn out by now, 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 R34 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 £580, but individual areas can be upgraded at a time to ease the financial burden.
When you take a corner at speed, the car’s weight pitches to the outside of the turn causing the body to roll on its suspension, compressing the outside tyres into the tarmac, but reducing pressure on the inside tyres. Anti-roll bars are fitted at both the front and rear to try and reduce this effect and keep the car flatter through the bend, in turn allowing all four tyres to achieve a greater level of grip. You can increase your R34’s resistance to body roll by fitting stiffer and thicker anti-roll bars than standard. Cusco’s come in 24mm thickness at the front and 30mm at the rear and £255 and £285 respectively, they will improve cornering and stability over the standard items.
The direction in which your wheels point can have a huge effect on how your car drives. This is why having a professional geometry alignment is well worth the outlay. An alignment specialist such as Centre Gravity can tune your Skyline’s suspension with pinpoint accuracy to work in harmony with your preferred driving style.
If you want the ultimate setup, corner weight the car with you sat in the driver’s seat and upgrade to some adjustable suspension arms from the likes of Hardrace. This will let you dial in more aggressive angles that you would otherwise be able to with the stock setup.
Check out our guide to the best suspension available for the Nissan Skyline GT-R R34.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 Brake Tuning
The R34 features the same excellent Brembo brake set up as its R33 forebear. However, with some performance brake pads such as the excellent Dixcel Z Type pads (£180 front and £160 rear) you can further improve bite and also reduce fade when used in extreme situations, such as on track. 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 Dixcel. Their FC high carbon rotors are around £365 for a pair of front discs, and their grooved and vented design is said to be 30% more effective that solid rotors.
Beyond this, you will be looking at swapping the stock discs and calipers for a big brake kit. Look at the likes of K-Sport, Alcon and TarOx, whose 350mm discs and 8-pot calipers come in at around £2500 with pads and braided hoses included.
Performance Wheels & Tires
The standard 18in forged alloy wheels are well up to up to the task of supporting an R34. Light, tough and wide enough for seriously sticky rubber they have plenty of room for the biggest of brake kits. The only reason to change them is if you want to change the style or add a greater rubber footprint. Lightweight Rays TE37s in 10.5x18in fitment are a popular style of wheel to give a great Japanese tuner look plus the best grip. However, plenty of more unique options are available at a whole host of price points, just don’t skimp on tires. With the amount of power an R34 can produce with even the mildest of mods, means high performance rubber is a must. Just make sure you stick to the same wheel and tire sizes all round to avoid issues with the four-wheel drive system.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 Interior Tuning
Despite the model’s age, interiors are usually in mint condition. Just don’t be surprised to find extra equipment like boost controllers and aftermarket gauges. The R34 has the best stock seats out of all three generations of Skyline GT-R, so we’d probably stick with them. Unless, though, you are planning a full on track machine, in which case a set of lightweight bucket seats from Recaro or Cobra would be a good option along with some harnesses.
A fresh set of genuine Nismo mats costs around £230, but will lift the interior if the OEM ones are tired or worn. A gearknob such as the £70 white Nismo S-Tune knob in Duracon rubber gives a more racy look to the cockpit while feeling great in your hand.
The market for these cars has gone through the roof of late with many owners looking for factory standard looks, however, that doesn’t mean you have to. Countless carbon fiber parts are available from lips and diffusers to full body panels. Bodykits are more limited, mainly focusing on offering the lines of the rarer special edition models such as the famous Z-Tune. Aftermarket kits form Nismo and Do-Luck are also available and give a more aggressive look the to the R34. Just don’t forget under the bonnet, as few engine’s look as good as the RB26 after some care and attention.