“I find myself daydreaming about taking it on a road trip to Spa or maybe down to the Route Napoléon. Tokyo, Bathurst, the south of France or Exmoor - It’s all immaterial really. What matters is being in the 400R.” After Jethro Bovingdon tested this very 400R (Sourced via our Personal Import service), those were the concluding words he scribed in his Evo magazine feature (December 2015 issue).

It was the Skyline’s “unique, almost savage focus on grip and agility” that had Jethro so smitten. Interestingly, ‘agility’ isn'’t a word that’s usually associated with the R33, but Nismo’s engineers crafted 44 very special GT-Rs that handle quite brilliantly.


For us, the Nismo 400R, as released in 1997, is the very best iteration of the R33 Skyline GT-R. Out of the box there’s very little to find fault with, and really, it demonstrates how an infusion of select enhancements can transform the R33 into something truly special.


At the heart of it all is a twin-turbocharged RB-X GT2 straight-six, a 2771cc RB engine designed and developed by REINIK specifically for the 400R. REINIK is the motorsport division of Nissan’s drivetrain department, Nissan Kohki, where all major engine and axle components are produced.

The same engineers had previously been commissioned to produce the 2.8-litre running gear for Nissan’s Skyline GT-R LM entry into Le Mans in 1995 and 1996. These wide-arch R33s performed admirably finishing 5th and 10th in class (GT1) respectively in the gruelling 24 hour events. So, when a similar 2.8-litre REINIK RB engine appeared in the 400R, more than a few eyebrows were raised.


REINIK bored (86mm to 87mm) and stroked (73.7mm to 77.7mm) an RB26 block to achieve the 2771cc displacement. To this, uprated pistons and forged connecting rods were added, along with a forged crankshaft. The cylinder head was reworked to augment flow and strength before being fixed into position with a metal head gasket. The greater Nismo team opted for N1-spec turbos to utilise the new RB-X GT2 engine and added a whole host of uprated ancillaries to optimise the setup. These included both breathing and cooling enhancers.


The restrictive enclosed air box is often the first item to be swapped out by new R33 GT-R owners and Nismo’'s engineers took a similar approach. Gone is the air box on the 400R with twin high-flow filters residing behind the left headlight. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking they'’d suck in too much hot air from under the bonnet, but with large vents on the front and sides of the front bumper as well as the vents in the carbon fibre bonnet, there’'s more than enough cold air flowing.


Larger exhaust manifolds, a stainless steel downpipe, sports cat and optimised titanium exhaust (cat-back) expel gases with ease and what about those cooling enhancers? A Nismo radiator along with a reworked intercooler setup and oil cooler keep operating temperatures in check, leaving nothing to restrain the RB-X GT2 from fully expressing itself. A meaty twin-plate clutch, chromoly flywheel and carbon prop shaft were also added to the five-speed transmission layout for good measure.

As you probably gathered from the ‘400R’ name tag, all of the above sees this Skyline produce around the 400bhp mark, 395bhp (at 6800rpm) to be exact. Align that with the 347lb ft of torque generated at 4400rpm and what you have is one of the best pound for pound street fighters ever to emerge from the Nissan stable.


The Nismo 400R isn’t just about outright pace though and this is where we come back to that point about grip and agility. As well as coming with the supremely clever advanced four-wheel drive (ATTESA ET-S Pro - Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-terrain with Electronic Torque Split) and four-wheel steering system (Super HICAS – High Capacity Actively Steers), the 400R was also endowed with Bilstein dampers and Nismo Type D springs to firm things up and bring the Skyline about 30mm closer to the tarmac. A Nismo titanium upper front strut brace plus stiffer engine and suspension bushes also helped reduce movement.

Gone are the stock 9x17” alloys and in their place stunning 10x18” three-piece forged items reside. The white faces sport blue Nismo logos and are set-off by polished lips. As well as looking the part, it’s important to remember the special footwear is functional. They widen the track and with the offset having been increased 10mm on each corner, additional room is provided for those monstrous AP Racing brakes.


Now at this point, it’s important we confess the brakes in this particular car are not original Nismo 400R items. Nismo felt the stock GT-R Brembo calipers and discs were up to the task of handling the additional performance. The engineers did however add Nismo pads and a master cylinder stopper to provide a firmer, more reliable pedal. The APs on this vehicle are unbelievable though. They provide huge stopping power with exceptional feel. The additional clearance provided by the split-rims is most welcome.

