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Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

A Historical Retrospective

James Tate
Jan 1, 2008
Photographer: Henry Z. DeKuyper
0801_impp_01_z+nissan_skylines+front_view Photo 1/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

When you think Nissan Skyline, you likely picture something with twin turbochargers, all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. When you think old-school, images of the oh-so ancient R32 from the late '80s and early '90s pop up in your head. OK, maybe we're not giving you enough credit. You represent the hardcore JDM fanatic. Of course you already know about the first Skyline GT-R created in 1969.

Actually, the first Skyline was made by a company called Prince in 1957, but we'll conveniently gloss over it like we will the V-series Skylines-that means we won't be crediting any of you who have slapped Skyline emblems on your G35s either. No, this guide will focus on the Skylines that have been privilege to Nissan's vaunted "GT-R" badge. That is, the cars to which Nissan applied the badge, not AutoZone.

0801_impp_02_z+nissan_skyline+left_front_view Photo 2/12   |   The first-generation ALSI was sold from 1957-1964.

The first car to receive the honor bore the Nissan name, not the Prince name, and was sold in 1969. Although the first to be named GT-R (called the PGC10), it wasn't the first time a Skyline saw the racetrack. In 1964, Nissan's Prince division built a special Skyline, to meet homologation regulations. Called the 2000GT, the car featured a longer wheelbase and the first six-cylinder engine to be offered in a Skyline.

Like any car that's created to meet homologation rules, the 2000GT quickly amassed a devout following. Nissan decided to roll the car into production. It came in either GT-A trim or GT-B trim. The one you wanted was the GT-B, which featured triple carbs and produced an earth-shattering 125 hp. Right off the bat, the car was a success on the track, finishing second to only the purpose-built Porsche 904 GTS.

The success of the 2000GT meant that it would be another four years before Nissan started building the first GT-R. The GT-R came with a re-style that featured the now memorable, more aggressive quad-headlight front end and bore the nickname "Hakosuka." Powered by a brand-new inline-six, dubbed the S20, the car pushed out 160 hp-remarkable for a 2L engine of this vintage and on par with its international competition. The core engine was very similar to the engine found in Nissan's dedicated race car, the R380.

0801_impp_05_z+nissan_skyline+left_front_view Photo 3/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

Further separating the GT-R from its more pedestrian family roots was its unique body trim and of course the GT-R emblem. In addition, both the sedan and later the coupe were stripped of all unnecessary equipment to keep them as light as possible for racing. By 1972, the Skyline GT-R had made its name synonymous with victory, with the coupe and sedan having won 50 races combined.

The Skyline GT-R lived on for one more year as the C110-a car that dwindled in popularity compared to the earlier C10 that raced in the late '60s and early '70s. Nissan's withdrawal from racing combined with the impending oil crisis meant there simply wasn't a market for a GT-R anymore.

0801_impp_06_z+nissan_skyline+right_front_view Photo 4/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

Although the GT-R nameplate wouldn't make a comeback until the late '80s (yes, that's the R32), a noteworthy Skyline or two popped out of Nissan's doors in the interim. The C211, which saw production from 1977 to 1981, didn't have the same visual appeal as either of its GT-R predecessors, but a model was available called the 2000GT-EX that was turbocharged. This is, of course, an important milestone in Skyline history. Moreover, the C211 was the first turbocharged Japanese production car ever. It had no intercooler and no blow-off valve and produced 140 hp-quite a feat, given stringent new emissions requirements.

The car to follow the C211 was even uglier, so we'll gloss over the R30 except for a couple of points. One, this was the first Skyline to bear the R-chassis code. Two, the car was offered in both four- and six-cylinder models. The four-cylinder, dubbed the FJ20, was the first Japanese inline-four to have more than two valves per cylinder. Also notable was that some cars had dampers that could be adjusted on the fly-a first for a Japanese production car and a hint that the R-chassis Skylines would be technological test beds for years to come.

0801_impp_08_z+nissan_skyline+left_front_view Photo 5/12   |   The 1964 Skyline 2000GT needed an 8-inch wheelbase stretch to make room for a "big" 2L inline-six.

