Nissan’s desire for speed wasn’t merely born in recent years after countless hours were spent playing Gran Turismo or watching Initial D.
The first-ever Japanese Grand Prix was won in 1963 by a lovely little two-door Datsun 1500, which, if anything, established it as a key component of the brand’s character.
Eventually, they gave us the Nissan Pulsar GTIR, Skyline GT-R Hakosuka, and Datsun Fairlady 240Z.
What’s next for the “Pulsar”? You probably haven’t heard of that last one, though, right? Well, at first I didn’t either, but after learning more about it, I want one.
Look, Nissan has produced many high-performance vehicles in addition to the Z and GT-R that we are all familiar with and like. originating in the Asian markets from the 4-door sports sedan bearing the “Skyline” moniker (actually an Infiniti).
ATO homologation specials, like the R390 GT1, that I wished went into production. Hell, don’t even think about forgetting the 240SX, Silvia (which is actually pining for an S14), or even the Juke-R. (yeah, that thing).
Remember the Sentra and Maxima as well, as both of those vehicles had sportier variations. But… What do you think of this Nissan Pulsar GTIR and why haven’t you heard of it before?
The Nissan Pulsar GTIR: What Is It?
Since the Nissan Pulsar GTIR was never offered for sale in North America or its neighboring markets, likely, you have never heard of it. But first, let’s further dissect it.
Nissan sold a series of compact cars under the “Pulsar” name from 1978 to 2018. It was primarily offered in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, and a few other areas, including Japan, which was also one of those markets.
The Pulsar wasn’t always referred to as the “Pulsar” even back then. They go by the names Sentra, Sabre, Sunny, Almera, or Cherry in some regions of the world.
In those specific joint ventures with Nissan, the Pulsar was occasionally badged as a Holden Astra and an Alfa Romeo Arna at various points in time. The NX, a stylish little sports coupe with some Pulsar Ancestry, was the closest thing we Americans have ever come.
Nissan Pulsar GTIR by Gtiroz / CC BY-SA 4.0. Even among incredibly selected entries, the Nissan Pulsar GTIR struggled in Group A for two years (just 9 rallies!). Their biggest win to date was third place. With such dreadful results in hand, it makes sense why Nissan completely abandoned the concept as a factory-backed development. To complete their rally goals, they later moved to the front-wheel-drive Sunny GTI.
But now that we’ve had your attention, let’s talk about the N14 model of the Nissan Pulsar GTIR, which ran from 1990 to 1995. Nissan of the 1990s used a more curvy design language in comparison to the preceding decade, as is obvious with the N14 Pulsar.
Aside from the first N14s sold in Japan, they also traveled to the UK where they were marketed as the Sunny before going to Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.
The N14 Pulsar family is very diverse overall, with just the Japan-only models accounting for 8 different variants. N14 Pulsars are available as 3- or 5-door hatchbacks, as well as 4-door sedans.
Nonetheless, each one had notably different trim levels, performance enhancements, and charming small details here and there. One of them was the craziest little hot hatch you’ve ever seen, the Nissan Pulsar GTIR.
What Gave Rise to the Nissan Pulsar GTIR?
Now, what can you tell us about the N14 Nissan Pulsar GTIR and how did it come to be? For some background, the Nissan works rally teams desired to compete in the World Rally Championship’s Group A and Group N classes.
They required a little, spiky rally car that was based on a production vehicle, of course. Most cars were not that different from stock, and Group A and N are both very rigorous about modifications.
Even still, substantial tuning was necessary, and out of all the vehicles Nissan offered at the time, their factory-backed rally and motorsports teams chose the N14 Pulsar.
Namely, the 3-door hatch, which they entered in Group A and N of the WRC. First things first, Nissan had to produce a minimum quantity of cars before joining the WRC (much like any other automaker doing so).
The purpose of these “homologation” regulations is to stop companies from producing excess rally cars based on automobiles that they would never produce for on-road use.
Additionally, these vehicles had to adhere to factory-level specifications, assuring that neither Nissan nor anybody else would produce uncompetitive vehicles.
Nissan had to produce at least 5,000 road cars for the N14 Pulsar before entering the Group A series.
500 of which are exact replicas of their GTIR rally vehicle. This indicates that they are largely the same rally-spec cars that have undergone minor modifications to become road-legal.
As opposed to just any Pulsar with WRC branding on it. Nissan’s European rally works teams can now begin developing their rally-bred Pulsars in the early 1990s with the completion of those 5,000 cars.
What Was Their Performance In the World Rally Championship?
