Investment head-to-head: Nissan Skyline GT-R vs Honda NSX
Two undisputed paragons of nineties JDM that are witnessing inflated valuations, as nostalgia and the 25-year US import rule tighten their respective grips on the market. We are of course referring to the infamous Nissan Skyline GT-R and the iconic Honda NSX.
Each has its own ties to unprecedented motorsport success in one way or another, and each has skyrocketed to the top of the list for any enthusiast looking to relive the golden era of Japanese performance motoring. Here we’ll explore the history of each model and how they measure up on the global auction market.
Battle of the JDM titans
Origins of Godzilla
Much of the GT-R’s reputation as an exceedingly desirable bit of kit can be sourced all the way back to the mythical origins of the Skyline itself. The original custodian of the Skyline name was Prince Motor Company, a modest motoring outfit with an insatiable appetite for on-track competition. Of the firm’s second-generation S54 2000GT Skylines, eight were built purely for racing. On its debut at the 1964 Japan GP of Suzuka, the Skylines were home favourites and would’ve convincingly taken the spoils were it not for a last-minute Porsche 904 Carrera GTS entry. Nevertheless, one of the Skylines would snatch the lead for a solitary lap and lift all of Japan to its feet, bringing about the start of an automotive legend.
Having inherited the motorsport-derived Skyline moniker from Prince Motor Company (whom Nissan purchased in 1968), the Japanese marque phased out any mention of Prince and began capitalising on the model’s existing popularity with the Japanese racing contingent. The result? The seminal 1969 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R affectionately called Hakosuka which is a combination of the word box “hako” and the pronounced abbreviation of skyline “Suka” as in “Sukairain”, which gave customers a taste of the lineage’s rich racing pedigree. Unsurprisingly, it was a hit.
Following the oil crisis of the seventies, the GT-R badge was shelved until such a time that it could undergo a fitting revival. That comeback would finally appear in the shape of the R32 of 1989, some 16 years after the designation was dropped. The R32 epoch is where the GT-R really hit its stride in terms of limited-run examples and what many attribute to its romping success at modern-day auctions. Designed with Group A racing domination and Porsche 959-slaying performance in mind, the R32 was decked out with sophisticated all-wheel drive and a four-wheel steering system that delivered each of the 2.6-litre, twin-turbo inline six’s 276 horses to the tarmac with unprecedented levels of grip for any corner at almost any speed. And that was just the base model…
The first of the limited editions came with a badge that is now synonymous with Japanese performance cars, Nismo (a portmanteau of Nissan and motorsport) which had much of the Group A motorsport tech onboard. Just 500 of the Nismo were produced kicking off the trend of scant-numbered limited edition GT-Rs. The N1 (a few hundred examples), V-Spec (1,400) and V-Spec II (1,300) followed in short order with the latter being sold concurrently with the newer R33 base model, such was its popularity.
The R32’s successor, the R33 was available in standard GT-R or V-Spec configurations at launch. Just 100 GT-R LMs and 44 Nismo 400Rs were released into circulation, making them very rare beasts indeed. The launch options were the same as before when the R34 hit the market, then the V-Spec II and M-Spec were later released followed by two Nürburgring editions – the V-Spec II Nür and M-Spec Nür of which there were 1,003 combined – V-Spec N1 (38), Z-tune (18), R-Tune (25-30) and S-tune/S1 - the Omori S1 is a R34 GTR V-Spec that was completely rebuilt by NISMO in Japan to race spec - all of which contribute to escalating values. There is also a healthy premium for the fact that the Skyline remained exclusive to the Japanese market and as a result, requires importation. This was to be the last of the bloodline following a merger with Renault and a reevaluation of the brand's line-up.
The giant killer
The NSX began life in 1984 when Honda enlisted the help of Pininfarina (famous at the time for the design of the Ferrari Testarossa and F40 among others), the result was the HP-X concept which minimised drag with an ultra-smooth body.
The target set by Honda’s higher-ups was to produce a car capable of toppling the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche - namely the former’s V8 328 and 348 - with a reliable V6 engine. A tall order for a marque with little to no supercar experience, let alone a country that had only produced a handful of performance cars in its history. Nevertheless, Honda and Pininfarina set to work on the HP-X’s successor, the F16 jet fighter-inspired NSX or New Sports Experimental.
Honda utilised its partnership with the seemingly indomitable McLaren F1 squad of the eighties to garner a ‘Senna-endorsed’ tag which was exploited to its limits. So the story goes that Ayrton had been testing his McLaren Honda Formula 1 car at Suzuka and ended up behind the wheel of the NSX prototype while he was there. His immediate thoughts weren’t resoundingly positive with the car’s rigidity while cornering a particular sticking point. The Honda engineers took his feedback on the chin and within a year, development had yielded a 50 per cent reduction in body stiffness. The champ’s expertise was then enlisted to refine the suspension and over the years, has been key to the NSX’s popularity.
