What it's like when concept cars come to life
You’ve always wondered what it would be like to drive a concept car. We all have. You may have “driven” one in a game like Gran Turismo, just to get a taste, but they won’t even let you sit in the real thing, much less drive it.
Usually, though, that’s because concept cars are held together with hot glue and hope. Cool as they look, most are either bricks or motivated by a golf cart drivetrain. Every so often, however, an automaker will build one out of a real car.
This is one of those. The Nissan GT-R50 by Italdesign began life as a 600-hp GT-R NISMO, and unlike other concept cars I’ve driven, it hasn’t been electronically limited to 20 mph (32 km/h). This thing isn’t just a runner—it has run up the hill at Goodwood. It could do that because Italdesign, a legendary design studio and coachbuilder, didn’t just hang a bunch of new body panels on it with double-sided tape. No, Italdesign engineered Nissan’s concept for limited production, and it looks like that’ll be just what will happen.
What’s happened already is clearer. Italdesign, celebrating its 50th anniversary, reached out to Nissan, which is about to celebrate the GT-R’s 50th anniversary, at the Geneva Motor Show and proposed a little joint birthday present. Nissan accepted and sketched up this car from the future, and Italdesign made it a reality. After a publicity tour at Goodwood and Pebble Beach, Nissan reached out to us and offered a drive. How could we say no?
The build sheet alone is enough to get our attention. The all-new custom body with an active rear wing and 2.1 inches taken out of the roof draw you into a driver-focused interior made mostly of carbon fiber. The video game looks are just the gateway drug to the real hit: 710 hp and 575 lb-ft from a hardened 3.8-liter V-6 huffing twin turbos from the GT-R GT3 race car.
Except this car doesn’t have that. Once on board, our Nissan handlers admitted the prototype doesn’t have any of the engine upgrades; it’s just a GT-R NISMO wearing Gucci rather than Miyake. That’s far from a bad thing, but it means there’s little to tell you about the driving experience you haven’t already read in previous tests. Sure, this one wears Michelin Pilot Super Sports on special 21-inch wheels rather than the usual Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 600 DSST on 20s, but the Nissan people didn’t really want me to push their multimillion-dollar prototype hard enough to see how much difference that makes. We didn’t notice much of a difference in the ride from the revised Bilstein adjustable dampers, either.
The one real difference in driving the GT-R50 is the outward visibility, or lack thereof. Although 2 inches doesn’t sound like much, when it all comes off the top, you absolutely notice it. Not only is the windshield not as tall, but it also doesn’t come back as far, so it’s a bit like driving with a big baseball cap on. If you’ve ever sat in a Lamborghini, you know what I mean. Overhead traffic signals disappear, and you often find yourself ducking to get a better view.
At least there’s that workaround for the windshield. The vestigial rear window is both so low and so small that no amount of craning your neck will allow you to see anything in the rearview mirror that’s more than four car lengths behind. Despite that, the driver-deployable rear wing was disabled for our drive because it would completely block what little rearward visibility we had. (It’s activated solely by a switch, not speed.)
But honestly, who cares? We make sacrifices in the name of fashion every day, and having to check the mirrors a few more times and look a little harder out the windows aren’t big ones. Not when you’re driving a car that looks as though it’s just arrived via time machine. I seem to be in the minority on this, but I think the GT-R50 looks stunning, all sharp creases and low roof and rocket booster taillights. I love the little clear dorsal fin that doubles as a brake light and the strategic use of negative space in key areas of the bodywork.
Less is more is the interior theme, too. The prototype doesn’t just reskin the interior. It reimagines it. The only identifiably Nissan pieces left are the window switches and the climate controls, and even those have been modified. The instrument cluster and infotainment system are gone, replaced with a simple Motec CDL3 display. I’d have popped for a full-color model, personally.
Were I a paying customer, I could absolutely do that because each of the 50 cars that might get built will be customized to the buyer’s wants and needs. If you want to keep the infotainment system and all its Gran Turismo–designed screens, you can, or you can fit a stereo if you’d like one. The only real rule is that it can’t be the same as any of the other 49 cars, so if you want the most design freedom, get your order in early.
To do that, you’ll need to call Italdesign and plunk down about a million dollars. That’s not the final price of the car, though. That’s just to get your name on the list. How you customize it will determine the final bill. Assuming Nissan and Italdesign get 50 serious buyers and all goes to plan, Italdesign will call up Nissan and order a car. Back in Japan, the special GT3-enhanced engines will be built in the same cleanroom by the same takumi and fitted to the car along with a hardened dual-clutch transmission and drivetrain and revised dampers. From there, the car will be shipped to Italy to have its roof chopped, body and interior resculpted, and larger brakes, wheels, and tires installed. Then it’s off to your climate-controlled garage, from which it will hopefully escape for a bit of exercise now and then.