Let's Talk About The Nissan GT-R

  Calvin Fisher

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 20 Jul, 2018



Nissan GT-R

Calvin Fisher waxes lyrical over a badge he’s lusted over since, well… Forever! From the BNR32 of 1991 through to the recently debuted Nissan Italdesign R35, it of course the Nissan GT-R.

This is not the next GT-R.


I know this because I took this photo myself three years ago at the Tokyo Motorshow, it being the concept car that thereafter spilled over from our reality into the virtual one created by Polyphony Digital. Them being the makers of the Gran Turismo series, where the new Nissan became a drivable thing for the first and only time.

It’s called the 2020 Vision Concept car and for all purposes functioned as a flight of fancy with mild clues into the next GT-R design language. At the same event Mazda unveiled their RX7 sequel, an equally red sliver of unobtanium called the RX-Vision or RX-9 if my guesstimate is correct – a wankel wet dream also cued for a 2020 realisation.

And it was around this time that rumbles of a new Toyota Supra first started to arise. While the Mazda mission remains sedentary, there’s no denying that we’re sitting on the cusp of a new Supra, albeit a sports car shared with BMW’s Z4. As for the GT-R, it recently celebrated its 40th birthday alongside Italdesign Studios, with the entities collaborating to create the GTR50. A very futuristic concept based on the existing R35. I repeat, that’s a decade old GT-R under there.

The bit where I make this about myself

Image: Henrie Snyman

In 2008 I had the amazing luck of being the first South African motoring journalist to get behind the wheel of the then very new R35 Nissan GT-R. That's ten years ago so indeed a new model is overdue. Happily, lightning struck eight years later and I was once again given access to Godzilla ahead of many, the 2016 luxuriously appointed one captured here by Henrie Snyman in Pretoria.

I don’t suspect I'll be so lucky a third time but if the opportunity arises to meet the next GT-R ahead of the rest of the world, I will happily fly myself to the land of the rising sun to touch the sheet metal (or whatever material it is cast from) albeit in economy class with a rucksack brimming with 2-minute noodles and an itinerary of cheap Airbnb accommodation.

Because good heavens, I anticipate it being a very special creature indeed.

The way I see it, the new Toyota Supra will barely have to fend off the likes of the BMW M3 while the new GT-R, that will have to fend for itself in a world where BMW M5s and AMG-C63s can crush the 0-100kph sprint in a ball-hair over 3 seconds.

The new Nissan then will have to be a very sophisticated piece of machinery. I’m talking hermetically sealed chambers here, people! Or as Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s design chief describes it, the world’s fastest brick.

Yes, rather than pay tribute to the God of Aerodynamics, have opted for "less wing, more brick." And added that, “We simply have to reflect people’s dreams; and I think people dream that the next GT-R will be the hottest super sports car in the world,” don’t expect Nissan to change tack and turn the beloved beast from the east into a dart-shaped supercar, the Yokohama marque choosing to flex their engineering muscle instead.

As for world’s fastest brick, you can rest assured that they’re not implying a Bentley Bentayga or Rolls-Royce Cullinan style abomination either. In fact, I’ll bet you my cheap seats to Japan and back that it won’t be.

How did we get here? A short history lesson on the 4WD GT-R family

1991 BNR32 Nissan Skyline GT-R

Image: Road & Track

First up is my unicorn. I couldn’t tell you what it is about the R32 that has made it my favourite, perhaps that arrow-straight and uncluttered profile, full of purpose and not much else. Those 16-inch wheels were big in their day and still manage to look menacing now despite being period-correct.

Menace, yes that’s what this car has, like a steely Terminator on a mission to kill those race cars I mentioned earlier, but it also has a street presence like you’ve never encountered. The cabin is a simple Japanese 80s affair, dark and barren but as ergonomically sound as a pocket calculator. And that’s okay because there’s nothing here to distract you from the simple but oh-so visceral driving experience.

The numbers are important to know, 206kW and 368Nm split up between four fevered wheels. Yes, if you haven’t already made the distinction, these four GT-Rs are all ATTESA four-wheel-drive affairs whereas their predecessors were proponents of slidey RWD, and the R32 is where it all began.

It’s an easy car to drive on the limit by modern standards with a turboboost that swells instead of kicks through five forward speeds, a gravelly helm that majors on feedback and a soundtrack like a bag of ball bearings being poured into a concrete mixer.

The prospect of owning one seems incredibly tiring. Naturally I fell in love immediately.

1995 BNR33 Nissan Skyline GT-R

Image: Wikipedia

Arguably the least loved GT-R, the R33 was still an impressive animal with even more tech sewn into its circuit boards. While power had risen to 224kW and torque crept to 375Nm, the body weight had also risen to 1540kg from the R32’s sprightlier 1430kg.

They shared almost identical hardware in the RB26DETT, an inline six-cylinder blown by two turbochargers. Aesthetically it was reminiscent of its forebear albeit swollen, a criticism you could level at most car designs of the 1990s.

Brembo brakes came standard and by now Nissan had introduced HICAS 4-wheel steering into the formula. The cabin continues to uninspired, forcing you to focus on the job of piloting the damned thing instead – good.

On paper the advances seem incremental, but it’s a notably wilder animal, noisier too as it punches the air with each gear change, spitting and coughing, punctuating the bumblebee crescendo. Trying to escape the Pretoria CBD whilst snapping a few shots of our GT-R armada but instead creating a mild riot with the locals who were conducting photo shoots of their own.

Amidst the chaos it got increasingly difficult to pair the engine noises with the correct car but as a swarm they’re more than enough to set off adjacent car alarms. These cars are all stars, but I’ll admit I’m less enthralled by this, the middle kid and besides, the Hollywood favourite was next.

2000 BNR34 Nissan Skyline GT-R

Image: Motor Authority

Now we’re talking. You’ll know this car from the Fast and Furious franchise and every celluloid pretender since. You’ll also know this car from the Gran Turismo series and every digital pretender that followed. It’s since become the poster child of JDM, the ultimate import, Japan’s middle finger salute to the establishment, a saloon car that trumps super and sports coupes on the regular.

It was all of these things despite still employing that RB26DETT engine. Now outputs have been bumped up to 244kW and 392Nm, with that the plumbing receiving several updates including a ball-bearing turbo charger and formed turbo outlet pipes.

Its party trick however, breath-taking aesthetics and exhilarating performance aside must be the information display unit perched upon the dashboard – very uncommon for 1999 time and a precursor to the one in the current R35 GT-R, which was co-developed by Polyphony Digital, makers of Gran Turismo on the Playstation.

What boy-racer didn’t dream of having access to his G-Forces, boost pressure, oil and water temperatures on the fly, right? The one in our convoy was a V-Spec model, essentially an aerodynamic upgrade with some added street-side aggression as a result.

Acceleration is linear, that is until that dropkick in the small of your back when the turbos come online. Interestingly the curb weight was shaved by 4kg to 1536kg, so power-to-weight was favourable once again. This model would receive updates right up until production ended in August 2002 including the likes of the V Spec II, NISMO-S Tune and ultimately the 368kW/540Nm Z-Tune.


Five years later the R35 was unveiled to the world at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show minus the Skyline badge. Nissan also finally ditched the iconic RB26DETT in favour of a V6 codenamed VR38DETT, a clue to the new car’s engine capacity, now at 3800 cc’s.

Visually it echoed their 2001 GT-R Prototype, a design inspired by Gundam mech-robots with performance that could officially challenge the supercar regime.

And bloody their noses too.


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