History

The first Skyline was not a Nissan at all, but a Prince. Prince was a small independent manufacturer which fell onto hard times in the late 1960's, and was quickly subsumed by Nissan.

Nissan continued the Skyline model range, which has been a feature of the Nissan range to the present day. The Skyline is possibly the World's longest lineage of sports sedans, dating back to the Prince Skyline GT-B of 1966, until the latest R34 GT-R of today. Almost without fail, Skylines have always been raced by the factory.

1966 S54B Prince Skyline GT-B

Beneath the grandpa exterior styling of the 1966 S54B, lies the heart of Japan's first true performance car. Actually, what you can't see from this picture is the disproportionately long nose of the Skyline GT-B. Beginning life as a four cylinder saloon, the S54B's otherwise crisp Michellotti lines had to be extended to house the G7 straight six. How the engineers did this is quite plainly obvious from the side view. About 4 inches have been added to the nose, between the front doors and the front wheel, giving the GT an awkward look, as if the nose of the car is too long and belongs to another vehicle! Notice, however, the Skyline signature round tail lights, a feature on the Skyline to this day.
Under that long bonnet, was the G7, a 2.0 litre OHC straight six, which in GT-B form, snorted its juice through triple twin choke Solexes, churning out a healthy 130hp. Magazines of the time put the GT-B's capabilities as being slightly brisker than a contemporary Cooper S, although the handling was not impressive, with strong, kneeling understeer.

1969 C10 Skyline GT-R

Now under Nissan's wing, the Skyline GT-R was a considerably different car to its predecessor. Don't let the Tokyo Taxi looks fool you, under the bonnet is the S20, a 2.0litre, DOHC 4valve/cylinder straight six, fed by the ubiquitous triple Solexes, which put its 160hp to the ground via its 5 forward gears.

Although the S20 is not the first production 4 valve, DOHC engine, that honor goes to the remarkable Duesenberg J of the 1930's (32 valves, DOHC, 320hp supercharged straight eight). The C10 is certainly an important technological benchmark. What other production car of the 1960's had a 4 valve, twin cam motor, a full 25 years before such features became commonplace?

The sight of the GT-R badge makes enthusiats tremble today, evoking images of fire breathing, twin turbo 4WD supercars. But the GT-R badge has been held in great esteem in Japan ever since the late sixties. Look at any picture of a Japanese touring car race in the late sixties, and the first few rows of the grid will be packed with C10 GT-R Skylines (which were nicknamed "Hakosuka"). For an emerging Japan, rebuilding from the rubble of WW2, Japanese racing fans flocked to the track to watch the local heroes shut down visiting Porsches and Alfas alike.

To this day, in Japan the GT-R badge means: The Hottest Car You Can Buy, a direct result of this legacy. It is no coincidence that when the twin turbo R32 GT-R was released in 1989, the badge it wore was a dead ringer for the GT-R badge on this original Japanese sports sedan.

1972 C110 Skyline GT-R

The C110 Skyline carried on the GT-R badge, and also inherited the hot S20 24 valve six, which was carried over with its 160hp intact. The C110 was also a lot more visually exciting that its predecessors, wearing a swoopy fastback coupe body, replete with reverse-slash rear windows and the signature four round tail lights recessed into a black plastic beaver panel.

The GT-R also scored '70's chic riveted black plastic wheelarch extensions, and a black rubber flip-spoiler at the tail. It rolled out of the factory on unadorned black steel wheels, although pictures of road cars at the time suggest that most were eventually fitted with black, eight spoke magnesium alloy, Minilite-style Watanabes, which are still produced, and a common sight on the streets of Japan today.

1977 C211 Skyline GT-ES

The C211 marked a significant change in the Skyline performance philosophy. There was now no more GT-R model, the highest performing Skyline was now the GT-ES, powered by the L20ET, a 140hp, DOHC 2.0 litre turbo straight six, in reality a sleeved down version of the venerable L-series six, as found in the 240Z to the 280ZX, making this possibly the physically biggest ever 2.0 litre engine!

