Nissan is developing a wild, new GT-R super coupe powered by a 300kW V8 engine and set to be marketed globally for the first time following its Japanese debut in August 2004.
This radical rethink of the role and identity of the car nicknamed Godzilla is a result of Nissan's corporate march from basket case to cash cow under CEO Carlos Ghosn's leadership. Ghosn, with a covetous eye on potentially lucrative North American sales, recognised the GT-R's international potential and ordered that it be developed for worldwide consumption.
The all-alloy V8 is a derivative of Nissan's 4.5-litre VK45 engine, used in two top-line Japanese domestic cars as well as two Infiniti badged sedans and a 4WD unique to North America. US sources hint that the V8-powered R35 GT-R (which is likely to wear an Infiniti badge in North America) will be rated at around 300kW.
The VK45's stroke has been lengthened to increase displacement, and a pair of engines have been tested: a 5.0-litre and a larger version reported to displace 5.4 or 5.6 litres. Sources report different capacities, although the 5.4 number is the only one percolating regularly through the supplier network.
The move to the use of a normally aspirated, large-displacement engine for North America was based largely on emissions concerns, as turbocharged cars can have difficulties with the 160,000km duration of California's emissions certification. Most companies selling cars in the US and Canada build engines to California's 'worst case scenario' to simplify development as well as to keep a cap on parts support and component complexity.
Another factor in opting for larger displacement instead of increased atmospheric pressure was potential concern about durability issues arising because of maintenance-ignorant American buyers.
Japan and some other markets will continue with a turbocharged six, the GT-R's traditional power format. The V8 is the first move away from a six, and the first normally aspirated GT-R since the KPCG110 model evaporated in 1973.
With Nissan's RB-series in-line six consigned to history, the company's 3.5-litre V035-series V6 takes over for the R35 GT -R. In Japanese tune the power output will carry the 'suggested' 206kW rating that every GT-R since the R32 has been stuck with, although hints from Nissan's Atsugi R&D centre have implied that the actual output will be considerably higher.
Exactly how much higher will remain a point of speculation until an export market (such as an EC country or Australia) takes on GT-Rs in this form.
One of Nissan's managers involved in engine development at Atsugi has already indicated that the 3.0-litre V030 in twin-turbo form can be massaged to nearly 257kW and still comply with most emissions requirements outside North America. The larger V035 would surely have even more potential.
The US will also get an automatic - another GT-R first - which is better suited to the eight than the turbo six as regards customer expectations and (ahem) durability.
Power for each engine is delivered through a 4WD system conceptually not too dissimilar to that used on GT-Rs since the R32. The car functions primarily as a rear-driver, with the majority of the engine's torque going to the rear wheels. The maximum split on the previous GT-R out of the box was 15/85 percent, but new, smarter electronics and a number of hardware changes will deliver more torque to the front hoops and provide more active torque distribution to each wheel. .
To stimulate excitement in markets oblivious to the GT-R's weapons-grade reputation, the R35 will go public at this October's Tokyo motor show -10 months ahead of production. It will step away from common Japanese practice for such an early debut, parading in full production trim rather than being tweaked to play concept car.
The coming-out party for Nissan's flagship model is likely to be impressive, especially as it has dropped the 'Skyline' monicker in favour of being known simply as the Nissan GT-R.
Nissan Australia's managing director and CEO, Leon Daphne, is upbeat, but guarded, about the GT-R's chances of making it to Australia.
"The GT-R is certainly a program we'd like to be part of," Daphne told Wheels. Hopefully a sufficient number of cashed-up Australians will share Mr Daphne's sentiments. With a base price in Japan expected to be more than 6.5 million yen ($85,000), the new GT-R won't be a volume seller here. Yet if the R35 costs less than the $110,000 R32 did when it went on sale in 1991, it will be one of the great bargains of this new century.