Quite possibly the most famous three letters to come out of Japan, and with good reason. For fifty years Nissan has been putting this badge on its performance cars, and for fifty years the GT-R has kicked ass and taken names in many legal racing series' as well as in the underground illegal race scene on a global scale. Most journos who attended the launch have only really seen the GT-R at similar events or at the racetrack, but in my circles I've been privy to some ridiculously powerful examples, stuff that would blow the mind of your average person. In the aftermarket side of life the GT-R quite possibly has the most fearsome reputation. If you're at a race meet, legal or illegal, and a GT-R pitches up, people take notice. It doesn't matter if other cars in attendance are of the supercar variety, all eyes will undoubtedly be on the GT-R. People who attend these events expect a GT-R to be monstrously fast, and they're usually quite right. There's a whole aftermarket industry dedicated to tuning these cars, even "basic" bolt-on parts can see the power figures circling 4-digit power figures, and more often than not the exterior of these cars look as stock as the day they left the showroom floor. This is the world I know well, I can rattle off more than 20 names of owners I know personally and I'd guesstimate that only 5% of them are stock.
While I've been offered the keys to a few of these cars over the years, I've never had the balls to accept. I'd feel too bad if something went tits up because any sort of repair job would be way more than my budget to fix. I'm not talking mechanically because these things are generally bulletproof, but bumping the car would see me in debt for life. When I received the invite to the launch of this 50th Anniversary Edition GT-R I did my happy dance until I fell over, I'd finally be able to drive one and I'd have the backing of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists in case things went wrong. I often get asked what the benefits are of being a Guild member, well proper insurance is one of them - as long as you're not driving like a complete idiot and breaking the law. It just feels better knowing that if some chop changed lanes without looking and sideswiped the car, that my ass would be covered.
There's so much out there on the GT-R, any model, that I'm not gonna bore you with a bunch of technical stuff, instead you get the stuff that counts to me. Powering the 50th Anniversary Edition GT-R is the same powerplant that's been in this model for 12 years. That's right, the R35 GT-R is now 12 years old, basically a kid who started school when this car first launched could in theory still buy a brand new one off the showroom floor after passing Matric. If that doesn't tell you how damn good the R35 is, nothing will. When it launched back in 2007, the car was miles ahead of, well, everything. The technology packed in was not just class-leading, it was industry-leading stuff. It even became known as a Playstation car, meaning the drive felt too detached and more like you're playing a game than driving a car. Even if that was the case, it was a Playstation car that made the rest of the performance car automakers of the world wish there was a reset button. Like I said, I'd never driven one, but over the years that reported disconnected feeling has actually become somewhat of an industry standard if supercar and hypercar reviews are to be believed. As the competition started to catch up, they realised that the electronics and other systems on board that took the blame for that feeling of disconnect were actually very necessary, and so most of the fast stuff has started to quite feel similar. I'll say here that I didn't experience that feeling when driving this car, there was feedback for days.
So that powerplant that's still in play, it's the VR38DETT, a name that's like whispering Mufasa, it gives competitors the chills. It's a 6-cylinder in a V6 configuration with a pair of Hiroshima Hairdryers attached. When launched the engine pushed out 357kW (479hp) which was mad strong, and through the years the self-same lump has been tweaked and tuned to be not only more powerful, but smoother too. In this 50th Anniversary Edition GT-R the power is now rated at 410kW (550hp - possibly to make more sense for the 50th anniversary) with a stonking 632Nm of torque. There's one that makes even more power used in a very special edition NISMO GT-R, but I'll let you Google that coz it's not coming to SA. It's insane power, especially when it's available off the showroom floor to anyone with the money. Also, it's a little-known fact that these fantabulous power plants are each handcrafted by a single technician (no, not one guy making them all, each engine is built by a single person) much like the AMG engines are, and by that I mean the REAL ones, not the AMG-badged C200s and the like. These engine builders are called Takumi Technicians, and it was these guys who decided on new turbos featuring an abradable seal that helps low RPM response thanks to tighter clearances and a 5% efficiency increase. This equates to a sharper engine response in and out of corners - as if the GT-R needed it. But hey, sharp is good, scalpel-sharp better. There's been a tweak to the exhaust manifolds too that will make the aftermarket tuners rather pleased. The Takumis have optimised the turbo flange attachment points to allow for easier servicing and potential tuning, without touching the exhaust manifold. Since when does a manufacturer do something that aids in tuning? Since it's Nissan and they're awesome! The GT-R also has an exhaust note that a true enthusiast can pick out of a line of cars in traffic, and in this 50th Anniversary Edition GT-R a set of titanium-tipped end boxes have been fitted, and these give that engine note an even more special tone. So much so that on the launch drive we only played one song on the infotainment system just to hear how it sounds and the rest of the day was nothing but a 6-cylinder symphony and dodging NP200s with a death wish.
