Years of playing Gran Turismo instilled in me the concept that the R32 GT-R was a good car, but I sensed that the vehicle’s reputation was a little overblown. This often happens with early generations of vehicles that go on to be extremely famous. It’s hard to compare the performance of an original, Blue Flame Six-powered Corvette with a modern Z06, for example.
One of the fun aspects of making the show “Proving Grounds” for NBC Sports was that I, as the showrunner, was able to pick a lot of the cars I wanted to run around the desert race track we’d rent for a week at a time. One season we decided to do a “Rad” episode and so I reached out to friends to see what might be available in the form of ’80s and ’90s cars.
If you’ve never seen the show, you’re in good company, as many people have not. The basic premise was that we’d take four extremely different cars and run them around a “Proving Grounds” we built at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in a town so far away from anything else it’s called Desert Center. The course we built had an off-road section, a wet corner (complete with sprinklers), fake deer, and a chicane we built out of boxes that were constantly being blown around by sandstorms.
For the “Rad” episode we ended up with a Mazda 787B that raced at Le Mans, a cocaine white Formula Firebird, a DeLorean DMC-12 from the DeLorean Motor Company, and a Skyline GT-R (R32) from Toprank Importers. I was excited about those cars roughly in that order, from most excited to least excited.
You can see the episode here (or below) because, during the pandemic, NBC Sports quietly uploaded some of them to YouTube, which was a fun surprise:
Also, side note: The day we shot was so incredibly windy that we had to basically dub all the lines outside the car (this is called ADRing and it’s a fun sort of ass-pain). I’m guessing you wouldn’t see it if I didn’t point it out, but I can’t not see it.
Since Parker Kligerman, our co-host, got to drive the Mazda 787B, it was up to Sam Smith to review the GT-R. He loved it. He wouldn’t stop talking about it. Leh Keen, our hot shoe, also was in love with it.
In spite of all of this, I assumed the car would feel just merely fine when Sean, who runs Toprank, asked if I wanted to drive the GT-R for a quick couple of laps around the full Chuckwalla track.
Nope. They were right. I was wrong. This wasn’t my car and we weren’t filming so I wasn’t able to push it as hard as Leh (nor, frankly, am I anywhere close to being able to push even a lawnmower as hard as Leh).
At this point, I’d done countless laps around the track, mostly in minivans and Miatas (and an off-road fire truck), so I had a decent sense of where my limits were and where it was safe to push a car. With each turn my instinct was to push harder and harder and by the time I reached the back-straight I was driving way faster than I’d planned.
A little voice in my head started to ask me if I wanted to pay for the repairs to a JDM R32, but the car was so well-balanced, the power delivery so smooth, and the all-wheel-drive system so perfectly calibrated that it was impossible not to drive it faster as the lap went on.
So I did. I kept it safe and somewhat reasonable. I didn’t beat on it the way I beat on those poor rented Grand Caravans. I just went as fast as I was sure I could handle and probably would have kept driving if it wasn’t getting so dark I was afraid I’d hit one of the coyotes or snakes that would sometimes wander out after the sun went down.
The R32 has never left me. It is absolutely as good as you heard. Probably better.
What about you? Which vehicle exceeded your expectations for it? Did it do so because those expectations were low or high?