The Skyline R33 was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show back in early 1993 and later went into production, replacing the previous 8th generation R32 skyline. It was produced when the Gentlemen’s agreement limited major car manufacturers in Japan. This agreement defined the maximum speed should be under 276 horsepower. This agreement was to avoid horsepower war in countries where the speed limit was 62 mph. Still, this agreement was later broken by Honda in the U.S. None of the manufacturers, including Nissan, wanted to abide by the agreement. Most manufactures went beyond the stated horsepower figure but were ignored for the sake of harmony between the manufacturers involved in the agreement.

The R33 Nissan Skyline was the first of its series to no longer be labelled as a “compact vehicle.” Under Japanese legislation, this determined the amount of tax liability of a vehicle based on the exterior dimensions.  

The R33 Nissan Skyline was in many ways better than the R32 in terms of performance, safety, and comfort. There was improved body stiffness and better weight distribution. Some models received the AWD ATTESA E-TS Pro system, which was an upgrade from the previous version and increased traction.  

The R33 is one inch wider and 4 inches longer than the previous R32. It has a more extended wheelbase and a lower stance. The car was also more aerodynamic as the fuel tank was lifted higher and the battery was moved to the trunk. The bumper had wider gaps, and the door beams were hollowed out. Body panels were made of high tensile steel. Aluminum was also used in the engine mounts, rims, front and rear axles. These upgrades were to reduce the weight of the R33 due to the increased length and width.

The stabilizer bar was also hollowed out. The ABS actuator was reduced in size, and the high tensile springs were used, all aimed at reducing the R33’s weight.

An active limited-slip differential was available as an option over the standard one. The active slip differential locked the rear differential if the sensors detected a loss of traction by either of the wheels. When engaged, a light would come on the dashboard to notify the driver.

The R33 Nissan Skyline was also the safest Skyline. It has a safety rating of 3.8/5.5, which was much better than the previous models. Nissan installed a new airbag system and internal crash bars in the R33. But the driver and passenger airbags did not come as standard until late in 1996; thus, pre-1996 models were barred from being imported in various countries and are still barred to date.

Nissan used the RB series engines for all models and trims of the R33 Skyline with updates from the previous generations. The most significant update was on the RB25DE and the RB35DET, which had variable inlet cam phasing that increased power output, lowered fuel consumption, and reduced carbon emissions. All of these also increased the lifespan of the engines.

The engine ignition on the RB25DET was also changed. The ignition module was replaced by smart ignition coils instead of ignition modules located in the cam covers. Smart ignition coils are ignitors built into coil and ECU. The turbo had a nylon compressor wheel which improved the response even at higher RPMs, unlike the ceramic wheel, which was inefficient at high RPMs.

The R33’s skyline appearance differed from different models. Body kits and exterior styling varied between models, but most interiors were somewhat similar, especially in the base models. The chassis did not change, only the styling was changed between different trim levels. Headlight position and styling varied, and also the grill length. This influenced the bumper and hood design to cater to the headlight positioning and styling. New plastics were used for the interior, fuel tank, headlamps, and a denser material was used for the rear spoiler in the R33s that came with a rear spoiler.

The R33 Nissan Skyline was produced as a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan. Nissan also made the Nissan Stagea which most people confused for an R33 Skyline. The Stagea was based off the Nissan Laurel but had significant similarities with the R33, such as the front styling. It also had the ATTESA ET-S in the R32 and earlier models of the R33. The Stagea’s wagon design distinguished it from the R33, but people still call it the R33 wagon. The Stagea only came in two versions, RS-FOUR S and the 260-RS. Only a manual transmission was available for both of these.

Autech also tuned the Stagea 260-RS giving it the RB26DETT engine, a manual transmission, and GT-R styling, including BBS wheels, sport tires, brakes, and other GT-R performance mods. It also had a new aggressive body kit and a sportier interior.

Nissan also made two rare four-door GT-R versions of the R33. Both of these were made by Nissan’s subsidiaries. Autech made one, and with combined efforts between Autech and Nismo made the other. These versions were produced to mark Nissan’s 40th anniversary and had a 40th anniversary badging on the interior and exterior.

Read our Nissan Skyline Buying Guide

View Nissan Skylines For Sale

R33 Skyline Models

via Unsplash

SKYLINE (H)R33 GTS

This is the entry-level R33 and was available either as a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan with a SOHC (single overhead camshaft) RB20 DE engine. Power output was at around 125-130 horsepower with 130 lb-ft. The engine was coupled with either a five-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual.

