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Nissan 350Z GT-S: PH Heroes

Remember when global carmakers still publicly revelled in the silliness that resulted from letting its engineers work late?

By Nic Cackett / Thursday, December 21, 2017

Calling 2006 a more innocent time might be stretching it a wee bit, but when you consider the background of the one-off Nissan 350Z GT-S it's rather easy to become wistful for a year when the word Twitter applied almost exclusively to starlings. The manufacturer's UK division - home to the European Technical Centre at Cranfield - had tweaked the Z-car for effect before, although this was typically been limited to the use of add-on bits that Nissan (or more specifically, NISMO) made itself.

For that year's Goodwood Festival of Speed though, mostly at the press office's bidding, the firm sent half-a-dozen engineers into full skunk works mode (or, as they did it in Bedfordshire in their spare time, backroom boy mode is probably a more fitting description). The stated objective was a 'Club Special' variant of the 350Z - one which could be used for a commute to work and still dress itself down for the weekend.

The result was the installation of a single-stage, radial flow supercharger; nestled so close to the 3.5-litre V6 that Cranfield didn't even have to adjust the bonnet line. The blower - supplied by Swiss-based manufacturer, Novidem - when allied with a recoded ECU, supplied a 25 per cent hike in the 350Z's output: making 300hp into 383hp, and 260lb ft into 313lb ft. Both figures eclipse the contemporary Porsche 911 Carrera S.

But the really cool bit - the bit that earns the GT-S PH Hero status - is saved for the inside. Rather than simply having the supercharger decouple via an electrically-operated clutch when not required, Nissan took the whole split personality thing to the next level by installing a home-made on/off button just next to the gear lever. Cue the instant gratification of every adolescent fantasy built on the groaning, dusty charisma of Max Rockatansky's Pursuit Special.

Of course, being a centrifugal compressor, the GT-S's supercharger doesn't whine - but there's still a distant psssshh as the belt and blower come to life, especially if you hit the Novidem button when the V6 is already at middling revs. This you will frequently find yourself doing because a) time has not been tremendously kind to the car's naturally-aspirated delivery and b) the extra vim of its forced induction is downright moreish.

While the Kompressor can be heard noisily pirouetting at the top of every cog, it's impossible to mistake its involvement with 4.5 bar of boost pressure gusting through the internals. Naturally, the V6's torque curve flattens, but it's the rousing and progressive whoosh towards higher engine speeds that best exemplifies the GT-S's heavyweight charm - that and the noticeably greater speed suddenly being delivered by the forged matt bronze RAYS wheels.

This is sufficiently plentiful in fact to arguably make the switch redundant. But then you'd never have the fun of switching it on or the lengthy build-up where you deliberately abstain, as though you too were attempting to save precious fuel to go beyond the Thunderdome. For Nissan's part, the supercharger was favoured for its resistance to lag; the turbochargers of 2006 deemed too tricky to drive on the limit.

'Hairy-chested' was the metaphor commonly chosen to describe the 350Z's handling, and while the GT-S sports a reworked version of the standard multi-link suspension and wider tyres, the description still paints an appropriate picture. Over a decade on, it can be cheerily extended to the rest of the car, too: the clutch and manual six-speed gearbox (apparently unchanged from standard) are roughly as substantial as a hammer and anvil, and therefore not out of kilter with the decidedly old-school hydraulic steering rack.

Nevertheless, the car feels assured on its Bilstein dampers, and its physicality is all part of the GT-S fun; blended as it is with the racy soundtrack being coaxed by a silencer-bypassing valve from a revamped exhaust. Sadly, the wider world never got to sample the supercharged 350Z and its idiosyncratic button - Nissan rolled it out triumphantly for the Festival of Speed and then rolled it back into cotton wool at Cranfield immediately afterwards.

Its one-of-a-kind status means that it will remain a mere footnote in the Z-car history scroll, but that doesn't prevent us from saluting its fleeting existence; if anything it amplifies it. And the GT-S's salient lesson has hardly been forgotten: accessing massively more grunt at the flick of a cabin-mounted switch remains peculiarly satisfying - and as the age of the petrol-electric hybrid looms ever larger on the horizon, that prospect might just be prominent in the silver lining.


Engine: 3,498cc, V6 supercharged
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 383@6,850rpm
Torque (lb ft): 313@5,130rpm
0-62mph: 4.8sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,549kg
MPG: 24.1
CO2: 280g/km
On sale: 2003-2009
Price new: £29,500
Price now: standard 350Z £4,495-£12,300

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