An Unsung Hero – Nissan Pulsar GTi-R
Oh what could’ve been! With an industry filled to the absolute brim with legends in each of their respective niches, it’s inevitable that we’ll get our fair share of ‘oh yeah, I’ve forgotten about that ones.’ To some enthusiasts, coulda-woulda-shouldas of motoring history can be enticing investments, as the prospect of owning something less common then a pair of skinny jeans on a corpulent person can make car owners feel quite special. The Nissan Pulsar GTi-R is a pretty rare motor.
Such investments are especially bewitching when the car in question is actually pretty good, for it’s one thing if a rare car is rare because it was a piece of expletive, and it’s an entirely other thing when a rare car was undeniably good, but was just never truly able to blossom like a marigold in the spring.
Such is the case with the Nissan Pulsar. One must be a keen enthusiast in order to recognise the bump in the bonnet as being the scoop to accommodate the GTi-R’s SR20DET engine, rather than being an automotive version of a pronounced blemish on a teenager’s face. No, the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R doesn’t need a bottle of Proactiv, instead, it needs a proper enthusiast ready and willing to exploit the car’s true potential. That’s potential which, at the time, could rival Lancia’s Delta Integrale and Ford’s Escort RS Cosworth.
Rally Let down to Road going Legend…
Similar to the fashion in which many other early-90s hot hatches came into being, the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R was built to homologate a rally version for the Group A rallying category. To put it shortly, the rally car wasn’t all that good. In fact, the little Nissan’s rallying efforts went so poorly that Nissan decided to pull the GTi-R out of Group A rallying after only nine rallies. Fortunately though, the road car was actually pretty good, so let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, shall we?
Starting with the car’s power-train, Nissan’s aforementioned 16-valve, 2.0-liter SR20DET engine, linked up to a Garrett turbocharger and a rather massive inter-cooler, pumped 230 bhp and 210 lb-ft of torque (220 bhp and 197 lb-ft respectively in European-spec) to all four-wheels via a clever viscous-coupling center differential. These are impressive numbers, even by today’s 350 bhp A45 AMG standards. Back in 1990 it probably seemed like you were buying the everyman’s supercar. Or, so it should’ve been…
You see, had it not been for the GTi-R’s stiff ride (which was a particularly painful nuisance over bumpy British B-roads), its rather surprising amount of body roll, and for the car’s lack of grip thanks (or rather no thanks?) to the car’s 195-section Bridgestone tyres, the humbly-sized brute would’ve probably been able to engage in a proper duel its rivals.
Regardless of these pitfalls, however, the car was still able to provide some rather stonking performance numbers. With a 140 mph top speed, the car can still be considered as a bit of a speed demon, while a 0-60 mph time in 6.1 seconds (although journalists in 1990 received a GTi-R capable of a 5 second sprint, which was faster than a Ferrari Testarossa!) is certainly nothing to be ignored. It may not be much of a looker, but oh-me-oh-my it goes like stink.
And if you’ve an insatiable need for speed and a back bone made of titanium, all of this high-powered, hard-hitting (and riding), bonnet-bumping goodness could be yours for a mere £9,995. For similar money you could have a Renaultsport Clio 200 from two or three years ago, which could make decisions a bit difficult. However, while the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R may feel like street luging down an ancient Roman road at times, and the Clio RS 200 may glide over the same bumps with suppleness and composure, an eBay search for RS 200s brought up eleven listings, whereas the GTi-R brought up a mere four. Actually, I should clarify, four of them that wouldn’t make it look like your crash helmet was cutting circulation to your cranium.
All in all, regardless of its downsides, the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R is a proper 90’s unsung hero car. And had humans been born with stronger, more durable back and butt bones, or had Nissan have provided drivers with a less backside-bruising ride, enthusiasts today may very well be lusting over a Nissan with a bug bite on its nose instead of a Lancia with shoulder pads.
Engine: 1,998 cc turbocharged inline-4
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Horsepower: 230 bhp (220 bhp in European-spec)
Torque: 210 lb-ft (197 lb-ft in European-spec)
0-60: 6.1 seconds
Maximum Speed: 140 mph
The good: The Pace, the Power, the Rarity
The bad: The Ride, the Roll, the Looks