A Brief History Of

The Nissan Sunny GTi-R


Nissan designed the car with the intention of winning the World Rally Championship. They spent most of 1990 observing the competition, then with an unimaginable amount of money set forth to make their perfect rally car. Sadly they didn't get it right. This is the story.

Nissan employed Stig Blomqvist to head their team along with Tommi Mäkinen, Grégoire de Mevius and David Llewellin and at the Safari Rally of 1991 the car made its debut finishing 5th at the hands of Blomqvist and Melander. This seemed like a good start with a new car, but Nissan expected to win and continue to win. The car was best in the forest rallies or anywhere it was cool and so, the car had moderate success at a few national rallies and in the hands of David Llewellin won the British Rally in October 1991.

Stig Blomqvist at the Swedish Rally in 1992

The car had three main problems, firstly, the main design flaw was the intercooler or the "interwarmer" as it became known and this would reduce the engine by around 60bhp in warm conditions. The air needed to be forced down through the intercooler and past the engine, which it wasn't keen on doing, plus the warmth of the engine only added heat to the intercooler and therefore made it pointless. Nissan realised a redesign was in order, but this would require rehomologating the car and they finally gave up on the project and closed the team at the end of the 1992 season. Secondly, the Dunlop tyres the team had selected were never as good as the Michelins and Pirellis of other teams and finally, the car weighed too much. The team discovered that the spotlights assisted in deflecting extra air into the engine bay and so they were fitted at all times, night and day.

For those of us lucky enough to own a GTi-R you very quickly get to realise the power of these toys. They come as standard with 220bhp, 4 wheel drive and acceleration enough to make people sick. The cars were made from 1991 until 1994. Only a few were set aside for the British market, some say only 94, and the remaining 4,400 were for the rest of the world. 500 cars were "rally only" and came with a different gearbox (this had a separate centre differential unit) and an empty interior. The British cars had a sun roof, but no air conditioning, whereas the Japanese cars were the opposite. In Japan they are known as Pulsars, but despite what some people think, this is the range name, not the specific name for the GTi-R.

With only 5 thousand ever made parts can be a problem. You cannot walk into a tyre and exhaust centre and ask for a new back box, they just don't make pattern parts for this car. Luckily though, enough companies have realised the need for performance parts and you can replace most parts, such as clutch, exhaust and engine internals with heavy duty replacements. A common modification is to move the intercooler from above the engine to behind the grill. This is necessary for anyone expecting to gain more than 250bhp out of their engine as the flat spots you experience on a warm day in traffic can be awful.

This car has moved the intercooler to the front

There are now several clubs around the world dedicated to the ownership of the GTi-R. I belong to the British GTi-R Owner's Club which is a virtual club purely based on the Internet. Sadly myself and Caleb Zunino live in Guernsey which poses two problems, firstly we have a maximum speed limit of 35 mph (although we can get to it very quickly) and to attend any club meetings costs, at current prices (April 2002) around 400 pounds per trip. Our annual club get together is at Silverstone in September for the Trax show. In 2000 and 2001 we managed to gather nearly 90 cars, which is a beautiful site, as you can see.

Silverstone 2001