Courtesy of Nissan

Living

The History of the Nissan GT-R Is as Mind-Blowing as Its Performance

There are few vehicles in the world that invoke the kind of mystique and intrigue of the Nissan GT-R. It’s an allure that draws people in as soon as they spot the Japanese sports car on the road, excited to actually see one in the flesh.

Of course, depending on your interest in automobiles, you might be more or less familiar with the GT-R’s legacy than others. But think of the Nissan coupe as you might think of Jay-Z: Even if you aren’t a fan of the 21-time Grammy-winning rapper, it’s hard to dispute the impact he’s had on music since the debut of Reasonable Doubt in 1996. 

It’s not exactly TMZ fodder, but it’s fair to say that the Nissan GT-R is just as highly regarded as the music legend, if not more, when it comes to high-performance cars. It’s a reputation that has earned the Japanese icon, also known as Godzilla, a fair share of its own awards over the years.

I was recently reminded of exactly what makes it so alluring after landing some wheel time in the 2018 GT-R Track Edition. Now, this wasn’t the first time I’d driven a GT-R. In fact, it’s actually my third time testing a model of the iconic sports car over the past six years or so. And yet, the allure seems to grow stronger with every minute you spend behind the wheel.

The special 565-horsepower GT-R Track Edition ups the experience with a slew of enhanced performance add-ons, drawn from the more exclusive Nissan GT-R NISMO, including the more limited model’s front fenders, massive 20-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels with NISMO-spec tires and dry carbon-fiber rear spoiler. But one of the most coveted NISMO carryovers is an additional adhesive bonding, which makes it feel like you’re driving on rails—literally—when cornering the car through turns.

I can only imagine what it’d feel like cornering the special GT-R edition around an actual track, free to really push the car to the limit. The Nissan supercar features three selectable suspension modes: Comfort, Normal and R, which Nissan notes is, “for circuit applications.” That certainly would explain why one of my Nissan contacts for my recent test run with the GT-R Track kept insisting that I might want to consider getting approval from the carmaker to take the car on the track.
The car’s handling is beyond mind-boggling, even in the most tightest of turns. And even at a starting price of roughly $128,000, that makes the GT-R Track Edition a steal when compared to some of its more exotic competitors, which can cost up to $200,000 or more.The interior of the GT-R Track Edition comes draped in a unique red and black color treatment with high-grip, motorsports-inspired Recaro seats, all in-line with the car’s authentic racing heritage that dates back to 1960s. The more track-focused model also sports the GT-R’s redesigned hood and matte chrome finish "V-motion" grille, one of Nissan's prominent design signatures, also featured on the GT-R Pure, Premium and GT-R NISMO.

But make no mistake about it: It’s the excitement of being behind the wheel of the famed Japanese sports car that leaves you mesmerized, which has long fueled the popularity of the GT-R.

Birthed out of the Nissan Skyline, the GT-R’s storied rise to stardom dates back more than 60 years. Ironically, the very first Nissan Skyline was actually a luxury sedan that debuted in 1957 under Japan’s Prince Motor Company. The first racing GT Skyline was introduced in 1964. But it wasn’t until 1989 that the true precursor to the GT-R would make its grand debut.

Known as the R32 Skyline, the then-280-horsepower sports coupe wasn’t sold in the States, but it quickly garnered a fan base among tuners in the U.S. Over the next 12 years, the track-inspired Japanese sports car saw a number of different iterations and was still only available in select Asian markets. The first GT-R arrived in the U.S. in 2008 and quickly garnered the respect of car fans outside the turner world by outperforming supercars nearly three times its cost.
Richard Plavetich, Director and General Manager of Nissan Design America, says the allure of the GT-R, which will celebrate its 50th Anniversary next year, is deeply rooted in its long legacy as a Japanese icon.“The GT-R is this mystical being that landed on our shores about 10 years ago,” says Plavetich. “For so many years, it was this forbidden fruit, part of the Japanese culture, that was only sold in Japan. And it came with supercar performance."

Sean Morris, who has had ties to the GT-R since the 1990s as a tuner and racer, attributes a lot of the car’s iconic appeal to its practicality as a supercar.

“They are an easy car to drive fast,” says Morris, who helped the GT-R land it first role in The Fast and the Furious. “From the first modern R32, to the latest R35, they can be quicker than most other cars, because they don't really scare you. It’s more than just the body style. It’s the drivetrain. It’s the upgrade potential. It’s beating twin turbo Lamborghinis with a Nissan. It’s six-second, all-wheel drive 1/4 miles. It’s 2,500 [potential] horsepower out of a V6 [engine].”
Some of that adrenaline-pumping legacy of which Morris speaks is on display at an upcoming exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum, entitled “The Roots of Monozukuri: Creative Spirit in Japanese Automaking.” The exhibit, which opened last month, features a 1973 Nissan Skyline 2000 GTX and highlights Japanese innovations in engineering and manufacturing.

“Some Americans still have this general perception that Japanese vehicles are just known for being functional and reliable,” explains Bryan Stevens, the Petersen Automotive Museum’s creative and exhibitions director. “We wanted to do something that went beyond that. We also wanted to show that the Japanese car culture has created a diverse number of vehicles and some quite exciting ones.”

The GT-R, says Stevens, has come to represent the epitome of the Japan’s exciting car culture. “The GT-R, over time, has achieved this iconic status that has just snowballed. That reputation has only spread and spread because Japan has produced a relatively small number of high-performance cars compared to Europe. It makes sense that a car like that would be so popular."
Plavetich says the Nissan GT-R will continue to build on its Japanese roots with even more innovations in the future.

“We’re are now in the sixth generation of the car—more power, more technology. Clearly, we’ll keep on moving the bar. The current vehicle started under 500 horsepower and we’re now at 600 horsepower. Technology is going to make the power and the dynamics of the car perform even better and safer.”

Related Topics

Living

Explore Categories

Explore Categories