Tuning house or GT-R heaven?

Posted in Cars, Opinion, People

I love GT-Rs. I’m just gonna come out there and say it. A bond forged with machine at the age of 11; I was cutting laps in them, modifying them, and pretending I was a tuning god with stage-four turbo kits and LM Edition tuning packages. This wasn’t real life — although I would’ve enjoyed that very much at that age — no, this was all within a game. However, the feelings I experienced for the model of Nissan ran deep — I was, from that moment on, a true and committed GT-R enthusiast.

Throughout my teenage years I owned several turbo Skylines, but never a GT-R. They’ve been a fairytale held close to my heart for over a decade, and there’s one workshop in New Zealand that when you say their name — whether it be for maintenance or tuning upgrades — it rings strong and true; and that's ST Hitec I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard their name related to a GT-R.

During a recent visit to New Zealand to cover the final round of the 2015–’16 Prowear NZ Superlap Series, I was invited along to ST Hitec to take a tour of their shop, take a ride in their shop demo car, and meet the talented team. They've even got a new general manager, Stewart Mearns. Stewart is an absolute wizard on the dyno and has experience with Nissans having previously worked at Nissan New Zealand for some time. As well as being a tuner, he's a talented fabricator and ECU expert with an engineering background. It’s safe to say I was over the moon to have the opportunity to visit, mainly because I knew I would be exposed to some serious GT-R muscle. 

Just recently ST Hitec has changed hands, with Iain Clegg stepping up and Soichi Tate handing over the reins. There’s no doubt Soichi has built a local tuning empire, and it’s one that Iain is excited to be involved with and build upon. It’s impressive to see how much work has gone into the place recently as Iain adds his personal touch to the building and environment. 

Apart from GT-Rs being one of my all-time favourites, if I had to narrow it down to a specific generation, it would hands down be the R33. To me, they’ve got the desired modern edge over the R32 GT-R, and they’re somewhat of an underdog with the R32 GT-R being the commonly purchased ‘R’ vehicle. I like being the underdog, so I will take the boat/whale joke you're thinking of and run with it. What I wasn’t expecting during my visit to ST Hitec, though, was the R33 to be the flavour of the month! 

R33s everywhere! Not one, not two, but four R33 GT-Rs covering a vast range of tuning styles and upgrades … 

Two silver R33s initially caught my eye; one being Ashnil Kumar’s previously owned example, and the other being one that I consider to be my ideal example. 

Clean exterior aesthetics, bronze TE37s with the right amount of tyre, high-quality Japanese gauges in the interior, and a large single strapped to a wrinkle-blacked RB26. Simply beautiful — I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Outside was where the R33 party was really happening, with an LM-kitted blue example parked in front of Iain’s very own wide-body R33 GT-R with candy-apple red paint and 20-inch Work Meister wheels — the only set this large in the country. 

If you thought this GT-R was a show pony, you’d be wrong. It's no longer a 2.6-litre engine, as Iain wanted to show off what his talented team of engine builders could produce.

Now the GT-R is powered by an RB30/26 combination with forged internals, a seriously trick head, and a massive Garrett turbo and pushes out a touch over 1000hp at the wheels. It also runs a Hollinger H-pattern dogbox to prevent any future damages, however, the rear diff has proven to be the current weak spot of the set-up. The GT-R has recently been upgraded again, though, with a Spool rear diff courtesy of Heat Treatments. 

There are simply no words for how wide this GT-R is. It makes the wide-body LM-kitted GT-R look like a toy in comparison. Iain still has a few final touches to ensure that the body is perfect, but when it is, watch out for its debut. 

Another machine that I was lucky to take a closer look at during this trip was the ST Hitec demo car. Iain contests the Prowear NZ Superlap series in this particular R35, which initially was a stock-engine, stock-turbo monster. Now, though, Iain has seen the R35’s engine upgraded to a fully built 4.1-litre unit, with an HKS GT1000 turbo kit.

The transmission is filled with the best gear sets on offer from Dodson's Motorsport to ensure the power gets down to the ground. After a brief strop down a side road, I can assure you, the power gets put down! During the final round of the 2015–’16 NZ Superlap Series, Iain managed a very quick 1:08-second lap around Hampton Downs, putting him three seconds behind the quickest car over that weekend. Considering the R35 still has a Bose sound system, heated leather seats, and no roll cage, it’s nothing short of impressive. 

I’m excited to see what comes of ST Hitec in the near future. It seems that Iain and the team are trying their best to get involved and give back to the scene that has helped them grow over the years. Seeing the quality that rolls out of their workshop, there's no doubt that when I finally get my R33 GT-R, I will be taking it there to have it upgraded. Until then, enjoy the pics of GT-Rs that aren’t mine ... sigh. 

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.