The odd couple. Comparing a fire breathing speedo snapper to a scorched runt. GTR vs JCW GP.
The GTR was only just arriving on UK shores when I managed to get a drive back in 2009, much to the jealously of all. My feeling at the time was subdued but positive, some cars write their own reviews and merely need someone to commentate the experience, others demand creativity and flair. The GTR didn’t need me to convey its power, the figures did that, neither did it need me to replay my experience of cornering dynamics, the track times did that. The GTR’s presence alone was enough to convince anyone that they were stepping into a new distinction of speed. Porsche became the manufacturer of choice to be baited by Godzilla, and even the highest-powered variants only served to prove just what a bargain of power the Nissan was. Granted few Porsche buyers would step into a GTR and feel as well appreciated as a customer, the German’s knew how to keep clientele feeling special and no track button on the dash was going to change that.
After my drive, I remained quiet about the GTR and limited my responses to match the chorus of motoring reviews that hailed it a heroic machine that leveled the high-speed car market. No longer did you need Ferrari money to race past nearly everything on the road, and even Veyron’s weren’t safe from the eyes of tuning houses convinced they could coax an extra few hundred horses from the GTR engine and hold onto the back end of the Volkswagen group poster boy into triple figures.
There was, however, a problem, and over the past decade of GTR production, this problem has spread. It’s a simple issue and one that some are happy to look past in the hunt for speed, fun.
At the time of my drive in the GTR, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The car made me smile, and it had personality. So why didn’t I want to put every last penny in a GTR savings fund?
In the same way, we all have personalities but some are likable and joyous and others are a bit dull and too introverted to really connect with. Cars suffer in exactly the same way, an Audi A8 is serious about everything, it’s the hitman that doesn’t give credence to the word mercy. A Fiat 500 Abarth is a yappy dog, always wagging its tail, barking and jumping, and easily subdued by picking it up and giving it some attention.
Nissan had honed the personality of a racing driver into the GTR, it could give you millimetric breakdowns of imperfection and only allow itself a grin when the race was over and the top spot of the podium was occupied. More emotions were there, but it always felt locked behind the dashboard, much like the racing driver that keeps his helmet on when he is in danger of telling you what he really thinks. Sadly, the risk of a sponsor dropping him if he starts sounding off and showing us all the real person behind the sunglasses is enough to keep them locked into a pre-rehearsed monologue.
It would have taken me much longer to work all this out if it hadn’t been for a chance encounter with a Mini JCW GP. A month after the GTR drive I was sent out for a quick sprint in the car on the exact same bit of tarmac I had blasted through in the GTR. I would have sworn to you that it was a different road had I not known. Where the GTR had fired me along, without a feeling of speed and pushed me to only increase the numbers on the dashboard, the Mini wanted to make me enjoy each and every increment of the increasing dial like a long round of tapas. Each mile an hour should be savoured, enjoyed, and then moved on from. The added bonuses of remaining well within the posted limit and being able to push on because my heart yearned for more, rather than my head calculating how much more was possible was the cherry. Then there was a couple of corners waiting, in the GTR I was around it with a quick shake of the steering wheel. In the JCW GP it was a brake, clutch, gear, accelerator, exhaust pop, engine rasp, lean the wheel one way, repeat my workout on the pedals, be gifted with noises in approval of my inputs, and then lean the wheel the other. I only realised I hadn’t stopped smiling from the turn of the key to now because of my aching cheeks.
The GTR was a serious affair and is much the same today, it hunted down speed instead of stories. The racing driver with a story to tell is someone we would all listen to, but the world champion will always get more airtime. As a spectator, maybe this is the way it should be, but as an enthusiast, it is a one hundred and eighty-degree turn in the wrong direction. In the years ahead the motoring world will change, but I hope a company executive out there reads this and remembers that speed is a one-trick pony with little depth to talk beyond, but fun. It’s what builds an icon.