Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Ultimate R34 Skyline GT-R Buyers Guide

With the holiday season in full swing, what better time to release a buying guide to the ultimate Christmas presents? If you have been dreaming of buying a Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R, but are unsure of what to look for before pulling the trigger, this post is for you.

The guide is divided into five sections, each covering a specific topic:

1 - Introduction.
2- The Market: explaining the current market condition and future forecast.
3 - Specs: a rundown of all the specs, colors and technical differences between models.
4 - Condition: everything you need to check before buying.
5 - How to Buy: channels and methods to acquire a BNR34.

For the occasion I also have brushed up some orignal, rare photos released by Nissan in 1999 for the original R34 launch, which I hope you'll enjoy. So, without further ado, let's get started.

Introduction 

Why another R34 buyers guide, you may ask? Well, a quick search on Google reveals that some of the most recent ones were released in 2007-2009; the market has changed so dramatically (especially over the past 18 months) that most of the information floating around are now completely outdated. Another reason is that, I have found the general quality of most of the guides pretty low, or biased (as coming from dealers or importers). This guide is the result of over 2 years of research that lead to the purchase of my own R34 here in Tokyo: from visiting most of the famous GT-R shops in Japan, meeting owners and Nissan engineers to reading dedicateds magazine and browsing all major Japanese used car websites on a daily basis.
My BNR34
Let's get straight to one of the main points: if you can afford a BNR34, I would advise buying one as soon as possible. The market has definitely skyrocketed and there are no signs of it turning around: I predict that a decent model one year from now will be outside the means of most.

But how did it happen?

Well, the R34 has always been a highly sought after car to begin with: from writing history pages of Japanese motorsports to becoming a virtual icon in Gran Turismo and a worldwide Hollywood star with the Fast and Furious franchise, the BNR34 is by far the most famous Japanese sports car in the world. Sold only in Japan (except the limited UK, Singapore, HK and New Zealand series) its iconic style has allured at least three generations as you'll find buyers in their 40's, 30's and 20's looking to get one.

Produced over a short period of 3 years, its total production count is limited to 11,577 units (source GT-R Registry); to put things in prospective, there are more Ferrari 458 out there than R34. If you don't want to settle for the standard model (more on this later), the count goes down to roughly only 7,500.
Early wind tunnel testing
The R34 also marks the end of an era, being the last GT-R sporting the glorious in-line-six RB26 engine and the "Skyline" name. The R32, R33 and R34 were all released back to back, with minimal waiting time and, back in the days, few people would have imagined that Nissan was going to take a 7 year break from the GT-R production. Fans were expecting a successor to be announced relatively shortly, but it never came out. By the time the R35 was introduced to the world at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2008, it became clear that it was going to be positioned in completely different performance and price segments that shared very little with the R34. Once the frenzy over the R35 faded away, enthusiasts truly realized that the BNR34 marked indeed the end of an era as the last, true, analog, supercharged sportscar made in Japan. While prices are now really high, it is important to notice that, once the R34 went out of production, it has always retained most of its value, with used models going for prices very close to as-new even back in the days.
Old advertisement on GT-R Magazine (2006)
Although it all comes down to how deep your pockets are, not all that shines is gold. This post is to help you locate the thin line between buying a good model or buying into the market speculation as well as to answer all the major questions that spring to mind when talking R34. 

The Market

What happened over the past 18 months is nothing short of amazing or terrifying, depending on whether you have already bought your R34 or are yet to buy one. A steep spike in demand from the Canadian, Australian and European markets, as well as collectors with very deep pockets coming from the Middle East and Hong Kong has driven prices to a 30% - 60% increase depending on the spec. Such spike is a jerk-knee reaction to increased awareness of the BNR34 availability (or lack of) as well as massive speculation from dealers and importers. Another factor that is pushing prices and limiting demand is that owners have now realized that they are in possess of a very special, sought after machine: given where prices are going, selling your R34 now (unless you are in desperate need of money) would be a major mistake. This is translating in owners holding onto their prized possessions more than ever, and Japanese enthusiasts are incredibly good at this. On the opposite side, many cars are coming out of the woodwork, especially mint models with incredibly low mileage, but those owners who are selling now are doing so with the intention of riding the wave of speculation all the way through, often demanding prices that are easily in Porsche 911 territory. 