In the 1991 and 1992 seasons, they entered several Nissan Pulsar GTIRs in Group A. The Nissan Motorsport Europe (NME) team, located in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, then entered them in races.
Some of the most famous rally (and generally speaking, motorsport) cars ever started here. How did NME’s Nissan Pulsar GTIR rally cars perform during those two years, with a few tweaks here and there?
Put simply, not great. NME only competed in a meager 9 stages in Group A rallies with the Pulsar GTIR, and they never once took the victory. It is obvious that NME purposefully chose the rally stages in which they believed they had the best chance of victory.
Nissan has hired several genuinely renowned rally drivers, like Mike Kirkland, François Chatriot, David Llewellin, Tommi Mäkinen, and Stig Blomqvist.
Nevertheless, the outcomes speak for themselves.
Nissan Pulsar GTIR by Gtiroz / CC BY-SA 4.0. All Nissan Pulsar GTIR variations are available as 3-door hatchbacks and were marketed as the Sunny in Europe. While one may anticipate a name beginning with the letters G, T, and R to have some throaty inline-6 (ahem, the RB26 of the GT-R). This isn’t the case, as the Nissan Pulsar GTIR has something more subtle.
- In Round 4 Martini Safari, Kenya – Stig Blomqvist finished fifth, DNF due to an accident for David Llewellin, and Mike Kirkland finished seventh.
- In the Round 6 Acropolis, Greece – DNF due to differential problems for Stig Blomqvist, and David Llewellin finished ninth.
- In Round 9 1000 Lakes, Finland – Stig Blomqvist finished 8th, and David Llewellin finished 10th.
- In the Round 14 RAC Rally, Wales – DNF due to suspension issues for Stig Blomqvist, and DNF due to electrical problems for David Llewellin
- In Round 1 Monte-Carlo – Tommi Mäkinen finished ninth, and François Chatriot finished seventh
- In Round 2 Sweden – Stig Blomqvist finished third
- In Round 3 Portugal – DNF due to an accident for Tommi Mäkinen, and François Chatriot finished sixth
- In Round 9 1000 Lakes, Finland – DNF due to engine issues for Stig Blomqvist, and DNF due to gearbox issues for Tommi Mäkinen
- In Round 14 RAC Rally, Wales – DNF due to an accident for Stig Blomqvist, Tommi Mäkinen finished eighth
What Did Nissan’s Pulsar GTIR Rally Dreams Turn Into?
The Nissan Pulsar GTIR didn’t do much in Group A, even among extremely selective entries, for two years (only 9 rallies!). Third place was their greatest victory to date.
With such dismal outcomes in tow, it’s understandable why Nissan completely gave up on the idea as a factory-backed development. Later, they switched to the front-wheel-drive Sunny GTI to achieve their rally objectives.
It was successful where the Pulsar GTIR could only come near. Alister McRae, the younger brother of Colin McRae, used a Sunny GTI rally car to take first place in the 1995 British Rally Championship. NME attributed the Pulsar GTIR’s underwhelming results in the early Group A seasons to:
- Not good enough Dunlop tires.
- The top-mounted intercooler wasn’t as effective or powerful as they had hoped it would be at increasing the engine’s output, particularly in hotter climes.
- Political and cultural divides between Nissan corporate and NME sowed tensions in the development of the Nissan Pulsar GTIR.
You may be interested in learning what happened to these Group A GTIRs after they retired. Nissan, however, never offered them to the general public, instead passing them off to private buyers.
Surprisingly, some of these Pulsar GTIRs participated in rallycross competitions while the majority of them were in Europe. Up until 2015, Tony Bardy routinely competed in rallies held in the UK in a Nissan Pulsar GTIR built to Group A specifications.
Nissan Pulsar GTIR by Gtiroz / CC BY-SA 4.0. The GTI-RA is the most common and typical Nissan Pulsar GTIR. We might think of this kind as a scaled-down rally car because it has most of the amenities you’d expect in a road car. Power windows, air conditioning, and ABS are a few examples of standard features (anti-lock brakes). Nissan began enhancing its aesthetics with the 1992 model year.
What About Group N’s Nissan Pulsar GTIR?
But what about Group N, you ask? Well, neither Nissan nor NME officially entered it. Instead, they participated in the construction of one for the Nissan Belgium Works Rally Team.
This was parked next to another vehicle made for the Nishiyama Racing privateer team in Japan. Grégoire De Mévius and Hiroshi Nishiyama drove two Nissan Pulsar GTIRs tuned for Group N, and they were far more successful than in Group A.
In just one season (1992), it demonstrated how competitive the Pulsar GTIR could be when properly adjusted.
