Lands End to John O’Groats

by Fuggles
6 years ago
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A little over 40 years ago saw Datsun produce their first ever GT-R. At the same time the Fairlady went from a sports convertible to a tourer. The similarities between the 240Z of then and the GT-R of today may not seem much at first but remember the 240Z was a great touring car that went on to win aces and rallies around the world. ‘m not saying the GT-R will win rallies but it certainly seems that a it has already been made of its rack potential and not much said about its road touring capabilities.

So, when the Classic Z Register announced it wanted to do a Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) drive/trip to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 240Z, it seemed le perfect opportunity to compare le two. We’d be able to put the new GT-R to the test on all types of terrain across the UK and over a period of a week.

But this wasn’t going to be about comparing the old GT-R with new or the old Zed with new. Both cars ad evolved in very different ways. he original Zed was a sports car and with the 350Z and now the 370Z the sports car has returned, however the GT-R has dropped the skyline name and is a totally new far, far removed from the Skyline lat terrorised the streets and raided the trophy cabinets of the motor racing world.

Making on a journey like this was an opportunity to see how the current tourers compared and to see not only how far the technology had come but just how different touring today compared to the tourers of yesterday. Thanks to Jon Newlyn Classic Z Register) the tour party soon boasted a good collection of 240Zs and with the very kind help and support of Nissan Motor GB we even added a Nissan GT-R and the brand new 370Z. How would the Grand Tourer (R35) stack up? We were about to find out.

Setting off on Sunday morning from Land’s End the plan wasn’t to break all records or to take the shortest route, instead this was about the journey not the destination. The route would take us across Exmoor, through the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia before returning to England, the Yorkshire Dales and then onto Scotland where we would cruise the West Coast, Argyle and then on through the lochs and along the top to our destination.

The first day of LEJOG saw us work our way across north Cornwall and up into Wales where we finished off the day just short of Brecon. Along the way lay great surprises and photo opportunities. For anyone that has never been, there is a section of the A39 that just has to be driven. Twists and turns abound with vertical stone walls and clusters of trees blocking out the sun. The scene could have been drawn from the Amazon rain forest, but for the lack of rain! Four in a line, three 240Zs and the GT-R soon enjoyed some spirited driving, forcing Richard to comment that “All I can see in my mirror is a wall of GT-R, it’s like something out of Mad Max”. Fortunately for the Zed behind me the GT-R had the handy habit of making cars coming the other way slow down to squeeze through.

By   the   end   of   day   one   it   was agreed  that  of the  cars  the  new GT-R had significant road presence whether in front of you or looming large in your rear mirror. And some of the reactions of motorists confirmed what the journalists had already told us or, as Richard commented “this is not a car it’s an ejector seat!”. But it wasn’t all in favour of the new car. The pedals take some getting used to as they’re slightly offset to the right. Though it doesn’t have a clutch the layout is as if they’ve left space in case one is needed. Add to that the huge rear view mirror obscuring large sections of the road in front of the screen and it does take a while to get used to.

Arriving at our hotel for an evening of discussion the proof was there, if it were needed, that this was about sharing a journey, not about the cars, old and new. But all too soon it was time for the stories to stop and then to talk of the next day’s journey. One thing that had already become apparent was the need to have the window open in the GT-R.

Wrapped in a blanket of modernity and filled with brushed metal and touch screen technology made the GT-R just too much of a luxury and not enough of a drive. Opening the window brought the outside road into the car and made the tour far superior in ways that can only be felt otherwise in the 240Zs.

The second day saw us tour across some of the most breath-taking scenery in the UK. The Brecons led us towards lunch at Aberystwyth and more photo opportunities. Afterwards the Snowdonia National Park proved to be the best scenery to date, but perhaps not the most exciting roads. After several attempts at a rendezvous we eventually met up with the 370Z.

Whilst it would have been great to have the car do the whole journey sadly the challenges of modern day life don’t always allow.

Day three began with three 240Zs, a 370Z and a GT-R all setting off for a visit to Middlehurst for coffee and donuts. Touring’s definitely about the journey but the stop-offs can be just as good! After a few running repairs to one of the 240Zs (thanks to the pump fitters at Tesco!) and a new tyre for the GT-R it was back onto the roads to Skipton and then a drive across the Yorkshire Dales. The roads and scenery are breathtaking here but it does expose the differences between the touring of old and that of today. Whilst the 240Zs were able to squeeze their way through small gaps and in and out of the opposing traffic, the GT-R had to find the wider parts of the road to pass. On the roads however all cars were at their peak; the twist and turns, and rise and fall of the roads suiting them all well and the grins on the drivers at an impromp­tu stop or two told its own tale.

