top of page

Nissan R35 GTR 21st Century Concept

The sixth iteration of Nissan’s GT-R lineage was a bold and radical departure for one of Japan’s definitive super sports cars. Previously, the sage advice of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applied to the subtle evolution from R32 through to R34

By Andrew Ambrose

Images via Nissan

But for the first time ever, the GT-R would become a standalone global flagship for Nissan, separating itself from the Skyline production car, ditching a strong association that upset purists. It was however considered an essential sacrifice that allowed the car to go on sale in the USA and Europe.


The manufacturer also made another, even more controversial decision - to drop the iconic RB26DETT straight-six, beloved of tuners the world over, in favour of an all-new twin-turbocharged V6. In order to reassure punters, the new engine obliterated the JDM gentlemen's agreement limit of 276bhp, producing a very healthy 485bhp, with a ceiling to develop far more with tinkering.


The styling made just as many waves, with an overall form that was brutal, challenging and futuristic, as did the timing of the debut - the 21st Century GT-R Concept was unleashed at the 2001 Tokyo Motorshow, an entire six years before the car hit showrooms. It was right in the midst of peak R34 GT-R fever, so rocking the boat like this was unprecedented and brave. To see the new GT-R concept would have felt like looking at an alien spaceship from Star Trek, with its very forward-thinking design features.


From head-on, the square-jawed nose featured a large front grill that spanned from the bottom of the bonnet to the splitter, something only Audi’s at the time were doing Couple this with its distinctive headlights that follow from the top of the aggressively sculptured wings and down to meet the grill at front splitter level. These full black lights hide a really interesting concept that were unfortunately later removed from the production version. They had polarising cornering headlights which meant the driver could keep their dipped beam lights on, while still having these corner lights on to aid visibility when it's needed most.


The GT-R Concept also lacks a rear wing, which was another signature design flourish of Skyline GT-Rs, although Nissan did bow to peer pressure and restored one for production. The lack of a rear spoiler was an attempt to appeal more to the European market, as was the decision to build the Concept in LHD.

But for the first time ever, the GT-R would become a standalone global flagship for Nissan, separating itself from the Skyline production car, ditching a strong association that upset purists. It was however considered an essential sacrifice that allowed the car to go on sale in the USA and Europe.


The manufacturer also made another, even more controversial decision - to drop the iconic RB26DETT straight-six, beloved of tuners the world over, in favour of an all-new twin-turbocharged V6. In order to reassure punters, the new engine obliterated the JDM gentlemen's agreement limit of 276bhp, producing a very healthy 485bhp, with a ceiling to develop far more with tinkering.


The styling made just as many waves, with an overall form that was brutal, challenging and futuristic, as did the timing of the debut - the 21st Century GT-R Concept was unleashed at the 2001 Tokyo Motorshow, an entire six years before the car hit showrooms. It was right in the midst of peak R34 GT-R fever, so rocking the boat like this was unprecedented and brave. To see the new GT-R concept would have felt like looking at an alien spaceship from Star Trek, with its very forward-thinking design features.


From head-on, the square-jawed nose featured a large front grill that spanned from the bottom of the bonnet to the splitter, something only Audi’s at the time were doing Couple this with its distinctive headlights that follow from the top of the aggressively sculptured wings and down to meet the grill at front splitter level. These full black lights hide a really interesting concept that were unfortunately later removed from the production version. They had polarising cornering headlights which meant the driver could keep their dipped beam lights on, while still having these corner lights on to aid visibility when it's needed most.


The GT-R Concept also lacks a rear wing, which was another signature design flourish of Skyline GT-Rs, although Nissan did bow to peer pressure and restored one for production. The lack of a rear spoiler was an attempt to appeal more to the European market, as was the decision to build the Concept in LHD.

The interior of the Concept again houses some really unique features that look like they came straight out of the Starship Enterprise. Point and centre is a feature that has potentially inspired McLaren - a floating centre console that forms a triangular void under the dash, bringing a driver-centric feel to the car making sure those important knobs and switches are just fingertips away, another unique touch that was sadly never realised in production.


Once you have taken your eyes off the centre console you're drawn to the seats themselves. These futuristic sculptured pieces look like they’ll be comfortable for all of about four minutes until the back pain kicks in. But these are a great nod to what is located to the rear of these seats.







