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...
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...
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
The factory wheels fitted to our test car - 15 x 6.0-inch
alloys - come standard wearing 215/60 15 tyres.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- But not all body parts are