Mecha-Godzilla lives!

By Botchi Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer February 06,2019
Mecha-Godzilla lives!

The R35 GTR moves with grace, just like a well-trained dancer.

he Nissan R35 GTR and I share a somewhat serendipitous story. I was one of Nissan’s guests at the official media unveiling of the Nissan R35 GTR in October 2007, on the eve of that year’s Tokyo Motor Show.

I remember the launch vividly: We were led to a dark room. Many nervous-looking Japanese executives were present. The Nissan-Renault Alliance was still fresh at that time. And many motoring journalists from all over the world (USA, UK, Germany, and of course, Japan) were present.

The lights went out, the program started, and voila! the R35 GTR was unveiled, five years after its predecessor, the R34 GTR ceased production.

In 2009, when the first grey-market R35 GTRs started trickling into the country, through friends, I was fortunate enough to test drive one flat-out on local roads.

And finally, when Nissan Pilipinas Inc. started officially importing it in 2016, I was the first motoring journalist to drive it as well.

I’ve always admired and respected the GTR. It’s the culmination of Japanese engineering prowess, derestricted from the 280-hp gentleman’s agreement in pursuit of absolute performance. But that came with some sacrifices.

The venerable RB26DETT was gone, and in its place was the VR38DETT, an alloy block with plasma-coated cylinder liners hand-assembled by a single master craftsman (or woman), referred to in Japanese as a takumi with skill and proficiency bordering on artisanal levels. Only a handful of Europeans—such as Mercedes-AMG and Aston Martin—practice this.

Weight has ballooned to an astonishingly portly 1,750 kg, not to mention the size, now longer and taller than the comparatively slinky R34 it replaced.

The body design takes inspiration from the famous Gundam mecha, and the panels are pressed four times for far better definition.

The R35 GTR utilized a carbon composite front nose structure, had massive Brembo brakes, was forged with 20-inch Ray’s Wheels wrapped in Bridgestone or Dunlop run-flat tires made specifically for the R35 GTR, and was suspended by Bilstein DampTronic adjustable dampers.

Mecha-Godzilla lives!

Inside, the R35 GTR dashboard is cocooned in leather luxury.

It was truly, an engineering marvel, a technological tour de force. It wasn’t just Godzilla, but a weaponized, mechanized version of the legend, now thus called Mecha-Godzilla.

When it first came out, people thought the R35 GTR would prove un-tuneable, un-modifiable because of its complex electronics.

It proved daunting for the aftermarket community, but give anyone a good challenge and for sure someone will overcome, simply because it’s there for the taking.

The R35 GTR truly obliterated the critics. Multiple success came in the Japan Super GT Championship, Blancpain GT4 endurance racing, and various GT3 championships worldwide.

Drag racing versions featuring 2,500 to 3,000 VR38s have dipped into the high 5-second range down the quarter mile.

In the Philippines alone, on a typical Sunday morning, you’ll see a plethora of R35 GTRs modified to 1,000 hp or more being driven, enjoyed and savored as they should be.

Here, the fastest car down the quarter mile is an 8.8-second R35 GTR owned by avid racer JC Tiu.

Many an embarrassed exotic has fled with their tails stuck between their legs after being confronted by a tuned Nissan R35 GTR.

Kazutoshi Mizuno, the man behind the R35 GTR’s long gestation, was indeed right after all: It is indeed an awesome car.

But to be honest, I’ve never found it, for lack of a better word, desirable—until now. The problem isn’t because it lacks any sort of performance.

My issue with the R35 GTR is that it lacks any sort of finesse. It just goes about its business of obliterating everything on the road, mercilessly and efficiently in a cold, calculating manner.

The R35 GTR is simply devoid of emotion, for me at least.

Today, though, that has changed. Given the keys to a 2018 R35, which I had for a few days, I didn’t have the opportunity to take it to the track. I didn’t get to endanger my license on the Skyway.

Nope, I had to take it to work down south. In bumper-to-bumper traffic. For four hours.

Today, the R35 GTR looks just right, size-wise. A modern American muscle car like a Camaro, Mustang or Challenger/Charger simply dwarfs the mighty Nippon.

Let’s not forget that your typical 7-seat SUV towers above it as well. I guess the GTR was just far ahead of its time when it was unveiled back in 2007.

Down south, in traffic, when the transmission fluid temp goes past 94 degrees Celsius, shifting becomes very rough and coarse in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I put it in manual mode to prevent unnecessary up or down shifts, and it helps. A transmission fluid cooler with a finned sump are absolute necessities if you plan to drive your R35 hard.

As traffic frees up, the sonorous exhaust opens up a second valve past 3,000 rpm, and the VR38 starts to sing.

With the Bilstein DampTronic dampers left in Comfort mode, the suspension is actually perfect: firm, well-controlled, but has the absolute minimum compliance left to absorb irregularities on the road, allowing you to keep smooth progress without lifting or braking.

The revised chassis stiffening truly improved NVH isolation and ride comfort, even if the new suspension is actually firmer than earlier iterations of the R35, according to Hiroshi Tamura, the man now tasked to see the R35 GTR evolve further.

Going home, late at night, down the winding roads of Tagaytay, the GTR finally gets into the zone. And for once, it felt magical.

No, I didn’t try to set any personal best at an imaginary downhill togue, mountain pass in Japanese manga lore, but the R35 GTR just moved with grace, like a well-trained dancer rather than a fighter with well-practiced footwork.

The GTR, even driven at 7/10ths felt alive, talkative and communicative. Like it finally learned to unbutton its collar, loosen the tie, rolled up its sleeves, and hang loose.

It was still fast. Stupid fast. Send me to jail for a lifetime fast. No questions. It still has enough grip to reverse the earth’s rotation. And it corners like a bloodhound on the hunt: fast, instant and almost a little too alarming. But it has finally found grace, poise and finesse.

It is now officially, desirable for me alongside a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and a Lamborghini Aventador SV.

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