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50 moments of Nissan GT-R: 50 years of GT-R

By Scott Newman, 25 Sep 2019 Features

50 moments of Nissan GT-R history feature

Zero to 50 - the journey of Nissan's game-changer

The Nissan GT-R story is one of many chapters, so to celebrate half a century of providing cutting-edge performance here are the 50 moments that have made the GT-R a legend.

50 Years of GT-R: MOTOR's celebration of 50 years of Nissan's most important badge

01 - The first Nissan Skyline GT-R is born

February 1969. The GT-R is born when Nissan installs the high-performance S20 2.0-litre straight-six engine from the Prince R380 racing car into its PGC10 Skyline sedan. Designed to dominate production touring car racing, the 1120kg four-door could hit a top speed of 200km/h thanks to the S20 producing 118kW/177Nm.

02 - The first two-door Nissan Skyline GT-R is born

March 1971. The GT-R becomes a two-door (KPGC10), the coupe bodyshell shortening the wheelbase by 70mm and cutting 20kg from the overall weight. It’s dubbed the ‘Hakosuka’ (roughly translated as ‘box Skyline’) and is a racecar for the road, with a 100-litre fuel tank, fixed bucket seats and a back-to-basics interior.

50 Years of GT-R: The story of the KPGC10 "Hakosuka"

03 - Hakosuka dominates Japanese touring cars

1972. As a racecar Hakosuka was unstoppable, winning 52 Japanese touring car races between May 1969 and October 1972, including 49 consecutive victories.

04 - Second-gen GT-R appears: the 'Kenmari'

September 1972. The second-gen Skyline GT-R debuts with an unchanged drivetrain in an all-new chassis. Known as the ‘Kenmari’ GT-R due to the popularity of the advertising series featuring the characters ‘Ken and Mary’, it lived an extremely short life, the oil crisis limiting its production to just 197 cars.

50 Years of GT-R: 'Kenmari' the forgotten generation

05 - 'MID4' Concept previews R32

November 1985. Nissan signals its intention to produce another high-performance model with the MID4 Concept, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show with a mid-mounted 3.0-litre V6, ATTESA all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering. Two years later the MID4 Type II adds twin turbos.

06 - R32 GT-R shocks the world

May 1989. After a 16-year hiatus, the GT-R nameplate returns adorning a twin-turbo, all-wheel drive technological terror designed, once again, to dominate touring car racing. It proved popular, with an incredible 43,937 built between 1989-'94, the rarest being the V-Spec II N1 with 63 examples made. 

50 Years of GT-R: The R32 Skyline GT-R

07 - 'Godzilla' is born

July 1989. The cover of our sibling magazine Wheels reads: “Skyline Supercar! Nissan’s new Godzilla on wheels aims to slay the Sierra.” It was the first reference to the GT-R as Godzilla, a moniker it carries to this day. 

Wheels Archive: R32 Skyline GT-R v NSX v Mondial t 348 v 911 Carrera 4 v M5

08 - Nissan Australia announces import program

August 1989. One hundred of those 43,937 R32s came to Australia, all because Nissan Oz wanted to continue racing, didn’t have a local product to use, and as such put together a program to import the GT-R.

09 - Nismo shows off first car

February 1990. Nissan’s motorsport arm produces 560 cars to homologate changes for Group A racing, including extra spoilers, more ducting, no ABS, rear wiper or radio and stronger steel-wheeled turbochargers. 

10 - R32 dominates Japanese touring car championship

March 1990. The R32 GT-R makes its debut in the Japanese Touring Car Championship and wins all 29 races and four championships until Super Touring regs are introduced in 1994.

11 - GT-R enters Australian touring cars

June 1990. The GT-R makes its Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) debut at Mallala for Round 6 with Mark Skaife at the wheel. Jim Richards switches from the HR31 GTS-R a round later and wraps up Nissan’s first ATCC title by dominating the final round at Oran Park. Richards would repeat his success in 1991 before Skaife secured his first ATCC title in 1992. 

50 Years of GT-R: The Aussies behind the R32 Skyline GT-R Group A

12 - R32 shakes up the European touring car establishment

August 1991. The R32 GT-R’s global takeover continues with an outright win at the 1991 Spa 24 Hours driven by Japan’s Naoki Hattori, Swede Anders Olofsson and Aussie David Brabham. It’s a dominant display, the trio converting pole position into a 21-lap victory, while in sixth outright another R32 wins the Group N class.

13 - Bathurst 1000 glory & the "Pack of Arseholes"

October 1991. Following an unsuccessful Bathurst debut in 1990, Richards and Skaife monster the Mountain in 1991, securing pole position and winning by a lap. They go back-to-back the following year in controversial circumstances, Richards crashing out but being awarded the win following the stoppage of the race.

