History of the Nissan Skyline GT-Rs at NYIAS
2017 Nissan Skyline GT-RIn case you hadn't heard, Godzilla invaded New York this week. To coincide with the debut of the 2017 Nissan GT-R at the New York Auto Show, the Yokohama-based automaker united every generation of its legendary GT-R in an epic display of performance and heritage.
Prior to going on sale in the US in 2008, the GT-R was unavailable to American buyers. However, as they say, its reputation preceded it. The legend of an all-conquering car from the Land of the Rising Sun had traveled across the Pacific, but our only choice was to look on longingly from afar in photos, or pixels in the racing sims like Gran Turismo.
As far as we know, this was the first time all six generations of GT-R have been displayed at a a major international motor show that wasn't in Japan. It was a rare opportunity to view these cars, some of them exceedingly rare, up close. Let's take a chronological look at the evolution of Godzilla.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (C10)The first GT-R debuted in 1969 as an offshoot of the Nissan's humble Skyline sedan. Yes, the first GT-R was a four-door, but it was a four-door with a monster of an engine. It was a high-revving straight-six with twin overhead cams, triple carbs and four valves per cylinder. This combo was capable of 150 to 160 horsepower at the time (estimates at the time were not an exact science) in street tune, and 230 to 250 in race tune.
Its boxy appearance earned it the nickname hakosuka (hako means "box" in Japanese, suka is the Japanese pronunciation of the "sk" in Skyline) among aficionados. In 1971 Nissan released a sexy two-door version, like the one displayed on the floor of the Javitz Center. There are only six or seven genuine hakosuka GT-Rs known to exist in the country, but there are many clones.
It's important to note that while the Hakosuka was the first GT-R, it was not the first Skyline. That model itself dates back to the 1950s and the Prince Motor Company, which merged with Nissan in the mid-60s.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (C110)The hakosuka Skyline GT-R dominated Japanese touring car races of its era and became a legend in its own time. When the next generation of Skyline debuted at the 1972 Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan showed it in full racing guise, widened and lowered on gold Watanabe racing wheels.
However, just before Nissan could take it to the track, stricter emissions standards and the 1973 oil embargo forced the company to curb their racing program. As a result, the second-gen GT-R never actually raced and only 197 homologated street versions were built, powered by the same motor as the Hakosuka, making it the rarest of the GT-R line.
This generation earned the nickname of kenmeri as a result of a series of commercials that featured actors paying a young, road trip-loving couple named Ken and Mary. The beautifully shot spots of them touring Japan in their Skyline was as popular in Japan as the "See the USA in your Chevrolet" ads were in the US. It made the Skyline a household name in Japan.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)After the Kenmeri, another Skyline GT-R would not appear until 1989. Known as the R32, based on Nissan's chassis code for the model, this Skyline should be familiar to anyone that's ever held a PlayStation controller. Whereas previous generations of GT-R had been rear-wheel-drive, a decade and a half of technology added not not only all-wheel-drive to the recipe, but four-wheel-steering and turbocharging.
This was the generation that popularized the Godzilla nickname in the west. A technological tour de force that could challenge the best supercars of the era, the R32 GT-R had the famed RB26 twin-turbo inline-six residing under a nondescript hood. On paper, output was rated at 276 horsepower, the result of a "gentleman's agreement" between Japan's automakers. However, when actually run on a dyno, figures well above 310 horsepower were routinely measured.
The RB family of motors had tremendous tuning potential, and soon Japan's thriving aftermarket began extracting four-figure horsepower numbers from the R32. Famously, Nissan sent the R32 GT-R into battle in Japan's Group A touring car championships again, where the car won every single race over the four years it competed.
The R32 just turned 25 last year, making them eligible for US import. Immediately, examples began crossing US borders causing a spike in prices in Japan.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R33)The following generation built upon the R32's successes and debuted in 1995. While many GT-R watchers bemoan the larger size and increased mass of the R33, this was the generation that laid down a blistering lap record on the Nurburgring Nordschleife long before every automaker and their mother was comparing 'Ring times. At 7:59, it became the first production car to break the 8-minute barrier.
Nissan gave it several mechanical tweaks, including increased boost from its turbocharger and an upgrade of its engine management computer, but the official output still stood at 276 horses. According to GT-R enthusiasts, a few minor changes like a freer flowing intake and exhaust can easily bump that number to nearly 400.
In addition, bigger brakes, an optional active LSD and improved weight distribution made for a quicker car overall, despite the 200-plus extra pounds.
It should be mentioned that for decades, the R33 was the only Skyline GT-R legal for US import, thanks to a California-based tuning company that federally certified it. Sadly, a mishandled certification process of R32s and R34s led to many of those models being seized by federal agents.
Nissan Skyline GT-R M-Spec Nür (R34)1999 saw the launch of the R34, what would become the final Skyline GT-R. Nissan listened to customers that thought the R33 was too large and reduced its overall size. Due to chiseled, brutish styling it had an ever stronger road presence.
Again, horsepower figures were stated at 276 despite even more improvements to the engine, but dyno runs have rated it as high as 340 horsepower at the wheels. The R34 was made popular by its repeated victories in the JGTC, another Japanese touring car race series that saw the GT-R win the overall championship two consecutive years.
The particular car shown in New York, however, is no mere R34 Skyline GT-R. It's a unicorn Skyline GT-R M-Spec Nur. Adding unique suspension settings, leather upholstery and modified aero bodywork to the standard Skyline GT-Rs, the M-Spec trim level is a rarely seen trim level. Moreover, the Nur edition cars were part of a final run of 1,000 built at the end of the R34's production run. Many different numbers for M-Spec Nurs are quoted, but going by VINs in a GT-R registry there are 285 known to exist.
Nissan GT-R (R35)The Skyline GT-R name ended when the R34 came to the end of production in 2002. In fact, the GT-R name took a hiatus altogether, and it wasn't until late 2007 that the storied badge would make a comeback.
It was decided early on that the new car would be, for the first time, available outside of Japan. Along with a global reach, however, the Skyline part of the name would be dropped, as the new model would become a bespoke, standalone chassis. Skylines are still produced in Japan (we know them as the Infiniti Q50 and Q60), but the GT-R is no longer a modified Skyline.
Additionally, the new car would be powered by a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 and a dual-clutch transmission, a break from the inline-sixes and stickshifts that had motivated the Skyline GT-Rs since birth. With the gentleman's agreement long gone, Nissan was able to announce its 480 horsepower right from the start. But in the nearly 10 years since its debut, Nissan never allowed GT-R engineers to go on unchallenged. Every couple of years more power would be squeezed: 485, 530, 545, and now 565 with the 2017 model.
The camouflaged car at the Nissan booth was in fact the very car Nissan used to once again shatter the production car lap record at the Nurburgring. The 600-horsepower 2014 NISMO edition clocked in on September 30, 2013 at 7:08.69.
Through its life, the GT-R has always been not only Nissan's halo car, but all of Japan's. For most non-Japanese, Nissan's display was the only opportunity to see every generation of GT-R together. Sadly, the cars will not be displayed during the public days of the New York Auto Show, which is why we felt it was important to take a closer look at them here.
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