It’s 2003, Kiwi drag racer Glenn Suckling is at the wheel of the Croydon Wholesalers Racing Nissan Skyline GT-R as it powers down the Willowbank Raceway drag strip in 8.55-seconds, owner Nick Jenkins looking on from the start line. In a flash, a new street tyre GT-R world record is set and a legend is born.
Although this happened almost 20 years ago, amazingly, the Skyline remains completely preserved in its record-setting form. I recently caught up with Nick at Stacked! Imports Inc. in Osaka, where the GT-R – after a long time in hibernation – is being readied for the next chapter in its life.
Looking at the car in this form, you might dismiss it as any other motorsports-prepped R32 Skyline GT-R; heaven knows there are plenty of them out there. But if you know the white and yellow car’s history, then a meeting like this suddenly becomes something very special.
Nick is originally from New Zealand, just like Stacked!’s owner and the GT-R’s temporary custodian Ewan Patterson whose V8-swapped Celica Supra you might remember from a recent feature. Going by what I’ve seen, I think there may well be something in the drinking water down there…
In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Nick was responsible for bringing a lot of R32 Nissan Skylines into New Zealand, where relaxed laws for used cars allowed them to be road registered with relative ease. Croydon Wholesalers was the country’s go-to dealership for ex-Japan GTS-Ts, GTS-4s and GT-Rs, so it’s only natural that Nick ended up with an interesting example of his own.
In 1999, while on a stock-buying trip in Japan, Nick stumbled across a silver R32 GT-R with a bread plate-sized tachometer and a dinner plate-sized single turbo at an Osaka auction house – the one just down the road from Stacked!’s warehouse no less. On its auction grading form the car was listed as having a “faulty transmission”, but that’s just how six straight-cut gears would have likely presented to an auction inspector who was none the wiser.
Nick took a chance on the heavily modified but otherwise unknown Skyline, and his top bid secured the car. A few weeks later it was on its way to New Zealand.
When the car arrived in the country, Nick and his equally-excited dealership team wasted little time getting the modified GT-R running right and road legal. As expected from any Japanese auction buy – let alone one so modified – the GT-R was not without problems. It was fast, but the Trust T88-34D big single turbo wasn’t reaching its full potential.
It’s funny how so many bonkers builds gain momentum on the advice of a friend, and the Skyline was no exception. This is where Glenn Suckling enters the story.
Glenn, a well-known performance car mechanic and friend of Nick, suggested he bite the bullet and replace the aftermarket ECU fitted in the car with a then cutting-edge MoTeC M8. He did, the engine was retuned and magical things started to happen.
Just months after buying the Skyline in Japan, Nick drove the now road-registered GT-R at a track day in New Zealand. He recalls how surprisingly good the near-stock GT-R chassis performed on track when the full force of the T88 came on song. I can only imagine the flood of memories returning as he sat in the driver’s seat and talked me through what all the buttons, levers, gauges and switches are for.
Although circuit racing was Nick’s thing, in the late-1990s import/sport compact drag racing was getting big in New Zealand. As the car was a promotional tool for the Skyline-centric dealership, the team decided that the drag strip was where they needed to be with it. Glenn, who by now had become a full-time mechanic for Nick, headed up the GT-R’s development and, with some previous street car drag racing experience under his belt, also took up the driving duties.
To improve the Skyline’s quarter mile potential, the dog box was swapped for a Hollinger Engineering 6-speed sequential transmission, and in 2002 the RB26 engine came out for a substantial overhaul. Shirt sleeves were being rolled up elsewhere in New Zealand too, and friendly rivalries between local drag teams fuelled the fire to build a 9-second car.
The engine rebuild first entailed swapping the stock RB26 block for a Nismo N1 item with competition-grade strength, and upgrading the pistons, rods and crankshaft with forged Trust GReddy items, resulting in almost 1,000hp. The grainy video above shows Nick shaking it down not on the drag strip, but the circuit.
Alongside the mechanical work, the GT-R went on a diet, with Lexan windows and lightweight fibreglass boot lid and doors fitted. The result? A 9.99-second pass down the quarter-mile at a local club drag meet.
They were now in the 9s, but with the team’s main local rival – Heat Treatments Racing – inching closer to an 8-second pass in their R32 GT-R, Glenn and Nick kept developing the car.
Nothing says early-2000s performance than a big blue bottle of laughing gas. Initially, the nitrous oxide was being fed into the intake manifold, but this proved too hard on the engine. The result? A dose of N₂O at the wrong time peeled the intake manifold open like a banana, bursting through the bonnet in spectacular fashion. The remedy? The nitrous was fed directly into the turbo housing, making it spool up quicker, enabling the team to record an 8.99-second pass in 2003.
At this point, New Zealand’s quickest import cars were all finding ET record success across the ditch in Australia on the world-class Willowbank Raceway drag strip. Knowing that’s where they’d likely be able to realise the Skyline’s true potential, Nick and Glenn shipped the car over to Queensland for the 2003 Jamboree.
Thanks to subsequent engine work and a new turbo – a T88-dwarfing Turbonetics ‘Thumper’ – the GT-R’s RB engine was now outputting a whopping 1,424hp, so it definitely had loads of potential. Running Mickey Thompson ET Street tyres at all four corners, Glenn pointed the car down Willowbank’s sticky strip and shifted his way to the aforementioned 8.55-second record pass.