Worthy Watch: Skaife's R32 GT-R Bathurst pole lap

14 - R33 GT-R: The difficult second album

October 1993. The R33 GT-R appears for the first time at the Tokyo Motor Show, though doesn’t begin production until January 1995. The V-Spec is now a regular production variant and introduces an upgraded all-wheel drive system. Australian brochures are printed but the R33 is never released locally.

15 - R33 LM: Nissan builds a unicorn for la Sarthe

1995. Nissan announces its intention to return to Le Mans and compete in the GT1 class, which requires the creation of one road-going variant. Thus a solitary Nismo GT-R LM is created, 100mm wider than standard and converted to rear-wheel drive to satisfy GT1 regulations. Sadly, it rarely moves these days, living its life in Nissan’s Zama heritage collection

16 - Le Mans 24 Hour dreams are dashed

June 1995. The GT-R LM’s Le Mans career was a troubled one. Tenth overall and fifth in class in 1995, one of the wettest ever races, wasn’t a terrible debut but by 1996 the Porsche 911 GT1 had moved the goalposts and despite a larger, more powerful 2.8-litre engine, the R33 LM could only manage 15th outright and another fifth in class, leading Nissan to cancel the third year of the program.

MOTOR feature: The best road-legal Le Mans racers

17 - The 7:59 'Ring lap

1996. Legendary test driver Dirk Schoysman laps the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7min59sec, an unheard-of time for a standard production car. But was it standard? Rumours swirl of special tyres and extra boost.  

18 - Four-door GT-R returns!

September 1997. For the GT-R-loving family man, Nissan-affiliated conversion company Autech creates the 40th Anniversary, installing the R33 GT-R running gear and front panels into the sedan bodyshell. It’s named in honour of the Skyline’s 40th birthday, which started life as a humble Prince model in 1957.

19 - The GT-R wagon?

November 1997. Another family friendly GT-R appears, again courtesy of Autech, who stuff the C34 Stagea full of the engine and driveline from the R33 GT-R and add a bodykit to match. It's the ultimate sleeper, with an RB26, manual gearbox, ATTESA all-wheel drive, Brembo brakes and BBS wheels. In total 1734 were built from 1997-2001 across two series.

20 - 400R breaks cover

November 1997. The Nismo 400R is revealed, the rarest road-going GT-R yet. Virtually every area of the car is modified but from the planned 100 only 44 escape before R33 production ends. The 400R is the hero car of the original Gran Turismo; unable to be bought, it can only be won by achieving Gold times on the International A licence tests (bloody hard!).

MOTOR feature: R33 400R v R34 R-Tune

21 - R34 GT-R is unveiled

January 1999. The R34 GT-R is revealed, a shorter, more muscular GT-R to appease those who described the R33 as too soft and bulky. The basics remain the same, but the R34 includes more technology than ever before. Just 11,578 are built, compared to 16,668 R33s.

22 - Winning at Pikes Peak

July 1999. Despite being Japanese, turbocharged and AWD, the GT-R isn't a natural rally car. Nevertheless, Akira Kameyama wins the Open Production class at Pikes Peak in 1993 with an R32 and again in 1996 and 1998 with an R33. A year later, Rhys Millen wins the Showroom Stock class in an R33 GT-R that would go on to Hollywood fame. 

MOTOR feature: Top 5 Pikes Peak monsters

23 - Veilside R34 hits 346.2km/h on New Zealand roads

November 1999. A transporter is unloading some of Japan’s fastest cars, ready to attempt 300km/h on New Zealand’s North Island. Veilside’s 970kW R34 monster does best, clocking 346.2km/h on a wet, bumpy two-lane country road. 

24 - R33 Skyline GT-R cameos in Fast & Furious

June 2001. Having conquered Pikes Peak, one of the few GT-Rs in the US stars in the original Fast and the Furious. Though only a bit part, it is hugely important as it’s the United States’ first mainstream exposure to the model. Strict import laws prevent more than a handful making it to America and the FATF car is eventually crushed for not having a VIN. 

25 - HKS sets a 7.671 second record quarter mile

October 2001. Its drag racing proficiency is a large part of the GT-R’s cult following and tuning giant HKS is king of the hill, its stock body R33 pushing the limits of what’s possible by setting a 7.671sec world record. HKS’s monster would compete at Willowbank in 2002, running numerous seven-second passes with a best of 7.803.

50 Years of GT-R: "JUN II" - the world's quickest street-legal GT-R

26 - Shock first glimpse of the R35

October 2001. Nissan shocks the automotive world by unexpectedly revealing the R35 GT-R Concept at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show. The design is polarising and concrete details are scarce, but it’s clear the R35 will be a very different GT-R, with V6 power, an automatic gearbox, left-hook compatibility and the dumping of the Skyline name! 

