Introducing the ‘untunable’ R35 Nissan GT-R. Looking back on the idea of this notion a decade after the release of the car is hilarious if nothing else.
My mind was blown when I’d learned that Nissan not only encrypted the ECU of the R35 but governed the top speed at 153mph (and 112mph in Japan), making 200mph very strictly ‘not allowed.’ This move was in stark contrast to the first generation Skyline which made it just about as easy as possible to bypass the shrunken speed limit. Had Nissan successfully locked this car down? Was this the end of the GT-R tuner craze?
Of course not. Rather, quite the opposite, thanks to the sale of the car in the North American market. COBB were the first ones to crack this nut and it just snowballed from there. More recently — earlier this month in fact — at the Never Lift Half Mile, 3,000hp in the form of two GT-Rs got together to chase 200mph.
One made it.
First is Mac Butler’s 2010 Alpha 12x Nissan. It’s a car with a mod list a mile long: Tomei 272-degree cams, Ferrea upgrades in the ported heads, a 4.1 Sonny Bryant stroker crank, Boost Logic goodies and on and on.
Next is Joseph Kennedy’s stunning 2015 GT-R in Regal Red. With the parachute out back you know it’s a serious contender, but at first glance little else hints at the power this car is packing.
When you dig a little deeper it’s the same story.
While the English Racing-built 4.1L VR38DETT is clearly put together with quality parts throughout, unless you know what you’re looking for the engine bay appears relatively standard. Sure, you’d expect a good bit of power, just nothing crazy. But if you notice the ETS Pro1700 turbo kit and the dozen Injector Dynamics ID1700 injectors, or if you could spot the GSC S3 cam that sucks air in through the AMS intake and bangs it out of an ETS 102mm exhaust, you’d have a better idea of what’s going to happen here.
It’s much the same if you don’t spend too much time looking at Mac’s 4.1L jammed with great parts I’ve already mentioned. It was (somehow) show car-clean and there’s no way you would immediately guess that either car was pushing to 200mph in the half mile. That just isn’t that far to do something like this. For some perspective, the Bugatti Veyron is only getting started when it passes the half mile marker, where it would clock 175mph.
The similarities continue around the car, with both using a version of RAYS’ Volk Racing TE37 wheel. While meaty, the rubber also isn’t a direct giveaway that either of these GT-Rs are capable of smoking literally anything on the street.
Especially with their age you would typically expect many brand new German cars in their class and price range to walk all over these R35s by now. While the GT-R was ahead of its time (and on paper much better than much of the competition) when it was released, besides the facelifts not enough has been done to stay ahead.
But these two cars in particular are seriously quick. I spotted Mac Butler out on the course first. Going into this weekend, he said it just had to be the event he’d see himself in the 200s. Even getting warmed up, you could tell the car was capable of it.
Later in the morning I tracked down Joseph’s GT-R and followed him out to the start point half a mile away. Having already put in a few runs, he got blazingly close running 198mph.
Almost immediately after, Mac responded with his own run.
199.38mph. So close, and so much weekend left to go.
As I meandered over to the paddock to introduce myself I learned that it wasn’t just Jospeh driving in the Regal Red GT-R; his son Patrick was out as well. So, inside the GT-R battle I was watching was a mini-game between father and son.
Back on the start line a bit later, the Kennedys looked like they were ready to do this. While still getting at least a bit of wheel spin in every gear shift, it looked like their cleanest run of the day. After the R35 blazed by I hopped in my car to meet Joseph back in the paddock as he rolled in to get confirmation of his time.
Joseph was the the first one to do it, and now it was his son Patrick’s turn to get serious. A few runs later he was in the 200s along with dad.
With Saturday coming to an end I turned my attention to the silver GT-R. I was just so confident it would hit 200mph the following day.
We already know this wasn’t the case, though. I caught up with Mac at lunch on Sunday and asked if that 199.38mph run was a fluke; after steadily climbing to this point the car seemed to head back down the other direction.
Mac said that he didn’t think the car was going to do it this weekend, citing traction problems. The Coalinga course is already the slipperiest of half miles in the United States and then mechanical issues with the AWD unit just became too problematic to get there.
While he plans to have the ETS completely replaced before his next venture to the track, this didn’t stop him from from enjoying himself in his now practically RWD GT-R.
Mac is done messing about though, and in addition to the new drivetrain bits he will be sending his car to Boostin Performance at the end of the month. The plan is that with their work, tuning, and a new ETS Pro 1700 along with fresh tires he’ll be well into the 200s next time. He said that he thought this about the Coalinga event, but “that’s why they call it racing.”
Mechanical wear and back luck aside, I was really shocked at how complete the interior of Mac’s car was.
What if he’d just pulled that big passenger seat out? Why not replace the wheel and remove the radio, console, and loads of other heavy stuff about in the cabin? When I expressed my concerns at the level of creature comforts still in the car, Mac points out that this is the beauty of these things.
You can hit 200mph in a car that looks like it might only have 500 or 600hp. And you can do it in the comfort of a complete car, one that you can also cruise down the street in to get groceries on a less exciting weekend. And, to be fair, I noticed the Kennedy’s car also had everything from the factory still in place.
There’s partly a reason to this. The R35 GT-R’s CAN bus is quite complex and deals with everything like traction control settings, transmission settings, ABS along with the likes of on-board entertainment system. To remove one of these modules can throw the whole system into disarray, so it’s often preferred to keep them all present.
Sadly, the Kennedy team had a bit of bad luck too, and it happened on the money run. After turning the car up a little bit after consistent 207mph passes they failed to mirror these changes in the safety parameters and the MoTeC ECU cut power in the middle of their pass. But Patrick doesn’t look like he let it bother him too much, and the guys still took home some cash.
The road to 200mph has been a long one for the Kennedys, and with Joseph clocking a 208.91mph run and Patrick going home with a 207.75mph pass under his belt this was their most satisfying weekend yet at the airstrip. And I know Mac will be back with a vengeance — surely his next event will net a similar result after more upgrades and tinkering.
Untunable indeed, Nissan…
Cutting Room Floor