The future market for BNR34 (and Japanese cars in general) is not looking good either: while it's good to see so many collectors worldwide finally being able to buy their dream car, this also means that in, say 5 years from now, cars will be a lot more spread out on a global scale, rather than concentrated in one "safe" market such as Japan. This will make it a lot harder to locate them and will keep overseas models away from the main source of parts and know-how for proper maintenance. One of the main reasons why many GT-R are still in great condition is due to the Japanese maniacal attention to detail and care that is rarely seen in other cultures. 
Nür on sale for over 17,000,000 yen at R's Meeting 2016
Overall, this is a good time to buy due to the relatively good market offer, however, I expect this to slowly decrease over the next 12 months as, like I said, many owners are selling their cars now and this "wave" of availability will eventually fade out. Expect fewer good models coming out moving forward. The next wave may really be in a completely different price territory. Do not expect prices to decrease: Japan has plenty of collectors willing to pay premiums and this will ultimately always drive prices high - this is no bubble.

I will close this paragraph with the same advice I opened it with: if you are in the market for a BNR34 buy one as soon as possible.

Specs 

Your budget will largely dictate the spec selection, but my advice is to look for at least a V-spec model as the list of mechanical differences compared to the Standard one is too long and relevant to be ignored. V-spec II is definitely a nice upgrade if it's in your budget, but once you have secured a clean V-spec you are definitely in the right place and can consider yourself a proud BNR34 owner. The M-spec is also a very interesting yet controversial choice as most GT-R purists would want to go for performance rather than comfort and a "softer ride" is not what most of us are looking for. Still, the limited production number will definitely keep pushing up the value of the spec in the future, so definitely a worthy investment. Given its incredibly limited production number is very unlikely that we'll see many N1 models surfacing in the future and, in any case, they will definitely demand a high premium. The Nür spec is and will surely remain the most sought after model from collectors with prices quickly rising to over 10,000,000 Yen for any model regardless of mileage and condition. With only 1,000 units ever produced it is as rare as some of the most recent limited edition supercars such McLaren 675LT or even Porsche 918 Spyder. Definitively grab one if you can.

Below a run-down of the main differences between the specs.

V-spec vs Standard

Launched as the premium, flagship model of the BNR34, the V-spec version presents a relevant amount of additional features compared to the Standard model.
Standard Model
Brake air duct
Front diffuser
Rear carbon diffuser
ATTESA E-TS PRO + Active LSD
Stiffer suspension
Exhaust and intake temperature shown on the MFD
Combination meter with compressed scale below 3,000rpm

V-spec II 

The second generation, kouki, presented some cosmetic and functional upgrades over the V-spec model, all aimed at improving look and performances:
V-spec II
Aluminum pedals
Upgraded Nissan badge
Larger rear brake rotors 
Carbon fiber bonnet with NACA duct
Revised carbon fiber material/weave on the rear diffuser 
Slightly darker iridium console
Black interior trim and seats with silver stitching (instead of red)
Upgraded electric mirror buttons
Stiffer suspension
Clear front indicators 
Cloth trim removed from the rear trunk lid

M-spec

Named after Nissan Chief Product Specialist Mizuno-san, who advocated for a more comfortable ride and grand touring car feeling, this limited edition model was launched on May 8th, 2001 with a long list of premium features:
M-spec
Based on V-spec II
Full leather interior
Heated front seats
Special ripple control shock absorber
Special rear stabilizer
Fine grip type steering wheel with gold stitching
Aluminum bonnet
Exclusive body color "Silica Breath"
Limited edition of 50 per month (total production 366)

N1

Released in both V-spec and V-spec II versions (38 and 18 models respectively produced), this R34 was produced with racing in mind and thus stripped of some comfort features. Main differences are:
V-spec II N1
N1 Ball bearing metal turbochargers
N1 Bigger rear brake caliper and rotors
Big capacity front mounted engine oil cooler
Electronic-less side mirrors (non color coded)
Plastic hand brake lever 
Plastic centre console lid
Air-con-less
Rear wiper removed
Rear fog light removed
Audio-less
Remote control key removed

V-spec II Nür/M-spec Nür

The holy grail of all R34, this model was released in 2002 as the swan-song of the iconic Skyline GT-R. Announced with a limited total production of 1000 units (750 V-spec and 250 M-spec), the Nür spec is the final limited edition model of the BNR34 and, as such, presents a long list of extras. 

