Engine swaps are as old as automotive culture itself.
Even mixing up manufacturers is a time-honoured tradition, with US hot rodders dropping Ford flathead V8s into anything with four wheels and a windshield as early as the 1930s.
So you’d think we’ve seen it all before when it comes to transplanting alternative power units. Matt — who’s been around the block more than a few times — certainly thought he had.
But then while attending the Tuners Edge GT-R Challenge at Cootamundra back in April, he heard the distinctly non-RB26 throb of an Aussie Ford six-cylinder powering up the runway, only to discover the sound was coming from a Skyline cheekily wearing ‘XR32′ plates.
Now, while alternative engine swaps are an accepted part of your average Speedhunters’ performance arsenal, desecrating the hallowed asphalt that the GT-R rolls on by removing its straight-six powerhouse and substituting it for one with a Ford oval cast into the block is perhaps not the best thing to do if a quiet life is all you’re looking for.
Especially if that engine happens to be the inline-six Barra 24-valve turbo engine from Ford’s XR6 range of cars. While decidedly unique to Australia, the Barra has become famous the world over thanks to its availability, ease of tune, and seriously impressive power potential.
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“There’s a lot of love and hate for this car,” admits Dennis O’Malley of Sydney-based Grim Performance, the main force and inspiration behind this build. “And unsurprisingly, the Nissan guys hate it.”
But Dennis didn’t create this bastard child of Nissan and Ford for the controversy – he did it because the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense.
“It was a customer of mine who suggested the swap, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t too fond of the idea at first,” recalls Dennis. “I tried to talk him out of it, but then I mulled it over and the Barra does have its plus points over the RB motor. It’s cheaper and easier to buy the base motor, the cast iron block is super-strong, and as a 4.0-litre it makes the same kind of power only with less effort required,” he reasons.
“Plus I love doing weird shit.”
GT-R fans can possibly breathe a little easier at this point, though — this R32 didn’t start out as an R, but instead a slightly more conventional GTS-T, bought as a rolling project and pushed into the fabrication workshop at Grim Performance where Dennis could quietly crack on with the conversion over the course of its 12 month build.
While ideas may come easily, putting them into practice is much less so. Dropping the Barra into the R32’s engine bay proved to be one of the hardest part of the build — once the original customer bailed out of the project and Dennis decided to take it on and see it through, that is.
“I wanted the conversion look as factory as possible, so that motor was in and out countless times to make sure it was right.
“It’s a taller engine than the RB26, and I made it sit nice and low so that it fits under the standard GT-R bonnet, which involved modifying the existing crossmember and cutting up and re-welding the sump. I’ve since seen one other Barra-converted R32, and that has a hump in the bonnet to clear the cam cover, which I’m not sure looks right.”
While Dennis was tackling the install using a dummy engine, Mick’s Motorsport was cracking on and building up the real thing.
The specially-prepared bottom end was mated with a worked head and cams, Precision 6766 turbo, Plazmaman 76mm throttle body, inlet and intercooler, 2,400cc injectors, and a Haltech Elite ECU.
On E85 fuel, and mapped by Jeremy Gilbert at DVS Tuning, the result is a stomping 975hp on 26psi (1.76bar) of boost, with power delivery that Dennis describes as “a real handful on the street”.
Backing up the Barra is the factory 6-speed Tremec T56 manual gearbox (both motor and transmission came out of a Ford BF F6 Typhoon), which though strong enough, Dennis admits isn’t ideal for the current engine spec — or drag racing, for that matter. “It’s not fond of being shifted too fast. At some point in the near future I’ll upgrade to an auto ’box that we can fine-tune to match the power delivery.”
The T56 runs via a custom 4-inch diameter prop shaft to a standard R200 rear with 3.9:1 gears, which is holding up well so far. The upgraded brake system, meanwhile, come courtesy of Brembo 6-pots up front (from an Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX). These sit inside 18×10.5-inch Cosmis wheels, with 15×10-inch Belak forged split rims with drag radials bolted up for dragstrip and runway duties.
Both sets are tucked into the GT-R arches courtesy of MCA Race Red coilovers.
On the outside, only avid Nissan aficionados could tell this isn’t quite the R it’s claiming to be.
Dennis sourced genuine GT-R rear quarters, sills, front wings and bonnet from Japan (at eye-watering cost), to which panel man John Hogan added Jsai Aero side skirts and front diffuser, before the whole lot was resprayed in superb Solaris Metallic (a BMW M5 shade, no less — again purists cover your eyes) by local paint guru Matthew Maestri.
The illusion continues on the inside with R32 GT-R seats squeezing in between a half roll cage, with Dennis adding a digital dash and S1 shifter for strip duties.
The end result is a pleasing package — even if it does get some people’s backs up. Not that that’s deterred Dennis, though – he’s keen to get out there and use the R32 as much as possible.
As well as GT-R Challenge, the XR32’s been to WTAC, and there are more events in the pipeline, with drag racing at the forefront once he’s sorted that new gearbox out.
While the Barra swap may not have quite everyone’s approval, it’s keenly appreciated in some quarters.
Dennis is currently in serious talks with a customer to swap one into a Supra…
Photography by Matthew Everingham
Barra The World