‘An ultimate supercar for anyone, anywhere, at any time.’ That, back in October 2007, was how Nissan described the then-new R35 generation of GT-R when it was unveiled in Tokyo.
It was a bold statement but Nissan could back it up. Just one month earlier, at the Nürburgring, a GT-R had stormed around the circuit in seven minutes and 38 seconds – outpacing highly regarded and far more expensive machines such as the Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640.
This striking performance was in part thanks to the GT-R’s twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6, which produced 473bhp. It was easily controlled and deployed power as suggested, too, as a battery of hardware – including all-wheel drive, electronically adjustable suspension and a dual-clutch transmission – kept the big Nissan in check.
Remarkably, almost twelve years later, the hard-hitting R35 GT-R is still going strong. A series of upgrades have helped keep it fresh, including a gradual ramp up to a peak of 592bhp, and nowadays it slingshots from its way from 0-62mph in less than three seconds.
Consequently, despite its advancing age, the GT-R is still capable of making any supercar owner have second thoughts about taking it on – a trait that’s long been part of the GT-R bloodline. In fact, as the recent launch of the 50th-anniversary edition GT-R suggests, the nameplate has been adorning giant-slaying cars for half a century now.
The tale of these high-performance Nissans began even earlier than that, however, and with a car that didn’t even bear that manufacturer’s name.
THE HUMBLE ORIGINS OF THE GT-R
In 1957, the Japanese manufacturer Prince Motor Company began building a new car called the Skyline. It was offered in both saloon and estate body styles, featured a 1.5-litre engine and had just 59bhp at its disposal. While it wouldn’t set many pulses racing today, it was a quick car by Japanese standards of the time and benefitted from highlights such as double-wishbone front suspension.
The Skyline, as with many cars of the era, evolved rapidly and quickly became a more sharply styled and purposeful affair; the company knew that motorsports success was key, both for developmental and popularity reasons, and in the same year a variant was entered in the inaugural 1963 Japanese Grand Prix – and finished seventh.
Prince came back in earnest for the second Grand Prix and campaigned a fleet of new and uprated Skyline GTs. These straight-six racers, on their way to securing second through to sixth place in 1964, put up a tremendous and captivating fight against the Porsche 904; demand for the underdog swelled and the popularity of the Skyline range grew.
In 1966, Prince was merged with Nissan – but the Skyline name didn’t go to waste and new versions continued to be developed. Motorsports remained a core focus, too, and Nissan drew upon much of Prince’s expertise to put together a new car to continue its on-track antics.
The result, and the first car to bear the GT-R badge, did not disappoint. The Skyline 2000 GT-R, a 1,120kg four-door saloon launched in February 1969, packed a 158bhp 2.0-litre straight-six engine. Just three months later, it took its first victory at its debut race. By October 1972, when Nissan finally withdrew the car, a staggering total of 52 victories had been claimed.
Suffice it to say that the GT-R brand was now a respected and desirable one, but it was not to last. In 1973, a new fourth-generation Skyline 2000 GT-R arrived; not many were built and the fuel crisis, and ever-tightening emissions regulations, led to the GT-R being sidelined for 16 years.
A LEGEND RETURNS – AND REMAINS
Subsequent Skylines proved less popular and, during the Eighties, Nissan realised the GT-R had been the lynchpin of its range – with the trickle-down effect of motorsports success and popularity bolstering both the Skyline’s image and Nissan’s own.
A new GT-R was swiftly developed and, in August 1989, the R32 generation of Skyline GT-R was revealed. This car, as was the case with the first 2000 GT-R, proved to be a quantum leap. It featured a twin-turbocharged 2.6-litre engine, electronically controlled all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and the ability to sprint from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds.
It promptly rekindled the GT-R name with aplomb and dominated racing events worldwide – with its persistent success in the Australian Group A touring car championship resulting in it being dubbed ‘Godzilla’, a nickname which would stick.
The subsequent R33, R34 and R35 GT-Rs continued to build on the reputation established by their predecessors, while their prominence in myriad games and films further bolstered their fanbase and reputation. The story’s not finished yet, either; an R36 GT-R is in the works, which Nissan claims will be ‘the fastest super sports car in the world.’
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