GT-R RETROSPECTIVE: Fully 6 (December 04)

Be warned meeting your heroes means cramming satisfaction and disappointment in a blender, then setting the whole thing to 'puree'. Is the resulting flavour bitter or sweet? For example, is it better to fang a Ferrari or spend your life desperately seeking to? The landscape of dreams has no corner to accommodate crap ergonomics, impossible gearshifts or on-limit handling designed primarily to kill you. In my own dreams, for example, Angelina Jolie never snores or gets 'pillow hair'.


Hero cars don't come much bigger or bolder than E49 Charger R/Ts and Skyline GT-Rs. Both sixes have achieved iconic status here: in 1971 Chrysler's stubby coupe gatecrashed the local performance-car party, while the 1972 E49 sprinted the quarter-mile faster than any local V8 of the time, and held the record for fastest-accelerating Aussie production car for two decades. Charger also shocked Holden by pipping the HQ to win Wheels' 1971 COTY.

The Japanese Nissan (in R32 guise) burst out of its import crate 20 years later, achieving instant credibility with its awesome blend of big horsepower and super-sticky all-paw traction. However, the GT-R's defeat of Aussie V8s was more public than the Charger's, spanking the eight-cylinder Fords and Holdens in 1991's Bathurst 1000. The fans didn't like it.

Two years after the BA XR6 Turbo inflicted a flesh wound upon Aussie V8s, FPV's extra-strength version, the F6 Typhoon, threatens to emulate its peers by thrusting 550Nm into the heart of the V8 kingdom. The F6 combines the traditional tough, rear-drive Aussie approach of the Charger with a dose of the GT-R's high-technology and Japanese-style horsepressure.

Let's jump into the driver's seat of three different eras to see how they contrast...

THE CHARGER
History might romanticise XY GTHO Falcons and sundry small-block, Chev-powered Monaros of the early '70s, but the Charger was the horniest local horn car ever made. Maybe the masses merely counted the cylinders and came up two short. However, when push came to arse-kicking, the six-pack R/T E49 could crack the standing quarter in 14.4 seconds. The bent-eight GTHOs and Monaros might have crossed the line first in the popularity stakes, but, when the stopwatches came out, the Charger emerged the clear winner. Three decades on, it would still run the quarter quicker than an RX-8, while near dead-heating with a 350Z or XR6 Turbo.

In context, four-slot transmissions and radial tyres were big news back then, and the radio-cassette player had yet to be invented.

Only 149 E49 Chargers were ever built, and photocopier technician Nick owns two, plus one each of its 185kW E37 and 209kW E38 predecessors (bought "in pieces" and fully restored), all powered by Chrysler's 265ci 'Hemi' in-line six.

At last year's Australian Grand Prix, Nick was offered $60,000 for his Mercury Silver E49. He declined. "The E49 is the classic Greek Mercedes, mate," says Nick. "It's in the blood."

Driving the E49 strips away 30 years in the blink of an eye. It is everything that was right about cars back then, at the same time as being everything that was wrong about them.

There's no shortage of glorious induction howl from six throttle bodies on three carbs, unhindered by any serious attempt to insulate the cabin from the outside world. There's wind, exhaust, induction and road noise, all fighting for supremacy, with the Webers ahead by a nose. In the intervening three decades, manufacturers have made cars feel and sound as if they are stationary, and all the motion is occurring outside, perhaps in a movie. You're under no such illusions in the Charger - it is moving, and the outside world is stopped.

Acceleration is, as all the reports said, brutal - seemingly all the more so thanks to the un-attenuated racket around you at the time. Packing 225kW into a lightweight 1370kg package will do that. You bounce out of phase on the seats as their springs fight the suspension's for harmony. The seatbelt carves up your neck, and the brake pedal is across from, and 200mm higher than, the accelerator - slide your foot across and you'll miss it. I know I did, first time around. There is no vacuum assistance.

The redline - 5000rpm - is a gentlemen's agreement. In the absence of any electronics, there is no self-protective cut-out. This is a car with an engine and lots of free space under a helipad-sized bonnet. You could throw a party under there and still change the spark plugs. It lacks even the carbon canister and rudimentary emissions gear that increasingly plagued post-'74 performance cars, and spews enough raw hydrocarbons from its exhaust at full noise to run a Toyota Prius for a year.

We are riding on today's equivalent of 4WD tyres - Goodyear G800 Grand Rally 225/65R14s (in fact, there are plenty of 4WDs today with wider and lower-profile rubber). On a wing and a prayer, in other words, considering the grunt the Sure Grip diff is able to apply to them. The speedo is calibrated to 130mph (209km/h), and it would take more bravery than I could stump up to get it anywhere near that on those tyres. You turn the wheel, and the nose does come about - though the experience has a nautical character to it, at least by today's standards.

