The thirst has never been realer for the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, and pop culture has played the largest role in creating that want. Video games like Gran Turismo and films like those early ones in the Fast & Furious franchise set young enthusiasts' imaginations ablaze some 20 or so years ago, like Antonio Miranda's. Already around cars as a kid thanks to family and several outings to car shows and events as a youngster in Connecticut, he was introduced to Godzilla through GT, but it was Need for Speed Underground that really cemented his desire for the JDM AWD heavyweight.
At 16 and freshly licensed, Tony dreamed about one day owning his own R34 Skyline, probably like a lot of kids. Those dreams came into sharper focus when he visited his local Lincoln Tech campus and was able to see up close both an R34 GT-R and an Acura NSX that students at the trade school were building. In fact, he didn't just get to see the Skyline in the flesh; he went for a ride in it, and his obsession only grew.
Will an R32 Do?
After high school he studied abroad iBob Hernandezn Japan, in part to be among all of the iconic JDM cars fed to his brain from his childhood and adolescence, and after that experience he reset his sights on picking up an R32 Skyline, mostly to take advantage of the 25-year-old importation rule on grey market vehicles in the United States. Tony recalls, "Before the huge demand and import market inflation on iconic Japanese cars skyrocketed, I was able to bring an R32 over [from Japan] for $9,000 U.S."
It was a big win for Tony, no doubt, but also only a steppingstone. He still had his sights set on an R34 and began hatching a plan to bring home his ultimate dream car.
He worked countless hours in multiple jobs and ate on a budget for months, but then Tony was able to make a return trip to Japan with friends for the Spring Matsuri at the world-famous Ebisu Circuit, where he bought a JZX100 Toyota Cresta to slide in. (For the uninitiated, you can go to the track and actually buy a car there and have it housed for a recurring fee.) By this point in his enthusiast evolution, he had learned to drift and was hitting up his local track back home, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, to hone his skills, so drifting at Ebisu was something big he could cross off his bucket list. "The drift community at Ebisu drifts anything and everything and have the time of their lives without any judgement," Tony remembers. "Everyone there is ready to help one another and push you to succeed."
It was at Ebisu that Tony witnessed for the first time an R34 GT-R on track (grip driving, not drifting) and it was far and away more amazing than anything he had ever seen or done in a video game. That same day he remembers seeing a bone-stock RWD R34 GT going sideways at the circuit and the guy driving it was having a blast. Suddenly a lightbulb went off in Tony's head and he realized maybe a rear-drive (and not AWD) R34 might be the better choice.
The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. His love for the R34 GT-R was real, but he had already seen some at local car shows in Connecticut and they were always the same as far as modification; starting off with a Skyline GT would automatically make the project different. There is also a significant price difference between the GT-R and "lesser" Skyline trims, and Tony loved drifting but didn't love the prospect of spending lots of money to pay off a more expensive vehicle, especially a track car. So, it was settled - he'd look for a non-GT-R R34.
After an intensive search and making some phone calls, he stumbled on a '99 Skyline GT shell in 2019 that came from Yokohama but incurred roof damage in transit and decided to pull the trigger on it. Tony remembers that day as, "the best day ever. My dream of owning an R34 Skyline came true."
F the Internet
A few months after he had the shell in his garage, Tony began the build in earnest, and like the kids do these days he started a YouTube channel to document this and other project cars. Since he was working on an R34 GT and not GT-R, he also themed the effort as more of a budget build, basically something that an average enthusiast could piece together. Going in he knew he didn't want to just throw an RB under the hood because that's what everybody does, plus it would be pricey. Recalling the fun times he had in Japan drifting his "boat Cresta," Tony decided instead to piss off the internet by throwing in a Toyota VVT-i 1JZ into the Nissan Skyline, the straight-6 that came in his Ebisu JZX100.
The 1JZ was for sure a less expensive option and it was single turbo, which meant it would drop into the engine bay a little easier. With the money he saved by not buying an RB or 2JZ, Tony was able to upgrade the turbo and manifold and get engine management for the setup. He admits that initially the US car community got butt-hurt over his OEM cross-pollination, but people from Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. seemed to love the idea and supported the project more than Americans did. Not that it mattered to Tony; he was going to do the swap either way. "Do what's going to make you happy, because nobody [else] is spending money on your build to help you anyway."
Sourcing 1JZ swap info from others who had succeeded at it in Canada, Australia, and Japan, and with a bunch of friends to help with the wrenching, Tony and crew knocked out a finished car about five months after getting the shell. He says it was fairly a simple swap since everything seemed to fit perfectly by using a combination of S-chassis and R-chassis parts. Over the course of a New England winter the car was completed and running.
GT to GT-R
At this point, Tony began to think about his R34 GT's looks and decided to aim for a GT-R Z Tune-style conversion. Ironically, the shell came with a GT-R aero package, but Tony got rid of it, something he regrets to this day. He ended up piecing together a mix of OEM and fiberglass body parts from overseas, and when it was time for paint, he landed on a Nissan Burnt Copper Metallic. "I love OEM colors from Nissan and Toyota, and after seeing this exact color at a car show, I decided to go for a full color change.
At its first drift event, the 1JZ in Tony's Skyline GT developed rod knock and had to come out, the owner saying, "it was junk from the beginning." The motor was then rebuilt and thrown in a month later; it lasted over a year before developing rod knock again, which Tony takes responsibility for. Facing an uphill battle, he began to feel a little disheartened, enough to consider leaving the car alone for a while. But time heals all wounds, as the saying goes, and with some additional investment of both time and money into his GT, the Nissan coupe now makes good power and is reliable.
The journey took about two years, says Tony, but he's happy with how everything turned out. In the process he's accomplished a dream he's had since he was a kid - owning a legendary R34 Nissan Skyline - and even though it's a GT and not GT-R, he's put his own unique spin on the build, most notably with its 1JZ-swapped heart. Just like the car left an impression on him all those years ago through video games, he now notices as folks' faces light up when they see the Japanese icon, but make no mistake, doing it his way and reaping the benefits has been, in nis eyes, the "greatest reward I could ask for."