Sound judgement eventually out-weighed precedent, but only after long, intense and sometimes anguished deliberation. While it's true the Mazda 626 and its Ford Badged Telstar twin were joint COTY winners in 1982, those cars were virtually identical.
In the 28 years since its creation, COTY has always been awarded to one car, or withheld. Now, for the first time, there are two Wheels Cars of the Year... the Honda NSX and the Nissan Pulsar.
Nissan Skyline GT-R
The bred-to-race Nissan Skyline GT-R delivered the kind of electrifying performance its specification promised, Although some judges disliked the brake pedal's softness and the suspension's lumpy low-speed ride, it accelerated, cornered and stopped like the race winner it is.
And here we have the nub of the GT-R dilemma... Several panellists thought the GT-R's competition record justified a big tick in the box beside performance of intended function. That it happened to be the most incredibly exhilarating, utterly satisfying road car they'd ever driven certainly reinforced that view.
Other judges couldn't get past the car's extravagant consumption of resources. Not only of fuel, tyres and brake pads, of which it used plenty, but of design and engineering expertise applied to such a narrow niche. 'The A9X of the '90s," was how Leo Pruneau categorised the GT-R, "a real hot rod."
Some thought the car an admirable achievement, but felt as guilty as hell about enjoying it.
Although the advanced technology of the Skyline was universally acknowledged, the call to see it applied in a less blatantly specialised car was loudly voiced. Ironically, it is technology that makes the Skyline such fabulous value for money. For $110,000 it is an awful lot of car, a benchmark piece of high performance engineering.
Ex-Nissan man Paul Beranger harboured doubts, however, about long-term durability, particularly of the bodyshell. 'I guess it's technology excellence in a donor body," he said. "Like Andrew Denton with a Mike Tyson heart, it doesn't really come together. The Skyline GT-R body is a standard production shell, in terms of its construction, with one hell of a drivetrain underneath it."
The staggering traction of the Nissan coupe's elegantly sophisticated four-wheel drive system, as well as the contribution of the subtle four-wheel steer system to handling, helped convince several judges that the GT-R possessed an above average endowment of active safety. Passive safety, as with other contenders which merely conformed with the standards of the Australian Design Rules, was a moot point. There are no airbags or seatbelt pre-tensioners in the GT-R.
The harder driving judges were worried by the way the brake pedal gradually dropped during the course of the COTY drive program. While the brakes never faded - despite the hefty kerb weight and harsh use the car's dynamics invited - few of the judges developed complete confidence in the stoppers. Not that the GT-R was always driven hard. Ewen Page, who was the first Wheels staffer to road test the car, thought the Nissan had a double edged character. "At one end there's the extreme performance, at the other you can have very low revs with good torque and driveability."
There was little doubt among the judges, when the time came to cast votes, that the GT-R is a missile with a single mission. This singularity of purpose, at the expense of almost every other aspect of design, was what stopped the Skyline being COTY.
Best points Milestone performance and handling. A technology firestorm at a great value for money price. Long term, a collectable.
Worst points Lusty thirst for fuel, tyres and brake pads. Uncomfortable low-speed ride, low-rent interior, very narrow application.