Touring like this in the right car is immense fun and something more clubs could enjoy. The biggest issue, aside from the cost of fuel and accommodation, is the sheer amount of time and effort required to not only get the event going but to find the right route that offers the most fun. I for sure will be keeping my itinerary and will no doubt repeat this very journey again in years to come.

Day four was itself an interesting test of the GT-R. It started with a drive up the A75; perhaps the worst bit of the whole tour. Motorways are, for these events, a necessary evil from time to time, but the A75 has to be regarded as the blandest and most unexcit­ing road I have driven in this car. Okay so it was necessary to get us to the A712 where the real fun driving began but it certainly wasn’t the best bit of road! But it did demonstrate the ease with which the new car just gobbles up the road with no effort. Mile after mile flew past and there is no effort needed and no drama created. In every sense a true tourer, it’s just the tourists who didn’t like it.

Once into the countryside and onto the A712, then A713, all of the cars were really showing their true potential. Sweeping bends and the undulations of this part of Scotland make it a real joy and at times a challenge. Some bends and bridges were best taken at speed and certainly added something to the LEJOG. After a brief stopover at Ayr we followed the coast broad north to Greenock; different roads again and with some fantastic scenery.

This day gave us the best opportu­nity yet to compare the cars. The GT-R was effortless, almost boring, on the straight flat A roads, where the 240Zs were also cruising along effortlessly. After that the twist and turns of Dumfries and Galloway suited the spirited driving of the 240Zs and made for a great day’s touring. For the GT-R it was effortless and perhaps in that way it lost something. Okay we did have a lot more fun with the traction control off but how many tourers would want to do that? All in all the GT-R, like all the best cars of today has given us the ride, comfort and stability we need but somewhere along the way some of the spirit of rural motoring has been lost.

The coast roads proved a breeze for both cars with the GT-R being more steady under the battering side-wind. Whilst its surefootedness may be great, again you become detached from the excitement being felt by others in their 40 year-old beasts. It was only now that I wish I owned a 240Z. I’m not sure I’d lavish as much attention on it as my fellow LEJOGers but nevertheless to have one available for trips such as this would be a great addition to the garage! Sadly I will have to do with the loaner from Nissan. Great though it may be, perhaps there is something to be said about the ‘old days’.

Arriving for the evening we settled in preparing for the next day and met up with club members in the bar for a memorable evening of conversation.

The next morning began with members of the GTROC and Classic Z Register turning up en-masse to join us for the ferry across the Clyde before the journey to Fort William. After a brief stop at Argyll everyone got to put some miles on the GT-R and experience the car first-hand. After that we soon found our way onto some of the narrowest tree-lined roads imaginable, complete with violent turns and extreme undulations. On these roads the Z is in its element and the drivers are working hard to extract the most enjoyment from the roads. By comparison the GT-R is passive and almost unexcited by the whole experience. Even with the traction control off it would need an extra 10 mph to get the GT-R to the same level of fun as the 240Z. So there perhaps is another noticeable difference; tech­nology may have blunted the pick of the road experience in one way and the only compensation was to add more speed. A good thing? Perhaps not.

After a brief respite at ‘Rest and be Thankful’ on the A82 it was off for lunch and then on to Fort William. The A-roads along Loch Lomond and beyond are great for more spirited driving. These roads are fast and fun and have enough changes in direction to keep you amused. Add to that the fantastic scenery and this had to be one of the best cruises of the whole tour. By now the number of GT-R test pilots had reached six. Each taking  it in turn to drive the car and, without exception, every one of them blown away with just how good it is.

After a couple of days in very changeable road conditions and types the differences of the touring cars of old and that of today soon begin to emerge. In times gone by A-roads were the motorways and the cars of that era were great at cruising along. The smaller roads presented a challenge which meant working the wheel was the way to extract the most fun. All of which brought us to Fort William where we met up with three new 240Zs. Now in total there were six “Zeds”, two Skylines, a Datsun 180, a 370Z and a GT-R. All in all a very respectable turnout and a great way to build to the finish.

The drive up to Ullapool was and will always be the best drive I have ever had the chance to experience. After some great roads which wound their way around the lochs and mountains we took a far more challenging road to Applecross. The sheer brutality of the Scottish landscape is breathtaking; the thousands of years that the weather has beaten into the sides of the mountains turn the hills into angry craggy rocks and mountains. Only a place as rough as this can hold its own beauty far beyond what you can see on television or look at on a postcard.

The road to the Applecross Peninsular was once described as a “road you must travel before you die” (preferably not in the same day). You can keep your Stelvio Pass and all the other great roads, you can even keep Spa Francorchamps and all the other great circuits. This may only be a small winding mountain road but it offers an experience like no other.

