Kevin San remembers the day vividly. “It was June 2007 and I was wandering around Tokyo, a few weeks after the Tokyo Nostalgic Car Show. There seemed to be a lot of classic cars on the road that summer, and one night I came across a gorgeous silver Hakosuka [translation we know best: Box Skyline] coupe in a Super Autobacs car park and was just floored by it. It was after dark, but seeing it sitting there under bright lights was one of those ‘perfect’ moments. You get to see lots of cool cars when you’re in Japan, but this thing just took my breath away. I knew about the Hako’s place in Japanese car history and the racing record of the original 2000GT-R, but I’d never appreciated how beautiful these cars really were until I saw one up close. Right there and then I made up my mind that I would buy one, and by Christmas that year I had my own.”
Given their rarity and subsequent value, getting his hands on a genuine KPGC10 GT-R coupe was never going to be an option, but a similarly styled KCG10 GT variant most definitely was. Back in his hometown of Sydney, Australia Kevin employed the services of a Japanese vehicle broker who sourced him a ’71 2000GT coupe complete with replica GT-R fender flares and a silver re-spray—must-do modifications for this model in Japan. Having been fully-restored the car ticked all the right boxes and the deal was done.
This story would probably end here if everything had gone to plan, but from Kevin’s very first drive, it was evident that something was not quite right. The Skyline had been described as having a ‘stock engine in good running condition’ and ‘nothing left to do’—hardly the car that could only muster enough power to cough and splutter its way up Kevin’s driveway. “It was very clear that it [the engine] was very, very sick,” he says. Other areas of the car weren’t exactly as Kevin had expected they would be either, and it quickly became apparent that the completed car that he thought he had bought was more like an unfinished project that had hastily been thrown back together for a quick sale. Although that fact initially put a bit of a downer on the purchase, Kevin looked at the bright side, and set about rebuilding the car for functionality and reliability. After all, he intended to use it to drive to work a couple of days a week, and double as a track toy of the weekend.
When buying the car, Kevin knew that in its previous life the car had been re-powered with an L28 from a Nissan 280ZX. What he didn’t know, however, was just how wild the engine set up actually was. “When I lifted the cam cover, I found a brand-new custom valve train and a massive cam,” says Kevin. “Eventually the penny dropped and I realized that the engine was pretty much an over-bored, full-race motor with custom everything, and it had done only a few hundred kilometers since being built. But it was all pretty much slapped together in Japan, with very little preparation and many of the parts were completely mismatched, which meant that the engine would never run very well, or make decent power.”
The cylinder head featured massive ports, but according to Kevin, the inlet manifold was equally undersized meaning that the engine simply could not breathe above 4,000rpm. Compounding problems was the cam: a huge 330-degree number that probably wouldn’t have made power until 7,000rpm. “In the end, I outsourced the bottom end to a couple of race engine building specialists, who between them overhauled the set up and matched the custom package to a much more street-able camshaft profile. Now it all works,” says Kevin. With a re-worked cylinder head, fine-tuned triple Weber 40DCOE carbs and sorted spark and fuel systems, it not only sounds superb, but it makes nice numbers too: 190hp at rear wheels, at 6,800rpm to be precise.
That power finds its way to the pavement via a 280ZX 5-speed gearbox running through a NISMO 3-puck brass button clutch and lightened flywheel. Out back, the factory open differential has recently been upgraded to a 4.4:1 Subaru Impreza WRX STI R180 limited-slip equivalent made possible to fit through Beta Motorsport side axles.
Although the Skyline had arrived from Japan looking suitably slammed, it didn’t take long for Kevin to find out that it handled atrociously. Apart from the suspension being old and worn, the car sat so low on the bumpstops that removing its coil springs altogether made no alteration whatsoever to the ride height. One that values function a little more than form, and in the interests of not having his Hakosuka bounce off the road at the slightest bump, the setup was completely overhauled. While it isn’t going to win any ‘lowest car’ trophies, dropped around two inches from standard the Skyline’s stance perfectly reflects that of GT-R race cars of the early ‘70s era, something achieved through Koni Sport adjustable dampers and coilover springs with DatSport camber plates on the front, and Rubber Soul (Japan) modified GAB 8-way adjustable dampers with DatSport coils out the back. Further enhancement comes by the way of a Victory50 front tower bar, Protec-S20 urethane rear bumpstops, and a total re-bush of the front suspension.
