Monday, July 22, 2013

Cybernetics 2: Rectification and Reckoning

Photo: Raphael Orlove

Kazutoshi Mizuno                                                                       Patrick Frawley
Nissan Motor Company                                                            States of Motion
1-1, Takashima 1-chome                                                          Astoria, NY
Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi                                                          United States of America
Kanagawa 220-8686


I hope that your summer so far has been agreeable and not one of excess discomfort. The extraordinary heat which has burdened us in New York City for several weeks has now thankfully lulled. It will be pleasant to enjoy life in the outdoors in comparative comfort again.

I must start with something of an apology for what I wrote about the GT-R several months ago. At the time I considered it a well-researched and well-considered opinion; in retrospect its credibility was deeply flawed by my lack of direct experience with your creation. Although my expressions reflected a sincere point of view, they were inadequately informed and should not have been stated so publicly.

Thankfully I was granted the good fortune to spend a long afternoon as a driver and passenger in a GT-R during this past weekend, and I believe it appropriate to relate to you my impressions of the experience.

I faced this encounter with the same background knowledge that led to my earlier opinion, but also with a determination to be open to potential enlightenment. After it was over I concluded that my general sense of the GT-R was sound, although that sense was given a vivid new dimension of understanding and appreciation. At the same time its nature has provoked intense considerations about the nature of product intention and personal preference.

To understand the nature of my impressions, please know that this was an unfortunately limited experience. I was a passenger during several highway and side-road stretches which lasted a few hours, and was able to drive it on some rather technical two-lane roads for about twenty or thirty minutes. I cannot say that I was able to develop a deep and subtle understanding of the GT-R during this time, but I was able to witness its many profound strengths and, yes, some of its tradeoffs and some points with which I have some concern.
Photo: Raphael Orlove
As far as the car itself: First and overall, it is simply a fantastic machine. I have never experienced a vehicle of any type which exudes such a sense of total dominance within its environment as does the GT-R. One drives it on a highway knowing that there is precious little to match against it and essentially nothing to which is it notably inferior.

Most tangibly, at this point I understand that I may at some point ride a motorcycle which may accelerate marginally faster than the GT-R, but it is unlikely that I will ever drive another four-wheeled vehicle which can outrun it. The forcefulness with which the car moves defies reasonable description. I intellectually understood before this encounter that the GT-R was a very quick and very fast car, but that grasp of numbers in no way prepared me for the physical experience of such ferocity.

For reasons of both decorum and a desire to avoid self-incrimination I will not say how fast I was able to go while driving the GT-R on that particular technical two-lane road, but the ability to attain that kind of speed will remain with me as effective testament to the phenomenal capabilities of your car.

Every bit as dazzling as the immense power of the GT-R is a facet of its makeup which is perhaps underappreciated in comparison: its brakes. Even given the ability to do so from a brute power perspective, I would not have felt at all confident going as fast as I did without the ability to quickly and safely dismiss that speed. In their power and sensitivity they are a most appropriate match to the driveline.

My appreciation for the car's handling was circumscribed by the nature of the road upon which I drove it. In a general sense it was excellent - it was extremely sure-footed and responded very well to my directions. There was not a surplus of tactile feedback concerning the car's dynamic state, but for the most part on this run I was happy to let the chassis manage balance and traction while I focused more intently on the act of fast driving. At the same time, it did not feel entirely at home on that particular strip of very narrow and tightly curving road; the steering and chassis setup minimized but could not fully deny the car's size and mass, and it would be essentially impossible for any driver on that road to properly exercise the immense grip and sophisticated torque transfer capabilities of the chassis and driveline in the way it was likely intended.

Given the chance, I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to drive a GT-R on a race course - not only for the sheer thrill that such an exercise would doubtless provide, but also because I believe its fundamental nature and abilities are much better suited to that kind of more open environment, as has been shown so conclusively before.

I suppose as a result of all this I see the GT-R in summation as a product of a focus on track performance at the expense of some delicacy and nimbleness in, and perhaps some relevance to, what we usually call the real world. A significant amount of that immense capability can be effectively used on the street (as was certainly the case that afternoon) but there was always an underlying sense that even though it tolerates normal traffic and close quarters, the car all but longs for the opportunity to run free in ways that do not occur in normal driving.

I have no idea if your intent as project head was to make such a broad-shouldered near-racer, but this is the clear sense I understood from my time with your creation. I have read in some published interviews how this may be the case, so in that you have my profound respect for bringing such an extraordinary manifestation of this intent to production.

As far as the car's existence beyond its performance abilities is concerned, I humbly offer a few further observations: Most superficially, the exterior design will never be among my favorites. On the other hand, the interior of the car I drove had the semi-aniline two-tone leather in a very agreeable shade of autumnal red-brown and was most pleasant. We experimented with the different settings of the Damptronic system and although we could discern some changes in stiffness the ride was never what one would call comfortable, especially over the aged and often rough pavement here in the American Northeast. Despite its use and likely abuse at the hands of numerous journalist drivers, the car felt exceedingly solid and well-crafted.

I return to my original opinion, that sort of informed prejudice that I possessed prior to this weekend, and I find myself in the midst of a developing and expanding awareness. My respect for and appreciation of the GT-R has grown significantly; this experience of driving it will remain a benchmark for comparison in the years to come, and - again - I would most gratefully welcome the chance to repeat or expand upon it.
Photo by the author
But as before, I do not feel a deep sense of attraction towards the GT-R. Beyond my admiration for its capabilities and accomplishments, I have no significant desire to own one.

Part of this may be because my station in life, as a schoolteacher and occasional writer, makes such a costly proposition inappropriate (although it does remain more attainable than many of its rivals). In light of this my considerations may be in greater harmony with your Z-car colleagues, and I do remain very interested in their continuing efforts.

More importantly, though, is that everything that the GT-R is and can do is somehow not to my very idiosyncratic and personal preferences in performance cars. I was raised to believe in cars that were fast, yes, but also light, nimble, and rather simple, hewing to a rather traditional mindset. Your priorities in making the GT-R were clearly different.

I am compelled to rephrase this in a more respectful tone: I believe that I was not the driver you had in mind when you created and developed the GT-R. In that I feel more able to both appreciate this magnificent creation which you have brought to fruition and place it appropriately in my understanding of the automotive world.

I am reminded of the first time I saw an Audi R8, at a factory showroom here in New York. At the time I was fortunate to have an interesting conversation with an Audi representative about what that car may have meant to the marketplace. What we concluded was at that point in the market a preference for one car over another was less about a strict sort of feature-to-feature comparison and much more about how the car related to a particular prospective owner. A driver who was interested in an R8 was not likely to be as interested in, for example, an Aston Martin Vantage. Both are terrific machines, but they are so in ways that represent different mindsets for both maker and purchaser. The Porsche 911 continues to be a product of another mindset, so does the Corvette, so does your GT-R.

Competitiveness is important, but so is a sense of the individual. And the world becomes a much more interesting and enjoyable place because of all this.

Please forgive my naive ramblings. I trust you understand this more than I ever can, given that you face it on a daily basis. I mean only to offer my honest and significant appreciation for your creation and my utmost respect for what your vision has given to the world.

My regards to you and your colleagues.


Patrick Frawley

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