SKYLINE (E)R33 GTS-25

This was produced with the updated RB25DE engine with couples with a five-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. It also came as a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan like the (H)R33 GTS; the only difference is the engine and slightly better styling. The power output of the RB25DE was at around 180-190 horsepower with 175 lb-ft when it was first put in the (E)R33 GTS.

SKYLINE (EN)R33 GTS-4

This was an all-wheel-drive version of the (E) R33 GTS-25 being the first R33 to have an all-wheel-drive system. There were no significant changes from the (E) R33 GTS-25. This variant also came as a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan with the same engine and transmission options as the (E) R33 GTS-25. Power output did not change also.

SKYLINE (EC)R33 GTS-25T

For this version, you could either choose the RB25DE engine or the RB25DET engine. If you decided to go for the RB25DE, it was only available as a two-door coupe and had Nissan’s HICAS all-wheel-drive system. Power output was the same as the (E)R33 GTS-25. The RB25DET (turbocharged version of the RB25DET) was available in either a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan. The power output of the RB25DET was around 245 horsepower with 220 lb-ft.

via wallpapercave

There was also an (EC)R33 type M, also known as the P. RIDE 280 type MR, which had the RB28DET derived from the RB26DE engine making around 300 horsepower. This was against the gentlemen’s agreement, but other Japanese car manufacturers made more than 276 horsepower vehicles. This action by Nissan was ignored by other car manufacturers for the sake of harmony between manufacturers who had signed the agreement provided that they don’t overdo it.

A GT-R version was also produced for the R33 Generation and was available in various trim levels. All trims of the R33 GT-R made over 300 horsepower but were advertised to be less due to the gentleman’s agreement.

R33 Skyline GT-R

R33 GT-R

This was the base model of the R33’s GTR trim. It came with the twin-turbo RB26DETT engine with a power output of 301 horsepower and 275 lb-ft. The power output was advertised as 276 horsepower. The R33 GT-R came either with a 5-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual. It had a sportier design on the exterior and leather seats with body reinforcers on the sides in the interior. The bumper had wider vents for increased aerodynamics together with better-designed and placed body panels.

R33 GT-R LM

A barebone R33 GT-R stripped off unnecessary weight. Nissan also removed the front driveshaft, thus making the R33 GT-R LM rear-wheel drive only. It weighed around 1100 kilograms and had a Nismo-tuned RB26DETT engine. Nismo tuned the RB26DETT engine to N-spec levels meaning it made about 400 horsepower. It had an aero comprehensive body kit for racing which significantly improved the aerodynamics. This model was made strictly for Le Man’s racing.

R33 NISMO 400R

This trim is an R33 GT-R also tuned by Nismo but made more power than any other road-legal R33 GT-R. The Nismo-tuned RB26DETT engine made around 400 horsepower with 350 lb-ft. Only 44 units of the R33 Nismo 400R were made even though Nismo had planned to produce 100 units. The R33 GT-R NISMO 400R was made as a street-legal version of the R33 GT-R LM.

R33 GT-R (FOUR-DOOR)

This variant is a four-door sedan tuned made by Nismo. It has the same RB26DETT engine as the base trim R33 GT-R making around 300 horsepower with 275 lb-ft. This version received a sportier interior and exterior with side skirts and broader vents on the bumper. Some of these came with a rear spoiler. It was a family sports car, but it was rare only 447 units of the four-door R33 GT-R were made.

Major Issues with the R33 Skyline

The suspension wore out rapidly, especially if the car was driven aggressively or had high mileage. If you are buying a car with high mileage, ensure you check the condition of the suspension. You can check what particular part of the suspension needs a replacement or have the suspension system rebuilt.

Oil pumps are a common issue in skylines, especially those that have RB series engines. Engine noises resulted from low oil levels, which was a result of faulty oil pumps. If an R33 skyline still has the stock fuel pump, you are better off replacing it regardless of whether you are tuning the engine or not.

Worn-out bearings on the flywheel shaft. With time the bearings on the flywheel wear out, especially if the car was used for racing or has a high mileage without any flywheel service record. If the bearings are worn out, a rattling noise will come from the car’s rear part. Replacing the stock flywheel shaft with a better aftermarket one will solve this.