When the NSX was unveiled at the Chicago auto show in 1989, it was the first of its kind having been made entirely from aluminium. With over 200kg in weight-saving, an independent anti-lock braking system and power steering, the NSX really was ahead of its time. The allure of ever-improving performance proved too much for the Honda engineers to resist though, having already completed its mission of trouncing the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, the NSX was refined further with the introduction of the NSX Type-R in 1992. The main aim of the R was to reduce weight even further and so, after removing air conditioning, leather seats and traction control among other things, the NSX Type-R was another 120kg lighter than the standard model, and boasted a final weight of 1,230kg. Just 483 of the high-performance version were produced.
13 years after the original was released, Honda gave the NSX a facelift, dishing out new headlights, a 3.2-litre engine (as opposed to the 3-litre of the mark I) and some suspension tweaks. All in all, the recipe remained largely unchanged but that strategy did make a lot of sense, the car was an incredible feat of engineering so why change it? Even Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren F1 was quoted saying the NSX was a huge inspiration for his car having fallen for its phenomenal handling.
Enough history, how fast do they go?
For a fair comparison, we’ve picked the strongest fighters from each genealogy. The NSX Type-R as we’ve already covered, weighed just 1,230kg making it an absolute monster in the corners. No doubt, this lack of junk in the proverbial trunk and 280bhp contributed to its spritely 0-60mph time of 5 seconds and could stretch its legs all the way to 175mph.
The final and fastest iteration of the Skyline GT-R, the R34 was no slouch either, although it did pack considerably more timber weighing in at 1,560kg. That didn’t slow the GT-R down, however, it beats the NSX-R off the line with a 4.8-second 0-60mph time but falls just short of matching its top speed at 165mph. With a power output of 276bhp, it also loses out to the NSX-R but only just. Three-one to the NSX-R for performance then.
Show me the money
Let's talk £££
Upon release, these epic Japanese performance machines weren’t far off each other in terms of value. The NSX (this is the standard model we’re talking about now), was priced at approximately £55,000 in 1991. Not cheap, but not bad considering the Ferrari-stomping speed that came with it. The R34 GT-R offered great bang for your buck too. At around £50,000 in 1999, the pair were as closely matched here as in the stats department.
That’s all well and good three decades ago, but how much are they worth in the modern world? Well, this is where things get tricky. Both cars have a history of Japanese exclusivity in some way shape or form and as such, auction data can be hard to come by. The plentiful production numbers of standard specifications somewhat skew the lower end of the spectrum, and the scarcity of limited edition examples presents huge spikes in sale prices, more so in the GT-R’s favour.
The most eye-catching figure in this dataset is the GT-R knocking on the door of half a million sterling. As you can imagine, this car has a USP having been driven by Paul Walker to promote The Fast and the Furious franchise, naturally, that’ll give a car some extra oomph at auction. Similarly, the second-highest value was for an M-Spec Nür at £376,000 and the other example that pushed passed the £200k barrier was one of 282 V-Spec in Midnight Purple II.
The NSX has seen a more reserved rise up the auction values ladder, owing in part to the 1,600 sold in Europe through the nineties and early two-thousands making it more accessible on the continent than the GT-R. That’s not to say we can’t categorise the NSX as an appreciating automotive asset; the same immaculate example sold twice in 2022, once in February for £110,880 and again in November for £112,500. The 483 NSX Type-Rs were released exclusively to the Japanese market and coincidence or not, auction data for this particular iteration is non-existent. One example appeared on Pistonheads as recently as August 2022 and was listed at £235,000.
Due to the limited range of data points for the GT-R, calculating a representative ROI becomes slightly problematic. The most realistic assessment we can make with similar models is a short-term one, and a purchase price of £120,784 in November of 2022 to a sale price of £167,538. Although it reflects a short time period, 38.7 per cent of growth is nothing to sniff at.
In the case of the NSX, another closely matched pair sold for £67,733 in July 2021 and then at £77,361 in December of 2022. A healthy increase of 14.2 per cent is worth considering at the lower price point compared to the GT-R.
As is the case with any of our investment case studies, there are always variables that have far-reaching implications for a car’s value and there is always an element of risk involved. That being said from the research we’ve conducted we have surmised that there are greater opportunities for big returns with a GT-R but that comes with a higher price at entry. The NSX meanwhile seems a more consistent performer at a more accessible price range.
Data from Glenmarch and Hagerty.
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