- In Round 3 Portugal – Grégoire De Mévius finished third
- In Round 4 Martini Safari, Kenya – Hiroshi Nishiyama finished third
- In Round 6 Acropolis, Greece – Grégoire De Mévius finished first
- In Round 8 Argentina – DNF due to being late for the start for Grégoire De Mévius, and Hiroshi Nishiyama finished second
- In Round 9 1000 Lakes, Finland – Grégoire De Mévius finished third
- In Round 12 Bandama, Ivory Coast – DNF due to engine issues for Grégoire De Mévius, and Hiroshi Nishiyama finished first
- In Round 14 RAC Rally, Wales – Grégoire De Mévius finished second
- In the Final Tally – Grégoire De Mévius finished first, and Hiroshi Nishiyama finished second
The more prosperous Group N cars were appreciated after they were retired, just like the Group A cars.
To elaborate on the former, Nissan’s Heritage Collection in Japan still has the 1991 Acropolis and 1992 Welsh GTIRs (from the Group A era) on exhibit.
Hence, if you enjoy sightseeing, you might as well stop by and check out one of the largest private collections of Nissan vehicles.
How Is a Nissan Pulsar GTIR Constructed?
I just realized that I’ve already talked about the car in question for this entire paragraph. All Nissan Pulsar GTIR variants were marketed as the Sunny in Europe and are available as 3-door hatchbacks.
While a name with the letters G, T, and R could be expected to have some throaty inline-6 (ahem, the RB26 of the GT-R). Instead, the Nissan Pulsar GTIR features something more understated, so this isn’t the case.
Namely, a 2.0-liter SR20DET inline-4 turbocharged engine. That is at least one engine that is utilized in the Silvia and other vehicles that we are at least somewhat familiar with in the US.
Its small engine produces a respectable 230 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. Well, at first glance, that might not seem amazing. But keep in mind that the Pulsar GTIR, which weighs only about 2,690 lbs, is likewise absurdly light.
In the actual world, that gave it quite a bit of poke. A quarter-mile run would take only 13.5 seconds at a speed of 0-60 mph, or 5.4 seconds.
With a top speed of 144 mph, it is incredibly frightening for a small hatch that is only slightly larger than a Kei car.
Considering how tiny and harmless it appears, those are more than respectable numbers. The drivetrain shares at least some similarities with the renowned Skyline GT-R.
Nissan Pulsar GTIR NISMO by Mr.choppers / CC BY-SA 3.0. Nissan aims to make the Pulsar GTIR competitive in rallies by integrating the all-wheel-drive system from the GT-ATTESA R. As a result, the Nissan Pulsar GTIR earned the nickname “the Baby Godzilla”. The GTIR can be clearly distinguished from a regular Pulsar because of its large hood scoop and substantial rear wing. Nissan asserts that the latter is vital for downforce.
By incorporating the GT-ATTESA R’s all-wheel-drive technology, Nissan hopes to make the Pulsar GTIR competitive in rallies. The Nissan Pulsar GTIR was given the moniker “the Baby Godzilla” as a result.
The massive hood scoop and sizable rear wing easily distinguish the GTIR from a standard Pulsar. Nissan asserts that the latter is important for downforce, but I’m not so sure. But it’s still cool.
What are the Nissan Pulsar GTIR’s Specifications?
For those who are interested, the Nissan Pulsar GTIR’s complete list of characteristics is provided below in TL;DR format:
- Engine Type of SR20DET
- Engine Displacement of 2.0-liter (1998cc)
- The Engine Cylinders of Inline-4 which includes 4 valves for every cylinder
- The Forced Induction of a Turbocharged
- The Bore of 86mm
- The Stroke of 86mm
- The Engine Compression of 8.5:1
- The Horsepower of 230hp (227bhp), which has a peak power of 6,400RPM
- The Torque of 210lb-ft (280Nm), which has a peak torque of 4,800RPM
- The Drivetrain of ATTESA all-wheel-drive (AWD)
- The Gearbox of Manual, 5 gears
- The Curb Weight of 1,230kg
- The Gross Weight of 1,505kg
- The Cargo Capacity of 275kg which includes 70kg for the roof load
- A Width of 195mm for the front and 195mm for the rear
- A Ratio of 55 for the front and 55 for the rear
- A Weight Index of 82 for the front and 82 for the rear
- A Speed Index of V
Nissan Pulsar GTIR Group A by 天然ガス / CC BY-SA 3.0. The one hot hatch that everyone missed but now wants is the Nissan Pulsar GTIR. Because it is more than 25 years old, it is now legal to import one if you wish to succeed in the US. Those who have driven one tend to speak extremely highly about it. The small rally-bred hot hatch is lovely and fun to drive about in.
