Back in 2005 Autocar tested the outrageous Skyline GT-R Z-Tune built to celebrate the performance division's 20th anniversary

Our Verdict

Nissan GT-R Nismo
The GT-R Nismo is powered by a 3.8-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine

Nissan's performance and motorsport division makes a great car even better

13 December 2005

It has come from beyond the grave – the most brutally ugly, ferociously fast, factory Nissan Skyline we have ever seen.

There will only ever be 20 of these predators, built up from second-hand Skyline R34s by Nismo – Nissan’s race and performance division – to produce the company’s last word on one of the most accomplished performance coupés the planet has yet seen. And today, we are in Japan to drive it.

Pity it’s raining. A wet mountain road and several hundred horsepower – that should mix like oil and water. One will float on top of the other, slithering about at the slightest swelling turbulence. So although the idea of climbing aboard the 500bhp monster that is the Nissan Skyline GT-R Z-Tune seems irresistibly tempting, it’s equally impossible to suppress the thought that deploying its rampancy on a sodden day will be an exercise in foolishness.

Unfamiliar mountain roads, an unfamiliar country, an unfamiliar car and a rev counter, I notice as I scrunch into the high-walled bucket seat, stretching to 9000rpm. Better fire up then, and face the rainfall. The straight-six kicks, settling to an idle so bass-filled that I get back out again to check the exhaust’s bore.

And yes – a small dog could crawl in there. Still, subtlety of appearance is not what this Nissan is about. Short of flying a streamer from the rear wing announcing that you’re going to perform illegal acts with an accelerator, it would be hard to make your desire to be an anti-social road warrior more obvious. In fact, there is subtlety in this car’s character, as we are to find out.

But first, let’s savour the white sheet describing the specification, a very rewarding task if you thrive on anticipation. Let’s get one nasty number out of the way right now – the £84,500 price. That’s one reason why there will only be 20 – the other is that Nismo celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Now, you don’t need me to tell you that for this money you could have one of the more fruity Porsche 911s, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, or a decent used Ferrari. And this is for a second-hand Nissan. That’s because Nismo only decided to build this ultimate R34 GT-R after it went out of production in August 2002. So it had to shop for mint, low mileage examples.

Now this isn’t the first time Nissan has bought back its own cars to refurbish them, by the way – it ran a programme in the US with old 240Zs, restoring them as an appetite-whetting prelude to the 350Z’s arrival. The difference here is that these GT-Rs are no more than a couple of years old – the 240Zs were as much as 30 – and they’ve been acquired for modification rather than restoration.

And the upgrades are extensive and gloriously arcane, too. For instance, the steel propshaft is now carbonfibre, saving five kilos. The door surrounds receive extra spot-welding to strengthen the bodyshell. The suspension bushes are replaced by harder versions generating less friction, and the brake hoses swapped for stainless steel braided varieties.

Also, the transmission tunnel and anti-roll bars have been strengthened and the electronic traction control unit, which sends torque to the front and rear differentials, reprogrammed.

Under the bonnet, the reconstruction is so comprehensive that you can see why the rest of the car has needed overhauling in a process that sees each model reduced to a bare shell. The standard V-spec GT-R straight-six produces 276bhp, but this version yields a startling 493bhp. And that’s an ‘at least’, apparently.

You’re not short-changed on pulling power either, the peak torque running to 398lb ft. Nismo’s engineers have delved deep into the engine to wring out this extra power. At its heart are reworked combustion chambers. There are re-profiled cams, a beefed-up block and a forged and fillet-rolled crankshaft which has been finely balanced, as are the upgraded, forged pistons. There’s a baffle plate in the sump to counter oil surge, and the whole ensemble is crowned with a Z-Tune rocker cover.

It doesn’t end here, either. There’s a specially built IHI turbocharger, a remodelled intake plenum and a revised exhaust manifold. Meanwhile, twin oil coolers, an upgraded radiator and intercooler, high-flow fuel injectors with a more potent injection pump are also provided. And finally, there’s a Z-Tune electronic control unit.

Elsewhere, there are three-way adjustable dampers that can also be altered for ride height, reinforced front strut towers, 18in alloys in a sinister black, a twinplate clutch and upgraded brakes that include six-pot calipers up front and four at the rear. The bodywork has also been resculpted purposefully.

Oddest are the air extractors in the trailing edges of the front wings just ahead of the door mirrors which leave you in no doubt about the car’s intent. And that’s rammed home with aggressive new bumpers and an adjustable rear wing, all of these in carbonfibre, as is the bonnet. Oh, and the Z-Tune package includes new front seats, restyled door trims and a 200mph speedo.