27 - 'Nur' swansong farewells much-loved R34

February 2002. The final R34 GT-R is the ‘Nur’, short for Nurburgring. While 1000 are planned, 1003 eventuate, 718 V-Spec II models and 285 M-Specs, with 156 and 144 cars respectively painted in the hero Millennium Jade. All Nurs use the stronger N1 engine.

New vs Used: R34 GT-R V-Spec II Nur vs RS5

28 - A cult of acceleration emerges

2002. In the early 1990s Japan’s tuners were obsessed with 0-300km/h times. Veilside’s 1044kW R1 R32 GT-R was king, clocking 13.72sec, but the runs were banned after huge crashes. Veilside turned its attention to radial-tyre drag racing – the ‘RH9 club’ – the R1 running 8.61sec in 2002.

29 - R34 wins first Targa Tasmania

April 2005. After almost a decade of Porsche domination, a GT-R wins Targa Tasmania thanks to the efforts of locals Jason and John White in an R34 V-Spec N1. Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillett add two more titles in 2009 and 2011 with Jamie Vandenberg and Dennis Sims winning in 2014.

30 - Z-Tune is born

2005. The R34 GT-R plays one last hand. Nismo carefully selects 19 used R34s, each with less than 30,000km, and completely rebuilds them into Z-Tunes – the ultimate GT-R. Body reinforcement, a 368kW/540Nm 2.8-litre ‘Z2’ engine, Sachs suspension and carbon panels are just a few of the modifications. 

MOTOR feature: The nine most desirable Japanese cars

31 - 'GT-R Proto' concept teases production R35

October 2005. A new generation of GT-R moves one step closer with the GT-R Proto appearing at the Tokyo Motor Show, giving the world a look at what would become the finished styling. The program suffers delays as Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn insists it be profitable and rumours persist of a 4.5-litre V8 for the US market. 

32 - R35 arrives: Bigger, heavier, new V6 and auto only

October 2007. Five years after R34 production ceased, Nissan reveals the R35 GT-R at the Tokyo Motor Show. Speculation of a V8 comes to naught, the new-age Godzilla using a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 producing 357kW/588Nm in all markets. Japan receives its first cars in December 2007, the US follows in July 2008, while Australia has to wait until February 2009.

33 - R35 sets 7:38sec Nürburgring laptime

April 2008. Nissan sets a remarkable Nürburgring lap time of 7min38sec, equal to that of the Porsche 997 Turbo, before lowering it to 7min29sec eight months later. Porsche accuses Nissan of cheating, claiming its test driver couldn’t best 7min54sec with a standard GT-R. Nissan responds by lowering the time again to 7min27sec in April 2009. 

classic MOTOR: R35 GT-R takes on Bathurst

34 - The Aussie Exclusive: MOTOR's first R35 road test

May 2008. MOTOR conducts its first test of the R35 GT-R, almost a year ahead of the Australian launch, driving a privately-imported example alongside its R32, R33 and R34 predecessors. It’s quickly apparent Nissan’s new gadget sets a new benchmark for Japanese performance, even with the 180km/h speed limiter still in place!

MOTOR feature: GT-R generations driven

35 - GT-R goes atmo V8 and rear-drive

February 2009. Nissan takes the R35 racing, though somewhat confusingly both the GT500 and GT1 are rear-wheel drive with naturally-aspirated V8s, a 4.5-litre VK45DE for Super GT and a 5.6-litre VK56DE in the FIA GT Championship. 

36 - R35 wins Performance Car of the Year

January 2010. The R35 GT-R wins Performance Car of the Year, tying for first place with the Audi R8 V10, judges exclaiming “Blew me away on track”, “World’s cheapest supercar”, “Turns chumps into champs” and “a devastating track weapon”. The updated MY11 model would repeat the trick two years later.

PCOTY 2018: GT-R Nismo takes 4th place

37 - GT-R running gear goes in a Juke; 40 sold

November 2011. Stuff R35 GT-R mechanicals inside Nissan’s quirky Juke crossover and you get the Juke-R. Initially planned purely as an engineering showcase, customer demand led to 23 of the 406kW baby SUVs being built, a Version 2.0 arriving in 2015 with 447kW and another 17 reportedly produced.

Fast Car History Lesson: The Juke-R

38 - Usain Bolt gets a gold R35

October 2012. In a clever piece of marketing, Nissan builds Usain Bolt a gold R35 GT-R, before announcing it will auction another example for charity. The winning bidder is a Melburnian who owns one of three gold GT-Rs: Bolt’s, the charity car and the car used to publicise the auction, which lives in Nissan’s Zama museum.  