THE GT-R
The first impression I get of the GT-R (this particular one is the technophile's wet dream, an R34 V-spec private import from Japan) happens from inside the Typhoon. The GT-R's mean, electric-blue snout limpets onto the F6's rear bumper just outside Victoria's Mount Macedon, and despite trying every dirty trick I know, I can't shake it. This all-paw Nissan has 'supercar' written all over it.
We go at it hammer and tong for 10 minutes, then back off and pull over. Sixty-year-old Peter, the R34's owner, is trying not to appear too damn pleased with himself. And failing.

The RWD Typhoon, though very impressive, can't compete with the GT-R's power, grip, and weight advantage - nor can its Brembos match the aftermarket six-piston Harrop brake system installed on the Skyline - $12,000, thank you very much. Even the Skyline's tyre spec (Bridgestone S-01 265/35ZR18) makes the Typhoon's 245/40ZR18 Dunlop SP Sport 9000s look skinny. In the time it takes to figure all that out and scribble it down, the Charger arrives on the scene, brakes smoking. Which kind of puts the gulf between dynamic performances of '70s and late-'90s/early-noughties horn cars into perspective.

You wouldn't expect someone who spent their working life in the precision-machining game, as Peter did, to be happy with anything less than a state-of-the-art supercar.

"I was a hoon before you were born," says Peter. "Seriously. My generation were the hoons of the '50s and '60s. We bored out Austins and Morrises, fitted an Eddie Thomas cam if we were lucky (or left the choke out) and we stuffed plenty of cranks through the sides of engine blocks."

The V-spec packs precision and brutality in equal measure. While some sexagenarians spend their retirements gardening or playing lawn bowls, Peter gets his V-spec ready for track days and tarmac rallies.

"This is not a practical car, but it's a brilliantly engineered, fantastic toy," he says. His wife won't ride in it, and he wouldn't be drawn on whether that was a plus or a minus.

There's probably no such thing as a standard R34 Skyline, and Peter's is no exception. It's had an engine rebuild including a bigger, baffled sump to eliminate oil surge, plus an engine oil cooler fitted. Front-end geometry benefits from a Nismo camber/castor kit, and there are extra catalytic converters and sundry other mandated bits Peter describes as "ADR rubbish". Getting it here brand new in its current state of trim cost around $120,000, which is either rather a lot for a Nissan (you could grab two off-the-shelf 350Zs for that) or damn cheap for a supercar, depending on how you look at it.

Most people will look at it rapidly emerging in the rear-view mirror and subsequently disappearing through the windscreen. The R34 feels like a race car, which it almost is. The engine idles lumpily, the exhaust booms. The vehicle tramlines over anything rougher than a metrology block. You sit in deeply bolstered, high, race-style bucket seats, and the steering wheel is cocked weirdly to the left. Ride quality? Just this side of 'go-kart'.

There's no shortage of differential whine when you sink your right foot and the active centre differential figures the correct front-/rear-drive proportions. That's provided you can get off the mark in the first place - the multi-plate race clutch engages over about five microns of pedal travel, which takes two or three goes to get used to.

The RB26DETT engine's tacho redlines at 9000rpm, and a wall of steamroller-esque torque accompanies you all the way there. Grip? Phenomenal, and it's most noticeable when the un-killable Harrop stoppers are called into action.

The Japanese penchant for information overload is there in spades, too, with boost pressure, throttle position, and temperature for oil, water, exhaust and intake air all displayed on the centre LCD display, in three different modes, all with user-definable red zones. And none of them are worth a blurt when you're heel-and-toeing back to second at 6000rpm on your way into a right-hand hairpin, three inches from the bright red Typhoon in front.

THE TYPHOON
Maybe this new FPV will never be as exhilarating as the R34 to drive on the track, or as emotionally rewarding as the Charger, but you can drive this baby all day and feel like you've had a lap session with Thorpey rather than gone a few rounds with Iron Mike. A GT-P might hold more appeal if you just want a cruiser with a satisfying exhaust burble, but if up-it-for-the-rent factor features high on your list of priorities, Typhoon is the FPV vehicle du jour.

The six-cylinder FPV's 550 Newton metres don't muck about. Prodrive's tuning pretty much makes the 270 kilowatts a footnote - the big news is that wall of torque that kicks in at 2000rpm and keeps on kicking all the way up. Forget everything you might have experienced in peaky, high-spooling turbo engines, because Typhoon pulls like a V8. Correction: better than most V8s. And the sound is right on the money as well.