Moving away from the swoopy dramatic lines of the C110, the C211 had a relatively upright, boxy and some would say staid bodyshell. Not to mention heavier. The wheelarch extensions and spoilers were now gone, replaced by chrome trim and typical late 70's style "personal luxury", with a lot of fake wood. The Skyline was certainly not alone in following this trend, Mazda releasing the RX-5, the 260Z replaced by the 280ZX, and all sorts of good cars at the time like the Dodge Charger and Ford Mustang becoming chrome laden, velour-lined gin palaces for the disco generation.

The change in mood was echoed in the engine bay, the L20ET's lack of top end zing and its reluctance to rev marking it out as a touring car, rather than a sports machine. Certainly the awkwardly wide gear ratios don't help, with a very low first three gears, then a long gap to the relatively tall fourth and fifth. People who have driven one mention how effortless it is on the freeway, but a fast car it is not, cutting the quarter in perhaps 17 seconds.

It may be easy to poke fun at the C211 for losing the sportiness, looks and spirit of the GT-R Skylines before it, but it nevertheless holds a considerable historical significance. It is, after all, Nissan's (and Japan's) first effort at turbocharging, spawning the long line of turbocharged performance Skylines, Zeds, Silvias, Cefiros, Glorias and 180SXs we've enjoyed ever since. There is no way the older S20 engined GT-Rs would have survived the fuel crisis, nor the tightening emissions regulations of the late seventies, and so the C211 can hardly be blamed for changing with the times for survival.

Honda has VTEC, Mitsubishi has MIVECs, Toyota has its distinguished 4AG and 3SG twin cam engines, and Nissan bolts on a turbo whenever the need for speed arises. And all this started with that ugly white car you see above.

I have never seen a picture of a C211 in warpaint, so assume that it was never raced seriously by the factory. Rather than devalue the marque, Nissan showed an admirable lack of oppotunism, by stashing the GT-R badge away, to fight another day. I wonder if the Nissan boys knew how long it would actually be before a car would again roll out of the factory doors wearing the famous red "R".

1982 DR30 Skyline RS-Turbo

The R30 series opened its account in 1980 with the same engines as the C211 series before it. Again, the performance model was the GT-ES with the L20ET motor. I have driven a GT-ES, and can confirm that although the good torque from 3000 to 5000rpm makes it an effortless cruiser at speed, the L20ET runs out of breath early, and thrusting a GT-ES along a twisty road is marred by periods of waiting for the boost to arrive, only to change up early when the torque runs out.

All this changed with the arrival of the RS series in 1982, bringing with it a 145hp normally aspirated 2.0litre DOHC 16 valve four, and a 190hp turbo version. The Skyline now had a soaring 7500 rpm redline, and in sharp contast to the short legged GT-ES, the FJ20 series engines had the lungpower to thrust the DR30 to 115km/h in 2nd, and 160km/h in third gear. The GT-R badge stayed in the cupboard for this one, perhaps because the GT-R has to be an aristocratic six, and the RS only has four spark plugs...perhaps.

In fact, even the 145hp normally aspirated RS had more power than the GT-ES, and having driven both, I can vouch that the real world speed of the RS is much greater than the 5hp advantage would suggest, the RS enjoying much more sensible gearing and a far greater useable powerband. Where a GT-ES would need 17 seconds to traverse the quarter mile, the RS should do it in a smidge under 16. The RS-Turbo, of course, is a different story, a standard one should be good for flat 15s.

On the racing front, the Skyline now hit the world stage. Where the 1966 S54B made sporadic forays into combat on foreign soil (for example at Bathurst in Australia), the later C10 and C110 GT-Rs largely remained on home ground. But now, the DR30, along with the BMW M6, SS Commodore, Rover Vitesse, Alfa 75T, Maserati Biturbo and the Volvo 240Turbo, was pressed into action as the entire world geared up for Group A racing....

1986 HR31 Skyline GTS-X

Where the RS Skyline is a simple, lightweight shoot from the hip sports car, the Skyline range again took a different turn with the GTS-X.

