- Available for £70,000
- 3.8-litre V6 twin-turbo, all-wheel drive
- Monster performance and grip
- No limit to tuning other than your wallet
- NISMO is genuinely special and rare
- … but also fiercely expensive now
Asked to think of a desirable, iconic, high-performance two-door/four-seat coupe, many PHers will surely come up with three letters: G, T and R. The Nissan GT-R story started in 1968 with the reveal of the PGC10 Skyline GT-R, nicknamed 'Hakosuka'. Powered by a twin-cam 2.0 straight six producing 160hp at a kimono-lifting 7,000rpm, this was Japan's version of the American muscle car, a bread-and-butter looking vehicle concealing a poky motor, limited slip diff and bucket seats. Japanese saloon racers immediately took it to their hearts. They then took it to over fifty touring car wins between 1969 and 1972, some in the KPGC10 coupe variant that Nissan announced in 1970.
The global oil crisis brought a sudden end to the GT-R in 1973. Not until 1989 was it deemed safe for it to return, and it did so with an almighty bang. The R32's inline six's engine capacity was now 2.6 litres. The addition of two turbos hoisted output to a mighty (for the day) 280hp/260lb ft, generating sub-six second 0-60mph performance neatly reined in by techy all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering systems. Once again, the new GT-R dominated the domestic touring car racing scene, but with no global politics to get in the way this time its dominance lasted for well over a decade, fully earning it the 'Godzilla' nickname bestowed on it in 1989 by an Australian car mag.
In 2002 Nissan announced that it was going to separate the GT-R from the Skyline name and give it its own halo role in the company catalogue. Five years later the now-familiar shape of the R35 GT-R, retaining the early cars' signature quad round rear lights, arrived in prime Nissan dealerships. Packing a 485hp twin-turbo 3.8 V6, the 2007 R35 was a beautifully engineered and devastatingly effective tool. It wasn't perfect, though. The suspension was knobbly, it wasn't that brilliant around town, and it was pretty noisy inside when you got it out of town. However, just as they had been back at the start of the GT-R project, Nissan was relentlessly diligent in its development programme. Improvements were ongoing to keep the model more than competitive against strong rivals.
The 2017 model year GT-R that we're concentrating on today was given a comprehensive package of changes designed to enhance just about every aspect of this charismatic coupe, including twenty extra horsepower from more turbo boost, better engine cooling assisted by a new V-motion grille, softer transmission mapping, a stiffer chassis, more compliant suspension, tweaked body styling for less drag and more downforce, and a nicer interior with more (and better quality) leather and a less button-heavy approach to the minor controls.
Three main versions of the 2017MY GT-R were available: the Pure at £79,995, the Recaro at £81,995 (better/grippier seats) and Prestige (extended leather) at £82,495. On top of those three were two more specialist models. The range-topping, red-pinstriped NISMO version that had debuted in 2014 at £120,000 was £125,000 by the time of the 2016/17 refresh. That was nothing though. By 2021 it had risen to a bogglesome £180k, double the price that the Prestige had reached at that time.
The NISMO was a special car, mind. Although it had more power and torque (600hp/481lb ft) it topped out at the same 196mph and returned the same 2.8sec 0-62 time. It had a wider track, a recalibrated (faster) gearbox, turbos from Nissan’s GT racer, a different DSC (Dynamic Suspension Controller), a bodyshell featuring adhesive bonding as well as normal welding to make it 10 per cent stiffer than the standard GT-R, retuned hydraulic steering, forged 20in Rays alloy wheels, Bilstein three-mode adaptive dampers, a thicker/hollow rear anti-roll bar, stronger suspension bolts, new front wishbone links and bespoke Dunlop semi-slick tyres. Then it had carbon fibre. Lots of it, in the bumpers (both ends), roof, boot lid, bonnet, side skirts, lower front engine undercover, front and rear brake ducts and a taller, thinner carbon rear wing, not to mention a carbon-composite propshaft, carbon-backed Recaro seats and loads of lovely Alcantara. All the carbon helped to bring the NISMO’s weight down by between 27kg and 40kg over the standard GT-R depending on what bit of the internet you were reading.
If you weren’t sufficiently minted to get the refreshed NISMO, there was an £88,560 ‘Track Edition engineered by NISMO’ with forged 20in wheels and some of the NISMO suspension and adhesive bonding body structure upgrades. It also had a titanium exhaust and a model-unique red and black interior. If you had the money, you could option the TE up to the gills with any or all of the NISMO carbon bits.