N1 Turbochargers
N1 Engine block
N1 Pistons with weight balancing
N1 Piston rings
Weight balanced conn-rods
N1 Oil pump
N1 Water pump
N1 Exhaust manifold
N1 Intercooler air hose
Exclusive gold engine cover color
Exclusive gold VIN plate
Exclusive rear emblem
300 km/h scale meter
Exclusive body color "Millennium Jade"
Limited edition of 1000 (actual production: 718 V-spec and 285 M-spec, total 1,003)

Colors
Copyright - Best R
This is a completely personal choice. Roughly 25% of all production is in Bayside Blue, 25% in White and 10% in black. Special colors like Midnight Purple II and III, Silica Breath or Millennium Jade obviously go for a premium.

Series 1 Colors: Bayside Blue (TV2), White (QM1), Sonic Silver (KR4), Athlete Silver (KV2), Black Pearl (GV1), Active Red (AR2), Lightning Yellow (EV1).

Series 2 Colors: Bayside Blue (TV2), White (QM1), Sparkling Silver (WV2), White Pearl (QX1), Black Pearl (GV1).

Special Colors: 
Midnight Purple II (LV4), Midnight Purple III (LX0) - both Series 1 only. 
Silica Breath (EY0), M-spec only. 
Millennium Jade (JW0) - Nür spec only. 

Authenticity 

If you are buying your car from overseas and have seen few R34 in person, here's a few tips to help you understand if the car spec is authentic: do not buy the car based on the rear badge or cosmetic details alone as many owners like to "upgrade" their cars to kouki models by switching interior parts and badges.

Series 1 (zenki) including V-specs: Blue VIN plate and engine bay painted in black.

Series 2 (kouki): Silver VIN plate and color coded engine bay.

Nür specs: gold VIN plate and engine cover, and color coded engine bay. 

M-specs engine bays are color coded, but in a matte-looking finish depending on the color. 

The chassis number engraved on the frame has to match the one on the VIN plate. Production year is printed on the label at the bottom of the safety belts and can be cross-referenced on the VIN plate as well. You can also cross-reference your car on GT-R Registry, where 99% of all production models have been registered with impressive accuracy. Needless to say: do not buy if you are not sure where your money is going.

Condition

This is probably the most critical step in purchasing a used car in general. I would strongly recommend inspecting the car yourself or pay a 3rd party (not the dealer/importer) to inspect it on your behalf. The nature of the GT-R itself obviously made it prone to accidents and, unlike more expensive and exotic imports, most Japanese owners actually drove them quite hard, which means that some proper due diligence before the purchase is a must. The BNR34 is an old car, engineered in an era where Nissan wasn't in top financial conditions and had to take a few shortcuts to keep costs down. Below a condition check-list.

Body and Exterior

Rust is your number one enemy: Nissan didn't properly, fully treat the car with anti-rust coating and the car itself presents some structural weaknesses that make it a bit rust-prone. To add to the issue, closed parking spaces in Japan are so expensive to be considered a luxury and, as a result, most owners are forced to park their cars outside or in semi-covered areas. This, combined with the extremely humid and rainy Japanese summer weather makes for terrible storing conditions. I remember reading on Kanazawa Body Repair (arguably the best GT-R body shop on the planet, with over 1,400 Skyline serviced) blog, that unless your car has delivery mileage on it, it will definitely have at least a bit of rust somewhere and that they'd never seen a rust-less Skyline. Carefully inspect the following areas:

Engine bay, especially around the suspension turrets
Fuel lid cover and bay
Rear trunk and spare tire storage area
All four wheel arches
All fenders
Underneath
Around the door area 
Jacking points (very easy to damage if the car is jacked incorrectly)

If the engine bay looks a bit rough with plastic parts presenting a matte finish and oxidized metal parts, this could be a sign that the car has seen a good amount of water. In any case I would advise to eventually remove the front bumper and fenders to assess potential rust on the frame.
A common issue (copyright Kanazawa Bodyrepair)
Signs that the car has been stored outside are:

Hard rubber window seals
Heavily discolored badges 
Whitening/cracking on the front bumper lip
Yellowing/cracking on the carbon fiber NACA duct (V-spec II and Nür only)
Cracking/scraping on the carbon rear under spoiler

While a few scratches may be inevitable, pay extra attention to the paint job if you are buying a Midnight Purple model: retouching the paint is almost impossible due to the very unique hue and body parts will need a full paint job to look fresh.

If the car comes with aftermarket wheels always ask if the original set has been kept as it increases value. This is especially true for Midnight Purple III models as the wheels were offered in an unique lighter silver shade. All original wheels are out of stock.

