Four round tail lights and goes really fast. That’s Nissan’s GT-R. From the Hakosuka’s success in Japanese touring car racing, to the R32’s domination in Group A and Australian Touring Car Championship to the late-model R35 chasing six second timeslips, the GT-R has always pushed the limits of performance. While Nissan’s formula for speed may have evolved over the last forty years and six iterations of the GT-R, its racing pedigree is well decorated in a variety of motorsports.
Text by Jun Chen // Photos by Rob Shaw / BackFromLeave
In 1989, sporting Nissan’s brand new ATTESSA E-TS all-wheel-drive technology and a twin-turbocharged, 2.6-liter RB26DETT engine, the R32 GT-R set the benchmark for all 90s sports cars. Likewise, in 2007, Nissan reset the bar for performance with its R35 GT-R. Powered by an all-aluminum, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 mated to a dual-clutch transmission, the R35 quickly became the go-to platform for big power and quick time slips. Fast forward to 2017 and the world’s quickest R35s make in excess of 2,500whp and consistently click off low seven-second ¼-mile times. In many ways, the R35 followed in the footsteps of the R32 by introducing a platform for Nissan and tuners alike to obliterate the competition.
Top Secret of Chiba, Japan is well known for its high-horsepower, total tuning vehicle builds. Ask any enthusiast and they’ll recognize the gold paint and elaborate liveries or the high-speed run in the UK that landed shop owner Kazuhiko “Smokey” Nagata a night in jail. When Smokey began to pursue the idea to shove the R35 powertrain into an R32 chassis in early 2016, he knew that he’d need a clean slate to work with. While the demand (and subsequently, the price) for R32s has surged as a result of the 25-year rule in the United States, Nagata-san located an unmolested 1993 R32 in gunmetal grey (KH2) to serve as the platform for this twin-turbocharged, twin-clutch behemoth.
Laying the Foundation
With the R32 taken down to its bare shell, Top Secret began fabrication work on the chassis to accept the R35 GT-R drivetrain. For those not familiar with the R35 GT-R’s drivetrain, the dual-clutch GR6 transmission (or rather, transaxle) is located at the rear of the vehicle, just forward of the rear wheels. To make the transplant possible, Top Secret used the entire rear subframe, suspension and hub assemblies from the R35. At the front, they retrofitted the R35’s carbon composite radiator support to house the radiator and twin intercoolers.
In addition to the necessary work to make everything fit properly, the nearly 25-year old chassis required increased reinforcement to handle the modern powertrain. To this end,Top Secret removed all of the factory seam sealer and stitch welded the entire chassis. In addition to stitch welding the vehicle, Top Secret also fabricated a complete roll cage and added tube bracing under the front fenders for further chassis rigidity. With the chassis fabrication complete, the attention turned to power production.
The VR Formula
Aptly named the VR32, this R32 features a lightly tuned VR38DETT engine. Relatively untouched internally, this VR38 only features a set of JUN forged connecting rods that replace the factory units which fail around the 600 lb-ft. mark. To take advantage of the uprated rotating assembly, Nagata-san bolted on a pair of Top Secret’s 800Plus turbochargers. To handle the additional fuel required by the bigger turbochargers, Top Secret selected a pair of Bosch 044 pumps feeding a set of 1,000 cc/min injectors. Controlling all of the events is a Top Secret ProcessR reflash. Any unwanted gasses are expelled via a custom Top Secret titanium exhaust system featuring an optional side-exit dump. Although most of the engine’s hard parts are still factory units, we’ll likely see upgrades in the near future as Nagata-san and his team begin fine tuning the vehicle and pushing more power through the VR38.
All in the Details
As the exterior of the VR32 wears a custom pearl white instead of Top Secret’s famous gold paint scheme, Smokey continued the understated theme by grafting on various subtle details from the R35 such as the hood vents and a set of Top Secret R35 carbon fiber mirrors. Out front, the R32’s N1 front bumper wears a Top Secret carbon lip and custom ducting to keep cool air flowing through to the intercoolers. Top Secret also added on a matching pair of carbon fiber spats and a diffuser. Other than a few changes here and there, the car appears aesthetic-wise very similar to the RB-powered R32 that Top Secret brought to Tokyo Auto Salon in 2016.
On the suspension front, Top Secret engineered a set of custom dampers and Swift springs to keep the VR32 firmly planted on the ground. Keeping with the R35 theme, Top Secret fitted the six-piston front, four-piston rear Brembo braking setup to the VR32 as well. Although Smokey originally opted for a custom caliper bracket to fit the 390mm rotors up front, his decision to keep with an 18-inch wheel forced him to opt for the slightly smaller 380mm discs instead. Squeezed behind a set of matte black 18-inch OZ Racing Challenge HLT wheels wrapped in sticky Bridgestone RE-71R rubber, we’d say he made the right decision.
Top Secret converted the interior to incorporate the R35’s factory equipment, with the addition of a custom roll cage and GReddy/Trust Sirius Meter gauge.
Although the engine and transmission account for the bulk of the work, Top Secret also completed a full transformation of the interior by fitting the R35’s dashboard, instrument cluster, center console and door panels. Given that the R32 is a much smaller car than the R35, many of the panels required cutting and reupholstering. This gave Top Secret the opportunity to cover much of the interior in blue Alcantara, the fabric of choice for R35 owners worldwide. Inside, there’s a pair of factory R32 bucket seats and a fully padded roll cage. Given that this car will likely see track time in the future, we’re almost certain that the factory seats are only temporary and a set of Brides will likely find a home in the VR32.
While not the quickest or most powerful R32, Top Secret’s VR32 is the product of a well thought out and executed tuning plan. At just 1,500kg (3,300 lbs.) the VR32 only weighs about 100 lbs. more than a bone stock R32. We’d say that’s an accomplishment, especially with the power potential of the VR38 engine. While some may argue that it’s a cardinal sin to remove the third pedal and RB26 from a Skyline GT-R, we’d argue that Top Secret’s VR32 makes a convincing case otherwise. Given that Smokey and Top Secret took home the ‘Best Tuning Car’ award at this year’s Tokyo Auto Salon, it looks like the masses may think so too.