Nissan GT-R speeds to 50 in super style

Peter Atkinson
The 50th Anniversary Nissan GT-R is the car's most impressive evolution to date

When someone, or something, celebrates its 50th birthday, we tend to think of it as nearing its use-by date - a bit dusty and decrepit.

Let's be honest, 50 years is a very long time to do anything.

A long time to be alive, even. An even longer time to be married (did I just say that?).

And certainly a long time to be building a motor car with the same name and same pure purpose in life. To go fast.

Fifty years is also an incredibly long development curve - five decades of making something incrementally better, bit by bit, every time you go back to the drawing board.

So, it should probably come as no surprise that after 50 years of honing and polishing, Nissan's cultish GT-R is a pretty well-evolved piece of machinery.

Nissan has even adopted the fitting phrase "the evolution never stops" in unveiling the latest, and logically the greatest iteration of this legendary machine. A limited-run 50th Anniversary Edition GT-R that celebrates one of the most remarkable vehicles ever built.

The very first GT-R dates all the way back to 1969 - yes, the sixties really are 50 years ago - and fittingly it was advertised alongside a race car bearing the same name.

Known as the Nissan Skyline GT-R, it boasted a six-cylinder engine, delivering a rather modest 119kw and 176Nm, with a five-speed manual transmission. In more than four years of production, just 1945 GT-R models were produced.

Five more generations have followed - yet perhaps most amazing is that the current model, known as the R35, has been on sale for more than a decade yet remains one of the most revered and feared performance machines on the planet.

Such is the excellence of its engineering, and the sheer brutality of its performance.

Here's a challenge: Think of any other piece of 12-year-old technology - laptop, television or telephone - that's still anywhere near world class. Neither can I.

Yet the GT-R endures - and in many ways dominates - in the most demanding little sliver of the automotive industry.

Some would argue, jealously, that this big, somewhat unsophisticated looking machine - from Japan of all places - doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches with which it competes.

Others are skeptical of its pulverising acceleration figures - reaching the legal speed limit in less than three seconds. Yet to experience those three seconds of sound and fury is enough to make anyone a convert to the magic of the car they call Godzilla.

Any opportunity to put the GT-R in your driveway is one to be embraced - and the 50th Anniversary Edition is as good a reason as any.

Most of the special edition upgrades are cosmetic - an extra spend of about $9500 gets you 50th Anniversary script across the boot lid; the matching badge inside; and the "heritage era" two-tone paint job with sports stripes down the centre of the bonnet.

Of course, the cockpit itself brings a bit of retro, too - not necessarily by design but inevitable with instruments and dash hardware that looks like it's escaped from the seventies.

Happily, the things we've come to adore about the GT-R remain, as well.

That haunting exhaust note - hardly pretty, but compelling, raw and evocative as any you'll hear. The four blue-tinged, titanium exhaust outlets amplify the note.

The drive select switches from where the driver can choose from normal or Race mode, including the option of disengaging the traction control system (not recommended for mere mortals). Even driven through all four wheels, 419 kilowatts and 639 NM can be a handful to keep on the straight and narrow.

Things happen very fast, of course, in a car with this kind of acceleration.

The GT-R is not a particularly pleasant, nor easy thing to drive at city speeds.

The differentials and transmission tend to bump and grind, the twin-turbochargers whirr and whine away and, at low revs, the GT-R sounds somewhat like a very angry Dyson vacuum cleaner.

You don't pick up nickname like Godzilla because of your good looks and the GT-R has never been pretty. But it has a massive street presence and gets as many "nice car" comments as any.

Inside, it doesn't feel particularly special, although the plasticky black switches and surrounds do conceal the very impressive menu of performance and dynamic readouts that will advise you on everything from turbo boost to transmission temperature and g-forces at play as you go around corners.

And boy, does this car go around corners. While the power side of things has been fairly static over the past few years, the Nissan engineers have continued to tinker with the car's handling, all-round grip and, interestingly enough, its ride.

There's something to be said for a single, linear development curve that has seen this car get better (and generally quicker) with every tweak and tune.

Along the way, as well as acquiring that ballistic performance, the GT-R has become more comfortable, better equipped, safer and generally easier to live with over the course of its 50 years.

That's something that not many of us can boast.

Here's to the next 50 years .

NISSAN GT-R R35 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

HOW BIG? The GT-R is a surprisingly big thing - longer and wider than you expect, but interior space isn't great. Fun for two people, very awkward for more. The boot, though, is surprisingly large and useful.

HOW FAST? You need to ask. Its performance is legendary - with the 100km/h mark arriving in a reputed 2.7 seconds.

HOW THIRSTY? You can drive it sensibly and get consumption into the single figures. But why on earth would you drive this car sensibly?

HOW MUCH? Value is in the eye of the beholder. But at $209,300 (including $9500 for the anniversary bling) it remains the most affordable, and approachable, supercar on the plane.