The Godzilla & the automobile industry; 50th Anniversary of the Nissan GTR

It was merely a Japanese legend for the better part of four decades. The Nissan Skyline GT-R was a high-tech, high-performance coupe that we could only get a small taste of or experience virtually through video games in Japanese magazines.

Equipped with all-wheel drive, all-wheelsteering, and a twin-turbocharged inline-6, it was a car that we drooled over, but only from far away. And the given name: Godzilla. How brilliant was it? But, without a long history at home, many readers may not be all that familiar with the GT-R story. With the nameplate turning 50 in 2019.

The first generation, 1969-1972

Since 1957 the Skyline sedan had been around but the GT-R made its debut at the Tokyo Auto Show in the fall of 1968 and was introduced in February 1969. The beast’s beating heart was the 2.0-liter dual-overhead cam S20 inline 6-cylinder engine that produced 160 horsepower and 130 pound-feet torque. The first-generation GT-R was officially known as code KPGC10 and bore the acronym “Hakosuka,” which was a variation of the Japanese terms for box and skyline. The car with a 104-inch wheelbase was 173 inches long and weighed 2,469 pounds. It could take 16.1 seconds to cover the quarter-mile and reach a top speed of 124 mph. It could corner, too, as it proved by winning the JAF Grand Prix in its debut race. The car became available as a coupe in 1971. All told, 1,945 of the first-generation cars were produced.


The second-generation, 1973

The second-generation Skyline GT-R, called KPGC110, was only sold as a coupe in 1973. The S20 in-line-6 still powered the car, and the only transmission was a 5-speed manual like the first-generation one. The car became informally known as the “Ken & Mary” because of a song from a young couple used in the marketing campaign. Sadly, due to the oil crisis and the more stringent emission standards that choked performance in the mid-1970s, only 197 KPGC110 GT-Rs were constructed.


The third-generation, 1989-1994

“It wasn’t a matter of which team has got the best car; it was which GT-R was the best.”

The Skyline GT-R returned after a 16-year hiatus, this time as a showcase for significantly more performance technology. The so-called R32 GT-R featured the new ATTESA all-wheel-drive system, “Hicas” all-wheel steering and front and rear multi-link suspension. The 2.6-liter inline-6-cylinder turbocharged RB26DETT spun out 276 horsepower and 260 lb-ft torque. Zero to 60 mph took 5.6 seconds and passed in 13.9 seconds the quarter-mile.

In the 1990 season, Nissan joined 7 R32 races into Division 1 of the All-Japan Touring Car Championship, but all these rivals withdrew after only one year, as the GT-R won every single event. And the race series became virtually a one-make GT-R series until 1993. Under the rules of FIA Group A, the GT-R beat everything in Division 1, from the E30 M3 to the Sierra Cosworth which the teams used to run. All were beaten. It was apparent early on that the GT-R was dominant. It wasn’t a matter of which team has got the best car; it was which GT-R was the best. Indeed, it was so dominant that the Japanese Touring Car Championship and the Australian Touring Car Championship completely changed their rules to stop the GT-R from racing ever again. The Australians then nicknamed it the ‘Godzilla’ as the GT-R ate all alive wherever it was going.


The fourth-generation, 1995-1998

“…a firmer suspension, lower ride height, and an active limited-slip rear differential.”


The development of the R33 was just an evolution of the R32. It had the same engine but torque significantly increased to 264 pound-feet. The 0-60 mph pace dropped down to 5.0 seconds but a 7:59 loop of the Nürburgring was the greatest accomplishment. Thanks to larger turbos and expanded displacement to 2.8 liters a giant R400 model made 395 horsepower. It could accelerate from 0 mph to 60 mph in four flat seconds. Just 44 R400s were installed which was introduced in 1997. The V.Spec model was the sportier choice for most customers, with a firmer suspension, lower ride height, and an active limited-slip rear differential.


The fifth-generation, 1999-2002

“The frame was also stiffer, the aerodynamics strengthened, and some weight-saving steps, including the use of a carbon fiber rear diffuser…”


The GT-R’s R34-generation benefited from the racing and testing of the two preceding generations. It still “officially” made 276 horsepower, and turbo lag was reduced, torque increased, and the 5-speed was replaced by a new Getrag 6-speed manual. The frame was also stiffer, the aerodynamics strengthened, and some weight-saving steps, including the use of a carbon fiber rear diffuser, were employed. The car was also shorter, as was the front overhang. An R34 GT-R has been featured in several of the “Fast and Furious” movies, giving U.S. car enthusiasts a taste for unobtainable Japanese performance cars.


The sixth-generation, 2008 to present

The first GT-R offered in the US, the R35, dropped the name Skyline. It arrived with a starting price of just under $78,000 in Japan in December 2007 and the USA in July 2008. The new engine was a 3.8-liter VR38DETT twin-turbocharged V-6, spinning out 480 horsepower and 430 pound-feet torque. The Hicas all-wheel steering system was gone, so was the 6-speed manual, replaced by a dual-clutch 6-speed transmission. The multifunction display was created by the same programmers who did the “Gran Turismo” video game. The performance was much improved, and it has improved steadily since the R35’s release.

The R35 is now entering the 2020 model year, and there’s a special 50th-anniversary package to mark the milestone. The base car makes 565 horsepower and the Nismo model churns out 600 horses. The top speed is now 193 mph, and 0 to 60 is as quick as 3.2 seconds. Unfortunately, the base car’s price is $115,235 and if you want the Nismo you’re looking at a minimum of  $212,435. Godzilla has certainly grown up.