THE EM­PIRE STRIKES BACK: NIS­SAN GT-R50

Pro­duced by Italde­sign and cost­ing $1.5 mil­lion, the GT-R50 puts the god in Godzilla

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS - BY MICHAEL TAY­LOR

THIS IS THE ul­ti­mate Nis­san GT-R, and a fit­ting cur­tain call for the bril­liant R35 series that has been around now for more than a decade. It is 530kW of mus­cle and re­fine­ment, a blend of Ja­panese prag­ma­tism and Ital­ian crafts­man­ship. And each of only 50 built will cost at least $1.5 mil­lion. For a Nis­san!

And how did all of this hap­pen? Well, stand by, be­cause this is go­ing to sound like the weird­est hy­per­car de­vel­op­ment process you’ve ever heard of.

For starters, Nis­san didn’t do any of that ex­tra en­gi­neer­ing. In fact, nei­ther did NISMO, Nis­san’s per­for­mance arm. Nis­san’s most out­ra­geous pro­duc­tion model ever didn’t even spring from a fer­tile mind in Ja­pan – bizarrely, it all came from the ever-fizzing minds of ItalDe­sign, the leg­endary de­sign house just out­side Turin in north­ern Italy.

The de­tails are pretty sketchy about all of this, be­cause the of­fi­cial back­story has been mixed in with too much sac­cha­rine to be cred­i­ble, but in­sid­ers tell the story like this, and it has enough el­e­ments of truth in it to be cred­i­ble: ItalDe­sign went to Nis­san and suggested it crank up a mil­lioneuro ver­sion of the GT-R be­cause both it and the GT-R were turn­ing 50.

ItalDe­sign might now be owned by Audi, but it is free to work wher­ever, and for whomever, it wants. And it has form here. The com­pany’s Di­rec­tor of Style is Felippo Perini, who was the de­sign boss at Lam­borgh­ini when it turned the $200,000 Mu­cielago into the mil­lion-euro Reven­ton, with just a bit of body­work and some new clus­ter di­als.

They know how this stuff works: take some­thing that’s al­ready built and al­ready fast, gen­er­ate hype (say, around the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed) then an­nounce that pub­lic in­ter­est has forced them into a high-cost, lim­ited-edi­tion run. Then, prob­a­bly, do the same thing again with a con­vert­ible.

The GT-R was a sure thing, ItalDe­sign in­sid­ers in­sist, be­cause it had al­ready been in pro­duc­tion for 11 years and it needed a last hur­rah. Nis­san had done plenty of GT-R spe­cials them­selves, in­clud­ing the SpecV, the Black Edi­tion, the GT-R NISMO and the GT-R NISMO N-At­tack, but for some rea­son they’d never con­sid­ered charg­ing 10 times as much as the stan­dard car for any of them. It took ItalDe­sign’s chutz­pah to do that.

Nis­san in­sists it did the styling (with Nis­san De­sign Europe do­ing the body and Nis­san De­sign Amer­ica the in­te­rior) and that ItalDe­sign did the en­gi­neer­ing work. Now, part of that is cred­i­ble, be­cause ItalDe­sign is geared up to do en­gi­neer­ing

work (it did the Audi Q2 from the ini­tial sketches all the way into pre-pro­duc­tion, for ex­am­ple). But did Nis­san really do the de­sign work? Com­puter sug­gests “no”.

Re­gard­less, it looks wicked, from ev­ery an­gle, and the pro­duc­tion cars will de­part from the grey-and-gold con­cept car (and the bright blue pro­duc­tion pro­to­type) to what­ever the hell the cus­tomer wants them to be.

And the base spec (it’s al­ways a base spec) can be turned into al­most any­thing a cus­tomer is will­ing to pay for, so no two GT-R50s will be the same. In fact, no two GT-R50s will be al­lowed to be the same. It’s like the GT-R50 equiv­a­lent of the first rule of Fight Club. If some­one claims your pre­ferred spec­i­fi­ca­tion first, well, bad luck, find an­other one.

“It’s a GT-R with­out lim­its,” Nis­san global de­sign chief Al­fonso Al­baisa said. Hard to dis­agree.

This car is in­stantly fa­mil­iar yet to­tally new, with ev­ery crease hint­ing at the stock GT-R but mov­ing the game for­ward ag­gres­sively, even bru­tally, right down to a roofline that’s more than 50mm lower. It boasts of its Sa­mu­rai blade be­hind the front wheels, but the lights are also new, the rear wing is now ad­justable by the driver, and it all rides on cus­tom 21-inch wheels and Miche­lin Pi­lot Su­per Sport tyres.

The pro­duc­tion car is not quite as faith­ful to the con­cept in­side, where the mo­tor­sport-de­rived Motec CDL3 screen gets turfed for a stan­dard GT-R unit, plus its in­fo­tain­ment screen.

The GT-R’s mighty 3.8-litre V6 gets GT3 rac­ing tur­bocharg­ers in­stead of the just plain wicked units on ei­ther side of the en­gine, but the en­gi­neer­ing ad­vance­ments haven’t stopped there. Well, they couldn’t stop there in the hunt for 530kW of power and 780Nm of torque, be­cause big­ger huf­fers only get you so far. The in­ter­cool­ers have been dras­ti­cally em­biggened, there are new pis­tons, a new camshaft, quicker-squirt­ing oil in­jec­tors, new pis­tons and a hard-core new crank­shaft.

