GTR - aka Gran Turismo Racing - is a nameplate used on some of the most incredible feats of automotive engineering produced.
From homologation specials, the ultimate versions of already impressive road cars and of course a certain string of Nissan models, you know a car with those three letters is going to be something pretty special. We’ve picked out a few of the absolute best ever produced.
Nissan Skyline R34 GT- R
Let’s get this out of the way off the bat. Ask anyone with an interest in cars to name the first GT-R that comes to their head, and it’ll more often than not be the Skyline R34.
The third in a lineage of reborn, all-wheel drive RB26 monsters, the R34 GT-R was never intended to reach the global fame it now holds. However, the timing of its arrival and appearances in Gran Turismo 2 and 2 Fast 2 Furious gave the car a life of its own.
Overrated these days? Probably - it’d be impossible not to be. That said, the R34 GT-R was a technical marvel of its time. This is a car that had rear-steering, electronic sensors, G-force meters and carbon fibre aero in 1999. Power was officially listed as 276bhp due to the Japanese gentleman’s agreement, but those in the know said they came with at least 60-70bhp more than that in reality.
McLaren F1 GTR
Though the fastest car of the 1990s was already hardcore enough, McLaren thought it needed more to stay competitive at Le Mans following its win in the 1995 24 Hour race. Thus, the F1 GTR was born.
Most of the changes were focused on aerodynamics, adding lengthened overhangs on both ends of the car - giving it more surface area to produce downforce. A new massive rear wing was fitted, and additional cooling ducts were introduced to better feed air to the BMW V12 - itself with a restrictor plate to cap power at 600bhp.
Nine GTRs were built for racing use, with one later converted to a road car. McLaren also produced two McLaren F1 road-legal, long-tail ‘GT’ examples to homologate the GTR for track use.
Mercedes AMG GT R Pro
Though the ultimate Mercedes AMG GT road car culminated in the Black Series, the ‘step down’ in the range is still an impressive car in its own right.
Introduced as an even more hardcore version of the then-range-topping AMG GT R, the pro added some serious chassis changes to the hardcore sports car. Manually adjustable coilovers were included in place of the electronically controlled ones of the regular car along with an adjustable carbon fibre front anti-roll bar. A carbon fibre sheer panel was added underneath the car to improve rigidity, and even the engine mounts were retuned.
Power remained the same as the regular GT R, mind, with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 572bhp and 516lb ft of torque. For track use though, the Pro’s tweaks unleashed every bit of its potential.
BMW E46 M3 GTR
With a 4.0-litre V8, 444bhp, rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission (with *that* straight-cut gearbox sound) and a 0-60 time of 3.4 seconds, the E46 M3 GTR was a beast. Due to a lack of motorsport success with the standard inline six-pot, the engineers at BMW developed the GTR’s V8 alongside the Williams F1 V10 used in the 2001 season.
Entered into the American Le Mans Series in the GT category, the V8 allowed the M3 GTR to topple the mighty 911 GT3-R which had beaten the straight-six Beamer comfortably the year before.
Not being all that chuffed about it, Porsche complained that BMW broke the rules by placing a powertrain in its car that wasn’t available in its road cars. No worries, said BMW, as it went on to build 10 road-going, V8-powered examples to meet requirements.
Lamborghini Diablo GTR
The Diablo GTR was a factory-made racing special, designed for the Diablo Supertrophy one-make race series. Following the standard procedures of more power and less weight, the GTR was based on the Diablo GT supercar and was entered into numerous Australian races, finishing 8th at Bathurst in 2003.
Pumping out 590bhp and 472lb ft of torque, the single-seat supercar was one of the last variants of the Diablo before it made way for the Murcielago.
Mercedes CLK GTR
Much like the F1 we mentioned earlier, the Mercedes CLK GTR is a marvellous byproduct of the desire to go racing. A handful of homologated road cars were produced in order to meet the regulations for racing in the FIA GT Championship, but even those cars still had full carbon fibre bodies and a bespoke V12 engine producing over 600bhp.
Interestingly, AMG actually purchased a McLaren F1 GTR to use as a testbed for its own running gear, as well as its own aero, before reassembling it back to its previous state. It took just 128 days for the car to go from technical drawings to physical completion and the Mercedes team went on to beat the McLarens in the CLK GTR’s opening season of racing.
Nissan R35 GT-R Nismo
Following on from the Skyline GT-Rs, Nissan decided the nameplate was worthy of a model of its own - the R35. We don’t need to give you the rundown on its legacy, but the proven supercar-killer has truly established itself as one of the most finest examples of automotive engineering.
Its ultimate form is the GT-R Nismo, with the wizards of Nissan’s motorsport department throwing the book at it. Along with an aero kit to improve downforce and numerous weight-saving measures, the engine saw tweaks including the addition of GT3-spec turbochargers to boost power by 30bhp to 592bhp.
Granted, it also carried with it a £75,000 increase in price over a regular GT-R, making it quite a rarity today. If you can find one, though, it’s a special thing.
Porsche 924 Carrera GTR
Despite being the runt of the Porsche brand, the 924 had a hardcore variant that has been pretty much forgotten. With only 17 models produced, the Carrera GTR is one of the rarest Porsches on the planet.
It enjoyed a massive 275bhp jump from the base model 924, allowing the GTR to accomplish 60mph in a mere 4.7 seconds - that’s old Audi R8 fast. Not bad for an 1980s front-engined sports car.
Original article by Michael Fernie in 2016. Updated November 2023.