The GT-R's lofty place in sports coupe folklore came to an official end in Europe and the UK after more than half a century when EU and UK drive-by noise regulations put a stop to the production of European-market GT-Rs in March 2022. That was the end of performance Nissans in this part of the world. The sportiest Nissan you can buy new in the UK today is the Ariya, an electric SUV. By this time GT-R prices had gone up.
At around that time Nissan's CEO was talking about the possibility of an electric 'R36', but in fact what's happened has been the announcement in January 2023 of a revamped R35 in T-spec and Nismo flavours. It's rated at the same power as the Euro-defunct R35, but it has better aero and revised suspension. Sales in Japan are set to begin this summer (2023) at guesstimated prices starting at £150k.
You'll need even more than that to buy a mint gen-one GT-R. In early 2020 Hagerty’s auction house in the US sold a coupe for $430,000. Fortunately, you can pick up a used latest-spec GT-R for considerably less than that. You don't see so many newer cars around in the UK now, which in some ways is slightly odd as even with the inevitable price rises over the years it's still a mega-performance bargain.
They're not cheap, mind. Prices start at around £70,000 for early medium-mileage (40k-55k) examples, but set against the storming performance on tap that doesn't seem a lot. If you're unbothered by the Nissan badge (an issue for some) your 2016-on GT-R will dust just about anything off the line, IC or electric, and it won't be found wanting around a high-speed circuit either.
SPECIFICATION | NISSAN GT-R (2016-on)
Engine: 3,799cc V6 24v twin-turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 570@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 470@3,600-5,800rpm
0-62mph (secs): 2.8
Top speed (mph): 196
Weight (kg): 1,827
MPG (official combined): 23.9
CO2 (g/km): 275
Wheels (in): 9.5 x 20 (f), 10.5 x 20 (r)
Tyres: 255/40 (f), 285/35 (r)
On sale: 2016-on
Price new: from £79,995
Price now: from £70,000
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Rich in power, torque, and strength, the VR38DETT engine with twin high-flow turbochargers has acquired legendary status. Every engine was hand-assembled by ‘takumi’ craftsfolk in Tochigi and had an aluminium plate affixed to the front with the name of the bod mainly responsible for building your one. According to legend, only four (or possibly five) takumi were authorised to build the GT-R motors.
Any GT-R has always been fantastically quick off the line. We're writing this in early 2023. Fourteen years ago, the GT-R was effortlessly reeling off 0-62mph runs in the mid-three-second bracket. Today it sits equally in the high-two-second bracket, a huge incremental improvement at this end of the acceleration charts where even hundredths of a second are very hard to find. The GT-R's ability to hammer round corners at unlikely speeds was just as impressive as its launch capability thanks to its multiplicity of electronic driving aids.
The great thing about both the GT-R engine (and a chassis that could handle it) was that it gave you so much tuning headroom. There have been quite a few forged-engine 1000hp+ cars built, and you’ll have no trouble finding videos of cars claiming to put out 2,000hp. Differential pinions are vulnerable to breakage under this sort of stress, especially if the diff hasn’t been carefully set up or sometimes simply if the tyre sizes aren’t right. This sort of big power project requires big pockets. Beefing up not just the engine but also the transmission parts to take a four-figure output can easily eat up £60k of your hard-earned.
For relatively small outlays firms like Litchfield offer a range of tune-ups. Their Y-exhaust-based Stage 1 kit provides 590hp and 527lb ft for just over £1,300 including VAT. Jumping up to Stage 5 was a little more expensive at £16,000 but it did include new turbos, high flow injectors and fuel pumps, adjustable pops, bangs and flames and a whole lot more to take the output up to 750hp and 638lb ft. The company’s 680hp Stage 4.5 setup has proved to be very popular in the GT-R community. For info on aftermarket ECUs, Mark Shead of MA Developments in Buckinghamshire is well regarded. Some of you might know him from his Ford Cosworth work.
The VR38DETT's inherent strength doesn’t mean it doesn’t fail. Blue smoke on a cold start or blue/grey smoke when the turbos fire up are not good signs. A loose flywheel shaft bearing could produce an annoying but usually harmless noise (usually referred to as bellhousing rattle) but as far as we know this hasn’t been a problem on post-’16 cars. If it crops up on your GT-R you can either ignore it until it becomes ridiculous or fit an uprated Litchfield replacement.
