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Nissan R31 Passage GT Turbo

Usable performance, comfort and practicality in a unique package - for less than AUD$5000 on the road...

By Michael Knowling

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Back in the late 1980s Australian motorists were lucky enough to be able to walk into a Nissan dealer and purchase a 3.0-litre SOHC version of the ever-rugged R31 Skyline. That high torque 3.0-litre RB30E was designed and built exclusively for the Australian market - not even Japan saw the 'big block' R31. On the other hand, Japan did get the even more desirable twin-cam turbo version with an IRS and greater interior comfort...

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Seen here is a Japanese domestic market 1987 R31 Nissan Skyline Passage GT that's been imported by Adelaide's Yahoo Motorsport www.yahoomotorsport.com. The R31 Passage GT is another performance bargain eligible for registration under the 15-year-old rule for imports to Australia. Our test example had a genuine 110,000 kilometres behind it, presented well (although in need of a tidy up) and is selling for just $3700 plus ADRing. Not bad considering a local 3.0-litre Skyline with comparable kilometres will set you back $5000 or more...

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Keen Nissan fans will immediately pick the Passage GT as a Japanese import. Although based on the same floorpan as local examples, the Japanese market version has no B-pillar, a more gracefully angled C-pillar, rear wiper, a sports front bumper, front corner lights and stove-top tail lights (as fitted to some local models). The styling is unashamedly from the '80s school of square angles, but the pillarless design does create a sleeker look than the more conventional local R31s. Projector style headlights were fitted to some models.

The factory wheels fitted to our test car - 15 x 6.0-inch alloys - come standard wearing 215/60 15 tyres.

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Under the bonnet lives the first incarnation of the twin-cam, 24-valve, turbocharged RB-series six-cylinder. These early RB20DETs (identified by their ribbed red rocker cover) run an 8.5:1 compression ratio, a ceramic turbocharger with a guard-mounted air-to-air intercooler and a full engine management system including knock sensor. On Japanese high-octane fuel, the R31's RB20DET is rated at 140kW at 6400 rpm and 245Nm of torque at 3600 rpm. You may be interested to know that the R31 GTS-R coupe version generates an extra 15kW.

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On the road, the R31 Passage GT - which weighs a considerable 1440kg - is a grunty all-round performer. The turbocharger is very quick to boost and there's effortless mid-range torque - just don't expect the shove in the back to last to the 7000 rpm redline. The factory exhaust system and the relatively small turbocharger are definitely not conducive for great top-end flows. However, if you appreciate smoothness and refinement, the RB20DET is right up there with the best of today's engines.

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Our test vehicle was equipped with a 4-speed power/economy automatic transmission (a 5-speed was also manufactured) that mated nicely to the turbo engine. Shifts were positive and executed at all the right points. Drive is channelled to the rear wheels via an optional limited slip diff.

Given a good launch (which is easy thanks to the engine's strong low-down response) the Passage GT is capable of low 9-second 0 - 100s. Expect less than that in 5-speed manual variants.

In addition to its turbocharged performance, the R31 Passage GT boasts a lot more suspension sophistication than local Skylines.

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Passage GTs feature a semi-trailing arm independent rear-end, which keeps the back of the car composed over rough surfaces. Like most Nissan IRSs from that era, though, there's considerable rear-end squat. This leads to a massive rear wheel camber change and a propensity to burn the inside edge of the tyres during heavy acceleration. Drifters will love it. Nissans HICAS rear-steer arrangement also aids manoeuvrability.

Handling is quite balanced overall with a bit of turn-in understeer countered by on-demand power oversteer at low speeds. Damping is in-cabin adjustable via a switch marked Soft, Medium and Hard. The ride is surprisingly supple, even on the Hard setting.

Interestingly, the Passage GT's front brakes are the same as found on the Nissan Australia Skyline GTS - 274 x 22mm ventilated discs. The rear, meanwhile, uses discs that we believe are also ventilated. The brake pedal of our test car was responsive and there was good stopping power available. ABS was offered as an option.

The Australian SVD Skyline GTS

In the late 1980s, Nissan Australia formed SVD (Special Vehicles Division) to create a sportier image for the company. The most successful cars produced by SVD were the Series 1 and Series 2 GTS Skylines, which are painted all -white or all-red, respectively. The Series 1 produces 130kW thanks to extractors, a high-flow exhaust, cam and an ECU remap. Series 2 GTSs make a claimed 140kW thanks to additional headwork. However, that 140kW figure does look a bit optimistic given the same low 9-second 0 - 100 km/h performance of both the Series 1 and 2 GTS... The SVD GTS also received the Japanese market Passage GT Turbo Skyline front brakes and struts, Bilstein dampers and a thicker front swaybar. Sixteen-inch wheels were fitted as standard.

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Inside, the R31 Passage has typical luxury Nissan crushed and buttoned velour. Miles of it. The seats are very comfortable (though obviously not intended for sporting use) and there's good interior space. Interior features include analogue climate control, electric windows and mirrors, adjustable lumbar support, central locking and a 6 tape stacker is common in most models. The 180 km/h speedo, tacho, fuel, temperature, oil pressure and boost gauges are clearly marked, though the mmHG (millimetres of mercury) scale of the boost gauge takes some familiarisation. Peak boost is around 0.85 Bar.

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Increasing the straight-line performance of the Passage GT is easy - its one of the car's biggest attractions. Your first steps should be to replace the restrictive factory exhaust and air intake. These mods will free the top-end and cause a boost increase that will give the mid-range a help along. As we have seen from previous testing, the R31's guard-mount intercooler is a shocker in terms of flow and heat-exchange performance. A bigger Japanese import core will let you run up to 15 psi without detonation problems, but don't push the ceramic turbocharger too hard. The ceramic turbine wheel is known to fail at high boost and high power levels. Don't bother whacking on a monster turbo because you'll be fighting a losing battle against traction.

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The R31 Passage is yet another immensely strong Nissan that can withstand substantial abuse. Aside from the ceramic turbine wheel, the engine is extremely reliable and we've heard of 18+ psi boost being put through them with no apparent dramas. The driveline is also very durable, though we suggest fitting an oil cooler on automatic Passage GTs that are modified.

Engines, transmissions and differentials are currently easy to source at Japanese import wreckers, but not all parts will be as readily accessible. The frameless doors, C-pillars, rear glass and sports front bumper are unique to the Japanese version.

But don't let that put you off. The R31 Passage GT is yet another durable, comfortable performance machine that is now ultra-affordable thanks to local import laws!

1987 Japanese Market Nissan R31 Skyline Passage GT Turbo Fast Facts...
  • Comfortable, practical and well equipped
  • Very smooth engine
  • Great mid-range torque and decent performance
  • Easily tweaked (while also remaining reliable)
  • Plenty of engine and driveline parts available locally at wreckers...
  • But not all body parts are available

Contact:

Yahoo Motorsport
+61 8 8345 0939/ 0416 080462

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