Powered by a new 180hp RB20DET straight six, with 24 valves, DOHC, and an intercooled T25 turbo, the HR31 was a different animal to its RS predecessor. The GTS-X came loaded with Hicas elctronic four wheel steering, and a speed sensitive, electrically lowered front spoiler.

The HR31 body was also noticeably bigger, a fully loaded GTS-X tipping the scales at 1360kg, an additional 160kg more heft than the RS. With slightly less power and greater weight, the GTS-X is not as fast as the RS Turbo. An assured handler, the GTS-X makes up in stability what it loses in agility to the RS. Where the RS Turbo can be twitchy, the GTS-X's back end is hard to unstick, no doubt because of the Hicas 4WS at work. The new turbo six had a stronger midrange, and a smooth, melt-in-the-mouth creamy refinement missing in the FJ20 four.

Nissan however, had been bitten by the Group A bug. Group A racing cars had to be based on production models, although regulations did allow 750 special "evolution" models to be built. So along with the BMW M3, and the Sierra Cosworth, Nissan built 800 "evolution" GTS-Xs, called the GTS-R. The GTS-R used the RB20DET-R motor, which was based on the cooking version, but had a larger T03 turbo, and a huge intercooler mounted across the nose. Factory rated at 215hp, it is often said that a GTS-R produces much more, perhaps in the region of 280hp or so. You can recognise a GTS-R by its twin intercooler ducts in the front valance, and the large rear spoiler (as above in the black car), which is badged "Nissan Motorsport International".

1989 BNR32 Skyline GT-R

It is arguable as to whether the birth of the R32 GT-R was brought upon by Nissan wanting to create the ultimate race car under the Group A rules, or whether the GT-R was simply a flagship for Nissan's ambitious plan to be the World’s 5th biggest and the best car maker in every market segment by the year 2000. Either way, in the late' 80's Japan was surfing on a wave of corporate confidence, and the stomping R32 GT-R was the result.

The rest of the Skyline range included the GTS-T, a rear wheel drive coupe powered by a 215hp version of the RB20DET. A very good car, it is possibly the true successor to the RS/GTS-X series, but it is understandably overshadowed by the car with the familiar badge, the one quickly anointed as Godzilla by the motoring press .

The R32 GT-R burst onto the scene with Super-Hicas 4WS, ATTESSA intelligent torque splitting 4WD, and powered by the new RB26DETT motor, a 280hp, twin turbo, DOHC, 24 valve, 7500rpm redline screamer, that can be tweaked easily to 400hp, and in full-house HKS-modified form, belts out 950hp, revving out to 10,000rpm!

The 4WS was now G, as well as speed and steering angle-sensing. The ATTESSA torque split was normally set up to send 100% of the drive to the rear wheels, only diverting power to the front wheels when traction was truly needed, based on output from the G-sensors, steering angle and wheelspin. A standard GT-R can cut the quarter in high 13s, and predictably swept all before it in Group A racing.

The GT-R was available in base, and V-Spec trim, the V-Spec being blessed with huge, red painted Brembo brakes, and higher-spec, more refined electronics and software in its ATTESSA 4WD system.

Group A in Japan suddenly became a virtual one-make series as the first five rows were taken up by GT-Rs. Japan’s production class N1 category has been ruled by GT-Rs to this day.

1995 BCR33 Skyline GT-R

The hardware of the R32 GT-R was largely carried over unchanged into the new R33. Now based on the larger, Laurel saloon platform, the R33 GT-R understandably put on weight, carrying 40kg more than the last of the R32 GT-R V-Spec IIs.

An R33 is still faster across a racetrack than a R32, having benefited from some refinements in the 4WD system and the suspension. The motor is unchanged, still rated at 280hp.

Group A, however, was now dead. It is often argued that the rampaging success of the R32 GT-R killed off the formula, but this seems an unlikely, if romantic, theory. GT-Rs to my knowledge, were only campaigned in Australian and Japanese Group A (and for a very short time in the UK), and yet the entire World switched to the new Super Touring formula at the same time.

The R33 still got to earn its stripes, in Japanese N1 (production class) racing, and GT class racing, where it runs against cars like the McLaren F1, Supra Turbo and the Ferrari F40. Japanese GT Spec cars have also raced at Le Mans (without much luck, sadly) in the past few years.