The 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox was quick and generally efficient but many thought that it really needed a 7th gear for easier cruising. It could hold its hands up in surrender if it had taken a multi-launch beating in its life. Earlier cars were known for faulty transmission control solenoids. One test of the box’s integrity is to do a few shifts between first and reverse when the car is cold. Moving straight into second instead of first from reverse or showing a flashing gear indicator is not what you want to see. Whining in just one gear may well mean that that gear is chipped. If it’s not sorted early, collateral damage, cleaning the resultant bits of metal out of the gearbox and reassembling it afterwards could end up landing you with a bill for £5k.
The clutch basket could blow on tuned and/or regularly launched cars, in which case a forged replacement was a good idea. You could check the number of launches on a car you’re thinking of buying by interrogating the ECU. If all is well the GT-R’s gearbox will do a good job. Choose Race mode and you'd certainly be noticing the force of the upchanges on a wide-open throttle, but if you’re in an ambling frame of mind the transmission is perfectly happy to serve up smooth shifts.
This may not be a thing on ‘modern’ R35s, but if your one suddenly decides it won’t do more than 58mph or even less up a hill it may be that the car has defaulted to valet mode. Specialists will tell you how to reset that. Nissan said that the new GT-R was 10dB quieter on start-up than its predecessor. It was still pretty loud though. 2021-on cars had split manifold turbos that further minimised spooling delay.
The later GT-Rs that we’re looking at here should be cheaper to run than pre-2011 cars which demanded service attention every six months or 6,000 miles. Cars after that date switched to a more conventional 12-month/9,000-mile schedule, but independent specialists reckon that 12k intervals are fine. Typical approximate VAT-inclusive charges at the time of writing were £315 for a year one wheel alignment/health check/oil change (using Mobil 1 synthetic); £440 for a year-two or year-four service, which adding new brake fluid and coolant to the year-one menu; £700 for a year-three with new diff and gearbox fluids; and just over £1,000 for the year-five with new brake hoses and spark plugs.
Cam timing on the R35 was by chain. Failure is practically unheard of, but they can become noisier from 40k, especially if the owner has been negligent on oil changes. Nissan recommends every 3,000-5,000 miles. Chains can stretch on higher mileage cars. If you’re planning on making full use of the performance, tuners will advise you to change them every 80k just to be on the safe side. For the full kit – one large chain, two small ones, an oil pump chain, three tensioners, filter and oil – you should expect to pay getting on for £2,000. The battery was small and would die if it was left alone (and off a trickle charger) for just a few days in cold weather. Fuel consumption was dictated by your right foot and tuning budget. Take the official average of just under 24mpg and work down from there.
All right, in a feel test (if you could score such a thing) the steering of a Porsche 911 would probably seem sweeter than the Nissan's, but the GT-R was no less adept at adopting and then holding a line, even if its body tended to lean more than the Porsche’s. The NISMO was a lot more controlled in that respect and more amenable to on-the-limit driving once you got used to its tendency to follow road irregularities. Irrespective of model, the GT-R’s brilliant ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system delivered staggering levels of grip. In normal driving, the GT-R behaved like a rear-drive vehicle, with 100 percent of the torque sent to that end, but it could be automatically diverted up to 50/50 depending on speed, lateral acceleration, steering angle, tyre slip, road surface and yaw rate.
The Track Edition was more engaging than the standard GT-R though not necessarily as relaxing to drive. The electronics weren’t quite as ready to let you off with any mickey-taking in adverse road conditions. The standard springs and dampers were a good fit for the GT-R but, as with the drivetrain, many owners went gung-ho on aftermarket options. As long as these were from quality outfits (at the risk of making this story sound like an advert for them, Litchfield did a nice suspension and handling kit for the R35) these aftermarket additions won’t detract from a car’s value or its ability on the road. The ’17 update included a thicker, hollow rear anti-roll bar, leaving an obvious gap at the front end of the car for the aftermarket to plug, which it duly did.
Keeping the geometry tight and ideally running the same tyres all round was the right way to banish uneven tyre wear and other nasties. GT-Rs are quite tyre-sensitive, with noticeable differences in handling characteristics or traction control glitches showing up not only with the ‘wrong’ size tyres but even with the same size tyres from different manufacturers. Wheel judder or hop at the back end of the car during lock-to-lock parking manouevres was fairly normal for a GT-R but it wasn’t good if it was happening at the front. The turning circle was not far off terrible.