Just like other Skylines, the R33 also had gearbox issues such as the solenoid and circlip failure. Some do fix this, but the fix does not last for long as the gearbox internals are old. Replacing the worn-out gearbox with a gearbox in good working condition is the best fix. Even if you fix it and it works, you tune the engine to make more power; the gearbox will eventually give in and fail.  

Coil pack failure was also an issue with the R33, especially with the RB25DE and the RB25DET engines. Oil pack failure causes loss of power, and replacing the coil pack solves the loss of power issue.

Pre-1996 models did not have driver and passenger airbags as standard. However, some owners had airbags equipped. If there is a record of an airbag installation, check the records to measure the integrity of the airbags.

Rust. If the car has been poorly stored or maintained, it most likely has rust. This is a common issue, but it depends on the degree to which the rust has occurred. Suppose the rust has eaten into the body panels, pillars, and frame. In that case, it’s hard and expensive to repair and compromises the car’s structural integrity if not taken care of properly.

Guide to Purchasing a R33 Skyline

If there is an R33 skyline you want to buy, here are the major features that you should check out.

Check the physical condition of the car from afar and up close. The alignment of the body panels shows if the vehicle has been previously involved in an accident, check underneath the car to evaluate the frame’s condition, and check for rust spots. Rust underneath a car is never a good sign, especially if the rust is thick.

If the body panels and underneath the car appear repainted, ask the reason why, as some owners repaint to hide dents from accidents that will haunt you in the future.

Once the physical and structural integrity of the car checks out, you can now proceed to the engine bay. Ensure that the engine is running and rev it up for a while before checking the engine bay. Check for any oil leaks and listen for any weird noises coming from the engine and other components in the engine bay.

Check the engine mounts and what type of engine is in the car. There were not many variants of the R33 Nissan Skyline, but each model had a specific type of engine. If the engine had been previously removed or swapped, ask the owner why it was done.  

If you have any doubts, you can run the VIN in a system that provides information on the car’s year of manufacture and other unique features. Compare the results of the search to what you see in the car ad. If there is something different, consult it with the owner.  

Take the car for a test drive and listen for noises from any part of the car, especially the suspension, axles, and engine bay. If there are any noise, the owner should explain the cause or indicate something faulty. Pay attention to the transmission while shifting gears, even the slightest creak from the transmission could lead to a major issue in the future.

The car’s interior also tells a lot about how it has been maintained over the years. If it’s in good shape and original, the vehicle has low mileage or has been well maintained. Parts such as the seat covers, floor mats, and the headliner had Skyline badging all over. If the badging appears new, it means that is an aftermarket badged replacement. But if the badging seems to be faded but well lettered, the interior is original.

If everything about the car checks out to be in good working condition, check the car’s credentials and service history records. The credentials prove the ownership of the vehicle and if it has been involved in any accidents. If the car has any pending fines, it will also show. Such information and more are available on car registry websites.

Then strike a conversation with the owner. Ask questions such as the reason for selling, upgrades done, and where they got the car. Either through import or from a previous owner.

Pros and Cons of Owning an R33 Skyline

Pros

  • It was better than previous generations skylines as it was well designed and was more performance and comfort-oriented than previous generations.
  • The RB series engines available for this Skyline series are very reliable and are capable powerhouses if tuned properly. To achieve horsepower figures of above 400 horsepower in the RB20 and the RB25 engines, you should check the engine internals’ condition and the drivetrain’s condition. The RB26 engine can handle figures of around 800 horsepower with stock internals.
  • When you buy a skyline of any generation, you are investing. These cars appreciate the price provided you keep them in pristine condition always.
  • The feel of driving one of the most iconic JDM legends and the status the R33 Skyline has in the car community is what every JDM lover wants to experience. If you own one, then you are at a good place.
  • Every Skyline has that unique look. Even though the R33 Skyline might be old, it still attracts more attention than most modern cars, even modern supercars.

Cons

  • Most skylines were made as two-door coupes, which reduces the cabin room, and four-door skylines are rare to find, and if you happen to find one, they are much more expensive than two-door skylines.  
  • Due to the age of the R33 Skyline, you might find issues with it regardless of the mileage or how it was driven and maintained. These issues translate to financial burdens when you decide to fix them, depending on the degree of the issue. Ensure you check the condition of the car thoroughly ad be prepared emotionally and financially before buying one.
  • Insurance for skylines is not cheap. That’s why you see most skyline owners take good care of their vehicles.