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.