In 1983, the R30 spawned a car that is largely credited for the return of the GT-R badge. The Skyline 2000 RS Turbo was so different from the R30 that the chassis was dubbed DR30. Armed with the more powerful FJ20ET, the car was the most powerful Japanese production engine to hit showroom floors with around 190 hp. The cars were easily distinguishable by their redesigned front ends, nicknamed "Tekamen" or Iron Mask, for the sloping hood and narrow headlights that were unique to the rare DR30. If you're nerdy enough to wonder what the best DR30 made was, it's the RS-X Turbo C, which boasted 205 hp thanks to a revised exhaust housing, an intercooler and a different compression ratio. The takeaway message? Nissan was getting into turbocharging and they were good at it.

The Skyline R31 is that car that everyone has considered bringing in to the United States but then decided it was too ugly to expend the effort. A shame, because it was the gateway drug that drove Nissan to produce the Skylines we obsess about. It was the first Skyline with an RB-series engine, despite it being a 2L variant (that's RB20DET). Interestingly, these were the first engines to be dubbed "red tops" in the Nissan line. On top of that, it was the first Nissan to get HICAS, which brought four-wheel steering into the equation.

0801_impp_09_z+nissan_skyline+left_front_view Photo 6/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

While Nissan wasn't ready to use the GT-R nameplate, there was an R31 called the GTS-R, which featured a number of tricks you'd be surprised to see on a modified car, including a big turbo-mounted on a tubular stainless steel manifold and a big front-mount intercooler. Racing variants made as much as 460 hp.

By the time the Skyline R32 hit showrooms in 1989, Nissan had pared the offerings down to two body styles: a coupe or a sedan. No longer would the breed be diluted by wagons or even vans-it was time to build a race car. The performance benchmark? A Porsche 959.

The R32 was the first car in 16 years to bear the coveted GT-R emblem and this time it meant twin turbochargers, all-wheel drive and a claimed 280 hp. Of course, any Japanese car enthusiast can tell you that most of Japan's turbocharged sports cars produce more than the claimed 280 hp-the number is a result of a gentleman's agreement between manufacturers to not advertise more than this number.

0801_impp_10_z+nissan_skyline+left_front_view Photo 7/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

The reality, in the case of the R32, was that the car made closer to 320 hp and would make a hell of a lot more if you could find a way to uncork it. Interestingly, it seemed Nissan wanted new owners to find a way. A bright yellow restrictor was fitted in the boost control lines, which could easily be removed by the owner. Martin Donnon, in his book High Performance Imports 57, claims Nissan did it on purpose.

Nissan squeezed as much brake as they could behind the homologation-mandated 16-inch wheels, which meant the car wasn't the world's best stopper until the rules changed allowing 17-inch wheels. Hence the Skyline GT-R V-Spec in 1993, with 17-inch BBS wheels and larger Brembo brakes. In 1994, the final and best R32 was produced, called the V-Spec II, which had wider, stickier tires mounted on 17-inch wheels.

0801_impp_11_z+nissan_skyline+left_front_view Photo 8/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

These things were made for the sole purpose of competing in Group A racing, and the engines were pretty much identical to the 500hp monsters that utterly dominated the class causing other manufacturers to throw their arms in the air and scream "no fair!" The car was so fast and so technologically advanced that it quickly earned the nickname "Godzilla" (pronounced GOD-zirra) and was responsible for crashing every party it attended. It didn't matter what the series was-nobody could catch the GT-R, which led to the eventual demise of each racing class.

Godzilla's effect on the competition and on the series in which it competed wasn't going to stop Nissan from further development. Enter everyone's favorite, the Skyline R33. Bigger and heavier than all Skylines before it, this is the car whose unmistakable nose became the mold for every body kit company operating in the mid-'90s.

0801_impp_13_z+nissan_skyline_r32+right_front_view Photo 9/12   |   The Skyline R32 quickly earned the nickname "Godzilla" for its domination of every racing series it entered. The car would eventually be responsible for the crash of just about every racing class in which it could compete-because nobody could catch it.