- A Rim Size of 14-inches for the front and 14-inches for the rear wheels
- A Rim Width of 6-inches for the front and 6-inches for the rear wheels
- An Offset (ET) of 40 for the front and 40 for the rear wheels
- A Bolts or Lug Nuts of 4 (M12x1.25), at 100 distance, consisting of a 59.1 central bore
What Different Versions of the Nissan Pulsar GTIR are Available?
Yeah, but be aware that not every Nissan Pulsar GTIR is constructed equally. Do you recall the older homologation specials? Nissan produced several Pulsar GTIR variations for the general market, each with its distinctive features.
The VIN plates (near the engine firewall) and the model number can be used to distinguish each one (more on that later).
Between August 1990 and November 1994, Nissan produced a large number of these various models for retail sales. The production of the Sunny GTIRs for export to Europe lasted from February 1992 until October 1993.
Nissan had to produce enough GTIRs to comply with the aforementioned Group A regulations, hence the majority of them were sold during the first manufacturing years of 1990 through 1991.
If you’re interested in knowing the sales figures for each variant:
- 13,131 units for the GTI-RA
- 701 units for the GTI-RB
- 10 units (as they weren’t tagged, are probably their rally vehicles or prototypes) for the Unknown
- 13,482 units for the GTI-R
- A total of 771 units which comprises 668 left-hand drive units and 103 right-hand drive units for the GTI-R (Sunny)
To get more details about every GTIR model…
Product Number: EBYNRVFN14T for the Nissan Pulsar GTI-RA
The most prevalent and standard Nissan Pulsar GTIR is this one (the GTI-RA). With the majority of the comforts you’d anticipate in a road car, we may think of this variant as a scaled-back rally car.
A few examples of standard equipment are power windows, air conditioning, and ABS (anti-lock brakes). Nissan made more aesthetic adjustments starting with the 1992 model year.
I felt that these developments were somewhat retrograde. Nissan substituted interior trim and designs common to most other N14 Pulsars for some of the distinctive GTIR features.
Cars with the RNN14-100000 chassis numbers and higher will indicate this mid-cycle facelift or update. Nissan never advertised these changes specifically, but they were significant enough.
Model Number: EBYNRRFN14T for the Nissan Pulsar GTI-RB
We have a rare, homologated version of the genuine Group A and Group N Pulsar GTIR rally cars in this instance (the GTR-RB). Many enthusiasts and collectors believe that this model should be purchased rather than the GTI-RA.
The GTI-RB was more concentrated and understated than the variants intended for the open road. They made the air conditioning, power windows, and ABS options instead of basic features.
Nissan Pulsar GTIR engine bay by Gtiroz / CC BY-SA 4.0. Every Nissan Pulsar GTIR is built differently. Nissan created numerous Pulsar GTIR versions with unique features for the mass market. Each one may be differentiated using the model number and the VIN plates located close to the engine firewall. Nissan produced a sizable number of these varied types for retail sales between August 1990 and November 1994.
In actuality, the GTI-RB wasn’t all that dissimilar from the base cars utilized for the rallies. The GTI-RB was lighter by 66 lbs due to its simplicity and lack of frills (even the rear wiper was deleted, for crying out loud) (now down to a mere 2,624 lbs).
Nissan also made various enhancements to its performance. And had special improvements made particularly for the GTI-RB (down below).
The side mirrors are one feature that can distinguish an RB from a RA. Particularly, the side mirrors on the RB were not color-matched to the body paint.
More on those explicit additions, which were made by Nismo. You could have the dealership install them, or you could have Autech (a specialized Nissan tuner) do it. They comprised:
- A close-ratio transmission that was optional
- A mechanical limited-slip differential that was provided by Nismo
- A more advanced suspension that Nismo also provided
Model Number: EBYNL*N14 for the Nissan Sunny GTI-R
This time, the “Sunny” moniker and the GTIR badge were intended for the European market. In reality, although having a changed chassis number, they are still the same Pulsars (EGNN14).
In terms of Sunny’s power and drivetrain, the engine, transmission, and the rest are also rather comparable. nonetheless, with minor ECU adjustments.
With only about 217hp and 197lb-ft of torque, Sunny GTIRs are less potent than their Japanese and foreign competitors. Nissan had to modify the ECU’s fueling and throttle mapping, which is the cause of this.
The explanation was due to the lower fuel octane ratings that were at the time accessible in Europe. Nissan never produced a hotter RB model, although the Sunny can be distinguished by:
- Models with both a left-hand drive and a right-hand drive were produced.
