It will soon be four years since production of the Nissan R34 Skyline GT-R ceased. That's an awfully long time for a manufacturer to wait before replacing what is without doubt the pivotal model of its line-up. The Skyline GT-R has always been a strong image builder for Nissan. For years this car has been basking in a semi-legendary state and bringing priceless kudos to the Japanese manufacturer - thanks to unrivalled successes both on and off the track. It has also proven to be one of the most sought after sports cars in the whole aftermarket tuning scene - feeling right at home on the drag strip, on street courses and, of course, as a show car. So why has Nissan delayed the next generation GT-R for so long? That question is one the Nissan PR folks love to circle around.
The fact is that this car is extremely important for Nissan, and they are making sure it is perfect in every way. Back in 2001, when the GT-R Concept was shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan was right in the middle of a revival plan instituted by executive tough-man Carlos Ghosn. The whole GT-R project had to take a backseat until the Japanese manufacturer became profitable, but the word was out that a successor to the R34 was imminent. The 2003 Tokyo Motor Show came and went with only a small mention of the GT-R in Ghosn's press briefing. He promised that the GT-R would return at the 2005 Tokyo show, and so it did with the GT-R Proto - the prototype you see in these pages. Nissan and Infiniti executives in Tokyo were talking of an 80% to 90% final design, so the car you see in these pages is what the final production version will look like when it is finally - after a long and painful five-year-wait - unveiled at the 2006 Tokyo Motor Show.
We were invited to Nissan's Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan, to take a closer look at the GT-R Proto, and talk first hand with the man behind the show car's design: Hiroshi Hasegawa.
Looking at the "Proto", it's pretty easy to guess which 10% remains to be altered for the production version. As Mr. Hasegawa explains, the lights will be the main area that will need rethinking in order for the car to be feasible for production. In some cases functionality is stressed over design, so some changes will need to be made. There is heavy use of carbon fiber throughout the Proto's exterior detailing; however, as Hasegawa points out, carbon is very expensive - so expect only minor details to be adorned with the precious material on the production model.
Substantial wind-tunnel studies inform the sculpted lines of the GT-R Proto; and Hasegawa maintains this will remain the final car's main selling point. Zero front lift and substantial rear downforce will help the GT-R perform at high speeds. Unlike previous Skyline GT-Rs, the next generation model will feature a totally bespoke platform, which will mean a no-compromise, performance oriented product.
Some of the Japanese automotive media have reported the possible use of separate aluminum front and rear structures to cut down on weight, but Mr. Hasegawa declined to comment on this. Nor did he disclose any mechanical details of the car, which remain a closely guarded secret. Over the past months, this has given way to innumerable rumors based on speculations and educated guesses. There has been talk of a transaxle layout, an electronic drive for the front wheels, a seven-speed sequential transmission (maybe the same unit used on BMW's M5 and M6), electronically assisted turbochargers - the list goes on and on. And what about the engine? At this question, I get a smirk from both Hasegawa and the PR people. Will it be a V6 or a V8? Apparently this is yet to be decided; and, as reports in the Japanese press suggest, Nissan is still testing different configurations. One of the latest rumors to crop up is a possible 3.8-liter V6 twin-turbo, an assumption based on the latest news that Nissan's new crop of V6 engines will be stroked from their current 3.5-liter up to 3.7-liter. But don't read too much into this, as any guess is as good as the next until official information is released.
The new GT-R, which will probably no longer use the "Skyline" name, will have a tough job to do. Since the demise of the R34, things have changed considerably with cars like the new Porsche Turbo breaking old performance and technological barriers. Nissan should take into account the current crop of supercars that the GT-R will be judged against, and come up with a respectable performance car or else this long wait will have been in vain.