39 - Unforgettable 7:08.679 Nürburgring lap

November 2013. Nissan returns to the Nurburgring and sets a scintillating 7:08.679sec lap using a GT-R Nismo ‘N-Attack’, which includes extra aero, new differentials, OHLINS suspension, carbon body panels and the removal of the rear seats. The kit costs an eye-watering $120,000 on top of a regular GT-R Nismo.  

40 - Nismo enters 'front-drive' GT-R in Le Mans

May 2014. Nissan announces it will again tackle Le Mans, this time in the LMP class with the radical GT-R LM Nismo, using a front-mounted 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 to power the front wheels and electricity to power the rear axle. The program is a catastrophe: the GT-R LM fails crash tests and is embarrassingly slow and unreliable during its one and only Le Mans in 2015.

41 - The Bathurst 12 hour victory

February 2015. Earlier that year, Nissan returned to Mount Panorama, Nismo entering a solitary GT-R GT3 against a raft of European rivals, yet once more it’s the GT-R that conquers Bathurst driven by Katsumasa Chiyo, Wolfgang Reip and Florian Strauss, the latter two a product of Nissan’s Gran Turismo Academy.

42 - R32 becomes eligible for American importation

May 2014. As it celebrates its 25th birthday, the R32 GT-R becomes eligible for importation into the United States, the subsequent demand sparking a surge in values as US fans clamour to obtain clean examples of Godzilla. It’s expected similar rises will occur when the R33 (2020) and R34 (2024) become eligible. 

43 - Radical concept gets fans giddy for an 'R36'

June 2014. Nissan reveals its ‘Concept 2020 Vision GT’ at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, claiming it’s “a true vision of what Nissan performance will look like in the future” but most fans assume it’s a preview of the next GT-R. Initially intended to be a purely virtual exercise, a group of Nissan engineers made it a physical reality.

50 Years of GT-R: When will Nissan build the R36 GT-R?

44 - New record set for 'World's Fastest Drift'

April 2016. What’s the weirdest record a car known for its all-wheel drive brilliance could set? World’s fastest drift, you say? Yes, but this doesn't stop Masato Kawabata sliding a 1015kW rear-drive R35 at 306km/h at an angle of 30 degrees!

45 - R35 gets nip & tuck

August 2016. The R35 GT-R receives almost annual updates, but in 2016, almost a decade on from its launch it receives a substantial update, primarily aimed at improving its interior quality and day-to-day comfort. It works, turning the GT-R into a usable road car that’s still capable of amazing performance.

MOTOR review: 2017 Nissan GT-R

46 - Gamer 'drives' full-size r/c R35

October 2017. The GT-R is often falsely criticised as being like a Playstation to drive, but for the launch of Gran Turismo Sport Nissan built an R35 that can actually be driven with a Playstation controller. GT Academy graduate Jann Mardenborough used it to lap Silverstone's National Circuit in 1min17.47sec by following in a helicopter!

47 - Nissan restarts production of R32, R33, R34 parts

November 2017. Nissan launches its Heritage Parts program for the R32 GT-R, recreating around 80 parts – everything from engine blocks to window seals to complete wiring harnesses – in order to keep cars running, the list later expanding to around 160 parts. A year later, it uses the Nismo festival to announce it is expanding Heritage Parts to include the R33 and R34

MORE: Nismo readies R32 GT-R parts program for Oz

48 - Italy creates the million-dollar GT-R

July 2018. To celebrate the GT-R’s 50th Anniversary Italian design company Italdesign is given free rein to create the GT-R50. Revealed as a concept at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, 50 hand-built examples are confirmed for production with an uprated 530kW/780Nm engine at a cost of more AUD$1m each. 

Worthy Watch: GT-R50 by Italdesign in action at Goodwood

49 - Middle-East GT-R sets 6.58sec quarter mile

January 2019. The US and Middle East now lead the way in GT-R drag racing, Alphalogic setting a new world record of 6.58sec at 374km/h, which also makes it the world's quickest all-wheel drive. Incredibly, it’s still using the stock body, but a 4.3-litre engine making 2535kW/2970Nm provides ample propulsion. 

50 - R35 is reheated yet again; candles blown out on 50 years

April 2019. Nissan reveals its 2020 GT-Rs at the New York Auto Show, the standard car lifting outputs slightly to 421kW/633Nm and reviving the R34’s iconic Bayside Blue, while the Nismo now produces 447kW/652Nm and scores aggressive new aero, lighter wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes. It’s the latest chapter in the GT-R's incredible 50-year story. 

MOTOR review: GT-R 50th Anniversary

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