Of course you need a drivetrain that's going to extract the best from that monster of a V6 powerplant, and Nissan has one of the best, if not the best, in the game. I say this with authority because I've seen loads of these cars modified to all hell and the drivetrain components remain stock. Of course for the ones making more than double the power some mods are needed to keep things in one piece, but for the most part these drivetrains can handle more abuse than you'd think possible. The configuration is also a little different to how you'd imagine. In a conventional setup, you'll have the engine with a transmission bolted to it, then you'd have the transfer case that will have shafts attached to send power to the front wheels, then you'd find a propshaft to send power to a rear diff and side shafts. In the GT-R things have never been conventional, and so here we find the powerplant up front and the transmission at the rear, connected via a propshaft. This means shorter and stronger driveshafts at each end of the car, but most importantly it gives the GT-R that magical 50/50 weight split when hoofing it. When not hoofing it, it's a little under 50/50, but that's not when it counts. So that twin turbocharged V6 sends all 550hp to the wheels rather efficiently, and with the weight split and a fair amount of electronic wizardry there's always maximin traction. R-Mode has been refined, and oddly that means more aggressive downshifts to prognosticate fast cornering exits and the ability to cleverly select gears during ABS engagement, which means reduced understeer and a more driver-intuitive feeling. Nissan says: "The adaptive shift control is programmed to change shift schedules to fit the user's driving style" and that simply means if I owned one the safety systems would be permanently trying to stop me from offing myself because I'd have the thing constantly ready to pounce.
Then there's that launch control. I honestly thought launch control would see me fighting the steering and listening to the wheels scream for mercy, instead it's just a matter of holding on tight and aiming the thing where you want it to go. The wheels scrabble for traction but they have it in buckets, enough for silly 0-100km/h times. In a little over 3-seconds you've hit 100 (under 3-seconds at lower altitude and with better fuel) and in a mere 6-seconds you're literally going fast enough for jail time. In 20 seconds your mind is blown and you realise that there is no other car you'll drive in your life that will feel this damn good. Being new to the GT-R, I did that first launch in auto, letting the ECUs do their magic by shifting gears faster than any human possibly could. I told myself that I'd have to keep the car in auto because the only other flappy paddle cars I'd driven didn't give me the feeling that I needed or wanted to use them. I think I made it to the end of the road that I'd started my drive on, after that the rest of the drive saw manual mode engaged. Pulling back on the left paddle drops a gear, then another, and then another. Speed dependant, this puts the revs at the very spot where the whole mechanical concoction is ready to explode with performance, you can tell because there's pops and bangs from the titanium exhaust signalling you've dropped enough gears, and the little voice inside your head (not the good one) tells you to mash your right foot into the floorboard. This can happen at 80km/h in traffic. This can happen at 130km/h on an open road. This car tests your self-restraint to levels you didn't know was possible. Screw torture for getting information out of people - put bad guys in a GT-R and let them drive the kak out of it, one power run for every secret told. You'll have a giggling hostage, all the info you want and fuel bill you'll hate. Someone tell the CIA...
Add in some of the best suspension to ever be fitted to a factory car along with an array of buttons that allow switching between a few driving modes. None of them are of any consequence besides R Mode. I mean, if you don't keep your GT-R in R Mode, are you even a GT-R owner? R is for serious driving business, when engaged it firms everything up, the throttle response, the steering, the suspension and it also lets the transmission stay in the gear of your choosing and even allowing the limiter to kick in instead of automatically engaging the next gear. We drove on some roads that I'm familiar with, albeit it in slower cars. Actually seeing as this is the fastest road car I've ever driven, just assume anything else I ever talk about for the rest of my life is slower. So on these roads, I've taken bends in a well-sorted S2000, my old Focus ST, a 7.5 R GTi and a few other tasty lumps of metal, but none of them will even smell a GT-R, even at half throttle. One bend in particular is awesome at just over 100km/h on other cars, you have to feather the throttle and keep mind of the steering input and what the tyres are wanting to do. In the GT-R I took the same section around 30km/h higher and I didn't even realise it. I wasn't near my skill level limit and the GT-R was easily another 20km/h from even thinking about having any issues. This again cemented the fact that the GT-R is not only a Jack of all trades, but also a master of them all. If you ever see an R35 GT-R caning it somewhere and it's taking bends at speed and ripping up the straights, don't be too impressed by the driver - 80% of what you see is down to the car. I would love to be let loose on a track for a day with this car, all I'd need is a fuel sponsor, a tyre sponsor and an underwear sponsor. To reign the GT-R in, there's a new brake booster setup in play that increases the effectiveness and also offers up less travel on the pedal. Ever heard that "it can stop on a dime" saying? Well I can report that when you need the brakes in a GT-R, they're there and then some. After cresting a hill I was faced with a bakkie overtaking an 18-wheeler over a solid white line into a blind rise, at a lick over walking pace - fun times. I jumped on the clamps to avoid having an NP200 hood ornament, it clearly worked because I'm typing this now, but I'm convinced that if I was in another car things would have been decidedly different. Of course we would have climbed out without a scratch, but surgeons would have a hard time removing NP200 bits from our driver of the month. This is on video too, but it doesn't really show how close it was, which is again thanks to the brakes. What it does however show is that I swear like a sailor, just like me mum did.
