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Beyond Godzilla: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

Beyond Godzilla: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline image

Jose Altoveros / Nissan Press | September 14, 2017 18:03

We take a look at the Nissan Skyline's colorful 60 year history

More often than not, car enthusiasts immediately associate the Skyline name with three letters: GT-R.

That, however, was not always the case for the Skyline, a car that is much more than it's nickname 'Godzilla'. 

In this feature, we'll take you on a journey from 1957 to 2017, spanning 13 generations of a car that has evolved from luxury family sedan, to performance car, to supercar beater, to premium coupe and, eventually, into a sport sedan that is determined to take on German competition.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1957: Prince Skyline (ALSI)

Before it was badged as a Nissan, the Skyline was actually produced by the Prince Motor Company. Prince Motor Company had close ties with Nissan right up until it was fully absorbed by the automaking giant in 1966. Back to the Skyline, the first-generation model also known as the ALSI, came about in April 1957 and was built to be a premiere luxury sedan for Prince. It came equiped with a 1.5-liter engine which produced 60 PS, and reached a top speed of 125 km/h. While humble hatchbacks can easily reach those speeds today, the Prince Skyline was crowned as the fastest domestically produced vehicle at the time. This model had a pretty advanced suspension too, consisting of a de Dion axle and a double wishbones at the front. 

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

1963: Prince Skyline (S50)

Six years after the ALSI, the second generation Skyline made its debut in 1963. Still badged as a Prince, the 60's would mark the start of the Skyline's racing legend. Initially, it had a 1.5-liter inline four was originally found under the hood of the newly designed S50 chassis. So far, nothing spectacular, but it was about to change thanks to certain engineer.

Shinichiro Sakurai, who would later be known as the 'Father of the Skyline', decided to put a 2.0-liter straight-six engine from a Gloria into the S50 chassis. It went on to win the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix, beating a race-bred Porsche 904 GTS. Needless to say, it was a shock that a four-door sedan had outpaced an all-out race car.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1968: Nissan Skyline (C10 'Hakosuka')

Often, the C10 Skyline is associated as the first ever Skyline ever built by enthusiasts around the world. As mentioned above, the C10 is instead the third-generation, but it is however the first Skyline to herald the GT-R badge. Often called the Hakosuka, the name came from Hako, which meant box shaped and 'Suka' being short for Skyline in Japanese.

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

One could have C10 Skyline in either 1.5-liter inline-four or SOHC straight-six configurations, but the range topper GT-R was powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC S20 engine which produced 160 PS and had a top speed of 200 km/h. Launched in 1969, the Hakosuka GT-R managed to win during its debut at the JAF Grand Prix of the same year, cementing its racing legacy.

Unlike the straight-six Hakosukas, the inline-four models had a noticeably shorter front end. Now-a-days, the 'short-nose' Hakosukas are rare sight to behold as these cars were likely fleet models which were flogged heavily. 

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

1972: Nissan Skyline (C110 'Kenmeri'/'Yonmeri')

Following success of the 'Hakosuka', Nissan launched the fourth generation Skyline in 1972. It was popularly known as the 'Kenmeri' for the coupe or 'Yonmeri' for the sedans ('Yon' meaning four) due to its commercial series 'Ken and Mary's Skyline', which is said to have made it a household name. Engine wise, it was still powered by the same 2.0-liter SOHC L20 straight-six but had been upgraded to use fuel injection in later models.

The GT-R name plate continued to live on in the fourth-generation Skyline, which was still powered by the S20 engine from the first-generation GT-R. However after only producing 197 unit, production was halted due to the stricter exhaust emissions regulations, and the GT-R name would be dormant for years to come.

Even today, the Ken and Mary ads are still fondly remembered in Japan due to its popular theme song and catch phrase. In fact, Nissan's Chief Product Specialist, Hiroshi Tamura, had a 'Yonmeri' as his first car after being influenced by the Hakosuka growing up.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1977: Nissan Skyline (C210 'Skyline Japan')

Appearing in 1977, the Skyline C210 showed more formal and sleek styling than that of the C110. It did not however have the GT-R name plate corresponding to its racing glory due to the oil crisis at the time. Instead, Nissan relied on national pride by proclaiming it as the finest automobile produced by Japan, hence it became popularly known as the 'Skyline Japan'.

