How Nissan Piggybacked off Porsche to Create an Iconic AWD System
The Nissan Skyline came with a sophistication that allowed it to outcompete more expensive rivals on the racetrack. However, consumers may not know that Nissan benchmarked the epochal Porsche 959—a car bursting with innovation—to deliver a work of art. The Porsche 959 was a rally-bred model that rewrote the rulebooks, and Nissan bought one, dismantled it, and learned from it.
Nissan developed the R32 to compete with Porsche 959
The Nissan Skyline was first tasked to weed out the American, German, and Italian cars winning against Japan’s auto circuits in 1960. In 1971, the first generation GT-R accomplished that. However, by the 1980s, Nissan had lost its edge as a sports car manufacturer.
The R32 Skyline GT-R got Nissan back on track in 1989, but for this Skyline, the manufacturer looked for inspiration from Porsche 959, which had taken the sports car market by storm in the 1980s. The Porsche 959 redefined sports cars with its 450-hp race-proven twin-turbo flat-six, adjustable hydraulic suspension, and variable all-wheel drivetrain. The model had a multiple-plate clutch between the gearbox and front differential, controlling how much torque went to the front axle. It also featured a computer-interpreted engine and wheel-speed data to calculate the weight distribution at each axle.
Road & Track states that developing cars is expensive, prompting automakers to regularly buy competitor vehicles for benchmarking. The benchmarking process involves acquiring a competitor’s vehicle and either dismantling it to study its sub-system or testing it on the road to examine performance. After the flop of the R-31, Nissan bought the Porsche 959 for benchmarking.
The Nissan GT-R (R32) takes cues from the Porsche 959
Nissan thought it could do better than the R-31 by piggybacking off the Porsche 959. The first feature the manufacturer borrowed was the all-wheel drive system. Like the 959, Nissan developed the R32‘s all-wheel drive (AWD) system with a multiple-plate clutch that distributes torque to the front axle via a driveshaft and an open differential. The AWD system used the engine and wheel-speed data like the 959, although it also relies on data from the ABS and three G-sensors.
According to Car and Driver, turbo lag was the main problem facing the racing car market. Porsche solved the issue with a twin-turbo flat-six engine, allowing the 959 to achieve a speed of 197 mph. Nissan reverse-engineered this engine and created a boost monster, but only achieved a speed range of 150 mph.
Nissan also borrowed its excellent steering from the 959. The manufacturer added a precise steering system that slightly adjusted the angle of the rear wheel for slow-speed maneuvers and stability when the vehicle is at high speed. As a result, a driver can negotiate a corner at high speed and return to the throttle quickly.
The R32 GT-R racked success with its advanced all-wheel drive system
After a few generations of inability to compete with American and European cars on the track, Nissan designers finally had a chassis that would disrupt the race car world. The fresh R32 Skyline GT-R dominated the Japanese auto circuit. Nissan ran the R32 in the Japanese Touring Car Championship race, and according to Top Speed, the R32 Skyline won four seasons in a row, from 1990 to 1993.
The model also dominated the Australian Touring Car Championship, so Nissan commissioned the new engine for the R32 Skyline. While the manufacturer claimed the engine delivered 270 hp for legal purposes, the exact hp was close to 310. According to Nissan, this motor created the basis of future GT-R engines until the R35.
Nissan struggled in the mid-1980s, and the unpopular R31 Skylines didn’t help stage a comeback. To reverse the company’s fortunes, the designers reverse-engineered the Porsche 959 AWD system to develop the R32. The reverse engineering produced a powerful engine that could deliver 600 hp, making the Skyline R32 one of the highest-performance cars of all time.