The standard front brake discs were huge at more than 15in in diameter but even so they weren’t invulnerable to the sort of hard use to which GT-Rs were often subjected. They could crack under pressure and replacements were expensive at up to £3k a set. Sellers have been known to put new brake pads on their cars while leaving terminally lipped discs in place and hoping you wouldn’t notice. Billet-calipered aftermarket kits from the likes of Alcon were popular. The Nismo had carbon ceramic brake discs as standard, 410mm up front which made them the biggest ever fitted to a Japanese production car. TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) failures were not unknown.
The GT-R’s body was a combination of aluminium, carbon composite and steel, the exact mix depending on the model. NISMOs were well on the exotic side of that mix. The 2016-on car generated more downforce than any other Nissan production vehicle built up to that point, enhancing high-speed stability.
Some of the darker paints have been shown to be quite soft and prone to stone-chipping. Condensation could affect the headlamps, especially in colder climates. The only fix for that was a new unit. The undertray was susceptible to speed-hump hits.
If you were unlucky enough to hit a pedestrian and the hydraulic-ram protection system was triggered, that wasn’t a cheap thing to reinstate.
Not every manufacturer listens to criticism. Even fewer will listen and then do something about it. Nissan has been a praiseworthy exception to this rule in regards to the GT-R, which has been panned over time for being a bit low rent. The 2016 refresh brought stitched leather on the dash and the (new) steering wheel and more cabin leather generally. The carpets had actual GT-R badges on them, i.e., not stitched ones.
Comfort was good over long distances whether you had the standard or the Recaro seats, although the Recs did eat into the already limited rear seat space somewhat. Those back seats (which will hold bigger children but not really adults) didn’t fold, restricting your ability to thread long loads in through the boot. At 315 litres it was up to three times bigger than key German rivals (R8, 911) and it was wide enough to hold a bag of golf clubs. Cabin storage opportunities weren’t that great though with a shallow cubby under the driver’s armrest and pretty measly door pockets.
In terms of actual spec, the GT-R has always been well equipped and there were some quality touches. Paddle shifters had been made of magnesium since 2010. A year after that, Bose’s Surround Sound system landed on the spec sheet.
The number of buttons in the 2016 car’s cabin was more than halved, from 27 to 11 (press them all to make sure everything works), and there was a new eight-inch infotainment screen which could be controlled by touch or via a rotary dial iDrive-style on the centre console. However, in terms of the screen’s appearance and operation it was old-gen gear with poor graphics, lagginess and no smartphone functionality. The low-mounted main driving mirror wasn’t ideal either as it could create a nasty blind spot in certain situations.
Although mechanical noise was being pumped in through the audio system (which you could technically adjust with a switch awkwardly located under the steering wheel and above the throttle pedal) this was classified as desirable noise. Less desirable sounds were minimised by additional sound-deadening. You could still hear tyre roar on poor roads and the distinctive GT-R drone at motorway cruising revs, but that was more subdued in the new car. On older cars, speakers could work their way loose and seat side bolsters could wear.
The GT-R might seem expensive until you realised the exotica against which it was more than competitive. Then it seemed cheap. It covered so many bases. It was versatile, well built, and pretty damn quick. It was perfectly useable as a daily, but it also had genuine supercar performance.
The GT-R’s natural rivals would be cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Mercedes AMG GT, Aston V8 Vantage and Audi R8 Plus. The GT-R's standard equipment levels were easily on a par with those found in the 911. The NISMO GT-R was never cheap. It got less cheap the longer it went on too but it’s a car that will thrill you (and admiring onlookers who know their GT-Rs) like few others will.
The most affordable refreshed (2016-on) GT-R on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this early 29,000-mile three-owner car in orange at £77,995 with a fat specification that will save you a lot of money in tuning shops. For about a grand more you could be in this 2017 car with 30,000 miles, the 680hp Litchfield 4.5 tune and an Akrapovic exhaust.
For another £1,000 or so on top of that, what about a Track Edition with a Litchfield Stage 1? Quite high miles at 39,000 but we’re talking NISMO-lite at a fraction of the price. No actual NISMOs were on sale anywhere in the UK that we could find as we went to press, soz.
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