Being an inch wider, they have been shod in significantly wider 275/35 tyres as opposed to the 245/45s found on a stock GT-R. The thinner profile means there’s less movement underneath you, while the extra grip is really noticeable. The wider track has led to tasteful 25mm arch extensions being added on the front and rear seeing the Nismo creation grow 50mm wider in total than a stock GT-R. These extensions continue onto the aggressively vented front bumper too, while bold side-skirts, a clean but substantial rear bumper and adjustable carbon fibre rear wing complete the 400R’s aero improvements. Oh, and there’s that sculpted bonnet of course. The exterior is perfectly finished with flashes of white vinyl down each flank and numerous ‘400R’ badges throughout.


These little touches continue into the cabin where Nismo logos have been stitched into the seats, a titanium gear knob resides in the centre console, a carbon fibre-esque 400R badge centres a Nismo leather race wheel and the gauges and main instrument panel are significantly more race-inspired than the stock GT-R’s. Most notable is the 11,000rpm redline. Standard GT-R models display a 10,000rpm limit.


So, in terms of the styling, Nismo really got the 400R spot-on. You would have to describe the appearance and poise of the R33 as being ‘purposeful’. The subtle aggression and lower stance set it apart from other Skylines and by replacing the tactile elements of the cabin, you as a driver are instantly made aware that you'’re behind the wheel of something special.08

Turn the classy 400R metal key and the RB-X GT2 under the bonnet confirms your suspicions and after just a few meters of driving you’re left with no doubt that you’'re behind the wheel of a vehicle that’s been subjected to careful, race-inspired engineering.


The clutch is sharp, heavy, but not aggressive and the ride is firm but not offensive. In fact, it’s much more compliant than you would expect. You can tell the suspension bushes are of a hardened rubber compound and not polyurethane, while the Bilstein dampers and Type D springs provide the perfect blend of comfort and precision. What we have here is an R33 that feels planted and that responds instantly to your steering inputs. While not twitchy, the 400R certainly feels more sure-footed as speeds increase. The chassis hunkers down and absorbs rough surfaces and undulations with ease, never hinting that it wants to bounce you off path.


As your confidence increases, so to do your corner entry speeds. The 400R’s sheer defiance to understeer is remarkable. It will always turn in for you, no matter how untidy you'’ve been leading up to an apex.

The grip it demonstrates is immense, but it’s the R33’s agility that makes the Nismo-engineered vehicle so remarkable. Once into a bend, you can balance the 400R on the throttle. Stay progressive and right on the limit and your measured precision will be rewarded with maximum exit speeds. Fancy being more bullish and less patient with the throttle pedal and the firmer chassis allows for some moderate rear-end movement. The balance is perfect. Just perfect.


The enjoyment is enhanced yet further by the thumping 2.8-litre RB-X GT2 straight-six under the bonnet. By modern day standards and expectations, 395bhp in a car weighing 1550kg (10kg more than a stock GT-R) may not seem that impressive, but you would need an R35 GT-R to be generating far more power to give you the same rush served up by the Nismo 400R.


Every single time you squeeze open the throttle, you'’re subjected to the kind of emotion-stirring dramatic production Andrew Lloyd Webber would struggle to compose. The momentary pause for anticipation, the whirring build up, the big crescendo and the eruption of applause that slowly simmers back to murmurs of appreciation. The transitory turbo lag, the spooling N1s, the heavy hit of boost as the RB and turbos alike reach their climax at 6800rpm and the chatter back down to a smooth yet aggressive straight-six hum.


Yes, drama is what the Nismo 400R provides and that’s what Jethro was clearly inferring to when he raved about this R33. Often, vehicles become icons because of their rarity and then fail to deliver when it comes to driving experience. That’'s not the case here. Sure, the 400R is rare. Really rare. Only 44 out of a planned 100 were ever built due to R33 production being ceased in 1998. And granted, the fact it was a hero car in the Gran Turismo gaming series helped make it famous. But it’s the engineering brilliance, its perfect blend of brute force and handling finesse that make the Nismo 400R an icon in our book.


In 2015, we tracked two 400Rs going through Japanese auctions and brought this one to Europe for a very valued customer of ours. If you would like us to try sourcing you one, or any other special Japanese performance car for that matter, we’'d recommend making the most of our Personal Import Service.


Find your dream JDM car in 5 simple steps...

Photography - Dean Smith & Frytography