Following in the footsteps of the awesome Nissan Skyline GT-R, the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R (also known as the Nissan Sunny GTi-R on UK spec models) built a huge cult following for this rally born hot hatch with as little as just word of mouth. So much so, that this is also how the Nissan Sunny GTi-R came about, with a campaign from Nissan’s UK importers in 1992 that persuaded Nissan to produce the UK spec version. But, the model we’re discussing at this point is the more powerful, Japanese specification, the imported Nissan Pulsar GTi-R which originally went on sale in Japan in 1990.
The Nissan Pulsar GTi-R was a pocket rocket, see it as a Japanese city hatchback with a little, well, pretty BIG trick up its sleeve. This little car was blessed to share the Nissan Skyline’s phenomenal all-wheel drive and turbocharged attitude.
The Nissan Pulsar GTi-R, as previously said, was a rally born machine, built to take on the giants (or ‘Godzilla’s if you will) of that era like the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, the Toyota Celica GT-Four, the Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, the Lancia Delta Integrale, etc. Cars which were already established in the rally field.
The Nissan Pulsar GTi-R immediately settled in comfortably amongst this crowd, with very few cars in the same genre being able to show this hot hatch a clean pair of heels. This is all due to the little Pulsar being able to hit 0-60mph in a blistering 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 143mph, and that’s from the factory.
This gave it the prowess to hold its own on the road, even when up against the more recent VW’s or Audi’s. There were very little could get anywhere near the Pulsar GTi-R.
Due to the shared Nissan Skyline All-wheel drive system (although the Pulsar’s is a 50/50 mechanical system and not as advanced as the Skyline), the handling on this little rocket is almost second to none. You will get very little understeer, even on wet surfaces, and on dry surfaces you’re only likely to hear tyre squeal when cornering hard. This car goes exactly where you point it and will stick to the road like, well you know what sticks to a blanket.
With its rally core, the little Nissan was also a fantastic road car, one of the contributing reasons why Nissan’s UK Importers campaigned for a UK spec model.
Out of the factory, the Pulsar GTi-R came with a 2-litre 16v Turbocharged engine (also known as the SR20DET engine, to be later used within both the Nissan Primera and the Nissan 200SX) that pushed around 227bhp through a 5-speed gearbox. Given all of that, tied with the all-wheel drive system just adds to the immense driving pleasure. By no means is this car a pretty car with a prestige badge, some would even pass it by without a second glance, if only it wasn’t for that huge bonnet scoop, but that is all part of the appeal to owning a Pulsar GTi-R.
The car was easy to climb in and out of, had ample space for four passengers plus driver, a good-sized boot, a rather inconspicuous ordinary black plastic interior and great all-round visibility. But once you’re in the car you’d be quick to forget what this car was built for. Only to be reminded once that accelerator pedal was planted into the carpet.
That being said, I’m pretty sure that the additional gauges, the bucket seats that hug both front passengers and the higher speed increments on the speedometer would give the game away sooner.
One of the most common modifications made by owners is to move the intercooler from its original position on the top of the engine to the front just behind the bumper. This is due to achieving better air flow as it’s no longer sitting where all of the hot air and heat from the engine goes. Brake upgrades are also a favourite (the model we photographed had upgrade Brembo callipers) with larger callipers and discs required to stop the ever-increasing engine modifications the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R owners perform. Other modifications come in the forms of aftermarket wheels, suspension upgrades, larger turbo’s and clutch upgrades to handle the huge increase in torque.
There is an unfortunate downside to the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R over the UK Sunny variant, and that is that the bodywork is prone to being affected by rust much easier. The common places that rust occurs is around the wheel arches and where exterior parts like the spoiler or wing mirrors are attached to the car.
If you can find one for sale with little rust, snap it up as finding one of these are very few and far between.
To put in perspective, the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R is a Godzilla Killer and there aren’t many cars whether it be that BMW, Audi, Ford or Lancia from that era, that can put it in its place.
Words and Photography by Marc Morris of Chilli Custom Automotive Photography