Few cars will be able to stick with you between A and B. The R34 is demonstrably one of those that will, but plenty of Euro exotics costing twice as much won't. And there's not even the hint that the Typhoon will ever bite the hand that feeds it. Even the most ham-fisted punter could drive it in the wet in absolute safety (albeit conditionally, with traction control switched on).

Prodrive balances the Typhoon on the knife edge between horn-car and hot-rod. It's certainly not as civilised as an XR6 Turbo. The blow-off valve does its thing in the best "fully sick, mate" aftermarket tradition, yet the car starts reliably, hot or cold (the same can't be said for the Charger or the R34), and its performance is outstandingly linear.

You can whisper a conversation as you rip past the legal limit. In terms of the way it's slung together, the Typhoon is just what Aussie horn-car buyers have always wanted. In fact, the Typhoon is exactly the car the E49 would be if it were being designed and built today.

Having 550Nm virtually everywhere does tend to be rather enjoyable, but it isn't Typhoon's best feature. That praise goes to the F6's behaviour at the limit. Platform perfection is something that's always been at the top of Ford Performance Vehicles boss David Flint's personal hit-list, and there's never been a better example of that in the metal.

Typhoon announces its arrival at the limit with the handling equivalent of a polite knock on the door. There will never be a snap loss of traction in this car; you merely progress into a slide. And you get to choose at which end. It's a matter merely of throttle position and steering input. Typhoon's is one of the most communicative locally built chassis' ever.

There are love-hate things about the Typhoon as well. The audible beep just before the redline - gotta love that. It gives you one less reason to take your eyes off the road. But you could go either way with the FPV trademark machined-alloy starter button. It's there for the same reason HSV writes 'Clubsport' 57 times on its bread-and-butter vehicle - so you won't think you've just forked out an extra $13K for just another Holden.

And the big, fat, shifter knob? Is Prodrive attempting to make us all feel inadequate in the trouser department? In truth, Tremec's T56 is not the slickest of gearboxes, but it does shoulder rather a lot of grunt reliably. Still, although there are two more gears, shift quality is on a par with the Charger. Most of the automotive world has moved forwards in three decades, but transmissions seem to be an area that's failed to catch up.

THE RESULT
You just about need a physics degree and a wealth of driving talent to fully exploit the R34 Skyline - and a minimum of $80,000 in your pocket - but the Nissan is an awesome car both in terms of outright performance and underlying engineering.

The Charger R/T E49? It's both irresponsible and impractical to malign an important piece of automotive history by using it every day. We know Nick doesn't - he drives one of his other dozen-or-so cars, or the company Magna if he has to park anywhere.

If you had to own just one car from this awesome trio, FPV's F6 Typoon is the pick. You can't discount its enormous all-round appeal. But the big question: where will the Typhoon be in three decades? Revered as a classic in the way those in the know regard the E49 today, or reduced to a footnote?

It's been a thrill to meet FPV's new turbo hero - it's undoubtedly the best car here, by miles ... even if it's not as memorable a drive as its iconic six-cylinder peers.

Body steel steel, 2 doors, 4 seats
Drivetrain front engine
(north-south), all drive
Engine 2568cc 6cyl, twin turbo
Power 206kW @ 6800rpm*
Torque 392Nm @ 4400rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Size l/w/h 4600/1785/1360mm
Wheelbase 2665mm
Weight 1540kg
0-100km/h 4.4sec**
0-400m 12.7sec**
Price $124,000 ('99)
On sale 1999-2002 (Japan)

The R34 GT-R was announced in January 1999. Compared with the then-outgoing R33, it was 75mm shorter, on a 55mm- shorter wheelbase. Front overhang was cut 20mm, while overall width grew 5mm. Body stiffness went up an incredible 50 percent.

Engine tweaks included new camshafts and new, smaller, ball-bearing, ceramic, twin turbochargers for quicker spool-up and response. A lower back-pressure stainless-steel exhaust system was also added, as was a new short-throw, six-speed manual gearbox jointly developed by Nissan and Getrag.

The V-spec scored an active centre differential to modulate torque split - notionally rear-wheel drive, but up to 50 percent of available torque could be punted forwards in wheelspin scenarios.
Additionally, the V-spec got a new front diffuser and a carbonfibre rear diffuser for improved underbelly aeros, as well as a four-position adjustment on the rear wing.

The R34's suspension consists of struts (front) and multi-links (rear) with the V-spec sporting a firmer set-up than standard. Both versions have the Super-HICAS all-wheel-steering system.

Standard brakes are four-piston Brembos up front on 300mm rotors, and twin-piston Brembos at the rear on 280mm rotors. Additionally, the front undertray was designed to create a low-pressure area inside the wheel well to boost brake cooling and increase airflow from the spoiler ducts.

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