Actual performance claims are limited – Nismo quotes over 155mph, but surely 180mph must be possible? The firm also claims the car has a 0-400m sprint time of 10.06sec compared to 12.8sec for a 911 GT3. It’s damn quick.

Why Z-Tune? This is Nismo’s ultimate performance package, offering maximum potential and producing a well-rounded car. The less extreme R-Tune set-ups are for drivers with race experience, the entry-level S-Tune for enhanced street performance. But never mind the lesser upgrades – we’re about to try a Skyline with maximum firepower, a car developed to create what Nismo believes is ‘the strongest road-going car in the world’.

Now that’s a description impressive for its complete failure to hint at how brisk this machine is. Instead, the car itself provides the right signals through its pipeline-long exhaust, snarling front and rear wing worthy of a light plane. And once you’re belted into those fat, bolstered seats your body won’t be travelling anywhere but with the missile to which it’s strapped.

So it’s good news that the car doesn’t behave as rampantly as it looks. You need a bit of precision to control the competition clutch, and a firm hand on the gearlever, too, but otherwise, this bull of a car is as docile as a new-born calf. In fact, the power delivery almost feels a little slack. But dealing with this engine is like eating a red hot chilli pepper – the potency builds, and once it’s there the sting doesn’t drop off.

This is not something you find out straight away. You need to have that toughened crank pumping beyond 3000rpm, and sinking the throttle on a third-gear bend with the wipers thrashing at a monsoon doesn’t seem like a good strategy for guaranteeing safe passage. Instead, you find yourself easing your way into this GT-R. Well, you do at first. Trouble is, after a few bends taken at moderate pace, you begin to suspect that this car’s chassis has a dictator’s iron grip, which encourages a bolder right foot.

And the wheel – well, it reminds you what a confidence-booster truly feel-some steering can be. The rim jigs gently as the front tyres ride gentle swells of asphalt, resistance builds smoothly as the Nissan sears unerringly through curves, while the seat-to-bum messaging service has you believing that this car’s intentions are as easy to read as motorway road signs. Which is probably a mistake, because the compensating activities of the yaw-sensing, four-wheel steer, four-wheel drive can have the GT-R reacting in unexpected and unsettling ways when pushing the car hard, as it compensates for heart-stopping errors.

What’s also a surprise is the speed this Skyline can carry into corners, the traction it musters out of them, and the discovery that you can ride this torrent of momentum in a never-ending gush of power.

Of course, you have to ease off for tight bends, heel-and-toe your way to lower gears and drive in the knowledge that you might have to slow for the unexpected, but so forceful is the Nissan’s punch, so fluent its mastery of curves, that you don’t want roads to end. But even in these rainy conditions, I realise I’m unlikely to discover the outer limits of the Nissan’s grip.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it – venture too far the wrong way on these wet roads, and the Skyline would eventually scythe through this beautiful Japanese scenery like a band-saw through chipboard. You can never quite banish the thought that you have charge of 493bhp.

Not being able to find its limit is part of the appeal of this car of course. It’s the reason why, if you’re one of the lucky 20 who will own this magnificently civil, breathtakingly violent sports coupé, its allure will live for years beyond your first touch of the keys.

This is a car in which you will always have been able to go quicker. And it’s also one that feels robust enough to absorb every attempt at greater pace. It feels incredibly tough. Tough enough to be repeatedly wrung-out, and not feel creaky and tired after you’ve track-tested it all day. That’s what all that tuner battling has done for the guts of this car without turning it rude.

Yes, the ride is race-car-jostling and the whooshing chatter of the wastegate will refine your throttle control, but the physical onslaught is still enjoyable. Mind you, the conversion hasn’t done much for the Skyline’s looks. It was never a beauty, but this final version looks absurdly muscular. And when you inspect the interior, you’ll see how far cabin quality has come since this car was conceived. You couldn’t say it was badly put together, but the choice of materials looks crude even against a Micra, never mind an Audi.

But that’s not what this car is about – it’s an ultra-pumped blast from Nissan’s history, a shock-laden last goodbye. The new GT-R will be no less potent, and look less crude, but Nissan will need to work hard to outpoint this glorious old warrior, and never mind its crazy price.

Richard Bremner

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Comments
2

19 September 2014

A real beast for the Road,will eat most cars whole!

Peter Cavellini.

20 September 2014

...seems to be the only 'old school' car I have ever liked. Crazy for the manufacturer to go out and buy used examples and then make them into something else. Pretty awesome.

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