GT-R: Golden Jubilee

By: Alex Affat, Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

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50 years ago, Nissan’s heroic sub-model changed the automotive landscape forever

February 22 2019 marked a little-known milestone for the Yokohama-based marque, Nissan.

Last week marked the Golden Jubilee for the iconic GT-R badge. For three letters that carry so much weight, it remains one of the most revered nameplates to this day, continuing to capture minds and imaginations with cars that, let’s face it, we’re made before many of its fans were born.

But while, it’s the late-model R-Chassis cars that are the focus of the younger Playstation generation, the hallowed GT-R name stretches back far before Godzilla invaded our shores in 1989.

Let’s go back to 1968, when the Datsun C10 Skyline 1500 was initially released with a 1.5lt four-cylinder motor on August 1.

Its sharp edges and three-box proportions contrasted with the previously-badged Prince models, and gained it the nickname ‘Hakosuka’, roughly translating to "Box Skyline"; and marked the first new Skyline model after Nissan’s merger with Prince in 1966.

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Shortly thereafter, in October 1968, the 2000GT arrived, with a larger 2.0lt L20 inline-six motor, following the formula of the preceding Prince S50 2000GT which performed valiantly at the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix, which swept second-through-fifth after a privateer Porsche 904 unexpectedly took out the overall win.

But Nissan was on a tear, and just a few weeks later at the 1968 Tokyo Motor Show, the curtain was dropped on what was to be Nissan’s first GT-R.

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Back to a four-pot sedan formula, its 24v DOHC, triple-carburetted S20 engine was closely related to the racing engine that appeared in the Prince R380 race car, that won the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix two years earlier.

This was Nissan’s golden formula:  a road-going car filled to the gills with race car mechanics, with the marque’s racing endeavours proving utterly dominant (sounds like early 90s Aussie Touring Cars, hey?).

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From 1969-1971, the Hakosuka Skyline took out 50 victories Japan’s touring car races – besting Toyota’s Corolla Sprinter and 2000GT, Lotuses, Hondas and even early Mazda rotaries.

The Hakosuka GT-R legend was further cemented over subsequent years with the iconic two-door GT-R’s motorsport debut in 1970.

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Nissan endeavoured to continue its motorsport dominance with the GT-R, releasing the next-generation "Kenmari" C110 at the 1972 Tokyo Motor Show, with a fully-prepped race version displayed alongside.

Sadly, the Oil Crisis of 1973, along with a national clamping down of emissions stemmed the C110’s intentions. It never got to race, and just 197 C110 Skyline road cars (compared to the C10’s 2,029 total) escaped the factory before the plug was pulled.

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Legend has it that Nissan never intended to bring the GT-R name back, but 16 years later,  saw the return of a more-than-worthy successor.

1989’s R32 GT-R was a technological tour de force, and won every single touring car race it entered between 1989-1993. For many of us, this was our first exposure to the GT-R name, with our siblings at Wheels Magazine famously coining the nickname, Godzilla on the cover of the July 1989 issue.

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The R33 GT-R arrived in 1995, and was the first production car to lap the Nurburgring in under 7 minutes. Utilising the same mechanical formula; dynamic all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and powered by Nissan's twin-turbo 2.6lt RB26DETT - the car gained around 100kgs to aid structural rigidity, and was arguably a more intrinsically athletic chassis than its much-loved predecessor.

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The R34 GT-R arrived at the turn of the millennium in 1999. It’s the biggest and most unapologetically technological of the family, and is regarded as the last ‘purist’ GT-R.

It’s the R34 that bookends the nostalgic Skyline era, and was popularised on both the big screen (appearing in multiple ‘Fast and Furious’ movies) and the little screen (the JGTC race cars remain a poignant memory for those who grew up playing the GranTurismo video game).

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The R35 marked a departure from the family, with its newfangled 3.8lt twin-turbo VR38 V6. It’s no longer a Skyline, with Nissan placing the GT-R name on a model of its own. Still – it’s a Bathurst 12 hour winner, and is as technically brilliant as all those before it.

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50 years ago, no one could have predicted the indelible mark those three letters would leave on the automotive landscape at large; and the lasting effect it would have on thousands of enthusiast’s hearts and minds around the globe – this lanky motor-noter included.

So thank you Nissan, and happy 50th GT-R!

 

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