Of course, competing at this sort of level is very expensive, and having the car go quicker again would have really meant starting from scratch. The GT-R had achieved things team could have never even dreamed of when they started out, so both Nick and Glenn were happy for it to be retired in its world-leading form.
After some time parked up in New Zealand, it was returned to Japan where Nick had relocated to, and put into long-term storage. Until recently, that is.
In a way, it’s a shame the Skyline wasn’t pushed further, but it’s totally understandable why this never happened. On the flip side, it’s pretty cool to have a time capsule from a bygone era of import drag racing for us to have a nose around.
Looking under the hood, it’s hard not to be drawn to the Thumper, which was new performance car tech in the early ’00s. Back then, this size turbocharger was most commonly found attached to a truck engine, not a small-capacity six cylinder in a production car.
For the kind of power being forced through this engine, the internals were ultimately specced up to JE forged pistons, Carrillo forged rods, and a Trust forged crankshaft. Up top, the fully-processed cylinder head features Tomei camshafts, springs, valves and retainers. Engine lubrication comes via a Trust oil pump and sump.
The car still runs the Hollinger 6-speed sequential, sending power through an HKS triple-plate clutch into Cusco front and rear diffs. Brakes? Standard Nissan units get a helping hand from a drag parachute.
Although development on Nick’s car eventually came to an end, Glenn wasn’t quite done with things. He went on to build his own GT-R – the GDS Automotive Red Baron – which ended up running a 7.91-second ET at 291km/h (180mph). Impressively, this was achieved with a couple of key credentials that Glenn believed a true Skyline GT-R drag car required – an RB26-based Nissan block (Nismo RRR in this instance), and a manually-shifted gearbox (Hollinger sequential).
Today, the quickest Skyline GT-Rs on the drag strip are very different beasts. At the forefront of development – and the mind-boggling mid-6-second ETs the cars are now achieving – are aftermarket billet aluminium blocks with engine capacities beyond 3-litres, and air-shifted automatic transmissions. Although they’re immensely impressive in their own right, all of these cars in some way owe their existence to the Skyline GT-Rs that led the original charge down through the 8 and 7-second ET brackets.
It’s easy to say ‘this car is amazing‘ or ‘this car broke such and such record’, but really, the car did nothing except be a car. It’s people like Nick and Glenn and the talented folk around them that make these lumps of metal and plastic become the heroes they are. And for this particular GT-R, there still could be more in the tank.
Genesis singer Phil Collins announced his retirement about the same time as Nick announced his GT-R’s exit from the drag racing world, and just like the title of Collins’ comeback tour in 2018, both are ‘Not Dead Yet’. If you’re wondering why the car now displays ‘Stacked! Exports Inc.’ signage on its doors, the answer is straightforward – Ewan has leased the car from Nick. The Skyline’s comeback tour will take it to Thailand and see it compete in the Souped Up drag racing series.
But why Thailand? Well, firstly the drag scene over there is huge, and Stacked! see it as good place to promote their export services. Secondly, Ewan and the guys are good friends – almost family – with Thailand’s Prostreet Garage, who will be looking after the Skyline while it’s abroad.
Before the beautifully-preserved drag racing time capsule could be sent to Thailand, all of the original body panels from the front end were carefully removed to be kept safe. That’s one of the clauses in this little agreement.
I was there when the transformed happened. Many hands makes light work, but someone had to take pictures… With the front end off, the full physical magnitude of the Thumper turbo was revealed. This thing wouldn’t have any trouble consuming a well-fed pigeon whole.
The replacement body panels appear to be a lot more drift-spec than drag, but aesthetics are not really the main concern here. Aside from the marketing benefits, the guys at Stacked! really just want an excuse to head over to Thailand and spend time with friends.
It’s also a chance to bring a bit of well-deserved exposure to Thailand’s drag scene. When that’s typed into Google, GT-Rs are not the first thing to pop up.
One of the other things in the lease agreement is some mechanical love for the GT-R. Prostreet are Thai drag, drift and circuit racing legends, and in 2018 their RX-7 ran an 8.30-second ET on the quarter mile. That’s a comparable time to what Nick’s GT-R achieved before retirement, so it will be interesting to see what Prostreet can do with it.
Working alongside Prostreet, Stacked! have agreed to update the fuel system, replace the safety systems like parachute and harnesses, refresh the engine with new rings and bearings, and check over the gearbox, drive shafts, hubs and differentials. They’ll also upgrade the ECU to a state-of-the-art MoTeC M150 with added ‘Drag Package’, install traction control sensors, fit shock pots to log the suspension, and make a new wiring loom. These upgrades should not only boost performance but ensure the car is safer at speed.
That said, the premise of this little escapade is fun over everything else. In that sense, it isn’t really a comeback tour, but more like a celebration of a legend. Souped Up events have a real family vibe and apparently can get a bit silly, even slapstick in nature. To add a bit of showmanship to the spectacle a passenger seat has been fitted in the Skyline, so fans, journalists and even the race commentators can go for a ride.
We’ll try our best to bring you some updates from the Thai side, as well as a catch up with the crew on their return to Japan.
Even though I’m not the most educated when it comes to drag cars or the history of a machine like this, the vibe with Nick and Ewan told me everything I needed to know. Seeing the raw, bare bones way the car this car was put together over 20 years ago, and having Nick talk through all the nuances, was a truly special thing.
Historic Videos by Graeme Macdonald