GT-R RETROSPECTIVE: Skyline GT-R: Obakemono!

The Japanese call it Obakemono - the monster. No wonder. It's an arsenal on wheels powered by a twin turbo straight six producing 209 kW close to the old 300 horsepower mark -with four wheel drive and four wheel steering as part of the package.

Take a good look, because this car will become a familiar sight on Australian racetracks next year. It's a Nissan - the new Skyline GT-R - and depending on your attitude, it's either a street racer or Godzilla-on-wheels.

The GT-R spearheads a completely new Skyline range in Japan, the product of a concerted Nissan push for technological leadership by the 1990s. Although not due for release until next month, the GT-R is already grabbing headlines in Japan, where the Skyline has long been a performance cult car.

We'll see the GT-R here in Australia early next year as part of Nissan's on-going Group A racing program. With a reputed 410 kW on tap the racing GT-Rs look set to challenge the dominance of the Sierra Turbos. Nissan product planners are also looking at the possibility of importing limited numbers of road versions.

In a land where technological overkill has become the norm, the GT-R pulls no punches. The 2.6 litre twin cam 24 valve engine under the bonnet is all-new, and is said to develop 209 kW at 6800 rpm with the help of twin ceramic turbochargers and an intercooler. Torque peaks at 360 Nm at 4400 rpm.

It might even do better than that, though Nissan isn't saying. Sheer grunt is the latest craze in Japan, with Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi and Mazda all chasing 224 kW - 300 horsepower. But the Japanese transport authorities are apparently doing their best to defuse the power race on safety and ecological grounds. Cars with engines producing more than 224 kW are now being frowned upon...

Nissan is therefore being cagey about releasing performance figures for the GT-R, but the quoted standing 400 metre time of 13.9 seconds suggests a top end of at least 235 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time in the low six second bracket.

A four speed auto transmission is available on lower spec Skylines, which also have viscous coupled limited slip differentials, but the GT-R relies on a heavy duty five speed manual and a mechanical limited slip rear axle.

Maximum in-gear speeds are 71 km/h, 117 km/h, 174 km/h and 225 km/h. In top, assuming it could reach the 8800 rpm red line, the GT-R would qualify at no less than 310 km/h!

Local Nissan engineers who drove a heavily disguised prototype of the car here last year describe the performance as sensational. And the handling is alleged to be right up in the supercar class.
Chassis spec includes sophisticated multi-link suspension front and rear, and massive brakes - 296mm diameter, 32mm thick drilled and vented discs with four piston callipers up front and 297mm diameter, 18mm thick discs with two piston callipers at the rear.

The GT-R is the first to get Nissan's new Atessa ET-S variable torque split four wheel drive system. At the heart of the system is a computer controlled multi-plate clutch which automatically varies the front to rear torque split depending on vehicle speed and, uniquely, lateral force.

The split varies constantly to suit driving conditions, but what sets this system apart from all the others is that drive to the front wheels is reduced as lateral acceleration increases, thus giving traditional rear wheel drive handling characteristics combined with the stability and traction of four wheel drive. Nissan says the system is also the first to combine variable torque split control with ABS braking.

Also new on the GT-R is Super-HICAS four wheel steering. It's not the advanced system talked about last year which worked both the front and rear axles. That, according to a grinning Nissan technical man, is still to come...

Previous Nissan 4WS systems have turned the rear wheels up to a maximum angle of one degree in the same direction as the fronts above 80 km/h. That was fine for high speed manouevrability and stability, but now the rears initially turn in the opposite direction, like the 4WS Honda and Mazda, for improved low speed handling.

This speed-sensing version of HICAS works by hydraulic pressure, with the angle of the rear wheels determined on the speed and angle through which the steering wheel is tumed. And it's standard on all Skylines but the base model.

The new Skyline, which is available in two door coupe and four door hardtop body styles and with a range of engines from a 1.8 litre four through a brace of two litre straight sixes to the 2.6 litre GT-R powerhouse, is the third in Nissan's quartet of anti-Cressida sedans, joining the Laurel and Cefiro in a determined Nissan drive to capture 50 per cent of Japan's lucrative 1.8 to 2.0 litre segment.

Intended as a Japanese market car only, the new Skyline is slightly smaller than the model it replaces. The sedan loses 80mm in length and 45mm in height, but retains the same 2615mm wheelbase, while the coupe is a further 50mm shorter and 15mm lower. Compact rather than bloated, the new Skyline comes across as a kind of Japanese 3-series BMW.

Smaller size is one reason why Nissan Australia is gearing up to produce the front wheel drive Matilda sedan instead in the 1990s. But the main reason is that it's almost impossible for the Skyline pillarless hardtop, the only four door bodystyle in the range, to meet ADR side impact requirements.

So when the current locally built cars go out of production, the highly successful Skyline nameplate will all but disappear from the Australian market. That's a worrying prospect for some local Nissan product people who at one stage drew up plans for a reskinned, wide bodied Skyline based on the existing running gear...

There is a chance the Skyline GT-R may be brought into Australia on a very limited basis, however, Nissan product planners believe there's a tiny but lucrative market for a high tech, high performance, high priced sports coupe. Obakemono qualifies handsomely on all three counts.

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