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A Look Back at the Nissan GT-R


While the Nissan GT-R may be relatively new to us, the car’s notoriety has been celebrated worldwide for decades. First sold in Japan as the Skyline GT-R, Nissan’s high-performance legend has been a favorite on the track, on the street and even in popular video games.

Let’s take a look back at the GT-R’s origins and see how this powerhouse of Japanese automotive engineering found a place in the hearts of U.S. auto sports enthusiasts.

Japan Unleashes the Dragon 

The first Skyline GT-R made its Japanese debut in 1969. It was a performance champion powered by a 2-liter, 16-valve engine capable of 160 horsepower at 1,700 revolutions per minute. A 5-speed manual transmission delivered power to the rear wheels. Admittedly, one could find all these statistics on the most basic economy car today, but in 1969, the GT-R was a big deal, especially in Japan.

Nissan launched the second-generation Skyline GT-R in 1973, just as the worldwide gas crisis and economic downturn had begun. The car was short-lived, and Nissan pulled the plug in 1974.

Out From the Ashes

The GT-R name lay dormant until Nissan revived it in 1989, building a new Skyline GT-R designated the R32. Now hoping to dominate Group A racing, Nissan produced a vehicle with a twin-turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive and an advanced traction-control system dubbed Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain, or ATTESA for short. Although the racing version produced 600 hp, the production model was a bit tamer, generating 276 hp from its 2.6-liter engine. Numerous independent dynamometer tests, however, found the GT-R’s output closer to 320 hp.

From 1990 through 1994, various incarnations of the GT-R arrived, most of them low-volume cars developed with Japanese N1 racing in their sights. The racing versions of the GT-R blew the competition out of the water, winning all the Japanese Touring Car Championships, as well as races in Europe and Australia. By the end of 1991, the automotive press had given the Skyline GT-R its own affectionate nickname: Godzilla.

Sporting Prowess

Nissan released the fourth-generation R33 car in 1995. This model used the same engine as the previous generation but saw changes to styling and suspension and an improved transmission. Throughout this run, a number of special-edition models were introduced, including the NISMO editions released to celebrate Nissan’s performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The 1995 GT-R was also the first production car to break the 8-minute-lap time barrier at Germany’s famed Nurburgring racetrack.

The fifth-generation Skyline GT-R R34 ran from 1999 to 2002 and marked a noticeable departure from previous GT-Rs. The twin turbos and all-wheel drive were still there, but a new 5-inch LCD display screen provided readouts for engine temperature, turbo boost and other real-time data.

In 2002, Nissan closed the books on the Skyline GT-R, but the auto brand wasn’t quite finished with the GT-R name.

Coming to America

After years of Nissan enthusiasts screaming for the Skyline GT-R to be exported to the United States, the automaker finally answered the call. In 2008, the brand introduced the GT-R to the American audience.

Dropping the Skyline name, the GT-R became its own model. Introduced at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, the GT-R R35 was a multinational effort, with contributions from Nissan designers in Europe, Japan and the U.S.

In a break from tradition, the new GT-R was powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 (as opposed to an inline six) and dropped the manual transmission in favor of a new dual-clutch automatic. Actual power production figures put the GT-R’s output at 473 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque. An eye-popping $70,000 price tag accompanied the new car, but many dealers were flooded with customers offering to pay far more.

In its first year of production, the Nissan GT-R shattered the Nurburgring production-car lap record, turning in a time of 7:08.68. To this day, that run earns the GT-R the fifth-fastest lap time, putting the Japanese speedster among such specialty cars as the Porsche 918 Spyder and the Radical SR8LM.

Recent Years’ Updates

In 2009, power production jumped to 480 hp, and 2010 saw it increased again to 485 hp. The GT-R was able to sprint to 60 miles per hour in under 4 seconds, making it one of the world’s fastest production cars under $100,000.

The 2011 model saw mostly cosmetic and creature-comfort upgrades. In 2012, the GT-R’s output soared to 530 hp and 448 lb-ft of torque. Nissan also offered a limited-run Black Edition featuring unique seat trim, interior colors and wheels. In 2013, power again jumped to 545 hp and 463 lb-ft of torque. The cost of ownership also increased, with prices now at $96,820 for the base car and just over $106,000 for the Black Edition.

The 2014 GT-R brought some major changes, including the addition of a special Track Edition that removed the rear seat and added a specially tuned suspension, unique brake-cooling guides and a carbon-fiber front spoiler. Nissan held production to a 150-car run.

In 2015, the GT-R’s output reached 600 hp in the new NISMO edition, which also carried a whopping $150,000 price tag. The 2016 model carried over most of the outgoing edition’s features with some minor cosmetic and trim changes, setting the stage for the arrival of the significantly overhauled 2017 GT-R.

Suffice it to say, we can’t wait to see what the latest model year will bring.

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Joe Tralongo
Joe Tralongo is a longtime contributor who started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2002 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He’s well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to translate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations. Joe has worked for a number of outlets as... Read More about Joe Tralongo

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