The Philippine-market Sports Car of the Year for 2016, the Nissan GT-R is a legend in its own time. Just ask Porsche
Some cars achieve iconic status only after having been judged through the lens of history. Others, however, cause such a vast paradigm shift that they become legends right in their own time.
One such car is the Nissan GT-R. Though it traces its roots to Prince Skyline racers of the early ’60s, the legend truly began with the Nissan-Prince merger and the 1968 “KPGC10” Skyline GT-R that followed. With a powerful S20 six-cylinder engine boasting 160hp and a 7,500rpm redline, a limited-slip differential and a fully independent suspension, the “Hakosuka” (Boxy Skyline) dominated the racing circuits of Japan. Sadly, the 1973 OPEC oil embargo killed the car’s successor, with less than 200 units built.
The nameplate lay dormant until the introduction of the 1989 “R32” Skyline GT-R. Built to take on the Porsche 959 supercar, it featured an awesome array of acronymic technologies. ECCS electronic fuel-injection (just like the Sentra), HICAS all-wheel steering, a twin-turbocharged RB26DETT straight-six engine and ATTESA-ETS electronically controlled all-wheel drive. The GT-R’s crushing dominance in Japanese and Australian touring car racing earned it the nickname “Godzilla,” as well as a permanent ban from Australian motorsports.
Three generations of Godzilla followed the same formula. Limited, ostensibly, to 276hp, as per the Japanese “Gentleman’s Agreement” of the time, but in reality producing much more. In the hands of Japanese “tuners,” these cars produced in excess of 600hp. Exported in minuscule numbers, GT-Rs became the stuff of legend: highly desired, rarely seen. A generation of gearheads grew up lusting after cars only known from video games like Gran Turismo.
After the R34’s retirement in 2001, Nissan announced a new GT-R, completely separate from the Skyline family. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn demanded that the car beat the new Porsche 911 Turbo, spiritual successor to the 959. Agonizing years passed. Rumors circulated of delays and teething problems. In initial testing, the new car proved rather disappointing, leading to more delays.
With a limited budget, lofty goals and a mountain of pressure upon them, engineers spent thousands of kilometers testing, recalibrating and retesting on the fabled Nurburgring racetrack. No record exists of how many nervously smoked cigarettes were consumed. In the end, however, the team produced a miracle.
It wasn’t a pretty miracle. The 2007 “R35” GT-R was nasty, brutish and blunt. At 1,740kg, it was nearly 200kg heavier than both the “R34” GT-R and the 911 Turbo, and despite the road-crushing weight, the ride was still stiff. Despite all this, it achieved one important metric: a 7:27 lap around the Nurburgring. An astounding time considering the “mere” 470hp. This feat started a flurry of “record-breaking” time attacks from manufacturers as diverse as Dodge and Koenigsegg. Porsche responded, petulantly, by testing a GT-R, “proving” it couldn’t lap that fast. Nissan offered, cheekily, to provide free training for Porsche’s oddly slow racing drivers. The controversy, several years on, remains unsettled.
This is the GT-R in a nutshell. The ultimate automotive troll. Baiting more expensive supercars with physics-defying performance. The seven-speed dual clutch allows the standard car to hit 100km/h in under 3.4 seconds. The high-end “Nismo” variant does the deed in 2.7 gut-wrenching, kidney-dislocating seconds, while slicing 20 seconds off the original Nurburgring lap record. And true to its tuner-car roots, it possesses amazing potential, with some tuners extracting up to 2,000hp from the hand-built twin-turbo V6.
Unlike other cars in this series, you can buy the GT-R brand-new. For half the price of a Porsche 911 Turbo, Nissan will sell you a 560hp, seven-speed dual-clutch miracle of modern engineering. And despite complaints about the car “driving itself,” it is a raw and brutal thing. Taut, grippy, instantly responsive to steering, accelerator and brakes.
Unlike other supercars, it relishes being hurled bodily into corners rather than gently tipped into them. But this savage brute comes with cornering limits so high that when it finally steps out of line, you have a mere split-second to kiss your ass goodbye. Right before the computerized all-wheel drive tidies things up and catapults you down the road.
What did I say about trolling?
CAR MODEL: Nissan GT-R
YEARS MANUFACTURED: 2007 to present
ENGINE: 3.8-liter DOHC twin-turbo V6
POWER AND TORQUE: 560hp and 633Nm
LEGACY: Video-game demigod. Internet legend. The car that kicked off the hypercar wars is just as ridiculously awesome today as it was when it first debuted.