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Nissan GT-R and Nissan Clipper Pickup

Earlier this week, a whine of American auto journalists gathered in Cascais, Portugal to drive Nissan cars and trucks from around the world. (Maybe I should explain “whine”. A “whine” is a group of journalists. Kinda like a flock, or bevy, or pod, or herd. You can guess why some PR flack came up with the term “whine”). During two days of driving, we were exposed to Nissan vehicles from Japan, North America, Europe and elsewhere. We were able to drive them on public roads through the coastal area surrounding Cascais (a resort area on the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon) and into the hills to Sintra – a picturesque tourist haven filled with tour buses and mini cars.


Automotive Ecstasy – Nissan GT-R
But the piece de resistance was the opportunity to drive Nissan’s GT-R Super Car. Couldn’t drive it on public roads, but we were able to put in five laps at Circuito Estoril a famous race track near Lisbon. There were three GT-Rs to drive and one that was giving hot laps with a Nissan race driver who could really make the GT-R fly. But back to the actual experience. I teamed up with Pedro, a Portuguese driver from Sintra who demonstrated the features of the GT-R while lapping the course. The first lap was to get familiar with the course. The second was to get familiar with the car. Impressive car. Impressive driver.
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For the third through the fifth laps, I got to drive and experience Nissan’s $70,000 rocket ship. Check all the boxes and you can get it up to $72,000. Compared with a Porsche Turbo, the GT-R is a deal.

The laps with me behind the wheel were much more sedate that Pedro’s, but exhilarating none the less. The dynamic capability of the GT-R is truly impressive. Brake! Brake! Brake! Now, full throttle!!!!! Drive it further into the corner before braking! Harder! Harder! Perfect! Pedro was a great tutor.

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The dynamics of the GT-R are outstanding and everyone got out of the GT-R with a grin on their face. Ride quality was good, even at speed. Acceleration was awesome. Braking impressive. The car is very intuitive. It’s very difficult to make a mistake. Now, if I just had a chance at twenty more laps and an afternoon on public roads, that would have been an ideal experience.
But, that’s what the muy macho automotive journalists are supposed to do. Drive the best, fastest, most competent cars on the planet, right?

Take the Edge Off With a Clipper
Well, just outside the pits, Nissan had arrayed a group of commercial trucks. I had driven several that morning, but one in particular was calling to me. A Nissan Clipper Pickup sold in Japan. What better way to take the edge off the GT-R experience than to drive the Clipper up to Sintra – about four miles away… uphill.
The Clipper is a Japanese kei car pickup. A kei car is a very small vehicle powered by a 660cc engine. In the case of the Clipper, the 3-cylinder put out 47-horsepower. Kei vehicles exist because of the very tight driving environment in Japan and Japanese tax laws that penalize anything over 660ccs. The Clipper clearly is designed for the diminutive Japanese driver. For me, it was clearly press fit and probably comical to look at.

Leaving Estoril and getting on the highway quickly told me that I had my work cut out for me. Saddled with probably 500-lbs of fertilizer in the bed, the Clipper was about at its limit. It was throttle to the floor, sawing through the gears to get up to speed to prevent other traffic from running me over. And that was just to get up to 30mph. The real challenge was the Clipper’s handling. Or lack of handling. Body roll was excessive and going through Portuguese roundabouts, the Clipper felt almost on the limit. What was going to be a lark… driving a really small vehicle through a congested tourist area… turned out to be hard work.
But I survived and I am sure that I am a better man for it. It wouldn’t be right for me to have had the last memory of Circuito Estoril as the GT-R. The Clipper was the tool to bring me right back to reality.

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