‘Skyline’. It’s one of those names that evokes irrepressible urges and swells of excitement among car enthusiasts of a certain age. For the generation raised on the Gran Turismo franchise, there’s a sort of winners’ club of halo models to which they will forever aspire; we’re talking about the cars pegged at the notional gentlemen’s-agreement 276bhp figure – the Mazda RX-7, the Honda NSX, the Mitsubishi 3000GT and, of course, the Nissan Skyline GT-R. These cars held us in their thrall, enraptured us with their cheeky mystique; the authorities filed them at the infamous claimed power figure, but who was really top dog?
For many – and not least because of the ‘Godzilla’ R32’s relentless racing successes – there are few more alluring names in the Japanese tuning sphere than ‘Skyline’. While today’s burgeoning JDM enthusiasts may well be captivated by the cult of the R35 GT-R, a car so phenomenally accomplished that it makes supercar owners feel distinctly short-changed, an older audience fondly recalls the days when the GT-R badge was appended to a series of Skylines rather than being a model in its own right. Not that it was all that long ago, of course – the last Skyline GT-R was on the forecourts as a new car as recently as 2002 in R34 guise, while the Skyline name overall has been soldiering on (separately from the GT-R offshoot) ever since. And today’s retro tuner is well aware that the GT-R name stretches back into Nissan lore as far as 1969, and the Skyline moniker all the way back to ’57. There’s a rich seam of heritage to mine here.
Of course, there’s more to the performance Skyline oeuvre than the halo GT-R. A broad model range catered for a wide variety of buyers, and the GT-T has become the de facto choice for a generation of drift enthusiasts – because it’s RWD instead of AWD, and rear-drive is what you need for quality skids. And with the R34 generation, the GT-T was something special indeed.
The R34 is really the grown-up Skyline. This is the generation that introduced the more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly ‘NEO’ versions of the RB engines – but that’s not to say the Skyline had gone soft; the high-performance variants were still absolute animals. More so than ever before, in fact. Designed by Kozo Watanabe, who also penned the R33, the R34 was sleeker and more aggressive, and this was accentuated yet further by a late-2000 facelift which revised the front bumper and headlights. In GT-T guise it came from the factory with a boosted RB25DET NEO, packing that iconic 276bhp figure and really spoiling for a rumble.
As you’ve probably already deduced from the photos, however, the GT-T you see here is some way removed from factory specs. Resplendent in a custom mix of shimmering purple, Watanabe’s crisp design has been further enhanced by a sort of greatest-hits tribute act to the very best of the JDM aftermarket, with body addenda inspired by such great styling houses as JUN and Sunline Racing. The genesis of all this is intriguing too, as its owner – James Hibbert – is a man who builds cars to please himself rather than impress anybody else, as keenly evidenced by the fact that having fulfilled a lifelong dream in buying a GT-R, he pretty quickly sold it to buy this GT-T. Which many people thought was a bit of a mad idea.
“It just made sense to me,” he says. “As good as the GT-R was, I just started to miss the fun of rear-wheel drive, and drifting in particular.” The logic is as simple and as flawless as that, particularly when you factor in the fact that these cars can be found for a tiny fraction of the ever-escalating prices of GT-Rs.