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1972 Nissan Laurel Skyline C110 - Growing Old, Selling Out

The Skyline was a fairly adult bit of business in those days.

B.K. Nakadashi
Aug 3, 2011
Photographer: Fly

Once upon a time, you could actually climb through a car company’s output through the various stages of your life: cheap little cars when you’re young and single and just starting out, moving on up to fumpfering old yawnmobiles for when your pubies go grey. And for a good chunk of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Nissan’s hierarchy was pretty clear: you could start as a sassy single in a Sunny, get married and move on up into a Bluebird with a young family, then into a Skyline when you needed something a little larger for the 2.3 kids in back, and finally into a Cedric or Gloria, if you were loaded or old, or boring or all three. (Anyone could use a truck, and anyone looked good in a Z - both defied mere status up or down the food chain.)

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The Skyline was a fairly adult bit of business in those days. The generation of Skyline seen here, internal code C110, was built from 1972 through ’77, and is known in old-school circles as the “Ken & Mary” (or, Kenmeri) Skyline. While the Z-car was a hot performer and was showy about it, the joy of the Skyline was that it was just a simple coupe or a sedan that could do extraordinary things that belied its formal style. It was stealthy, save for the GT-Rs, with their gigantic wheel flares. 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 received the Nissan-designed L-series inline-six.

Within Nissan, there was a push to “Americanize” this generation of Skyline, sending it upmarket and loading it up with luxury features like an automatic transmission; the Kenmeri name is taken from the adventures of Ken and Mary, a couple of kids in love who would enjoy their expeditions to the great outdoors in their Skyline. It’s not by accident that the reverse of Kenmeri is “Meriken” – American. Skyline embraced the personal-luxury-car market just as it was coming on line to replace the emphasis on performance, and the world rewarded Nissan by buying more of this generation than any other generation of Skyline (see sidebar). If this was Nissan’s idea of selling out, could it really be such a bad thing?

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And so it makes some sense that, four decades on, Impulse of Japan has built a Skyline, the Nissan model that’s meant to be for grown-ups but still fun, into a super-sano modern-retro machine for grown-ups; it’s an adult treatment of an adult car. A spin around town early on a weekend morning would jingle the nostalgic glands of Drivers Of a Certain Age, and gives younger drivers a taste of How Things Used to Be. We suspect that Mary might be a little annoyed, but Ken would most assuredly swoon.

It would have been too easy for Impulse to go the GT-R route, creating a four-door sedan that even Nissan never bothered to build; some flares, a high-revving Prince two-liter six, some steelies and Watanabes and you’re done. But GT-R clones and wannabes and never-weres have been done. They don’t stand out.

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This, kids, stands out.

It’s a gentle touch, one that lets the Skyline’s angular creases and folds stand out in a universe of jellymould blobs and body kits, that Impulse has applied to their Kenmeri. First, it’s a sedan, grown-ups buy sedans - well, they did when this Skyline was new. Coupes were cool, and sedans were for squares. The body is stock, sporting a clean silver paint job bereft of graphic flourishes. Only a GT-R-style chin spoiler, some chrome fender mirrors, and a tint job on the headlights are changed from stock; there aren’t even flared wheel openings to obliterate the sexy “surf line” character crease over the rear wheel openings. Want an appropriate read on quality? Do it on a clean, monochromatic surface, like the top and sides of this Skyline. This treatment allows ample scrutiny of Impulse’s work; they don’t just sell parts and fettle engines, they’ll do a complete rotisserie restoration if you have the scratch, and those flares and decals and wild flip-flop chromillusion paint schemes would only cover up the work that needs to be seen. Impulse gave itself nowhere to hide on this one.

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Even the wheels are an old-school size, 15x8", large for Japanese cars of the day, and dominating the wheel openings here. Anything larger and you’d have to start hacking away at sheetmetal to accommodate that, and this is far too nice a car for that; the result is crisp and clean, balanced and proportioned. And yet they’re still big enough that they fit a set of Endless four-pot calipers and brake rotors that’ll leave your eyeballs dangling from their retinas if you press the middle pedal too hard.

If anything, it’s the airbag suspension, designed and adapted by Impulse specifically for this application, and the slammed stance that will get this machine noticed. No metal has been chopped or removed on the body or roofline, but it’s SO low, the subframes practically rest on the ground. The stance looks like it was cribbed from some anime-influenced model car box. Fully inflated to something shorter than stock ride height, it’s not something you’re going to want to go corner carving in without a wide berth and distant Armco, but the at-rest stance makes it impossible to avert your gaze. It’s like that new issue of Dorm Room Lesbians magazine that your roommate left on the sofa before he ran off to work: whether it’s your scene or not, you can’t not look.

