GTR, short for Gran Turismo Racing, is a name which makes every car enthusiast tremble with excitement. If you overhear this name in any conversation, you just know that people are talking about serious stuff. The name alone has been associated with some truly great cars of the past, the most famous of which is the McLaren F1 GTR, by many considered to be the true modern-day 250 GTO. GTR means the ultimate stage in the evolution of any motorcar and you name them: CLK GTR, Pano GTR-1, E46 M3 GTR, Diablo GTR and so on. It’s a name enshrined in ultimate exotica, synonymous with the furthermost development in the performance of a car.
However, there’s one car that has redefined the meaning of this acronym and that is the original Godzilla, the Nissan GTR. Born in 1969 as a performance saloon (offered in both coupe or saloon forms) powered by a 2 litre straight 6 engine, it was a true homologation special. It was developed from the Prince R380 racing car, with which it shared the same engine layout and type. Born as a winner thanks to the successes earned while racing in Japan, the first “Hakosuka” GTR was truly a sensation which earned a cult following among many JDM fans over the years. Yet, enthusiasts had to wait more than a decade to see a successor, which came in 1989 as the R32 GTR.
As a Gr.A racing car, it achieved true dominance in the All Japan Racing Series, World Endurance and in the Bathurst 1000, earning it the nickname “Godzilla”, which stayed with the GTR forever. Also, the association with the Gran Turismo video games etched the legend of the Nissan GTR into the canvass of petrolheads-passion.
Aside from racing, in the street-car world this name has no other substitutes and it has always been associated with his magnificent GT from Japan. That was until recently, when Mercedes introduced the AMG GT R, an all conquering twin turbo V8 monster hailing from the depths of Affalterbach. See things this way: this is a very contemporary test between two cars which only share their name. Besides the different philosophies behind them, they represent two eras of automotive engineering and in some ways also a change of perspective.
The latest R35 is a car we now would define as “nostalgic”. You hardly see it on the roads of Italy but for us who started journalism by test driving cars of the same era, it does carry a bit of a bittersweet taste. Let’s get straight to the point: the Mercedes almost surpasses the Nissan in every aspect, relegating Godzilla to a rather normal lizard instead of the monster it used to be. Not that it’s slow but it’s antiquated to the point we see it as an old school performance car rather than a straight up-rival to the AMG.
We drove these two cars on the roads of the legendary Caprino-Spiazzi hillclimb, in the hills around Verona, the same place where 5 years ago we drove another GTR and a rare Mitsubishi 3000GT. It’s a good way to compare how the GTR has evolved in a 5 year span and a brilliant method of seeing how the AMG reacts. On one of the earliest days of Autumn, where the temperature is still warm enough, we drove on one of the most beautiful roads in all of northern Italy, reaching the summit of Mount Baldo just before sunset, enjoying the last rays of light.
The Nissan is the most complete car of the two. It has 4 seats, a less radical layout and it’s a more classic GT in its behavior. Compared with the GTR, it has a much more smooth power delivery: although It’s not slow by any means, it has lost its impressive edge that made it such a hit when it came out in 2007. 580hp are not a few by today’s standards, but in a world where your average Ferrari V12 has no less than 600hp, the idea of the bargain supercar killer is no longer as effective as it was a decade ago. Still, it manages to be a true driver’s car: the weight here helps stability and the GTR is in no way slow in changing direction. The precision with which brings you to the apex is still relevant and on top of that, it still makes an incredible noise when accelerating.
It is a car of the older generation though. The infotainment has not been revamped and it has all sorts of different sounds coming from the engine, which do make it more special than it really is. Besides, the lack of refinement, due to the Nismo Suspensions of this Track Edition constantly bouncing over the bumps and a louder than expected tire noise when cruising, make it not suitable for the supercar owners of today. It’s rigid but hell it drips with character. Sadly, its age will be exposed when you first sit in the AMG GTR.
It’s a radically different vehicle: from the technical layout to the way the whole car is conceived. While the Nissan’s philosophy was aimed at making a sports-car with a great mass in order to improve traction and stability, the AMG is a disciple of the most classic “track-day-special” school. Its front mid-engine construction improves weight distribution and the large use of lightweight materials help in keeping the weight under control.
What’s more mesmerizing about the AMG is the way it feels while driving. It’s supple, extremely powerful and that engine just barks twin anger, answering with precision to the inputs of the driver. The multiple-level traction control makes you feel as a GT3-class driver and definitely helps in tailoring the car to your driving style.
It’s no easy beast but it represents the newer generation of super sport cars. It feels vast around you with an immense front bonnet and a rear end which loves to go sideways whenever it can. The acceleration is immense and when compared with the one of the Nissan, it makes it feel out of place. The Mercedes has de-throned the queen, the bargain supercar, the Japanese Robin Hood, who has always been able to embarrass cars worth twice as much.
The overall balance and incredible driving experience of the AMG do make it feel as a proper GTR: track focused engineering excellence, which you can enjoy on a daily basis. A used one is great value as it has the price tag of a new Track Edition. Make no mistake, these two here are the premier league of hyper-GT’s and both are as good as they get. If you have to choose one, the AMG is the car which truly feels like a steal when you go hunt for one.
Yet, there’s no denying that these two are perhaps among the last driver’s cars before all that forced-upon-us-all-electric dictatorship will take place. In the end, it’s cars like these who will be remembered.