The cabin of a Japanese supercar is great, this thing has it all and then some. You don't really expect all the creature comforts in something with this kind of performance but there really is nothing left wanting. The release says: "The distinct driver-oriented cockpit has comfortable yet supportive seats for both front and rear passengers. The dashboard is designed to convey a horizontal flow, delivering a sense of high stability for front seat occupants. It comes wrapped in a single, seamless piece of hand-selected Nappa leather, artfully stitched with Takumi-style precision. The centre dashboard integrates navigation and audio controls and an 8-inch capacitive touch-panel monitor. The large icons on the display screen inform the driving experience without distracting from it". That sounds great, but it's miles better than that. The seats are race-style buckets that fit me perfectly. A few guys commented that the high bolsters dig into their sides a bit. Luckily there's an aftermarket solution for this - LOSE SOME WEIGHT! Don't blame Japan's finest because you can't say no to KFC. The driving position took all of 10 seconds to set up, everything is electronically adjustable and I was proper comfortable. The cabin feels like it wraps around you, and with all the buttons strewn around the cabin and with a choice of informative displays for the touchscreen that heads up the infotainment system, it feels like a fighter plane cockpit. Well, A luxury fighter plane. That raised transmission tunnel in bare carbon fibre with the 50th Anniversary badge makes my man bits pay attention. How's the boot space then? Who cares? Like seriously? I didn't even open the boot. It's a GT-R. Buy new shit when you get to your destination. Luggage is weight, weight is bad.
The guys at Nissan are brilliant, they didn't want this launch to be all about the new car, instead it was also focused on the heritage of the GT-R. With that in mind, #OMGTR man Janus Janse van Rensburg organised every generation of GT-R for us to not only drool over, but also experience on the road. Seeing a Kenmeri and a Hakosuka in the metal is rare, especially in the same place at the same time. This legendary duo was for display only though, which is understandable. You can buy a few of the 50th Anniversary Edition GT-Rs for the value of the two old timers. The presentation on the history of the GT-R nomenclature, including the origins of the Godzilla nickname was pure awesomeness, there's just so much amazing race history behind the badge. To give a complete experience, we could have drives in the R32, R33 and R34 GT-R models. I only went along for one drive in the R32, but only because it's one I hadn't been in before. I've had a few mad runs in R33s and R34s over the years so I stood back to let others have a go, I'm cool like that. The R32 was 100% stock with the speed limiter removed, and it's just mad because many 2019 model performance cars will struggle to keep up with it.
The only thing I didn't do during this event was take my own pics, I did try but I decided to rather put the camera away and enjoy the experience, and I'm so damn happy I did. Watching events and things through a 2cm viewfinder can sometimes detract from the experience. Sometimes. Also Waldo Van Dr Waal absolutely rocked these official press images, well done there Sir! Once my time in the 50th Anniversary Edition was done, I did snap some pics of the older generation models that were brought out of hiding for us though, which you'll see in the gallery below. There's not much more to say about the latest incarnation of Japan's coolest motoring export, yet at the same time there's loads to say too. Got to hear loads of interesting info during an informal Q&A with Wilhelm Baard, a man with a long association with GT-R both locally and internationally. Not only was he part of the top brass at Nissan and heavily involved with the development of the car, he's also a world-class race driver. In fact, the first time I met him was about 11 years ago when I had a few hot laps as passenger with him at the old Kyalami - in a GT-R. Let's just say Horatio Cane's team would be able to find proof of my drive if they ever tested the passenger seat from that car.
The 50th Anniversary GT-R launch wasn't a launch, it was an experience. Launches are usually all bout making the journos feel special and spoiled so that they write nice things about the car in question. While this event had all that and more, it would have been equally as amazing if we arrived at a One-Stop for a Wimpy coffee and a lap of the N1. This is one car that needs no buttering up, it's the consummate supercar, everything a modern supercar owner could want. It's THE BEST car I've ever personally driven. It handles the best, brakes the best, sounds the best, accelerates the best and makes me feel like, well, the best. The 50th Anniversary GT-R hasn't just set the bar for my motoring experiences to date, it's forever etched in my memory, and I can't thank Nissan SA enough for including me on this launch.
The 2020 Nissan GT-R Anniversary Edition is not cheap, it's also quite a bit more than the original launch price, but that's expected after 12 years. There's currently three trims available, all mechanically identical, but as expected there's a bit of a premium for the Anniversary edition. The range kicks off with the Premium Edition at R2 250 000, then there's the Black Edition at R2 360 000, and then this Bayside Blue (there's red and white too) GT-R 50th Anniversary Edition at R2 405 000.
Author: Chris Wall
A slightly tattooed motoring fanatic, photography nut and avid collector of knowledge. Use the search bar to navigate through the archives.