Before I get onto that, let's focus on the steering wheel and the gauge cluster, or lack thereof. The steering wheel is an incredibly basic design that I’m not particularly keen on - it's probably the worst part about the interior. Looking beyond that blight is the gauge cluster, when you focus your eyes fully onto it, you would have to pinch yourself as you’d for a second believe you’d accidentally jumped into a Eurofighter typhoon, not a car. The stacked layout of the two screens really does look like it's straight out of a fighter jet. It looks awesome! Is it practical? Definitely not, but who cares about that on a concept car?


Right, onto the main piece of the interior. The rear bench section featured a sculptured raw brushed aluminium brace that connects the rear of the roof into the rear bench seat section, this can only be described as what looks like a piece of landing gear that would look at home on the set of Prometheus rather than the rear seats of the GT-R. A unique feature that was unsurprisingly removed, no doubt due to the amount of concussion rear passengers would endure down to the GT-Rs famed cornering G-forces, but the dedication from Nissans engineers to make the GT-R as rigid as possible really shows.

The interior of the Concept again houses some really unique features that look like they came straight out of the Starship Enterprise. Point and centre is a feature that has potentially inspired McLaren - a floating centre console that forms a triangular void under the dash, bringing a driver-centric feel to the car making sure those important knobs and switches are just fingertips away, another unique touch that was sadly never realised in production.


Once you have taken your eyes off the centre console you're drawn to the seats themselves. These futuristic sculptured pieces look like they’ll be comfortable for all of about four minutes until the back pain kicks in. But these are a great nod to what is located to the rear of these seats.







Before I get onto that, let's focus on the steering wheel and the gauge cluster, or lack thereof. The steering wheel is an incredibly basic design that I’m not particularly keen on - it's probably the worst part about the interior. Looking beyond that blight is the gauge cluster, when you focus your eyes fully onto it, you would have to pinch yourself as you’d for a second believe you’d accidentally jumped into a Eurofighter typhoon, not a car. The stacked layout of the two screens really does look like it's straight out of a fighter jet. It looks awesome! Is it practical? Definitely not, but who cares about that on a concept car?


Right, onto the main piece of the interior. The rear bench section featured a sculptured raw brushed aluminium brace that connects the rear of the roof into the rear bench seat section, this can only be described as what looks like a piece of landing gear that would look at home on the set of Prometheus rather than the rear seats of the GT-R. A unique feature that was unsurprisingly removed, no doubt due to the amount of concussion rear passengers would endure down to the GT-Rs famed cornering G-forces, but the dedication from Nissans engineers to make the GT-R as rigid as possible really shows.

This is especially evident when the eventual production model set an astonishing 7 minutes 29 second Nürburgring time, which has subsequently fallen to 7:08.6 with further development over the years and the introduction of the NISMO version. This was a world record at the time for a volume production car around the ‘Ring, besting even the Porsche 911 Turbo for a fraction of the cost of a base 911 Carerra. Stuttgart was not amused.


But before that, Nissan teased a second, more restrained teaser concept in 2005 (once again at the Tokyo Motorshow) that was very close to the finished production car. Called the GT-R Proto, it remained faithful to the 21st Century but was streamlined for production, meaning most of the drama had been diluted. It still featured the long polarised headlights that flowed from the top of the wings to the splitter, but this was later removed for the production vehicle. But that’s pretty much the only major difference besides minor details tweaks to the wing mirrors and such.






The avid gamers among you will instantly recognise the GT-R Proto from the Gran Turismo 5 Prologue game, which now adorns every single charity shop across the UK. The Proto was playable in the game itself, as well as being available to play on other popular gaming franchises such as Need For Speed. This was another great marketing chess move by Nissan, ensuring strong sales.


The production version of the GT-R was released in 2007 at the - you guessed it - Tokyo Motorshow, and continues to be produced today. If you can put the over-familiarity to one side, it’s clear to see the 21st GT-R Concept was a ground-breaking design for 2001, especially when you think of the blob-like cars the likes of Volkswagen and Peugeot were producing at the time. The GT-R’s design has definitely stood the test of time over its 15 years, remaining current and looking better than ever in facelift form. It is a credit to design director Shiro Nakamura and his team that the final outcome remained so faithful to the futuristic concept car whilst winning over the die-hard Skyline fanbase.


We can only wonder where Nissan will take the R36 GT-R. Perhaps they’ll return to the refinement policy, inspired by 2019’s stunning GT-R50 by Italdesign. Or perhaps another ground-up platform will be required in order to package hybrid technology, or even worse - go fully electric - which would only serve to cement the R35s legendary status further. In the meantime the R35 will remain on-sale, and even if the competition does catch up, there is always the complete ease of tunability to re-establish the status quo.