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Sawmill gravy and sushi – why Nissan’s Skyline R32 GTR NISMO is more like a Plymouth Superbird 440 Six-Pack than a Buick GNX

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R NISMO. Photos by author.

The details – power, production numbers, you name it – make the Nissan Skyline GTR NISMO very much a match for the Buick GNX (see the September ’17 issue of Hemmings Motor News, ON SALE NOW for a deep dive comparing GTR and GNX). But the differing philosophies behind the Buick and the Nissan means that, despite ending up with similar specifications, they literally and figuratively have come from very different places. We would suggest that a more kindred spirit to the GTR NISMO might be … a 440 Six-Pack Plymouth Superbird.

Consider: both the GTR NISMO and the Superbird featured more-or-less bog-standard mechanicals available elsewhere in the model line, with a handful of aerodynamic spiffs thrown at them. Granted, they’re a little more obvious in the Superbird–the smooth chromed A-pillar covers, the flush back window (and the slapdash cut-and-paste job that demanded a vinyl roof to cover it up), and of course that legendary nose and tail. But the NISMO has a number of aero tweaks as well: a hood-mounted nose spoiler, re-shaped ground effects ahead of the rear wheels, a second spoiler on the trunk (not even the Superbird had the temerity to wear two trunk spoilers!), and the deletion of the rear window wiper. All clean up the GTR NISMO’s airflow.

The aerodynamics were tended to, in both instances, with the idea of letting these cars race. Racing homologation specials were nothing new, but the sands kept shifting in NASCAR: once boasting a production requirement of 500 cars, NASCAR changed the rules in 1970 and demanded one production model for every two dealers for the marque. Final production numbers vary between sources, but at least 1,920 Superbirds were built. FIA rules demanded a 500-unit minimum, however, and the GTR NISMO stayed with that number exactly, not including the 60 cars that were converted to race duty.

1970 Plymouth Superbird

1970 Plymouth Superbird.

Both cars featured engines were available in models other than the ones that went racing: Highland Park built plenty of Six-Pack Road Runners, and nearly 40,000 R32 GTRs were built from 1989-94. The Nissan’s RB26DETT comes standard with six side-draught throttle bodies, while the Six-Pack Plymouth wore a trio of two-barrel carburetors. The NISMO (and all R32-era GTR models) used a manual transmission; while there were plenty of automatic Superbirds, a four-speed stick was an option.

Both cars were astonishingly successful on track in their day–and both were legislated out of existence by racing organizations tired of one-sided domination. Plymouth won 21 of 48 Grand National races for the 1970 year. (Dodge won an additional 17!) For 1971, NASCAR decided that aero specials like Superbirds would be limited to five-liter (305-cube) engines–more than a hundred cubic inches down from the rest of the field–so Plymouth discontinued the Superbird line. Nissan, meanwhile, took overkill to another level. In the Group A Japanese Touring Car Championship series in Japan, GT-Rs won 29 out of 29 races over four seasons between 1990-93. In Europe, an R32 won the grueling 24 Hours of Spa. In Australia, the 1990, ’91 and ’92 championships (as well as the 1991 and ’92 Bathurst 1000km endurance races) were owned by the Skyline GTR as well; it was the Australian press that gave the GTR its enduring “Godzilla” nickname. The GTR was so dominant, the Australian Touring Car Championship banned turbos and all-wheel drive outright for the 1993 season, which led to the V8 Supercar series we know today.

Drop any preconceived notions about where they were made, when they were made, what’s under the hood making them go, the technology involved, what they’re worth on the open market… If you look on the surface, it’ll never make sense. A Six-Pack Superbird and a Skyline R32 GTR NISMO are very different animals…yet parallel histories mean that these two have more in common than you’d think.