Nissan had much to be proud of both on and off the track. Beginning in 1989 up until 2002, it produced three generations of its Skyline GT-R, the R32, R33, and R34. All wonderful. All instant classics. All pure Japanese madness. But here’s the thing: they were, essentially, the same car built on the same platform, with the same high-tech (for its time) all-wheel-drive system, and powered by the same engine. Everything that was stunningly awesome for 1989 had been used to its full potential by the end of the R34's life.
And that was just fine. In the best spirit of the Porsche 911, Nissan’s crack team engineers and designers evolved and refined the Skyline GT-R to a finely polished rare gem stone.
But all good things must come to an end (mainly because some of that technology was simply out of date) and the opportunity to start afresh was fully taken advantage of. The R35 GT-R, let’s just call it the GT-R from here on because, well, that’s what it’s officially called, had its debut in 2007 at, of course, the Tokyo Motor Show. Six years prior, it appeared in concept form at the same venue. A second concept was shown in 2005 and it far more closely resembled the final car. From the moment one looked at the production-spec GT-R, it was blatantly clear this thing was a far cry from its predecessors in terms of attitude. Its design was far edgier and more aggressive.
Unlike the R32-34, this GT-R has its own unique platform; it’s not shared with any other model in the entire Nissan lineup. And this is very important to understand. Reason being is that Nissan opted to split the Skyline and GT-R names. The Skyline became a rebadged version of the Infiniti G35 for the Japanese market, sharing a platform with the Nissan 350Z. So basically, the Skyline nameplate went full circle and by returning to its luxury sedan origins that began back in 1957. But back to the GT-R. Everyone knew it was insane from the start, whole heartedly deserving its Godzilla nickname as well as the GT-R nameplate itself.
Powered by a new handbuilt 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 with a cast aluminum block and plasma-sprayed cylinder liner bores, it had a total of 478 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque sent to all four wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. In essence, the new GT-R was very much a supercar killer. Why’s that? Well, it originally carried a base price of just under $80,000 and had a top speed of 195 mph. 0-60 mph took only 3.3 seconds if launch control was activated. Those were staggering numbers for 2008. Motor Trend wrote that "the GT-R puts Nissan on a map that that thus far only designated Maranello, Sant’Agata, Munich, and Stuttgart as points of interest...In the kingdom of supercars, the GT-R positively belongs."
For example, MT clocked the GT-R’s 0-60 time (3.3 seconds, as previously mentioned) as being faster than the BMW M6, Porsche 911 GT2, Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560, and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. The GT-R matched the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano and the Corvette ZR1. It smacked the quarter-mile with a time of 11.5 seconds at 121 mph – faster than both the M6 and SLR. It did all of the above and still managed to achieve 16/21 mpg city/highway. Nissan also went to great lengths to make sure the GT-R was a track animal as well, with over 3,100 miles of heavy Nurburgring testing. At the time of launch, the GT-R’s best lap time there was 7:29, better than the 911 GT2 and Corvette Z06.
Additional high-speed testing was performed on the Autobahn. With that price point, performance figures, fuel economy, and unique factor earned the GT-R MT’s Car of the Year award for 2009. Because that’s what a supercar killer does. So, how did Nissan manage all of that? A number of ways, among them its "Independent Transaxle 4WD" system. The GT-R was the world’s first production car to feature a rear-mounted transaxle along with two independent propeller shafts. This enabled each axle to control tire grip without any manipulation from the other. Nissan, impressively so, managed to further evolve that ATTESA E-TS AWD system.
In the new car, it was capable of delivering up to 50 percent of torque to the front wheels. Once again, feedback taken from sensors that measure speed, tire slip, yaw rate, and steering angle was utilized. The GT-R was further equipped with Bilstein DampTronic monotube shocks that are capable of gauging 11 elements such as vehicle speed, steering angle, lateral acceleration, engine rpm, brake oil pressure, and ABS response. And with all of that speed and performance, the GT-R had to stop somehow, but not just any brakes would do. Nissan went with a Brembo brake system with 15-inch ventilated and drilled steel rotors with diamond-shaped inner ribs for improved cooling.
The Monoblock calipers incorporate racing-style three-bolt structures that generate vigorous stopping force and avoid caliper distortion. Regarding the GT-R’s exterior styling, it was unmistakably Japanese at its best. Some naysayers thought it looked more like an electric hand-held shaving razor. Others felt it belong solely in the virtual reality world of video games. But the styling did grow on many and today it’s become iconic. Designers even managed to fit in historical GT-R styling cues such as that edgy box shape of the 1969 GT-R, the four round taillights of the ’73 GT-R and, more recently, that massive front grille look from the R34. Significant attention was also given to the interior and overall driver comfort.
For example, the GT-R had the best seat adjustment of any other supercar at the time and the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes at 2.4-inches. As was done with the R34, the GT-R featured an in-dash multifunctional display, designed by the creators of the Gran Turismo video games. Now, all of the performance specs and tech details you’ve just read date back a few years; the GT-R is still very much in production today. Literally every production year, it’s been updated, whether it was slight changes to exterior styling, or the many special editions, like the SpecV, Black Edition, and Nismo. The latter, however, is priced at nearly $150,000 – almost 50% more than what the GT-R cost originally. Nissan had no problem finding buyers.
After eight model years, the GT-R is still going strong and can more than hold its own against competitors. But at some point in the not too distant feature the GT-R will be discontinued. Nissan remains mostly mum on what its replacement will be like, only acknowledging that the GT-R legacy will in no way end. Could we see an all-electric GT-R come around 2020? Anything’s possible. Considering the GT-R’s origins can be traced back to a late 50s era sedan that wasn’t even built by Nissan itself is pretty remarkable. From the first Skyline GT-Rs, to the R32, R33, R34, and today’s GT-R, Nissan has created, evolved, and pushed the boundaries every step of the way. We can’t wait to see what happens next.