The Nissan GT-R50 turns the driver into Robocop : The Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur is suffused in spirituality. Fifty years ago, the prime movers of the counterculture fermented revolutionary thoughts here, as the previous year’s summer of love nursed a monumental hangover. In Japan, Nissan showed off the first GT-R, a reimagining of the Skyline saloon that would ignite a whole new automotive subculture. In Turin, car design tyro Giorgetto Giugiaro founded his company Italdesign, and would go on to author dozens of the world’s most important cars.
So it isn’t just the forces of physics that are pressing onto me as I exit another Californian hairpin. It’s the weight of history. There’s jeopardy, too, because the car in question is the Nissan GT-R50, a joint 50th birthday present pitched by Italdesign to the Japanese giant, which also showcases the Italians’ coachbuilding and manufacturing capability. Plans are afoot to make 50, and they’ll cost at least £800,000 each. Right now, there’s only one… and this is it.
Hot off three days upstaging the more obvious stars of the 2018 Quail Lodge gathering and Pebble Beach, the two most prestigious concours events in the world. But it’s also part of a resurgent coachbuilding narrative continuum, which traces its roots back to the wildly decorous one-offs that real-life Jay Gatsbys and their European equivalents blazed a trail in. The GT-R is talismanic for the new-age Gatsbys of Silicon Valley and the West Coast’s rap oligarchs.
Re-bodying this car is an interesting aesthetic challenge. GT-R fanboys and girls know it as “Godzilla”, but even that’s almost too organic: this is a slab-sided, stubborn-headed machine, a car that turns the driver into Robocop. Emotional, for sure, but not in the same way that an Aston Martin or Ferrari is emotional.
For the GT-R50 makeover, gold is definitely a thing and it coats the carbon-fibre elements on the nose and tail in a way that makes it look like another car is trying to force its way through. It’s also there in the “samurai blade” cooling outlets behind the front wheels.
The effect is set off in stellar fashion by twin rear lights that really do look like they’re floating free. A huge moveable rear wing and diffuser anchor the GT-R50 in aerodynamic reality, but in every other sense this is an expert amalgam of European sensibilities and Japanese anti-design. The gold motif continues inside. It’s beautiful, but not as we know it.
“My former boss Nakamura-san mentioned to me during the development of the current GT-R that if someone complimented him on the car’s beauty, he’d failed,” Nissan design VP Alfonso Albaisa explains. “The GT-R’s mystique and its very DNA is that of a beast. It’s brutal in appearance but science-like in its precision. I find this to be essential as well and there’s a Japanese aesthetic that’s a must. That said, it must come naturally, because the GT-R is an accumulation of many necessary things.”
Self-restraint while driving is also necessary. The GT-R50 has been overhauled by Nissan’s Nismo motorsport arm, so what lies beneath is as compelling as its new tailor-made Italian suit. It’s powered by a hand-made 3.8-litre V6 making 710bhp, there are GT3 competition-spec twin turbos, enlarged intercoolers, a heavy-duty crankshaft, pistons, connecting rods, reworked intake and exhaust, beefed-up dual-clutch ’box and reinforced diff. The rear suspension uses Bilstein continuously variable dampers, there are huge Brembo brakes (also Italian) and 21-inch carbon-fibre wheels wear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
Age has not withered the decade-old GT-R’s ability to startle. It’s not a subtle nor particularly agile car, but it monsters its way down the road like nothing else, a relentless hi-tech bruiser that you sense won’t take no for an answer, irrespective of the question. Now it does it with renewed swagger.