Final Drive: 1998 Nissan Stagea 260RS Autech

Dawn on the Pacific Rim. A sleeping city dozes past the sunrise, blissfully unaware of a subterranean rumbling. A monster awakens in a concrete basement, a beast of legendary ferocity, a kaiju of colossal power. Godzilla is coming.

Oh hey, looks like he's bringing his dog along for the ride too.

Before, the highest trim Stagea made 276 hp. After Autech got done with it, the 2.6L twin-turbo six made... 276 hp. Wait, what?

Say hello to the Nissan Stagea 260RS, the station wagon with atomic breath. It's a Japan-only family wagon that boasts the twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive guts out of the mighty Skyline GT-R. Basically, this is Godzilla as a grocery-getter: city-smashing power, room for the kids and running stroller.

It's a rare machine, and one that was never meant for our shores. A competitor for stuff like the Subaru Legacy or Mazda6 wagons, it was sold between 1996 and 2007. People called it the Skyline wagon, as there were plenty of similarities underneath the skin.

A few Stageas were hotted up somewhat, given the guts to run with the turbo'd Subaru wagons. However, this particular one is the rarest and best, a special variant produced in small quantities with a noble bloodline.

That Autech designation – Autech is a specialist outfit founded in 1986 by Nissan as a sort of skunkworks tuning arm. Think of it as similar to the Nismo (Nissan-motorsports) name, a refinement of Nissan-branded speed and power.

The first president of Autech was Shinichiro Sakurai, a man often heralded as the father of the Nissan Skyline. Later, the company was helmed by Hiroshi Tamura, currently the Chief Product Specialist at Nismo, and owner of a 600-hp slate-grey sleeper GT-R. With guys like that, you're going to get some crazy in your station wagon.

Autech took Nissan's family-hauler, bunged out the already potent top-spec 2.5L twin-turbo engine and running gear, and transplanted in the heart of a giant. Running essentially all the same gear as the R33-chassis Skyline GT-R, this 260RS has a 2.6L twin-turbo straight six engine that revs past 8,000 rpm, a five-speed manual gearbox, ATTESA all-wheel-drive, extra bracing, Brembo brakes, BBS wheels, a limited slip rear differential, and extra aerodynamic trim.

All about the Skylines: A Legacy of Skylines

Before, the highest trim Stagea made 276 hp. After Autech got done with it, the 2.6L twin-turbo six made... 276 hp. Wait, what?

Japanese manufacturers, concerned about road fatalities, had a private “gentleman's agreement” pact to not produce cars above 280 bhp, or 276 hp. Thing is, most ended up imitating the American muscle-car makers of the 1960s and simply underrating horsepower outputs by a significant degree. Total output on this thing is hard to judge, seeing as it has a few mild modifications, but it's likely huffing out well above 300 hp to all four wheels.

It belongs to Chris Luehmann, who imported it a few years ago under Canada's 15-year grey market rules. There are possibly five or more Stageas running around Vancouver, but this is the only Autech 260RS – they only ended up making fewer than 2000 over two years of production, and more than a few were tuned to within an inch of their lives, then beyond and then exploded.

Because it's so closely related to the GT-R, getting immense power levels out of the 260RS are relatively easy. Five or six hundred hp is accessible with essentially bolt-on parts, and there's a huge aftermarket ready to enrage the Stagea further.

More about this car: Find of the Week: 1998 Nissan Stagea 260RS Autech

However, Luehmann's car is relatively mildly enhanced. It wears fat 275-series tires on wide gold Advan alloys, is screwed down on coilovers, and has a full turboback exhaust with a bazooka-sized muffler. On a four-cylinder Honda, the latter can be annoyingly buzzy. On this thing, it's a megaphone for atomic breath.

By day, Luehmann is an autobody specialist – he's actually just back from the Tesla factory learning how to repair one of Vancouver's growing fleet of electric sport-sedans. By day, he fixes Audis, BMWs, and Ferraris. By night, he – uh. I forgot to ask him what he does by night. Watches Netflix probably.

But on the weekends, he loads up his Stagea and goes out for a rip. “It's pretty horrible on gas,” Chris admits, but judging from the grin on his face as the parking garage echoes to boomy internal-combustion thunder, it's well worth the price of admission.

We load up Lucy, a two-and-a-half year old pup who's wriggling with excitement. So am I – I've always loved wagons, and there are few more badass than this thing.

“I think I first raced one in Gran Turismo 2,” Chris explains, “I won it in a challenge race, and you could modify it in-game. It was fast and handled well, and when I figured out I could actually buy a real one...”

Driving a right-hand-drive car is a cinch when it's got as much glass as this one does. Visibility is excellent, and the factory clutch isn't particularly heavy. We roll out of the parking garage and I accidentally turn on the wipers instead of the indicator. Oh right – forgot about that.

The steering wheel is a lovely genuine Nardi piece, a thin wooden rim that dresses up the interior a bit. The shifter is this hilariously pornographic-looking pink thing, and there are the usual wealth of extra gauges measuring stuff like boost and exhaust temperature. It's your typical well-sorted tuner car.

Except that it can haul 4x6 sheets of plywood or, in this case, a really excited dog. The 260RS jounces over broken pavement on its stiff suspension, and I stir up the engine a little heading east. It takes some provoking; stay below 3,500 rpm and there's little drama. It's a pretty heavy car too, tipping the scales at above 1700 kg. Get it on boil though, and it pulls strongly. The straight-six blips nicely for downshifts, zinging up with a tap of the foot impatiently.

It's actually a pretty fun car to drive slowly. First of all, it just looks so damn cool you want to cruise by and drop jaws. Those who know what this thing is respect it, and those who don't peer curiously. What is that thing?

We cruise through the city, out into Stanley Park, and happen upon an illegally-camping Mitsubishi Delica. The city's full of JDM stuff these days, and rare cars like the 260RS are the envy of our neighbours to the South (they'll have to wait another ten years to import one).

Headed back towards the garage, there's the opportunity let Godzilla off the leash a bit. The street is empty and clear, and a bridge beckons. I roll into the throttle and hold it.

The turbos hiss, the boost climbs, the exhaust note changes from pissed-off grumble to enraged bellow. There it is, the beast uncaged. The 260RS howls all the way to its incredible 8,000-rpm redline – and a little dip past into the red.

If the engine sounds angry, the chassis is unperturbed through the slight bend. This is what this car was built to do, grocery-hauling back or no. It's that same giant-killing ferocity of the regular GT-R, ready to take on the King-Kong titans of the automotive world and slap 'em upside the head with a fist-full of talons.

Destroy the world but bring your pooch along for walkies afterwards; how great is that? Godzilla is great as a two-door coupe; give him a backpack and cargo pants and he's even better for West Coast life.

Dawn on the Pacific Rim. A sleeping city dozes past the sunrise, blissfully unaware of a subterranean rumbling. 6/16/2015 11:28:39 AM