The brakes, on the other hand, are factory spec, with discs and Sumitomo twin-pot calipers at the business end, and drums at the rear. So far Endless SS-S pads are the only upgrade currently made, but as the Nissan gets regular workouts on the track, stoppers less prone to fade when thrashed are high on Kevin’s to-do list. That, of course, would necessitate the fitting of larger diameter wheels, something he’s not overly against. “I’d love to have a set of 15-inch Watanabes in classic gunmetal, and rolling on some really nice rubber, like ADVAN Neova AD08s,” Kevin says on the matter. “But the ‘Hako’ looks great the way it is, so I am not in any rush to change.” Currently fitted with custom gold-painted Watanabe 14x7.5-inch (-4 offset) and 14x10-inch (-20 offset) rims front and rear respectively, it’s hard to argue with his logic.
Inside, the car is much as the way it arrived from Japan, complete with a red and black vinyl upholstery re-trim. While Kevin’s not overly big on that combo, he’s happy to accept it as part of the car’s history. There’s also an old school Recaro LX recliner, Auto Meter tachometer neatly integrated the instrument cluster and an Omori Racing oil pressure meter. Less obvious upgrades are a bunch of reproduction trim items that include the chrome gearshift surround, gearknob and window winder handles—restoration items that Kevin was surprised to find that are still readily available in Japan for the Hakosuka. The piece de resistance, however, has to be the steering wheel—one of only 1000 NISMO Compe items re-issued by Nissan’s competition arm in a nod to the car maker’s success on the circuit and rallying scene in the early ‘70s. It’s the very same ‘Sports Option’ steering wheel as fitted to the works race machines of the era, and a nice way to round off the cockpit, and the car as a whole.
It’s been almost five years since Kevin embarked on the project and during that period he’s invested over 1,000 hours of his time and around $25K on top of the original $35K buy and ship costs. “It was supposed to be a ‘nothing to spend’ car, but in the end I spent 18 months working on it before it was even drivable. If I’d seen the car in the flesh, a lot of the problems would have been evident and I probably would have walked away and looked for a better car. But even so, I honestly have no regrets. It’s fast, it’s loud and it’ll embarrass much newer cars, while riding comfortably and being practical. And when you’re done driving it, you just look at it. It’s been worth every single dollar and minute spent restoring it. It totally lives up to the legend, and I just wish everyone could experience these cars—they’re simply wonderful.”
1971 Nissan Skyline 2000GT (KCG10)
Nissan L28 (280ZX) 2950cc (over-bored) inline-six; ART 11:1 high-comp pistons; HKS 1mm rings; balanced factory connecting rods; balanced/lightened factory crankshaft; welded/reshaped cylinder head chambers; multi-angle seats/valves; enlarged intake ports, heavy-duty valve springs/retainers; Wade Cams 302° camshaft regrind, adjustable cam sprocket; 3x Weber 40DCOE carbs; K&N air filters; inlet manifold; Carter high-flow fuel pump; Redline adjustable fuel pressure regulator; Ryco pre-pump; Trust exhaust manifold; dual 2" exhaust system; TechEdge Wideband O2 sensor; Nissan 280ZX oil pump; MSD 6A ignition module; MSD Blaster 3 coil pack; re-curved electronic distributor; 1.2kW high-torque starter motor; triple-core radiator; custom radiator duct; GReddy oil breather; vintage-look braided fuel lines and hoses
Nissan 280ZX 5-speed gearbox; NISMO 3-puck brass button clutch; lightened flywheel; Subaru R180 LSD, Whiteline diff cradle bushes
Footwork & Chassis
front: Koni Sport adjustable dampers; 250lb coil-over springs; DatSport adjustable camber tops; Victory50 tower bar; rear: GAB 8-way adjustable dampers (shortened); DatSport 1100lb springs; Protec-S20 bumpstops
Factory front discs/calipers, Endless SS-S pads; factory rear drums
Wheels & Tires
front: RS Watanabe 8-spoke 14x7.5" -4 alloys; Falken Azenis 195/60R14 tires; RS Watanabe R-type 14x10" -20 alloys; Yokohama A352 245/50R14 tires
Skyline 2000GT-R replica flare kit; Skyline 2000GT-R replica rear wing, touring car front spoiler; deleted rear fender and bootlid badges; deleted window and windscreen chrome trim; antenna holes welded up, metallic silver respray
Recaro LX drivers seat; re-trimmed front passenger side and rear seat; NISMO Compe limited-edition re-issued steering wheel; Auto Meter tachometer; Omori Meter oil pressure gauge
Tony Knight at Knight Engines; Nathan Sawczak at Mount White Automotive; EJ at Royal Purple Australia