Nismo also made a short series of 400R road cars, which were GT-Rs with lovely bodykits, enormous wheels, racing suspension and a special version of the engine enlarged to 2.8 litres. Why 400R? That's how many horsepower it has, of course! <Gulp!> The HKS T-002 demonstrator is a R33 GT-R, modified to produce 950hp, using the finest from HKS's extensive catalogue. In 1997, it was clocked as only needing 17.4 seconds to accelerate from standstill to 300km/h on a speed bowl at the Kanemoto Proving Grounds, passing the quarter mile along the way in 10.2 seconds.

1999 R34 Skyline GT-R

The new R34 series Skylines were released in Japan in late 1998, with the performance headliner being the 25GT-T (below). It's a RWD coupe, with an updated version of the old RB25DET engine, tweaked to produce 280hp (up from 250hp), with HICAS 4WS. Although a rousing performer, cutting the quarter in mid 14s, it's not as sharp as the R33 GT-R, nor does it have as much class on the racetrack, being softer than a hardcore sportster should be. That is the GT-R's job...

The GT-R model was released a few months later, in January 1999. As with the prior transformation from the R32 to R33, the process has been one of evolution rather than revolution. There is precious little wrong with the basic ingredients, and so the basic suspension and engine hardpoints have remained the same. Although the geometry has been tweaked, the suspension remains largely the same. Up front, there is the same articulated strut arrangement, and at the back, there is the same upper and lower multi link arrangement as before. Big gold Brembo calipers are now standard across the range. The mighty RB26DETT motor has been refined, with maximum power being the same (claimed) 280hp, efforts instead going into increasing the lower end torque. An R34 will now comfortably outdrag an R33 when the hammer is dropped from a rolling 20-60km/h test, a sure sign of better response, abetted, no doubt, by the new 6 speed Getrag gearbox.

Lower and leaner, and with less visual bulk than its R33 predecessor, the bull-nosed R34 GT-R can hardly be considered a beauty. To be kind, it could perhaps be called an ultimate triumph of engineered function over designed form. But what functionality there is!

Much effort has been put into refining the R34 aerodynamically. There is now a touring-car style undertray that sweeps from the deep front splitter to behind the front wheels. There is a corresponding rear undertray, starting from ahead of the rear wheels, sweeping upwards towards the tail, like an F1 diffuser. At the lower edge of the rear bumper, is a prominent wing. It all works, with an R34 creating a distinct "rooster tail" when driving in the rain, compared to an R33, an indication of greater downforce generated by the underbody aerodynamics.

The air exits on the sides of the front bumper create a low pressure area next to the front wheels, thus encouraging cooling air to flush through the front discs. The large carbon fibre wing on the tail is 4 way adjustable.

On the inside there is true innovation. Crowning the centre console is a large LCD color screen, which mainly acts as a screen for the sat-nav system. It can at the press of a button, turn into a true data logging facility, which can display a large tacho, a large boost gauge, as well as bar graphs for such things as oil and water temps, and even injector duty cycle and exhaust gas temps. Naturally, there is a peak hold memory function, that can be played back when you are stationary. An answer to every hot-rodder's dreams, although lining the dashboard with racing-style gauges will now only be an indulgence, rather than a necessity.

As before, there is a standard version and a V-Spec. The V-Spec benefits from slightly more aggressive aero addenda, as well as a more brainy version of the ATTESSA 4WD system. Weight is the same as R33 at 1560kg (way up on the first 1380kg R32 GT-R), although the R34 is slightly smaller overall.

An R34 is definitely quicker across a track than an R33, and why not, with better suspension, more torque and considerably improved aerodynamics. Japanese road tests have suggested a sweeter, more adjustable handling balance. The R34 has already run the famous Nurburgring at 7'52, eight seconds quicker than the best R33 can do. Although the road car has only just been released, an N1 production class racer was unveiled at the same time, and a wild looking GT-Class racer, with all carbon bodywork, and huge boxed flares has already been seen undergoing testing in Japan.