Funny story...I met Kyle Padelford (pronounced "pah-dell-ferd") three times before I officially met him. The first was on a commercial shoot for Mazda. I was roadside, shooting stills of one of their newest models as it wound its way through some Santa Cruz twisties, trying (and failing) to stay out of Kyle's way. He was crouched in the back of the matte-black Mercedes ML63 camera car trailing the Mazda, controlling the boom arm that supported the six-figure camera rig. Kyle was literally swinging the big stick that day, and despite my getting in his way on numerous occasions, he only asked me once—very politely—to watch out, rather than issuing that two-word command beginning with the letter "F" that us photographers hear all too often in those circumstances. The second time was during a VTEC Club "touge session" event at Willow Springs, which I was shooting and he was judging, where our lone interaction consisted of a few moments joking about racing and the weather. And then there was the third time: at this year's Motor Massive event at Fontana's Auto Club Speedway, where I approached the driver of an immaculate, red, R34 Skyline GT-R in V-Spec trim who had been tearing up the track in early sessions, and over-enthusiastically spat out something like, "Hey man, nice car!" Of course, neither one of us connected any of those dots until weeks later, the day we met at Willow Springs' fast and dangerous Big Willow track, and got to talking about past track days, our work lives, and so on. "Oh, so that was you on the Mazda job?!" "Yeah, and that was you shooting the VTEC Club event?" In that moment, when two car/racing/film nerds finally figured out how easy it was for their paths to cross, the world became a whole lot smaller.
The more I dug into Kyle's life and how he came to own this R34, the smaller that world seemed to get. Hailing from Agua Dulce's sprawling desert terrain in the Los Angeles outskirts, Kyle was almost literally raised on the track. His dad made a living wrenching on cars, racing them in the SCCA's American Sedan series and events at area tracks like nearby Willow Springs, stunt driving them for the movies, and eventually starting a camera car company. All the while, Kyle tagged along and absorbed every drop of it he could.
It should come as no surprise that young Kyle's first car was a '91 Chevy Camaro, which he and his dad modified—the same car he learned to race on Big Willow.
He went on to own a variety of projects—Subarus, Chevy trucks, Volvo wagons, a '65 VW Beetle—before eventually discovering drifting and catching the JDM bug.
An SR-swapped S13 he bought in '12 got him into Nissans, and working on films like The Fast and The Furious helped Kyle further develop an appreciation for GT-Rs. The R34 specifically had become his dream car, but since it was arguably the best, most sought-after example of many awesome Japanese cars that were never authorized for sale on our shores, he never thought owning one would become a reality.
Then, opportunity came knocking.
Volumes can be written about the nuances of JDM vehicle importation legality, disastrous examples of how not to navigate them, and some tales of successfully exploited loopholes. The short of it is this: After one carmaker successfully lobbied Congress to federally ban unauthorized vehicle imports (i.e the "gray market") to curb private businesses from bringing in cars from overseas markets that undercut carmakers' profits or didn't meet U.S. regulations, one thoughtful lawmaker added an exemption for vehicles 25 years old or older (which wouldn't impact new car sales), so long as they could meet safety and emissions standards. Canada followed suit, but its exemption is only 15 years, which in '17 allows for vehicles of model year 2002 and older to be imported and registered for road use. What was once a vast ocean separating Japan's automotive Garden of Eden from America's bureaucratic red tape started to shrink.
Kyle's '99 Skyline GT-R V-Spec was purchased at auction and exported from Japan to Canada, where it is registered and spends most of its time. Since Canadian-based vehicles can legally be driven across the border and on U.S. roads, Kyle decided to take advantage of SoCal's familiar shops, tuners, racetracks, and competition events to build and shake down the car, until it's completed and can be campaigned in events across Canada and the U.S. But nearly as challenging as all that was building the car into what Kyle had always dreamed of.
Nissan's halo car of the late '90s and early '00s, the Skyline GT-R is still more technologically advanced than most imports commonly tuned in North America. Many of its unique attributes are surrounded by coding language, instructions, and enthusiast experiences that are seldom (and often poorly) translated from Japanese, so there was a lot for Kyle to discover as he went. Take the Super HICAS four-wheel steering, for example: a welcomed benefit to an otherwise stock GT-R on street tires, but with a stiffer suspension and sway bars, and stickier track tires, the system becomes overwhelmed and can malfunction at dangerous times. Kyle's solution was simple: scrap it, by removing the electronic steering module and replacing it with lockout bars from Driftworks, and converting the car's bespoke tow-arm setup to something more conventional.
The ATESSA E-TS Pro all-wheel drive is another system of the Skyline GT-R (with electronically controlled rear LSD in V-Spec trims) that can get overwhelmed in certain circumstances, but when tuned with Do Luck's DTM II digital G sensor and controller, can still provide a solid benefit to hard track driving.
Even the car's vaunted RB26DETT isn't without its concerns, mainly cooling and lubrication systems that prove to be insufficient when pushed to the extremes. But a mix of Japanese and American ingenuity (an OEM Nissan N1 oil pump and water pump, Tomei baffled oil pan, Koyo radiator, Radium catch cans, and Accusump oil accumulator) solve those problems easily. Even the RB's factory engine tuning is lackluster, given the engine's ability to reliably produce much more than its factory-rated 276 flywheel horsepower. After the addition of some Tomei PonCam cams, one of Australia's finest Haltech Pro plug-in ECUs, dual wideband O2 sensors, and some tuning by Specialty-Z, Kyle's RB solves that problem to the tune of 330 whp on 91-octane pump gas.
You might be thinking that's sort of a low power number for a Time Attack car in '17, but consider that Kyle comes from a more traditional racing background, where builds address safety, suspension, and aerodynamic tuning long before increasing power. A sign of this can be seen in the car's rollcage, which is one of the most well designed we've ever seen. Rather than resort to dimple-die gussets, the 'cage was designed so precisely that many of its bars are welded directly to key parts of the car's unibody to improve structural rigidity. And its overhead bar is curved to offer better shock dispersion and even stronger protection in a rollover than a straight bar. Proven Japanese, Italian, and American equipment further adorn the interior of this worldly build to provide much improved safety, support, and feedback to the driver.
The car's suspension is no slouch, either. Custom-valved BC Racing ER Type remote-reservoir coilovers and Swift springs fill the wheelwells, surrounded by a mix of adjustable control arms, sway bars, and steering hardware from Australia's Whiteline and Japan's Ikeya Formula. And, of course, those wheels: timeless Volk Racing TE37, sized 18x10.5" all around.
Kyle's GT-R has gone from stock to what it is now in just seven weeks (four of that went into the 'cage), built mostly within his garage, with the help of friends. Once he gets a feel for its newly heightened abilities, his next steps will be to reinforce the engine with a simple head gasket and head studs, shoot for a reliable 550+ whp from a Full Race/BorgWarner EFR turbo system and E85 tune, fine-tune some added aerodynamics, and go racing. First stop: Limited AWD-class competition at this year's Super Lap Battle, before heading North.
"My goals now are just to take my time with it, enjoy driving it, and keep upgrading as I grow into it as a driver," Kyle explains, rationally. "But knowing me, that'll never stop." Might we one day see Kyle and his GT-R compete in the World Time Attack Finals in Sydney, Australia? It's a long haul from North America., but as our interactions with Kyle, and his journey to build this GT-R have shown us, that gap is narrowing every day.