While the R33 wasn't the technological leap forward that the R32 was, it did receive a host of updates, such as a torquier RB26DETT, thanks largely to revised turbocharger plumbing. The car was also fitted with Nissan's latest in high-tech steering, called Super HICAS, and an improved version of ATTESA-ETS all-wheel drive, which monitored the car's movement 100 times per second to detect traction loss and alter torque bias accordingly. In 1995, a further improvement was made and the system was dubbed the ATTESA-ETS Pro. While the basic ATTESA-ETS controlled the torque split front to rear, the Pro added control of the left to right torque split at the rear wheels. The upgraded system was standard on V-Spec cars, but could be optioned on the standard car as well.

Wanting a way of showcasing what the car was capable of, Nissan created the Nismo 400R, which is probably one of your favorites on Gran Turismo. The car had 400 hp by way of a 2.8-liter version of the RB engine, called the RBX-GT2.

0801_impp_15_z+nissan_skyline_r33+left_front_view Photo 10/12   |   The car that filled your head during childhood, the R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Dirk Schoysman lapped the Nrburgring Nordschleife in under eight minutes in stock GT-R trim.

Contrary to popular belief, the succeeding Skyline R34 was actually smaller than its predecessor. This was partly a result of Nissan paying heed to enthusiasts' complaints that the R33 had strayed too far from the original mission statement of high performance in 1969. There was no mistaking it-the R33 was massive.

The Skyline GT-R came in more versions than you can count from 1999-2002, including V-Spec, V-Spec II, N1, M-Spec, V-Spec II Nur, M-Spec Nur, Nismo R-Tune and the Nismo Z-Tune. That's nine types of R34 GT-R you could buy...how did anyone decide?

In any case, the five-speed transmission of the R33 was scrapped in favor of a Getrag six-speed box and the sleeved turbochargers were replaced with ball bearing units. This time around, V-Spec simply meant a body kit with a diffuser and the V-Spec II added a carbon-fiber hood. The N1 redefined the term badass-there was no air conditioning, no stereo, no rear wiper and minimalist interior trim. Oh, and the car came with a blueprinted N1 engine and there were only 45 made. Good luck finding one today.

0801_impp_16_z+nissan_skyline_r34+right_front_view Photo 11/12   |   The R34 is without question the epitome of GT-R heritage-at least until the R36 starts roaming the streets worldwide.

On the other side of the equation was the M-Spec, which had a leather interior with heated seats and a softer suspension. The M-Spec Nur added a 300km/h speedometer and an N1 engine. There were 250 made. The V-Spec II Nur, on the other hand, was all the fun of a V-Spec II, but with the addition of the rare N1 engine and the 300km/h speedometer. If your pockets are thick enough you may even find one for sale since only 750 were made.

If the N1 was badass, then the GT-R Nismo Z-Tune was the reincarnation of Godzilla. The car came into production when Nismo itself began buying up pristine examples of existing R34 GT-Rs and tearing them down to the sheetmetal, to build the ultimate Skyline. It's safe to say they succeeded-the car had a 2.8L, 500hp engine and the kind of throttle response that should be impossible in a car with half the power. Each of the 20 produced cost $170,000.

As we mentioned earlier, there is a current Skyline, the V35. A quick look confirms that it's no GT-R. The RB engine has been completely ditched in favor of the ubiquitous VQ35 powerplant that Nissan has essentially been plopping in the engine bay of well... everything. Gone are the characteristic round taillights and, of course, the massive horsepower production. Without the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and all-wheel steering of the old car, enthusiasts have nowhere to turn their attention.

0801_impp_17_z+nissan_skyline+generations Photo 12/12   |   Nissan Skyline - Sky Time Line

Nowhere that is, except for the just-released GT-R, which made its debut at the Tokyo Auto Show this October. At the time of this writing, details are still sketchy, but it looks like the car will have a twin-turbocharged variant of the VQ engine-likely with increased displacement. From the sound of the car in spy video, we're betting it has a seven-speed sequential transmission, la DSG.

By all accounts, the new GT-R should be a spicy meatball featuring the very latest in Nissan all-wheel drive and steering systems and the undeniable visual similarity to a stealth fighter. We can't picture a better candidate to carry the Skyline legacy into the 21st century. Stay tuned, it's just a matter of months before we're driving the first tuned examples.

By James Tate
57 Articles

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