Top ten Gran Turismo heroes you can drive for real

20 years since it was first launched, here are the real-world automotive heroes from the video game you should buy now!

Top ten Gran Turismo heroes you can drive for real

Aston Martin DB7

Gran Turismo revealed to its players a whole new world of eclectic Japanese Domestic Market (or JDM) specials, many of which have become legends in their own right. But the video game was about more than just Japanese cars; British exotica such as the Aston Martin DB7 was among the models available to play.

Out in the real world, these cars represent an affordable route into Aston ownership. The six-cylinder models are more attainable and not a whole lot slower on paper than the more valuable V12-powered Vantages. Ian Callum’s timeless styling still looks good, and if you’re looking for a sophisticated alternative to a contemporary 911 this is the car for you.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Perfect for UK vs US/Japan events, classy #7 race mod.’

Dodge Viper GTS

Big, brutal and unapologetic; the Dodge Viper was a huge contrast to the mainly Japanese content in the original Gran Turismo, and it stood out as something very different in spirit, looks and driving style. Safe to say the same applied in the real world, as although the real Viper’s V10 was often dismissed as a dressed-up truck engine, it in fact benefitted from development input from Lamborghini – then owned by Chrysler.

It may come across as a parody of the simplistic, over-engined American muscle car, but the Viper’s late 1990s domination of GT racing gave it credibility to match the swagger; the GTS coupé versions were especially appealing. These days they retain a loyal following, and offer huge bang for your buck.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘It’s the most powerful stock road car, and the first-gen convertible has stunning race mods.’

Honda CR-X SiR

On the face of it this model is a fairly generic, front-driven 1990s Japanese coupé. But in typical Honda style, the CR-X is much more interesting than it first looks. A kerbweight not far off that of a Lotus Elise, typically fizzy VTEC engine and sophisticated double-wishbone suspension all round were typical of the brand’s eye for engineering detail. And for those in the know the CR-X is a classy alternative to a hot hatch, with a small but loyal following chasing the fast-diminishing supply of clean, original examples.

In the game it was an unbeatable combination of low cost and high performance; many a Gran Turismo ‘career’ was kick-started in a CR-X, sealing the car’s place in the heart of gamers and drivers alike. It’s a delightful proposition in the real world, too.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Cheap, lightweight and very easy to drive quickly.’

Mazda efini RX-7 Type RZ (FD)

The efini sub-brand under which it was sold in Japan may not be well known outside of the home market, but the FD RX-7 is widely recognised as a sure-fire 1990s classic and an absolute high point in Japanese sports car design and engineering. Sure, the rotary engine demands care and expensive maintenance, but its complex two-stage turbocharging and inertia-free response give it genuinely impressive performance.

Unadorned the RX-7 Type RZ is an absolutely beautiful car, too, and these qualities are all faithfully reproduced in Gran Turismo, where its lack of weight and easy tuneability made it a go-to race winner. Original examples are coveted by enthusiasts today, but still relatively affordable.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘One of the lightest performance cars with lots of power available from the turbo rotary.’

Mitsubishi FTO GPX

Gran Turismo’s structure of class-based racing for certain types of cars threw the spotlight on some unexpected and previously unknown heroes. Likewise its credit-based system that forced players to find cheap, fast cars that could help earn them ‘money’ and propel them up the ranks.

For the lower leagues, and especially the front-wheel-drive races, the Mitsubishi FTO’s cheap purchase price, powerful and revvy 2.0-litre V6, and distinctive styling made it an essential early purchase in the game. This factor surely motivates the appearance of real FTOs on British streets, first imported and then sold officially. As with their virtual brethren, these remain an affordable expression of your gaming credentials out in the real world.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Exceptionally quick FWD will monster the lower-tier races.’

Mitsubishi GTO Twin-Turbo

Perhaps the ugly duckling of the era, the GTO couldn’t match the NSX’s lightweight elegance, the RX-7’s beauty, the Supra’s brute power or the Skyline’s iconic standing. But its technological armoury was amazing. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 officially delivered 280PS, while the GTO featured four-wheel drive, electronically adjustable damping, four-wheel steering, active aero and variable exhaust system with flap-controlled sound control.