- The border for the back license plate is bigger (to fit in bigger European registration plates).
- The dashboard instruments are slightly different, and the inside trim had the RB’s more austere style.
What About the Nissan’s Pulsar GTI-R Nismo
Do you still have the GTI-Nismo-engineered RB’s options? What if, though, you preferred to opt for the RB and have all of those Nismo components installed at once as opposed to individually?
Nissan, on the other hand, provided what they referred to as a “complete car” direct from Nismo, with all these components already installed. In other words, they were RBs with rally-specific enhancements, such as:
- Suspension improvements
- A limited-slip differential
- Factory-built roll cage
- Exclusive Nismo footrests
- Strengthening plates for the strut towers
These were the closest thing to a Nissan Pulsar GTIR rally car that could be driven on public roads. Furthermore, we believe that these are even more sought-after than the already-rare RBs.
Although each Nismo GTIR was individually numbered with a unique Nismo VIN, just 21 of them were ever produced. It can be difficult to obtain one because all were sold to private buyers and at least one was used for advertising.
Nissan Pulsar GTIR dash by Gtiroz / CC BY-SA 4.0. You probably haven’t heard of the Nissan Pulsar GTIR because it was never made available for purchase in North America or its bordering markets. From 1978 until 2018, Nissan offered several small automobiles under the “Pulsar” brand. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, and a few more places, including Japan, which was also one of those markets, were the main regions where it was sold.
Facts About the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
- A small hot hatch called the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R was never sold in North America.
- The vehicle had a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produced 227 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque, and it was produced from 1990 to 1994.
- Nissan planned the Pulsar GTI-R to homologate the vehicle for use in the FIA Group A rally.
- It possessed a short wheelbase, standard all-wheel drive, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which are all characteristics of a gravel-eating vehicle.
- The Pulsar has a comparable grip to a Porsche 911 from the same year, allowing it to accelerate from a stop to 60 mph in just five seconds.
- The Pulsar GTI-R was faster than similarly sized hot hatches then offered in the United States and was putting up statistics comparable to the sports car exotica.
- The Pulsar GTI-R was one of the numerous small turbocharged war machines that were offered in Japan but were never exported to the United States.
- However, the Group A rally stage wasn’t as favorable to the Pulsar GTI-R as the boulevard.
- Thanks in part to its reasonable sub-$15k pricing on the used market, the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R is starting to appear more frequently in the US.
- The Pulsar GTI-R is a fascinating replacement option for a hot rod from the 1990s that practically ensures you won’t run into yourself at the next meet.
All things considered, the Nissan Pulsar GTIR is the one hot hatch that everyone overlooked but now desires. It is now permissible to import one if you want to succeed in the US because it is older than the 25-year limit.
However, should you? Well, those who have driven one like to portray it in very positive terms. In a nutshell, it’s a wonderful and enjoyable little rally-bred hot hatch to drive around in.
Turbo lag is manageable because of how little the turbos are. Due to its lightweight, it has nimble and responsive handling along with a refined steering feel.
It has weight and tactility, keeping you safely in line while allowing you to accelerate into and out of corners with ease thanks to the all-wheel-drive system. People do complain that the brakes aren’t very effective, so you should probably replace them.
Do not be deceived by the Pulsar GTIR’s relatively meager horsepower and torque; it is just as nimble as many modern hot hatchbacks. For a rarer GTI-RB that is in good condition, values can go as high as $20,000 or more.
For a GTI-RA, it’ll most often be around the $15,000 mark (or higher mileage RB). For a good example, you could easily find one for as little as $10,000.
For between $4,000 and $6,000, you could get a little worn-out GTIR if project cars and restoration work are your things. Overall, they’re not exactly steals, but they are still much less expensive than a genuine GT-R.
Even while it’s just as much fun behind the wheel, you’re getting something lot more useful in the meantime. The Nissan Pulsar GTIR is unfairly overlooked and shamefully underappreciated as a whole.
Jim Wicks is the founder of MotorVehicleHQ. With over two decades of experience in the automotive industry and a degree in Automotive Technology, Jim is a certified car expert who has worked in various roles ranging from a mechanic, car dealership manager, to a racing car driver. He has owned more than 20 cars over the past 15 years. Ask him about any vehicle you see on the road and he can tell you the make, model and year. He loves the aesthetics of all things cars, and keeps his vehicles in pristine condition.
In his free time, Jim enjoys getting his hands dirty under the hood of a classic car or taking long drives along the country roads. His favorite car? A 1967 Shelby GT500, a true classic that, according to Jim, “represents the pure essence of American muscle.”