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The Speed Corner: The R35 is Good, if you can Afford It

by Matthew Calvino

Photo by Dima Panyukov on Unsplash

As the title suggests, I’ll be discussing the Nissan GT-R R35 and its efficacy in drag racing. All in all the car is extremely well-engineered and customizable, but it has a very strong cache. It's unreliable under high horsepower and boost, and can be costly to maintain. However, is the cost worth the power? That’s one of the biggest unsolved questions in the modern drag racing world.

The R35 is incredibly fast, with many builds easily breaking 1000 and even 2000 horses. The engine block is sturdy, and with the AWD system, grip is easily maintained for races of any distance. Many racing shops in the hotspots of Baltimore, NYC, LA, and Houston have many great builders with extremely creative developments.

For example, a shop recently rising to popularity is the team from Workhorse Performance. They work on bolt-on attachment and tuning for their customers, but their promotional content comes in the form of dominating the street and track in the ¼-mile. They are a great example of the unique ways the R35 platform can be tuned and built. For example, most RWD platforms don’t have the advantage of modifying an AWD platform, especially as unique as the power split between the rear and front differentials found on many foreign cars. Specifically the use of MoTeC, a system to split power between the rear and front wheels. Workhorse runs a slave system for two MoTeCs to better manage the split. That provides for tuning for high horsepower builds to be extraordinarily customizable.

Another aspect that makes the GT-R so incredible is the mastery of the R35 build community relative to transmissions. ShepTrans dominates the marketplace, with gearsets ranging from 2 to 6-speeds. They are the Turbo 400 of the GT-R world, and are used religiously by the loyal members of the GT-R community. These GT-Rs may not even have sleeved blocks, examples are seen in some shops building their GT-Rs around the stock block running 12:1 compression or more without issue.

Of course reliability is a concern, but there are a variety of cited instances in which stock blocks have handled 2000 horsepower, making the VR38 an absolute tank of an engine stock. However, in billet form the car can run 6-seconds with horsepower numbers easily above 2500, an impressive feat for any motor. The VR38 engine is definitively underrated, comparable to the Coyotes and LS engines of American manufacturers.

There are some major drawbacks to the GT-R, however.

First of all, its price point is ridiculously high. GT-Rs do not break $40,000, with $40,000 being a high-mileage, 2009 GT-R that's most likely in need of major service. Even the $50,000 examples are a dangerous pick for high horsepower builds. A more modern GT-R is preferential, and that is almost double the price of a premium trim Mustang of this model year, a car that with comparable adjustments competes easily with the GT-R. Furthermore, even after the purchase of a GT-R, drag racing it is extremely expensive. Modifications are some of the most expensive of the comparable engine platforms like Coyote, LS, or LT. These builds take about another $200,000 to get to extremely competitive levels. That is a stunning amount of capital to spend on just the car, not to mention the endless tools and supplies necessary to upkeep the GT-R and work on it.

Even after building it, there are even more costs included. The AWD system breaks under high horsepower quite commonly, with the most common being the front wheel power cutting off due to electronics and mechanical malfunctions. These are costly repairs for a car already leaving you $300,000 in the hole. If it goes without saying, this car cannot be for recreational use mainly. These cars are made to promote speed shops and tuners, and thus their popularity among the larger speed shops in the hotspot regions of drag racing.

At the end of the day, the R35 is fast and extraordinarily competitive, with powerful potential under the hood. However, the costs sink this platform asunder, leaving cheaper, competitive choices as better for your average racer’s wallet.

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