Interior

Definitely not the strongest point of the BNR34, this is where Nissan cut most of the costs in terms of materials by selecting a very hard and easy to scratch plastic. This, combined with the very popular habit amongst owners of adding gauges and stickers, makes unmolested interiors very hard to find. All parts (except the center tunnel and few other bits) are virtually out of stock, so have a close inspection before you buy. The seats fabric start showing its age, especially on the bottom cushion, while the hand-sewn leather parts of the M-spec crack over time; all seats are out of stock. If you are buying a Nür spec check that the original 300 km/h scale meter hasn't been replaced with a Nismo one: you definitely want to keep that original. The original checkered carpets are a bit ugly, but better to have them with the car (you can always replace them). Closely inspect the wiper controls and light indicators behind the steering wheel as the white prints on them tend to fade due to usage. Watch for tears in the moquette. 

Engine and Mechanics 
RB26 DETT
The RB26 is a robust engine, but with most cars having been tuned, better check for proper maintenance and frequent oil changes. Timing belt and water pump should be replaced at around 80,000km and, as a rule of thumb, the more power the car has, the more it should be serviced. Look for oil leaks around the turbos and around the engine block. Turn the car on and let the oil come to temperature: the engine should rev smoothly and have a slightly ticking sound when idle. Oil pressure should be around 4bar and never lower when revving over 4000rpm. Closely inspect the engine bay and make sure that all the stickers (there is a big green one on the left suspension turret) are in place: lack of them may be a signal that the car has been crashed and repainted. The gearbox is pretty strong while there is a good possibility that the standard clutch has been replaced; if the car is advertised as equipped with a dual plate clutch you should be able to tell by the noise. 

Electronics

Difficult to gauge serious malfunctions if you can't test drive the car (in most places in Japan you can't), but I would advise running a proper check as you would do with every normal car. Take your time to carefully inspect the MFD: vertical lines (usually yellow or white) in the middle, a slightly red tint all around or a misaligned image are all signals that the screen is about to fail. Also inspect every gauge/function one by one: if you don't register movements once the car is properly warmed up it may be a signal that the relative sensor may be broken. Replacing the MFD is quite expensive, so take your time with this step.

Mileage

Endless debate that I will cut short: buy on condition, then mileage. An apparently immaculate Nismo 400R with a bit over 14,000km on the clock that recently came up for auction just reminded us all that mileage is always secondary to condition. I have seen plenty of cars with apparently low kilometers in far worse condition that they should have been. Given the age of the car, between 70,000km and 50,000km can be considered low mileage, but I would easily look into a 100,000km model that has been cared well and properly stored. Anything with less than 20,000km is ridiculously low for a car of this age and usually goes for very high premiums. Given the amount of potential issues that I listed so far, do not buy into the equation that condition equals mileage: it is simply not true. Needless to say, always check for maintenance service log-ins to cross reference the claimed mileage and proper documentation if the car has had the speedometer replaced with a Nismo one. Owners often make the mistake of believing that not driving your car is a good way to preserve it; while this is absolutely true for some components it is also completely wrong for others as explained in this article on Jalopink. If you are looking to drive your car, investing extra millions (yen) for premium low mileage could be a complete waste of money. People are scared to reach 100,000km and pay premiums for cars with 50,000 or 60,000km without realizing how close they are to the big 100: I have driven my car 2,000km in the first year and - trust me - I have made very few memories with it. Mileage will never decrease over time and letting your car sit will not prevent its plastic parts from hardening-up, nor its seals to fail, nor humidity to clog its electronics and build up rust in the engine. Not driving (and not servicing it) will actually increase the chances of you not spotting issues in time, which is something you don't want to do given how quickly parts are disappearing.
Drive your car.

Tuned Cars
Original Getrag settings
Sticky topic: I'd dare to say 95% of the R34 around have undergone some sort of (at least light) tuning, but if we are talking about serious performance tuning I would recommend looking for models with work done from names such as Mine's, Top Secret or MCR. These shops have their names engraved in Japanese automotive history when it comes to tuning and their works engines and suspension set-up easily rivaled and surpassed Nismo ones many times. They obviously demand a premium, but usually quality is very high and they will definitely hold their value. I would recommend staying away from 3 categories: 600+ ps setups (just too much power that will eventually affect reliability), track cars (obviously) and cars that have been tuned over the years by different owners. Models falling in the third category may be very tempting and a bargain for the performance they boast, but the inability to properly understand what has been done to them and the lack of a workflow/concept behind the project is a perfect recipe for unreliability. Remember: nobody tunes a car to 500ps to cruise around, and the amount of collateral stress induced to other parts is not to be underestimated. Nismo set-ups such as R-tune, S-tune and F-sport are usually quite rare, but, when available, demand hefty price-tags, mostly for the pedigree, rather than sheer performance. My advice is to look for a mildly tuned or stock-ish model and tune it according to your vision with the latest technology that is now days available.

