Japanese automakers are notoriously tightlipped about future products, but the veil of secrecy over the next-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R has been nothing short of amazing. Thus, at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, there was a huge air of expectancy and a real buzz on the Nissan stand prior to the introduction of the Nissan GT-R Proto. In Japan, the Skyline is gearhead manna, so the car had been written about, talked about, and fantasized about for months leading up to the show.
The Proto didn't disappoint. Although hardly a car at all-there is no running gear and no interior-it is the second big clue as to what the upcoming, 2008 model Skyline will look like, following the GT-R Concept that was seen at the same show four years ago. The Proto packs real power and presence while still managing to be quintessentially and unmistakably Japanese.
The muscular front end with its massive center air intake and set of broad front fenders is very techno, very cool, and redolent of the earlier concept. The sculptured, heavy-duty body sides that bulk up toward the rear are also evolutions of the GT-R Concept, but designer Hiroshi Hasegawa (who did the Infiniti G35 sedan and coupe) has produced a new sloping roofline and an unusual kinked C-pillar. The four round taillights are a traditional Skyline design cue. Shiro Nakamura, Nissan's design chief, says that the shape is 80 to 90 percent of what will make it into production. The Proto has its own signature style, but it's one that's governed by exhaustive aerodynamic studies. This, after all, is a performance icon.
The show car rides on 255/40R-20 Bridgestone tires up front, with 285/35R-20s at the rear. It looks bigger and broader than the R34 Skyline GT-R, the last of the straight-six-powered, twin-turbo four-wheel-drive GT-Rs made between 1989 and 2002. Although the R34 fueled the modern GT-R cult, it was derived, like all Skylines, from a sedan. The new GT-R will be the first to stand alone as a model in its own right.
It will also be the first time that Nissan has officially imported the Skyline into the United States, so the company needs the car to live up to the hype that has been built around it. The Skyline GT-R, as well as being a star of video games, was hugely successful in racing and was a one-time holder of the Nrburgring Nordschleife lap record for production cars, a feat which has become a sort of holy grail for performance-car manufacturers.
As to what will underpin the macho sheetmetal, no one at Nissan is telling-at least for the time being. One of the select few who knows is Carlos Tavares, Nissan's Portuguese product chief who came from Renault and is now overseeing the plans for the next wave of Nissan/Infiniti products. Security is so tight on this project that the new GT-R is being developed in a special cordoned-off area at Nissan's Technical Center in Atsugi. Even well-connected insiders say they're kept out of the loop. "Very few people know the cubic capacity of the engine," says Tavares, "but it's just because we want to let people express their ideas. If the chief engineer comes to us tomorrow and says, 'Well, I want to do this or this,' we would restrain his room for maneuvering if we announced things beforehand."
Sitting in his Ginza, Tokyo, office, Tavares explains why Nissan has ten such an inordinately long time to develop this car (some six years). "We want to make sure [the end result] is going to be very efficient. Our mindset is to create a success that will last and be consistent with the GT-R story. When you are looking at extreme performance, you can more easily make mistakes. So we want to go step by step. We don't want to promise things we will not be able to deliver." He also reveals that the target is to produce a car that will rival the speed and driver appeal of the Porsche 911 Turbo without any on-limit trickiness.
To that end, the rumor mill in Japan says that the production GT-R will have a front-mounted, twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-6 engine that's a development of the 350Z's unit. Nissan's original plan to do a V-8 has been axed because the engine is too big and heavy to provide the dynamic balance the engineers want. The V-6 will reputedly produce 450 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque. The power will be sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed transmission. The all-wheel-drive system will feature a development of the GT-R's famed, torque-sensing, electronic ATTESA E-TS, matched to four-wheel steering.
We've heard that the 2008 GT-R will be an inch shorter, an inch lower, and three inches wider than today's G35 coupe, thus putting a much broader footprint on the road. One reason for this latest GT-R taking so long to reach fruition has been the decision to base the car off a totally new platform, likely the successor to the FM platform that underpins the Nissan 350Z and the Infiniti G35 and FX35/45. Nissan is apparently aiming for a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.8 seconds, with a top speed north of 180 mph.
Straightline performance isn't the defining feature of the upcoming Skyline, though, according to Tavares. GT-R mules-G35 coupes with bulging bodywork and odd proportions-have regularly been spotted lapping the Nrburgring. "One thing I can tell you," says Tavares, "is that one of the standards we use is time. Our targets will be expressed mainly as time targets on reference circuits." And, yes, the 'Ring is one of those reference tracks.
The R33 Skyline GT-R was credited with setting a production-car lap record, breaking the eight-minute barrier, back in 1995, so Nissan would now be looking at a time of around seven minutes. "Well, you don't expect us to be worse than the previous one, do you?" asks Tavares, deadpan. "We will be very competitive. If we are not, we will do it again." To illustrate how passionate his team is, Tavares relates that when he asked some questions about the car recently, the chief engineer pulled out his laptop to show him the 240 parameters that are being measured during Nrburgring testing.
Ironically, the new GT-R will mark the beginning of a new Japanese supercar race. Honda has let on that it is planning a V-10-engined replacement for the NSX, and Lexus is contemplating production of the edgy, V-10-powered LF-A coupe. Against these, the GT-R may end up suffering from cylinder envy.
One thing is for sure, though. The GT-R is going to look great, and Nissan is confident that it will be a rival to the Porsche 911 Turbo, for the same sort of money as a Porsche 911 Carrera. There's some debate inside the company whether it will be called a Nissan-which makes sense, bearing in mind the heritage-or an Infiniti, which also has merit, in light of this being the most expensive car Nissan will have sold in America. Whatever it's called, we reckon that, if it has the kind of searing performance and soul of the last generation, it will be worth its rumored $70,000 or so asking price.