During the whirlwind of display cars, new parts, far too many people, and an almost comical meeting itinerary during SEMA '16, we stumbled across a unique build nestled within the confines of the GReddy Racing booth. And while a Skyline isn't exactly unheard of at the annual mega event, finding one void of any massive fender flares or a complex vinyl wrap and almost non-existent suspension travel, certainly is. Not that there's anything wrong with wild and crazy, but chat with Ben Schwartz, humble owner of this '89 Skyline GTE for a few minutes, and you get the idea that he couldn't possibly care any less about short-term shock value.
Get beyond the fact that it's a Skyline, and on paper, this might not seem like the ideal build candidate. After all, a GTE sedan complete with a naturally aspirated RB20DE and an automatic transmission doesn't scream "performance." Ben states, "I've always liked sedans even before I had my two daughters, but on my trip to Japan in '05, I fell in love with R32 sedans. I went to Ebisu for a two-week drift vacation and one of the instructors' girlfriends was driving a black R32 that I will never forget. I told myself one day I would own a four-door R32."
Years later, during a trip to Florida for a Formula DRIFT event, Ben and the GReddy crew borrowed space at Rivsu Imports' garage to do some routine maintenance on their race car. Being that Rivsu is in the business of importing cars from Japan and holds an inventory, well, you can see where this is going. Ben adds, "I saw this all-original GTE with around 45,000 km. The interior and even under the chassis were in perfect condition." After some negotiating with Steve at Rivzu, a deal was struck and Ben drove the car, completely untested, 2,500 miles to SoCal without a single issue.
Though Ben's plans for the car were mild, that RB20DE might as well have been a block of cheese, as his plans called for its swift removal to make room for the RB26DETT that rightfully belonged under the hood. "After contacting my friend Robbie Nishida in Japan about sourcing an engine and parts, he suggested just buying a complete car to part out." Nishida was able to track down a badly rusted '94 GT-R for just $4,000 and even went as far as stripping the car down himself and shipping Ben everything he would need on a set of pallets. Things like wheels, brakes, and the donor car's 5-lug conversion.
For the next year, Ben was content. He'd found the sedan he always wanted, in excellent condition mind you, swapped in the right powerplant, and was all smiles. Then he decided to tear it all down. He recalls, "My plans for a mild build were quickly thrown out the window when we decided to use the car for the GReddy booth at SEMA. I got to work to get it ready for a full paint job and engine bay spray." And like all SEMA builds, the timeline was painfully short. Once the car returned from paint, there was less than two months left before the big show.
As expected, a catalog of GReddy goods made its way into the bay, including an intake manifold, fuel rail, pulley kit, breather tank, catch can, and assorted dress-up items. In order to keep pace with the single Garrett GTX358R, DeatschWerks 1,200cc injectors and an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator were added to the formula, while management duties fell into the hands of a Haltech 2500. Ben reports that currently the car makes 420 whp on 91 octane but is being held back. He explains, "The RB26 has a common issue with the Cam Angle Sensor (CAS) that causes backfires and misses in the ignition at higher rpm. I, too, am a victim to this and can't rev beyond 6,500 rpm."
Even with the conservative power number, the factory suspension wouldn't suffice and in lieu of dropping the car's frame on the SEMA red carpet, Ben opted for KW's proven V3 coilovers set to a street-friendly ride height. The ultra-clean wheelwells were filled with Advan RGD2 wheels and AD08 rubber, but not before a Brembo brake kit was installed.
For Ben, one of the key selling points of this GTE was the spotless interior, even with almost three decades under its belt. With that said, a few changes were still in order, like the Sparco Grid buckets, four-point harnesses, and 383 steering wheel, as well as a Racepak IQ3 and GReddy Profec boost controller, all of which modernize the sedan without taking away from its character.
To complete the R32 look he was after, Ben added a GT-R NISMO front bumper with custom carbon splitter, while Vertex was chosen to update the rear and flanks. Other than a D-Max roof wing, you won't find anything beyond that on the exterior, keeping the sedan's classic lines intact.
Before you assume this is a typical "build and sell" project for SEMA, think again. Ben couldn't drive the car while he was building it for the show, but with that ball of stress now a few months behind him, it's back to daily driver status. He closes with this, "My first priority is to fix the CAS issue. I'll also be ditching the stock cams for a pair of Tomei Poncams and valvesprings. I have a flex fuel sensor to use with the Haltech but have not yet run E85 in the car. Hopefully, I'll be able to do that soon and turn the boost up to see what the car can really do."