It seems unlikely that Mary Shelley would ever have built a car. This is largely down to poor timing on her part: She was dead by 1851. Yet were she given the opportunity to build an automobile, the writing Ms. Shelley produced in her lifetime would lead you to believe that a machine like this Kenmeri-generation 1973 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-X wouldn't be off the cards.
Miss Shelley, creator of the fictional Dr. Frankenstein and the eponymous, nameless monster that her doctor created, would undoubtedly have seen the parallels between her creature, itself going on 200 years old now though oft-told since, and Patrick Soliman's '73 Nissan Skyline GT-X.
For a start, there's a pathetic corpse that took some wrangling to obtain. "This Skyline got here in the 1980s," Pat recounts. An exotic-car importer ended up with it on a container for some reason. It was a mistake. In the '80s, the Kenmeri Skyline was only a $500 car, if that, and it cost more to ship it back than to keep it. And so, they kept it. Its history from there was imprecise, but not pretty. The owners thrashed on it from '85 to well into the '90s. It was painted three or four times, it was given three different engines, and eventually they sold it to someone who just let it sit for half a dozen years. It just sat in some house builder's driveway, in the weeds. The windows were smashed in, the owner had bricks lying on top of it, it just looked abandoned." By the '00s, the owner wanted it gone, and so he put an ad online. "Once the post was out, there was an all-out race to get it. A friend of mine got there first and didn't hesitate to buy it; he was happy to have it." By '06, it had changed hands multiple times and now sported a completely incorrect SR20DET driveline, complete with all of the custom fabrication work needed to make that particular combination happen.
Pat, meanwhile, was stationed in Japan in the Navy as an aviation structural mechanic. Despite trying, he failed utterly to get a Skyline of any variety out of Japan. "I went to Japan for two years, and half the reason I went was to get a Skyline of my own. Turns out, they don't want to sell Skylines to just anyone. There would be interest on the phone but when I turn up, suddenly the car isn't available anymore." And so it was '06, and Pat was stateside when he got his mitts on the car you see here. The previous owner got his hands on another Skyline, which made this one available. It had surface rust underneath it, and the SR conversion wasn't even complete. This didn't matter to Pat. The idea of owning a Skyline and bending it to his will kept him up for nights; Pat wasn't about to let this particular daemon go easily.
"Initially, I wanted a basic GT-R clone," he says. "Just wheel flares and Watanabes, and I would be happy. But as I rebuilt more, and as my skill level progressed, I discovered that I could do a lot more.
"I like modern motors in old cars," Pat tells us, "and I continued with the SR20 swap. But after I blew that engine for the third time, I said screw it, I'm done. I was happy to get it going, but it kept blowing up. The car was rejecting the transplant." And so as Dr. Frankenstein installed new vital organs into the creature's body, Pat installed new components on his Skyline. "I got a good deal on an engine that a friend of mine had been working on, an RB26DETT out of an R33 GT-R. It came with an RB25 rear-drive transmission bolted on.
"And that's where things get crazy. All sorts of crossmembers had to be made to support the SR20DET and the transmission that were in the car, but I had to undo all of that, position the engine, then make my own crossmembers and engine mounts, and my own transmission crossmember. I just had the whole driveline on blocks and I started welding everything around it. To fit the RB25 transmission, I had to cut out pretty much the whole trans tunnel and make a new one. The core support for the radiator had been cut out by a previous owner—so I made my own core support and cover." A Z31-era R200 limited-slip differential lives in back now. Pat says it's good for 700 hp, even though the RB is making 552 at the rear wheels.
Just as Doctor F. used theories of galvanism to harness the power of lighting in attempts to give his creature the breath of life, so too did Pat require electricity to bring his beast to life. "There was no wiring in the car at all...you're going to laugh, but all of the bulbs and wiring and stuff came from an '89 Nissan Sentra in the junkyard. It's funny, but it all fits. Sometimes you have to go back a million times to find applications that will fit, but this time I just got lucky. Oh, and I suck at wiring, so my friend Paul wired everything up."
What really helped crystallize Pat's vision for his Skyline was leaving it alone for three-quarters of a year. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, etc. "The Navy had me out on tour for more than eight months, and that really helped. I had nothing but time to look around online for parts and no other way to spend my paychecks. It's funny how the planets aligned."
"I love the mild bosozoku look, so I went that route. The Techno Phantoms were originally 14x6" but I got them re-barreled, and they really go with the look of the car. And just by coincidence, as I started looking for wheel flares, I found a guy who had started reproducing them for the Kenmeri." Cue Pat's surprised wife, Sterling, who was wondering just where all of these parts were going to fit. "I got home and there were all these parts all over the place. I told my wife that they didn't cost that much. I totally lied."
