Nissan GT-R back under wraps

Officially, the launch of the new Nissan GT-R is slated for mid-to-late 2007 and the MY2008 year production version should look very close to this. “Eighty to 90 percent close to production,” said Nissan Design Director Shiro Nakamura. What the model’s full official name will be is uncertain along with the price. First shown as the GT-R Concept at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, and again in 2003 and, most recently, in last year’s 39th Tokyo automotive galas in near-production “GT-R PROTO” form, the dirt on this car is being guarded closely these days. In fact, Nissan seems to have a zip-your-lips policy in effect for the GT-R.

It’s not the first time Nissan has tiptoed around the Skyline GT-R legend though. Up until the release of its 1989 Nissan Skyline GT-R, the concept was referred to as the GT-X by Shurei Ito, then manager of the Skyline Development Team. Having succeeded his mentor Shinichiro Sakurai, Skyline GT’s first chief engineer, after he fell ill, Ito realized the GT-R badge had developed a deeply loyal following within Nissan itself. Like the successful, original ’69 GT-Rs that won 49 straight races and surpassed 50 wins in the first three years. Ito’s goal was to make his new Skyline the ultimate touring car capable of dominating any Group A entry, not distract the workers and invite speculation.

It turned out to be a great strategy and the ’89 GT-R–codenamed the R32–returned with a vengeance sporting four-wheel drive ATTESA ET-S* and Nissan’s twin turbo 2.6-liter in-line six with 24 valves and DOHC that produces an intercooled 276 hp @ 6,800 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. The powerful RB26DETT engine’s potential was immediately realized with 1-2 finishes in the GT-R’s return to touring car racing in the All Japan Touring Car Championship. Race-prepped versions of these eighth-gen GT-Rs went on to achieve victory in 29 straight races from 1990 to 1993 resulting in four consecutive championships. The following ninth-gen (’95-’98) R33 and 10th generation (’99-’02) R34 models were even more competitive.

The final Japan-only 2002 Skyline GT-R M Spec Nur and V Spec II models was Nissan’s salute to its followers with a limited run of 1,000 cars boasting substantial N1-class engine upgrades that sold out faster than Rolling Stones concert tickets. In 2005, Nismo offered the Nissan Nismo Skyline GT-R Z-Tune, a highly exclusive series of 20 pre-owned GT-Rs that have been stripped down and rebuilt from the ground up with the legendary RB26 modified to Nismo’s intense Z2 specifications. Numerous racy upgrades earned the Nissan Nismo Skyline GT-R Z-tune a stiff $170,000 price tag.

Driving home the GT-R’s supercar status is its persistent ability to overachieve. Much like the Lambo-Ferrari rivalry, the GT-R’s driving force is that it must always be one, two or three steps ahead of the competition. The 1989 GT-R was Nissan’s answer to several race defeats to what they considered inferior opponents in the Ford Sierra RS, Corolla, Civic and Volvo 240 Turbo models. Direct competition for the subsequent R33 and 34 Skylines include the BMW M3, Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra TT, Porsche 911, WRX STi and Evo 8. Not to mention, they’re well capable of taking down a Gallardo or Corvette.

The GT-R PROTO pictured remains true to all the GT-R legends preceding it, but there are two major differences with this 11th generation GT-R that previous versions. Except for the fact Infiniti has been selling the G35 coupe and sedan in Japan and calling them Skylines for years, the long-awaited GT-R supercar will for the first time in its history have its own unique body style, one not derived from a sedan. Even more striking is the fact the new GT-R will be a left-hand driver sold globally.

For power, sources are saying a 3.5 or 3.8-liter twin turbo V6 is the most likely candidate(s) with output expectations well over 450 hp. While twin snails will be great, the lack of a V8 as standard or optional may cause some suitors to lose interest. On the other hand, it may begin a new chapter in Nissan V8 swaps. All previous Skyline GT-Rs were capable of producing over 550 hp (Nismo Z-tune is in this ball park) with no modifications to the original RB26 engine block or head and some ECU tuning. In the hands of accomplished tuners there have been many examples of 900-plus hp GT-Rs.

Besides finding an alternative to carbon fiber, the large R34-like front bumper scoop is unlikely to change much, holding the emotional connection; but, different head and tail light combinations will be necessary to meet differing regional regulations. Emissions-related equipment will also be under scrutiny, but a 19- or 20-inch wheel and tire package won’t be out of the question. Although some of the car’s sharp lines could be easily de-emphasized, it’s unreasonable to suggest the GT-R will look any less athletic than it does now with wide flared fenders and telltale Skyline rear. The rear carbon diffuser likely won’t remain, however, this and parts like it could be custom ordered separately or appear in accessory upgrade packages.

If it were my call, I’d make that twin turbo V8 a reality with at least 600 hp on tap from a six- or seven-speed manual. I could see it coming in at $60-65K USD; but, with the V8 powered Toyota Supra revival and possible Lexus IS 500 coming, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and Subaru STI, all priced around $50K, the production GT-R could be in for a bumpy return. BMW’s class-leading M3 is priced similarly; and, were the Mazda Kabura and rotary engine hybrid concepts to come together and (finally) create a right and proper successor for the RX-7, the GT-R will have to face one of its toughest challenges to date. Will the GT-R have what it takes to rise up against several Japanese auto makers engaging in their own, developing modern muscle war?

[ATTESSA ET-S: Electronically-controlled active-split four-wheel drive system (based on FR) that continuously varies the torque allocation between the front and rear wheels in the range of 0.100-50:50]