This is technology the Porsche 911 Turbo only now offers, but Mitsubishi had it over 20 years ago. Were it not for Gran Turismo, few outside of Japan would likely have heard of the model, its cheap purchase price and the ability to tune it to outrageous power made it a gaming icon. And cheap to buy now, if you’re not intimidated by the tech.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Cheapest way to over 900hp, and one of the game’s fastest cars with a race mod.’

Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R NISMO

Gran Turismo opened European and American eyes to a whole, previously hidden, world of Japanese performance cars, but if one vehicle symbolises the whole genre it’s the Nissan Skyline.

Gran Turismo introduced gamers to the huge range of variants and special editions, and the inherent tuneability that defines the real thing – and it’s no surprise the two cultures have overlapped. In real life as well as on screen, the Skyline’s ability to be boosted to high heaven and four-wheel drive to put it to the road have made it a performance hero, and the R32 GT-R is the classic gateway into the Skyline world. Real-world prices are rising, pushed by the fact that the R32 is now old enough for gaming-inspired American enthusiasts to import for real.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Every Gran Turismo has an R32 Skyline GT-R.’

Toyota Soarer 2.5GT-T

These days Toyota has the Lexus brand to carry its luxury products, but in the ’90s it was up to cars such as the Soarer coupé to demonstrate it could build more than just utilitarian saloons. In classic Japanese style the Soarer was fully stocked with all the latest mechanical and electrical gizmos, and compared with the more brutish Supras and Skylines it was something of a wafter, especially in its smooth-running V8 form.

But it’s a car Gran Turismo fans hold huge affection for, while the 2.5-litre straight-six is easily upgradeable to huge power thanks to its twin parallel turbo set-up. In the game it provided a cheap way to huge power outputs, and was perfect for the high-speed events. An odd combination of chintzy ’90s luxury and turbo-nutter Japanese power, the Soarer is – as in the game – a cheap way to go very fast indeed.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Huge power for not much money, excellent on Megaspeed Cup events.’

Toyota Corolla Levin GT-Apex AE86

Another legend of Japanese car culture, and the more fascinating for it being spawned from the deeply unadventurous-sounding Toyota Corolla. But in its various forms, the AE86 has become a sought-after legend. In Europe its toughness and rear-driven simplicity made it a popular privateer rally car, and Toyota actually sold 3000 of them in the UK. But it was the starring role in the drifting-obsessed manga cartoon Initial D that really sealed its reputation.

In Gran Turismo it cost peanuts to buy, introducing a whole generation of gamers and drivers to the delights of simple, sideways action in a car that has come to define Japanese drift culture. If you can find an original one they’re an absolute delight to drive, too, the buzzy 1.6-litre twin-cam and live rear axle combining to make one of the most unexpected but entertaining drivers’ cars ever built. Don’t judge a book by the cover…

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘Best introduction to the game’s RWD handling model, useful for Lightweight Challenge.’

TVR Griffith 500

Another stand-out car among the Skylines, Supras and Soarers, the appearance of a niche British brand such as TVR in a Japanese franchise such as Gran Turismo was a surprise, but it did help bring Blackpool’s finest to a new and global audience. And its evocation in the game was certainly faithful to the real thing, being both powerful but also very difficult to drive.

For many fans of the brand, the Griffith is the definitive TVR of the Peter Wheeler era, and the name has now been chosen for the new, Mustang-engined model due on sale very soon. While much of the car culture in Gran Turismo was an export from Japan to the rest of the world, it’s nice to know TVR was among a few manufacturers representing traffic going the other way.

GT Planet’s Andrew Evans says: ‘This car is brutal and unforgiving, and you’ll need to master it to pass the most advanced licence tests.’

Thanks to GT Planet Gran Turismo expert Andrew Evans for his input with this story

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