And there were also a thousand trips to the local Pick-Your-Parts for the intangibles—clips, hoses, wires, and more. "Luckily, plenty of Datsun 510 and 280ZX parts fit. The modern world of the Internet also helped in this regard. Friends knew what I was up to. I had to source the rear glass from Fiji, and another friend found all of the side glass in New Zealand. The headlight buckets came from a Toyota pickup. No one makes a rear coilover setup for this car; a friend figured out that some Camaro application would fit. I actually had to hand-carve some bushings to get 'em to work. This thing was really in the dumps and I did anything I could do to get it going and on the road, and within my budget. A lot of guys who buy Skylines, they buy them clean, and they drive 'em and are happy. But with something like this one, starting from the ground up in a place where none of these cars exist, it's really hard."
Better still, it's driven regularly. "I'm used to it being low...the coilovers feel better than cut springs did back in the day when you had no money and just wanted the right stance. I like to feel the road." And so he does: Pat's logged up to 1,000 miles in a week, between Victorville, San Diego, and back again. That also answers our dependability question.
Subscribing to the philosophy that cars are never done, Pat has a laundry list of what he has to do next. "Brakes," he says quickly. "The brakes it has now are just to get it working. More suspension work—increased adjustability, make the rear adjustable, adding more caster...these old cars never have much caster. And, of course, I'm always searching for more horsepower...it's a big whirlwind. I'd like to update the interior—something within the guidelines of being traditional, nothing out of control. A stereo would be nice! The engine actually isn't that loud—the Six has a nice hum to it, and the turbo muffles things a bit. The exhaust has a nice, low tone."
While the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein stalked off into the night, Pat Soliman's creature has no such desires. Having wanted a Skyline for so long, and having finally got the Adam of his labors to a place where he can drive it reliably, Pat is not about to let this bosozoku-style fiend out of his sight.
The Skyline seen here, internal code C110, was built from '72 through '77 and is known in kyu-sha circles as the Ken & Mary (or, Kenmeri) Skyline. The joy of the Skyline was that it was just a simple coupe, sedan, or wagon that could perform feats that belied its formal style. It was stealthy, save for the all-out GT-Rs, with their gigantic wheel flares and 160hp, DOHC twin-cam four-valve inline-six engines. And really, C110 GT-Rs were few and far between: Just 197 were built from September '72 to March '73. The vast majority of Skylines had 1.6L or 1.8L Prince-designed Fours; only the top-echelon models, like the GT-X in these pictures, received the Nissan-designed L-series inline-six from the factory.
To modern American eyes, the Skyline is the essence of what a Japanese car could be, the height of the genre's potential in its own tome...yet when it was presented in Japan, this generation of Skyline was Nissan's take on an American car. Automatic transmission prominently featured in the initial TV ads. A footprint that was larger than many Japanese cars of the day: Skyline C110 was physically larger than just about anything Nissan was selling in those days, short of the Cedric/Gloria or the President limousine, and American cars were known for their generous proportions. Styling cues like the twin round taillights, a motif that sporting Chevrolet models had used for the better part of a decade. The fastback roofline, which had been in vogue in the last half of the 1960s on everything from Mustangs to Marlins, Fairlanes, to Firebirds. And the Skyline's surf line, a body line that extends up from the rocker panel and forms the top of the rear-wheel openings en route to the rear of the body, surely attempted to faintly echo the wheel skirts of higher-end American luxury cars.
Home-market advertising reflected this push, too, subtly. On TV and in print, Ken and Mary were the characters the new Skyline's ad campaign would center around; the Kenmeri name (abbreviated and Japanized) is taken from these two beloved characters. Tall, exotic Ken, played by actor Jimmy Zinnai, who was half-Russian, half-Japanese; curvy, adorable Mary, played by all-American teenage girl Diane Krey. Together, they toured rural Japan in their lovely Skyline 2000 GT-X, getting back to "Beautiful Nature," Nissan's pro-environmental slogan at the time. It would stand to reason that the people in the ads should also be American—or else, not so very Japanese. Ken and Mary took Japan by storm starting in late 1972. (Play with the names Ken and Mary a little and you end up with Mary Ken, or "American.")
The Skyline was exported as well—primarily to countries like England and Australia, where it wouldn't have to be re-engineered for left-hand drive. Sales of Japanese cars in these countries were still in their infancy, and none of the offered versions—often dubbed Datsun 160K, 180K or 240K depending on the displacement of the engine—sold particularly well. That said, they did help establish Nissan's, and to an extent Japan's, reputation for reliability and robust build quality.
But the numbers added up. Skyline embraced the personal-luxury-car market just as performance was dwindling; the world rewarded Nissan by buying more of this generation than any other generation of Skyline—more than 670,000 units of this generation sold, more than doubling the Hakosuka-generation's production.