Mention the words Nissan Skyline GT-R to anyone with the slightest interest in fast sports cars, and you’ll no doubt be talked through its legendary status in Japan and its Ferrari- and Porsche-bashing performance levels — not to mention its limitless tunability. This is, of course, all true.
Starting in 1989 with the BNR32 Skyline GT-R, Nissan blitzed its rivals both on and off the track. This success continued with the BCNR33 and BNR34 models until 2002, when the Skyline GT-R was put out of production. Since 2007 the R35 GT-R has impressed the motoring world with its supercar-slaying performance. But, for once, we aren’t interested in the technological masterpiece that the modern-day GT-R proved to be. We’re taking a big step back to 1970, the first year the Skyline name wore the GT-R badge.
The history of the Skyline dates back all the way to 1957 with the ALSID-I, a sporty 4-door family car still built under the Prince name. It wasn’t until the PGC10 of 1969 that the Skyline was given the “R” nomenclature and turned into a street-going racer. The first GT-R, called hakosuka — “hako” for box and “suka,” short for Skyline (due to its boxy design) — wasn’t available as a 2-door coupe until the following year when the car you see on these pages hit Japanese dealerships. The impossibly tough-looking KPGC10 Skyline GT-R still featured the boxy design of the 4-door, but thanks to its fastback lines, it appealed more as a true sports car. We were lucky enough to meet up with the owner of one of these rarities, an example in absolutely perfect condition, packing a few surprises under its painstakingly restored exterior.
Like in the second-generation Skyline GT-Rs (R32, R33 and R34) it was the engine that made the Rs of the ’70s stand out from the rest. The mighty S20 developed a reasonable 160hp punch from a naturally aspirated 1,989cc (2.0-liter) straight-6 engine. This was good for a top speed of 200 km/h, and thanks to a contained 2,425-lb curb weight, allowed the Skyline to become one of the best Japanese driver cars of its time.
The owner of the example you see here, however, had the engine rebuilt to race car–like levels with forged pistons, lightweight H-type connecting rods, high-lift camshafts and a considerable amount of porting and polishing to the head. This, together with the larger-diameter Solex carburetors and custom exhaust system, allows it to rev higher and produce 200 hp, or an even 100 hp per liter. This little red-topped engine is considered one of Japan’s most remarkable engineering masterpieces, and there are so few left that they fetch ridiculous amounts of money. The owner tried hard to keep his car looking as standard as possible, but he wanted to give a few personal touches to differentiate it from the rest.
In the engine bay, you’ll find the larger carbs, yellow high-voltage ignition leads, large core racing radiator, a custom oil catch tank and if you have a keen eye you might even spot the Cusco adjustable upper mounts for the front dampers. But it isn’t only these things that make this Skyline very special. The body was completely stripped down, restored from the extensive rust damage it had and rebuilt like new, a process that took more than two years to complete. It was then joined by a custom welded-in rollcage, a rather unexpected find on such a classic car. The cage dramatically improves torsional rigidity, and in the case of an accident, gives far more protection to the driver than a 41-year-old chassis ever could. If this wasn’t enough, the whole chassis was spot-welded during the restoration to guarantee an even more rigid shell.
The completed body and chassis were then sprayed in its original silver color for an added feel of authenticity. All of the exterior add-ons — like the front-mounted rearview mirrors, rear overfenders, chrome bumpers and grilles — were all thoroughly refinished to like-new spec. The unbelievably expensive lightweight Watanabe alloy wheels, in the original black color, complete the look of this KPGC10 down to the smallest detail. The owner really wanted to upgrade the old school (and dangerous) brake setup with something more modern, so in went the AP Racing 4-pot front calipers with larger brake discs.
Open the driver-side door and what you will see will take you straight back to the ’70s. The boxy and angular design is carried on inside onto the main dash area and mixed up with curved surfaces like the circular instrument panel. Wood inserts accentuate some of the details like the shift knob and center console, while the Datsun racing steering wheel was straight from a Nissan/Datsun racing parts catalog and worth a considerable amount of money these days. Replacing the factory leather seats, which have been kept by the owner of the car, is a Recaro full bucket seat for the driver side and a Recaro reclinable item for the passenger. These do a much better job of holding occupants in than the standard items. The rear seats have been completely removed in favor of additional weight savings. Joining the ’70s-style radio is a CD head unit, the only modern addition “spoiling” the vintage dash.
Funny enough, this is actually the second KPGC10 this particular collector has restored. The first car, identical to the one you see here, was actually stolen a few days after it was completed. Despite this major drawback, his need to own one of these machines he cherished so much in his youth was never going to hold him back, so he started the project all over again. The hardest part was finding another suitable car to base the build on, but like the final results illustrate, this particular restoration couldn’t have yielded a better result. The KPGC10 helps us understand why the Skyline GT-R is so highly revered in Japan and why Nissan didn’t feel it was fair to reuse the badge until 1989 on the BNR32. With so much riding on those three letters, Nissan certainly couldn’t afford to hurt its status with cars that weren’t up to par.
'70 Nissan GT-R
Engine Race-spec S20 engine; forged pistons; H-beam connecting rods; high-lift camshafts; Solex 44mm carburetors; custom exhaust system; large core racing radiator; high-intensity ignition coils; custom oil catch tank
Transmission Lightweight flywheel
Suspension & Brakes Custom dampers; AP Racing 4-pot front calipers; N1 ventilated rotors
Wheels & Tires Watanabe wheels 16x8" (f) & 16x9" (r); Yokohama DNA GP 225/45/ZR16 (f) & 245/45/ZR16 (r) tires
Interior Recaro seats; custom half-type rollcage; Datsun racing steering wheel; spot-welded chassis; stripped-out interior