"I sort of wanted to make a 'demo car'—one of those old, '90s- and early-'00s-style Japanese tuner shop cars," says James McCue of Australia, as he introduces us to his immaculate '99 Nissan GT-R V-Spec. "That's why nearly everything in the engine bay is HKS. And I wanted to stay really true to that era's tuning philosophy, like staying with low-mount twins and pushing the envelope in terms of having not only a fantastically tuned car but also stupidly fast response and making a ton of power. And I still wanted to be able to drive it anywhere and everywhere."
Lofty goals indeed, given the legendary demo cars he speaks of were put together by teams of experienced tuners. But James had a lot of motivation. You see, this GT-R was purchased about six years ago, and the reason he wanted to go in this direction and spend so much time and money on this project is that he felt he screwed up badly on the first phase. "I thought it was a great idea to hook up two high-mount turbos straight away. That was actually a very bad idea, because I didn't hit boost until about 6,000 rpm. Don't get me wrong, the feeling of absolute power was amazing—going down the main straight at Phillip Island GP Circuit during my first track day there, I overtook everybody. But when it came to the corners, oh god, the lag! I couldn't deal with it anymore."
Unfortunately, later that day, neither could his engine. Perhaps no surprise, given James was putting almost 600 whp through the stock bottom end. Facepalm... He ended up with a stretched head stud on cylinder two and it filled with coolant. Obviously, it's not ideal to leave a track day on a flatbed, but it did give him an excuse to start from scratch and rebuild the textbook JDM GT-R you see before you.
First on the list of things to do was to not make the same mistake again with a stock bottom end. He sourced a fresh RB26 block, then got it measured, crack tested, and grouted to ensure it was strong and could be bored out enough to handle the HKS Step Zero 2.8L stroker kit he wanted. Next, he picked up a secondhand head from Race Pace Motorsport, which he had fully ported and polished to help ensure maximum response. For the head, James decided on a mixed bag of parts from reputable brands, sticking with HKS for the valvesprings, stem seals, and cam gears; going with Naprec for the 1.5mm oversized valves and guides; and utilizing Tomei for the camshafts. The cams' mild 260-degree duration and 9.15mm lift was all part of the plan to produce maximum midrange power, rather than unusable top-end performance. As for turbos, he kept it old-school using HKS GT2530s. By today's standards, these things are nothing special. However, one of James' reference points for this build was the trio of legendary Mine's R34 demo cars, which all ran the same turbos.
James' determination to build a truly complete package meant he would continue to replace everything possible using high-quality JDM components. The clutch and flywheel were replaced with NISMO pieces, the Koyo radiator and ARC intercooler improved the cooling performance, and the exhaust is a mash-up of Tomei dump pipes and a Kakimoto Racing exhaust.
After tuning, the end result was 616 whp at all four wheels with very fat power and torque curves. James says the response is almost scary, "That midrange, when it comes on...holy crap!"
You'll notice the coil packs, cam, and timing gear covers are all painted in a unique hue. "We were picking between two or three different colors," he explaines. "It was either going to be red or blue. Then we mixed up some random copper and gold paint mix, and I liked the look of it." A nice accent to a motor worthy of Midas' touch.
The collection of sought-after JDM parts continues with Cusco and NISMO suspension arms, retrofitted brakes from the R35 GT-R, timeless Volk Racing CE28 wheels, and GReddy coilovers. James still wants to fiddle with the rear suspension a bit, given he's running a stock sway bar, but aside from that, he's happy. After all, he's re-created the demo car of his dreams—and it doesn't just fly around the track, it pays homage to the heroes he idolized 20 years ago.