After mak­ing the en­gine 90kW more pow­er­ful than the GT-R NISMO, ItalDe­sign needed to make me­chan­i­cal changes aft of the fly­wheel, lest it risk turn­ing their 50 hy­per­cars into road­side-fur­ni­ture mag­nets.

The brakes were the first things changed, with new six-pis­ton Brembo front calipers bit­ing 390mm com­pound drilled discs, and four-pis­ton Brem­bos down the back. A set of Dam­pTronic adap­tive dampers from Bil­stein (who clearly need help in their damper-nam­ing depart­ment; ap­ply now) con­trol the stiffer springs and anti-roll bars, the six-speed dual-clutch transaxle has been stiff­ened, and even the dif­fer­en­tials and drive­shafts have spent time in the gym.

But the real prob­lem fac­ing the GT-R50 is not the en­gi­neer­ing. The world of the low-vol­ume hy­per­car is pretty much like the world of com­edy: it’s all about the tim­ing. And Nis­san’s tim­ing may go down in his­tory as one of the car in­dus­try’s worst ever – and there have been a few to choose from. There was Jaguar, launch­ing the un­der­done XJ220 into the teeth of a global re­ces­sion. There was the McLaren F1, the car still held up as the gold stan­dard of hy­per­cars, whose sales pe­tered out to a trickle be­cause of the same re­ces­sion. The list goes on.

But the GT-R50’s tim­ing has been ap­palling for a whole dif­fer­ent rea­son. See, for all its power and fury, the GT-R50 is set to be­come the flag­ship of a car­maker em­broiled in one of the most out­ra­geous self-in­flicted cor­po­rate firestorms in au­to­mo­tive his­tory.

Re­cently dumped chair­man Car­los Ghosn lan­guishes in a Tokyo hold­ing cell, and Nis­san stands ac­cused of pick­ing a petu­lant fight with its ma­jor­ity owner, Re­nault, over be­ing told what to do. And it was all started by a CEO who was due to be fired by Ghosn but de­cided to get in first in the hope of stop­ping an ac­tual merger with Re­nault.

Nis­san is 43 per­cent owned by Re­nault (after be­ing bailed out

of bank­ruptcy 20 years ago), and be­grudges be­ing be­holden to the French. It’s stroppy that it makes most of the money but its own shares in Re­nault are non-vot­ing, so it makes none of the big de­ci­sions. So the tim­ing of the GT-R50’s launch is kind of not good for a whole set of rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with its mega speed or ul­tra-ex­clu­siv­ity or drop-dead gor­geous­ness.

See, the 990,000 euro megacar (AUD$1.5 mil­lion plus holdy­our-breath taxes here) will be sent out as a halo car in 2019 and 2020, to see how far up­stream the GT-R badge’s track cred can stretch the Nis­san brand and as a cel­e­bra­tion of the 50th year of the first GT-R. And in­vestors and col­lec­tors – the kind of peo­ple who will buy this car, speed or not – don’t like tur­moil.

While that puts a huge ques­tion mark over whether enough peo­ple will still think Nis­san’s brand can carry a mil­lion-euro car, the GT-R50 prom­ises to be a mon­ster.

And it will work like this: the GT3-aided en­gines will be built in a clean­room in Ja­pan and bolted into the 50 Ital­ian-bound GT-Rs, along with the new trans­mis­sion and the up­rated sus­pen­sion, and put on a boat. Then they’ll end up in Turin, where ItalDe­sign will give each of them their own body­work, in­clud­ing a re­place­ment roof, and their own in­te­rior, plus the an­chor sys­tem from over near Berg­amo.

And then, prob­a­bly, they’ll head off into hu­mid­ity con­trolled garages and no­body out­side those 50 wealthy own­ers will ever see them again. But you can as­sume now that none of those 50 peo­ple will be Car­los Ghosn.

NIS­SAN DIDN’T DO ANY OF THAT EX­TRA EN­GI­NEER­ING IN FACT, NEI­THER DID NISMO RIGHT Gior­getto Gi­u­giaro – named Car De­signer of the 20th Cen­tury – is no longer in­volved with ItalDe­sign. The com­pany isn’t just about cars, hav­ing de­signed guns for Beretta, cam­eras for Nikon, trains, wa­ter bot­tles and even watches for Seiko

ABOVE Some of the con­cept’s more ex­treme styling el­e­ments (such as the mir­rors) have pre­dictably been sac­ri­ficed for pro­duc­tion OP­PO­SITE TOP This is the pro­duc­tion car’s in­te­rior, fea­tur­ing the stan­dard Nis­san GT-R dash and in­fo­tain­ment set-up OP­PO­SITE BELOW Although in­stantly recog­nis­able as a GT-R, the ItalDe­sign re­vamp af­fects ev­ery el­e­ment of the body

MAIN Cus­tomers will be able to cus­tomise their cars, start­ing with choos­ing their own ex­te­rior and in­te­rior colour com­bi­na­tions, push­ing the to­tal price well be­yond the ‘en­try level’ $1.5 mil­lion EV­ERY CREASE HINTS AT THE STOCK GT-R BUT MOVES THE GAME FOR­WARD AG­GRES­SIVELY, EVEN BRU­TALLY

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