Preview: Nissan GT-R

"The crystallization" of all Nissan stands for?

Better take a good look at these pictures of Nissan's GT-R Proto. The sharp-edged concept car was the star of last month's Tokyo Motor Show. But a well-placed source at Nissan tells TheCarConnection the Proto is going back under the covers and won't be seen again until late 2007, when the next-generation GT-R goes into production.

The GT-R is one of the most feared and admired performance cars ever built by a Japanese automaker, appearing both on track and in the showroom. The badge has been worn by a variety of different Nissan models, starting way back in 1969, though perhaps the strongest entry was introduced in 1989. Codenamed R32, the version based on Nissan's Skyline quickly dominated the Japan Touring Car Group A racing series. In fact, it went undefeated in its first four years and 29 races. The car continued its campaign overseas, scoring victories in endurance races at some of the toughest European tracks, including Spa and the Nuerburgring.

An updated edition, dubbed R33, stayed in production from 1995 through 1998. In 1999, the automaker launched the third version of the GT-R, known to aficionados as - no surprise - the R34. Last sold in 2002, various versions were putting out well in excess of 500 horsepower.

The GT-R was primarily aimed at the home Japanese market, and it was never homologated to comply with U.S. emissions and safety standards. But four years ago, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced plans to redesign the GT-R as a global offering.

The version unveiled in Tokyo last month was "the crystallization of all our technologies," said Nissan's new chief operating officer, Toshiyuki Shiga.

Twin turbos and 450 hp

Exactly what those technologies will be, Nissan isn't saying, though insiders reveal the production version due out as a 2008 model will likely feature a twin-turbo V-6 displacing somewhere between 3.5 and 3.8 liters. Look for something "in excess of 450 horsepower." Well in excess.

The styling of the GT-R Proto is "80 to 90 percent close to production," according to Nissan Design Director Shiro Nakamura, who attempted to underscore the iconic nature of the new model, while emphasizing both technology and emotionality.

While there's a bit of a Coke-bottle shape to the Proto's profile, the emphasis is on angularity. The greenhouse is low and sharp-edged, something you might expect to see driving off the pages of a Japanese manga comic book. Curiously, the front end of the new concept vehicle reminded more than a few viewers of the Cadillac CTS, especially the tall headlight assembly. The round taillights, meanwhile, hinted just a wee bit of the latest Corvette.

A distinctive character line rises towards the tall decklid - which is topped by a chrome-and-black wing - giving the GT-R Proto the appearance of being in constant motion. The large front air intake clearly evokes previous versions of the GT-R, though the new version is notably more aerodynamic in appearance. What appear to be large brake cooling vents emerge from the fenders just behind the front wheel wells. Chromed quad exhausts burst out of the rear skirt.

The GT-R has "an international cult following," asserted CEO Ghosn, as he formally introduced the Proto last Wednesday. "Those expectations will not be disappointed."

Not in the long-run, anyway, though fans are now facing another two-year wait. Nissan has studied well what happened when other manufacturers tried to over-promote their most iconic cars. Ford, for example, spent more than two years hyping the return of the retro-styled Thunderbird. When it finally reached showrooms, the market responded with a collective yawn.

"We don't want that to happen with GT-R, so it's about to go dark," explained a senior Nissan executive, asking not to be identified by name. We're likely not to hear much more but the occasional, carefully cultivated rumor until a production version of the sports car is unveiled at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show.

So study these pictures carefully and try to imagine what minor changes will be made before the first all-new GT-R in eight years finally goes into production. Expect the car the reach Japanese showrooms soon after the '07 Tokyo Show, with a U.S. launch in early 2008.