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The Skyline-spec 2.4-liter L-series inline-six was rated at a solid-if-sad 130hp SAE; a stock 240Z was rated twenty horses higher, but the oversquare iron block was fitted rather differently in the Z, with a mellower camshaft, a drop in compression to 8.6:1 and a single twin-choke Hitachi carb replacing the Z’s twin mixers. And so, to reach an honest 200 horsepower (and a smooth 164 foot-pounds of torque), the Impulse-built L24 gets some of its reciprocating mass shaved and balanced; the single Mikuni carburetor making way for a troika of side-draft carburetors that allow far deeper breathing, and a hand-fettled exhaust lets all of the nasty stuff out. It also revs more freely thanks to a lightened flywheel.

Now, we’ll confess that a two hundred horsepower inline-six doesn’t sound like much in a world of 400 and 500+-horse fours, but Impulse didn’t cram all the latest and greatest technology to boost power into the stratosphere; it used old-school tricks to make old-school power on an old-school car—reliably. And “old school” isn’t some euphemism for “slow”: despite its size, the Kenmeri doesn’t weigh much more than a Honda Fit, and it’s packing 80 percent more power.

Underhood, there are some visual tricks: the cam cover is now cherry red, the carb trumpets are now anodized, most of the wiring is hidden from view, and what lines you do see are stainless and braided. This clean, simple approach is well in keeping with the rest of the car. It’s a subtle approach that rewards multiple viewings.

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With Skylines like this one on the horizon, the prospect of growing old doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Oh, if Ken and Mary could only see what Impulse Garage did to their C110 Skyline...

Factory Fresh

1972-77 C110 Kenmeri Skyline
When’s the last time you saw a stock Kenmeri Skyline sedan? Yeah, thought so. Here’s what it looked like before Impulse got all crazy with theirs.

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Previous Skylines, including the famous Hakosuka, were all engineered and sorted by the Prince Car Company, which merged with Nissan in 1966; the Hakosuka was sold as a Nissan starting in 1968. The C110 generation was the first Skyline that Nissan had its hands in from the get-go.

This generation kept the signature “surf line” body crease that had appeared over the rear wheel opening, and added a new Skyline styling feature that lasted into the new millenium: four round taillights, known affectionately as “afterburners”. The C110 was available in coupe, wagon and (as seen here) sedan body styles. It was available with 1.6L and 1.8L Prince G-series four-cylinder engines, as well as a variety of L-series Nissan 2.0L and 2.4L inline-sixes and the uber rare S20 2.0L DOHC six found in the GT-R version. The 2.4L six, sharing general architecture with the engine in the new Fairlady Z, offered much tuning potential, although the Skyline got a lower-powered version with a single carburetor rated at 130 horsepower.

The Skyline played something of an ambassadorial role for Nissan as it entered new markets like England and Australia in the early 1970s; the C110 generation shed its Skyline name and adopted alphanumerics (much as in the States), with top models known as the Datsun 240K GT. (It never did make it to America, and was sold only in right-hand-drive countries.) Still, it sold well enough that the next generation Skyline, the C210-generation of 1977, were also sold abroad.

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Alas, like so many Japanese cars abroad back in the day, they were seen as transportation tools rather than machines of great interest to potential collectors. They wore out or broke (or, in England, they rusted--they could get plastic to rust in England), and were frequently scrapped. But those export numbers helped Nissan sell a then-record 670,562 Skyline varieties, making it the best-selling Skyline generation, ever.

Here’s an old ad you can check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ2XZHF4o2I

Tuning Menu

1972 Nissan Laurel Skyline C110
Owner Impulse
Hometown Kobe, Japan
Occupation Old School Restoration Masters
Power 200bhp, 154lb-ft
Engine 2,393cc L24; Impulse rebuild including reconditioned pistons, rods and balanced crank; triple side-draft carbs w/annodized velocity stacks; Impulse strut bar; custom wire tuck; aluminum radiator; Cherry Red cam cover; stainless braided lines; custom exhaust
Drivetrain standard 5-speed manual; Impulse lightened flywheel
Footwork & Chassis custom Impulse front/rear airbag suspension
Brakes Endless 4-pot calipers (front), Endless brake discs all around
Wheels & Tires 15x8" -10 Volk Racing TE37V; Yokohama 175/50R15 tires
Exterior fully-restored exterior; Ducktail front chin spoiler; custom colored front headlights; chromed fender-mount mirrors
Interior restored/retrimmed interior with black leather; Impulse custom 4-point rollcage
Thanks You Garage Impulse; G CLub; Volk Racing/RAYS Japan
WWW e-impulse.com; mackinindustries.com (RAYS/Volk Racing)

Sources

Mackin Industries
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
562-946-6820
http://www.mackinindustries.com
By B.K. Nakadashi
32 Articles

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