At times the road is only just wide enough for one car, the restrictions not being walls and hedges but rock face on one side and a sheer and extreme drop to the other. Passing places are plenty but even these require patience and a certain amount of nerve and good judgement.

Travelling in convoy we soon let the 240Zs go on ahead as the two new cars stopped for a photo shoot atop the mountains. After that it was time to catch up! The roads were as terrifying as ever, but the extra mph added to the task made it even more exhilarating and on more than one occasion I would suggest we knocked a few rocks down into the valleys below. Exhilarating definitely, exciting yes, scary you bet!

Arriving in Applecross we assembled at a restaurant for a well deserved lunch by the loch. But the day was not over yet, we still had the final challenge of the day. The 240Zs took the shorter more direct route to Ullapool and the 370Z and GT-R went the mountain way. Not quite ‘ye’// take  the  high  road” and we were already in Scotland but nevertheless a fun challenge. The terms were simple; drive sensibly and within the rules of the road and see if the extra resources available to the new cars could produce more for any tourer than the original Datsun touring car. As it happened we arrived in Ullapool at pretty much identical times. So a technical win for the 370Z and the GT-R, but a triumph for the 240Zs.

The last day started with the drive from Argyll to Sutherland. The scenery changed and the aggressive beauty became softened with an increase in green covering and the jagged rocks soon mellowed into softer form. Still breath-taking, any sci-fi film director would be totally at home in these surroundings.

After some spirited driving along the coast road we crossed the bridge at Kylesku and soon the roads began to change. Sweeping A-roads became the norm and soon we were able to eat up the miles endlessly. In some regards an anti-climax as the roller-coaster ride of the roads gave way to the mundane coverage of tarmac. Soon 40 miles became 20 and then less. We marshalled the cars to arrive in the order they left and soon we were heading to the finish line. Achievement tinged with sadness as the journey’s end filled our minds. This whole experience wasn’t about arriving at John O’Groats, it was about getting there over some of the best roads this country has, of sharing stories, of swapping cars and comparing notes. Soon all that would be lost and we would each go our separate ways.

As we approached our final curtain we amassed by ‘the sign’ for a photo opportunity, met others who had made the journey and congratulated them equally. Fitting to the end, Jon produced a bottle of Japanese Whisky and we all toasted a great and successful adventure.

With advances in automotive technology we have expanded the distance between the road underneath and the feel in the driver’s fingertips. Whilst it may be great for the daily commute and better for the passenger, sadly any keen driving enthusiast is missing out. Where the 240Z was masterful as a tourer the GT-R has once again become masterful in these circumstances. But in the almost 40 years that have elapsed between the 240Z and the Nissan GT-R the world has changed, roads have changed and cars have changed. Thankfully the desire to drive and explore and enjoy has not changed.

After a fantastic week with some great people I can only wish I had done this sooner. For me the Nissan GT-R is a great car; although the cup holders do need to be smaller. Too much has been said of it as a track car and of the Nurburgring and not enough of it as a tourer and everyday car. Hopefully we can set the record a little straighter after this exploration and perhaps new drivers will think of it differently.

The new GT-R is no longer a Skyline. The change in name may have upset some quarters but in reality is a true reflection of the change that has occurred in Nissan with this car. The Skyline was a phenomenal track car that won many races and set many records. Tamed for the streets it was still something of a track day weapon even in the most standard of configurations.

This new generation car is not a Skyline at all. It is worthy and deserving of the title Grand Tourer and a GT car it is, but the Skyline is something different and of a different age. So, farewell to the Skyline and thank you, and hello to the GT-R and thank you Nissan.

EPILOGUE

Some time on the drives across Scotland I made a call to my fiance and told her “we need to buy one of these”. The whole experience on every type of road at every speed has proven to me that the GT-R is best on the wide open road touring high and low, fast and slow. It may do well on the track but on the road it is simply exceptional.

Having settled in with a good bottle of Scotch somewhere in the most north-westerly part of Scotland we reminisced about the whole experience. The GTROC has never undertaken an event like this before and looking at the amount of organisation I now know why! However I made a promise to my fellow LEJOGers that next year the GTROC would do its first Grand Tour and they would all be welcome. I have some ideas already and have spoken to some people about this and it seems it will be a bi-annual thing with the annual trips to Japan also becoming bi-annual. So watch out for more news on this in the New Year!

If there was one thing that convinced me above all else of the touring credentials of this car, it was the drive home. John O’Groats to somewhere in inner London; non-stop save for petrol and something to eat and drink. The whole journey was encumbered by miles of road works on the M6 and other roads but overall it was a simple route home. 702 miles and a total time behind the wheel of over 12 hours. At the end of it, I got out of the car, not a back ache, stiff neck or sore knee etc in sight. A brilliant drive home and a perfect way to end the whole experience.