How To Buy

If you are looking to keep the car for a long time I would advise spending a bit extra and sourcing one from Japan: there is just so much more choice compared to any other market. Take your time and, if possible, inspect the car yourself and remember: dealers and importers get paid zero money to inspect cars for free, they only make serious money if you are buying. While I'm certain that many have a great track record and spotless integrity, I am also sure that nobody would protect your interests and investments like you would do yourself. Me being OCD I have been able to point out things that even Nismo mechanics couldn't.

Dealerships
Since my actual experience is limited to buying only my car from one shop (and Prostock doesn't sell outside Japan) I have decided not to include any dealer or GT-R specialists names in this guide. Many are very famous anyways, but if you still would like advice, please feel free to shoot me a message here or on the Facebook page and I'd be happy to help.

Auctions

If you are buying from overseas chances are that your car will come from the auctions as this is the only way for importers to generate decent returns. The auctions are open pits where private owners can sell their cars to the best offer; access to the venue and bidding is exclusively reserved to members. Cars are graded based on their condition and all the general information (model name, color, chassis number, mileage, accident history, tuning, damage, etc) are listed on the Auction Sheet. This is a complex system and a very lengthy topic that would require a post of its own, so I'd like to redirect you here for a clear explanation on how the auctions work and how to read the Auction Sheet (very important).
Auction sheet
My basic advice is:

- If you can't read Japanese, get help from somebody who can.
- Always demand to see and have the Auction Sheet before you buy.
- Have somebody to inspect the car in person before you buy and ask for pictures.
- Cross reference the auction sheet online by using auction alerts and other importers websites.
- Always check that the chassis number on the sheet matches the one on the frame.
- Stay away from R grades (cars involved in accidents resulting in structural damages), no matter how good they look.
- Stay away from bargains too good to be true.
- Avoid unknown mileage cars.

Prices

Very hot topic. I will list below average prices for all specs as seen in the current market condition here locally in Japan for non accident cars with certified mileage. Bottom end will be for higher km models (less than 100,000km) and top end will be for lower km ones (less than 20,000km). Please notice that prices will largely vary also based on condition and tuning (a car fitted with the whole Nismo catalogue will obviously be more expensive than on with same mileage, but no mods). 

We live in the real world and I expect most of us to be on a budget (or some sort of, at least), so what I really want you to take away is the bottom end; if the car is cheaper than what I listed here and is advertised as a "no accident" model, walk away and do not buy it: it's just too good to be true. For those of you overseas, you will need to add all the import taxes and relative expenses to these figures, plus some margin for the importer. If you are overseas and the price is equal to the ones listed below, you should really question if the car conditions are legit. How can importers make a profit if they resell cars for the same price they would go in the local Japanese market? They can't.

Standard (zenki): 4,800,000 - 7,000,000
Standard (kouki): 5,100,000 - 7,300,000
V-spec: 6,200,000 - 8,200,000
M-spec: 7,200,000 - 12,000,000
V-spec II: 7,300,000 - 12,000,000
Nür: 11,000,000 - 16,500,000
N1 : N/A

You may be able to save a bit if you have a lucky day at the auctions, but I hope these guidelines will be helpful.

Conclusion

My final advice is to take your time and search for the best deal possible for your budget. Don't be afraid of investing a bit more as the BNR34 is now officially a rare car on the endangered list that will surely hold its value. If you are a lucky owner or are about to become one, spend extra time checking for issues and anything that needs to be repaired or replaced. Avoid driving the car in the rain or washing it too often and store it in a dry, closed space. Most importantly, drive your GT-R and enjoy it: cars are made to create memories and the BNR34 is a beautiful machine that will reward you beyond your expectations if you take care of it.

Hope this guide will be helpful to any current and future BNR34 owner.

Until next time.

Special Thanks to:

My good friend Aki from r33gt-r.com for consulting, quality check and proof reading, as well as inspiring me to start this blog in the first place.
Mark from GT-R Registry for providing updated production figures and external support.

5 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Eric, much appreciated! Will try to keep good quality material coming.

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  2. Great read. Just bought a 1999 R34 GT-R Vspec MPII because I keep seeing the prices going up so everything you wrote reads true!

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  3. Thank you for the nice words and congratulations on your new GT-R!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great read. I hope i can afford to buy a r34 here. ;( student from ph

    ReplyDelete