Intro by Sam Du
I attended a local Southern California car meet a couple of weeks ago when I had a revelation about Nissan's third generation Skyline GT-R: they're everywhere! I legit saw more JDM R32 GT-Rs than Scions or Civics. We can credit this to the recent ruling passed a few years ago that allows any imported car 25 years or older to be exempt from National Traffic Highway Safety Administration regulations (don't forget to read our guide to importing a JDM car). Since then, it's quite common for every container sailing in from Japan to have an assortment of used and semi-abused right-hand-drive R32 Skylines, which in turn has filled the market with a healthy amount of them.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating, and I still get a little giddy every time I see one on the road. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that since the GT-R was every JDM fanboys dream car and they're now legal and affordable to own ($32,500 can get you something really nice on BringATrailer.com), if you're going to want to standout as an R32 owner these days, then you're going to have to go above and beyond, which is exactly what Orlando Villalobos did with his 1989 Skyline GT-R.
Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Orlando is now a master sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. Group A '80s and '90s touring cars were always his thing from playing the original Gran Turismo, so he gravitated to the all-wheel-drive GT-R over the likes of the Toyota Supra and Ford Sierra; however, it wasn't until he was much older that he would finally be able to fulfill his childhood fantasy and own one in America.
On the outside, his GT-R looks every bit like it's ready to battle on Tsukuba Circuit (interestingly, Orlando's Voltex rear wing was sourced from a retired racecar that previously put down rocket-fast lap times at Fuji Speedway). There's a laundry list of dope JDM parts that make this car very authentic; however, it's what's underneath that makes it truly special. Modern-day reliability and 500+whp performance help make this 31-year-old project car more impressive than the dated Group A racecars Orlando once envied decades ago.
Can this RB26DETT handle more power than what it's putting down now? You bet it can. Orlando explains the engine and fuel system can withstand up to 800whp. For now, he intends to improve his driving skills and learn the car more at local track days before swapping to a larger turbo. "I love the allure of challenging myself and racing the clock to see if I can best myself. This is a form of personal advancement and I feel we can all use a little personal accountability to become better in life where possible."
Before I sign off, there is an untold story that Orlando wants people to know. The journey toward obtaining and building his dream car was far from easy. He's reminded every instance he gets behind the wheel to never take life for granted, and that we shouldn't either. I'll let Orlando take the stage...
LIVING A LIFE OF NO REGRETS
"In 2010 I was deployed to Afghanistan. It was a rough deployment that I had never experienced in the previous four years I had been in. I had been blown up and shot at multiple times. After I lost a mentor of mine, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Master Sergeant Daniel Fedder, I realized how fragile and short life was. I told myself I would begin living life with less regrets and that I would do things I always said I would. Owning my dream car, the Skyline GT-R (obsessed about it since the Gran Turismo days), was one of those things.
ULTIMATE FIND CLOSE TO HOME
During days back on the base, I started searching on the internet for one. Ironically, one popped up in the larger city neighboring my hometown, Corpus Christi, Texas. When I called from an iridium satellite phone, the owner and now friend, Josh "Joshiroku" Garcia saw the crazy number and hung up on me thinking I was just another tire kicker. Days later, my parents got in touch with him and informed him that I was indeed real and had intentions of owning the car. Josh, who also had family in the military, told my parents he would take them for a test drive and would hold the car for me until I decided I wanted it. Naturally, I did, so my parents handed him a check within that week and the car then belonged to me.
It was fairly stock appearing but also had a semi-built engine and BCNR33 Brembo brakes. It also had a some very nice gold BBS LM wheels that had been acquired by someone who unfortunately had an untimely death about a week after the wheel transaction. That was when I should've known the car had a curse...
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE
Three days after I returned from Afghanistan and started driving the car, I lost control driving at a moderately low speed while taking a very easy curve. There was no reason the car should've lost control. HICAS had been blocked out and there was no oil or debris on the road. The car tried to kill me. The car bounced around and I somehow shortly developed rod knock.
THE CURSE STRIKES AGAIN
Not long after, I received orders to move to Okinawa. The car sat while I went overseas to Okinawa, Korea, Philippines, and lived in Dubai for a year before returning back to Okinawa and eventually moving back to California in 2014. While working in Dubai, Josh Garcia, whom I purchased the car from, swapped in a BCNR33 engine and helped with some of the current aero. After getting situated in California, the car was shipped out to me; that's when the curse struck again. The enclosed trailer transport driver got a flat tire and while changing the flat on his truck, somehow the truck fell off the jack stands and crushed him to death.
Weeks later, the car was picked up and delivered by another individual where it seldomly was driven. While preparing for yet another deployment in 2015, I trusted the car with an 'RB specialist' that I was introduced to. He was to change belts and fluids and prepare the car for a seven-month storage, but instead, he drove the car 'like he stole it' and returned it back to me with rod knock. I couldn't do much, so I stored the car and eventually nearly lost all motivation in getting it running again. It bounced from one failed shop to another and everything else in between.
BARDABE SAVES THE DAY
In 2018, I met Juan Vargas, owner of Bardabe Performance (now located in Austin, Texas) and things finally started to look up. Juan helped me with planning to achieve my goals of a safe, responsive, and overengineered car. I wanted to stabilize the car so its tail wouldn't fly out from behind it. I wanted a responsive and strong car so it wouldn't have the unfortunate rod knock again.
In December of 2019, after waiting months for an N1 block, its single turbo conversion, all the amazing hard lines, custom fuel system, wiring harness and Leask-Spec advanced cooling system, the car was ready to break its curse. Juan was dead set on eliminating any future failures, like oil lines that usually fail on the super-hot running RBs. He was persistent to see me actually fully enjoy the car since he had seen how long it had been off the road due to other's lack of care previously.
The plan is now to retain a street tamed car that can conquer any obstacle thrown at it and with zero failures. Future goals are to upgrade to a BNR34 six-speed GETRAG transmission and updated, stronger arms and sway bars. Eventually the car will be ready for track events, but for the time being it'll remain a daily reminder of how life is too short to not enjoy, and how all 'curses' and bad luck can be overcome with the right people pushing you in the right direction." - Orlando Villalobos
AMERICAN MADE R32 SKYLINE GT-RS
- Extremely clean 1991 Nissan Skyline GT-R, a SoCal street build by Ed Liu with the help of GReddy.
- Originally photographed in Japan, this 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R built by Peter Cervantes now lives in Washington.
- Tire-shredding to the max, Robert Anthony of Arizona's 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R is one of the dopest R32 we've featured in recent years.