From looking at Marco Vargas you'd never guess the guy was so fanatic about Nissans. But visit his shop, SR20Store, and you'll understand: black and red-top SR2020DETs sitting on the floor, across the way from a lone RB26DETT in the process of being transplanted into one of his daily drivers, a '92 240SX coupe; an R32 Skyline GT-R (that's the other daily) and this thing. This "thing" is what really validates Marco's obsession: it's a Hakosuka HT2000 Skyline GT-X KPGC10, one of only eight in the States and considered a rarity not only here but in Japan as well. To locate one is already an arduous task to begin with, and to bring one outside its country of origin is an even greater challenge. But isn't there a GT-R in this vintage, you might be asking? Trust us, if you could even locate one of those rare birds, let alone discover a way to import it from Japan without losing a finger, we're sure Marco would have figured it out first.
The PGCI0 GT-X differs from the GT-R Hakosuka in many subtle ways. From the outside, it looks just like the GC10 GT-R, sporting the same rear over fenders. For the most part, the body here is stock, left the way Nissan intended, but Marco added a TBO Sports front spoiler and a rear wing, then placed OEM over-fenders on the front end. The paint is remarkably clean for a car that's older than half our edit staff (yours truly included) minus John Naderi, and what's really unique are the side mirrors that sit all the way at the edge of the front of the car rather than on the door pillars. Don't forget that the GT-X, like all the other Skylines that have been imported to the country, is still a right-hander, a sure-fire eye catcher for those in and not in the know.
But the Hakosuka didn't land in Marco's lap overnight; in fact he searched for nearly 14 years until he saw a friend of his driving it around his neighborhood. "A week later," he says, "it was sitting in my shop."Unfortunately, the GT-X doesn't come with the famed Prince R380, an engine that set speed records back in '65. It came with the L20 straight-six, capable of pushing out 130 horses, but it was in the poorest of conditions, running on just five cylinders-not the ideal situation for a guy who just found his dream car. Good thing Marco knows a thing or two about fixing and tuning Nissans. So with his mechanical expertise he pulled the old motor and dropped in an L28 short block with the 2.0-liter L6 cylinder head mated to it. The only performance parts that were bolted on are a stainless steel header and a triple Mikuni carburetor conversion, but the ignition has been converted to an electronic system versus the original manual. He also upgraded the five-speed transmission by fitting a R180 VLSD in along with a Nismo clutch. Marco dyno tested the current setup, resulting in 170 hp at 5,200 rpm.
Although the Hakosuka's stance is a one-of-a-kind, that didn't stop Marco from having a littlefun with the suspension. As if finding parts ingeneral wasn't hard enough, we were surprised he was able to find Cusco coilovers with the camber plates for the front end while the rear uses KYB adjustable shocks. A Cusco strut bar does tighten the front of the chassis up quite a bit as does the TBO rollbar that's installed in the passenger compartment. Classics like the Hakosuka should only roll on classic wheels like the RS Watanabes, so there is a set of 15x8 (front) and 15x9.5 (rear) to fill up the wheel wells. Nismo brakes are installed at every wheel hub and stainless brake lines give nice and tight braking pressure when it's needed.
Once inside the GT-X, there are tell-tale signs that the car has seen better days, yet it's still considered pristine as it retains most of the plastic trim and an undamaged dashboard (complete with the signature of Yutaka Katayama-Father of the Z). The driver's seat is a Recaro SRD and the factory steering wheel is replaced with one from Sprint and a horn plate from Lonza. It even rocks the factory radio.
According to Marco, there isn't a single authentic Skyline HT2000 GT-R in the US, although that could be topic for debate depending on who reads this. After all, we were under the impression that we had shot one at the NOPI Nationals back in '02 (read "Back In the Day," January '03). But whether or not that elusive machine exists in this country will be left for debate on another day; Marco's dream still lies within a car that he hopes to make his own GT-R Hakosuka, even if it will never be a real GT-R. He's already collected a bunch of new parts from Japan and plans a full restoration before the year's end. If luck goes his way, you may see an actual S20, and if that happens, Marco's GT-X will be the closest thing to an actual GT-R we may ever see.
OWNER Marco Vargas
HOMETOWN Gardena, CA
DAILY GRIND Owner of SR20Store.com
POWER 170 hp at 5,200 rpm
UNDER THE HOOD '78 Nissan 2.8L L6 engine;Nissan 2.0L L6 head; stainless header; triple Mikuni carburetors; electronic Ignition
DRIVETRAIN R180 Vlsd; Nismo clutch
STIFF STUFF Cusco coilovers with camber plates and strut bar; KYB adjustable rear shocks; TBO rollbar
OUTSIDE Nissan OEM over-fenders; TBO front spoiler and rear wing
INSIDE Recaro SRD seat; Sprint steering wheel and pedals; Lonza horn plate