In 1980, after the oil crisis, the Skyline Japan came equiped with a 2.0-liter turbo engine called the L20ET. The new engine provided sufficient power at the time combined with fuel efficiency despite having reduced displacement.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1981: Nissan Skyline (R30 'Paul Newman'/'Iron Mask')

With the oil crisis already behind them, Nissan returned to racing with the sixth generation R30 Skyline in 1981. Though most of the engine options were carried over, the range topper 2000 RS featured a 2.0-liter DOHC inline-four engine called the FJ20E. It was often called the 'Paul Newman Skyline' as the US actor starred in its ad campaign.

The R30 joined the Group 5 Silhouette racing after years of absence in a motorsport series. The most popular of them being Masahiro Hasemi's 570PS red-on-black KDR30 Skyline Super Silhouette, which later became a Japanese icon. A 2000 Turbo RS model was introduced later on, which earned it the name 'Iron Mask' due to its front fascia design.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1985: Nissan Skyline (R31 'Seventh Skyline')

Internally known as the R31, Nissan developed the seventh generation Skyline to be a sophisticated, luxury, sports saloon. The R31 was powered by a new 2.0-liter DOHC engine called the RB20, and had advanced features at the time such as HICAS four-wheel steering. The range topper GTS had the RB20DET which produced 180 PS and would continue to power later iteration Skylines. Unlike Skylines before, the R31 was simply known as the 'Seventh Skyline'.

A 250 PS R31 racecar managed to win the 1989 Group A Championship, continuing its racing legacy and heritage. To be eligible in competing in Group A, Nissan released 800 units of the Group A car called the GTS-R with engines detuned to 210 PS.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1989: Nissan Skyline (R32 'Godzilla')

The R32 is possibly one if not the most popular model of the Skyline. This is mainly due to the return of the GT-R on the eight generation Skyline, which had Nissan's ATTESA-ETS four-wheel drive system and HICAS. Both these features were also found on different variants of the R32 Skyline apart from the GT-R.

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

Because of the R32 GT-R's domination in various racing series, the eight generation Skyline received the nickname, Godzilla. The most significant difference from the previous range topper Skylines would be the 2.6-liter twin-turbo RB26DETT engine found on GT-R, which on paper produced 280 PS. However, it could easily develop double and triple the power as tuning houses soon figured.

For those who are wondering, Nissan actually produced the GT-R's 2.6-liter engine in naturally aspirated guise called the RB26DE. It was found only on the four-door Skyline26 GTS-4 (pictured above), which was a limited release model by Autech.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1993: Nissan Skyline (R33)

Following success of the R32, the ninth generation Skyline was perceived as bloated when it was launched in 1993. Despite the larger look and some people calling it a 'boat' due to its larger proportions, Nissan improved the R33's suspension and added an active LSD, which improved it's handling capability. 

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

Proof of its handling improvement would be seen in the R33 GT-R. The R33 GT-R was the first production vehicle to ever break the 8-minute mark at the Nurburgring, besting its European and domestic rivals.

Apart from the record breaking time, what made the R33 special was the limited edition GT-R sedan. To those who don't know, all other GT-Rs apart from the Hakosuka were available only as a 2-door coupe. The 4-door R33 GT-R was built by Autech and was limited to 416 units to celebrate the Skyline's 40th anniversary.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

1998: Nissan Skyline (R34)

The R34 is perhaps the car most synonymous with the Skyline name. With its debut in Gran Turismo 2 and large screen times in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, it is safe to say that this generation is one of the most popular Skyline models released.

Compared to the R33, the R34 had a sleeker, more compact design. Nissan decided to strengthen the body by improving rigidity and shortening the wheelbase. Most significantly, it had improvements made to both the RB20 and RB25 engines, and its new automatic transmission. For the GT-R, it had a new 6-speed manual transmission, a more advance HICAS system, and a more responsive and powerful RB26 engine.

60 years on: The Nissan Skyline

2001: Nissan Skyline/Infiniti G35 (V35)

By 2001, Nissan was not in the best financial status thanks to the Asian stock market crash. After an alliance with Renault, the Skyline took a detour and went to become an all-new platform called the V35. It was also the first time the Skyline was massively exported overseas, including North America where it was called the Infiniti G35.

The 11th generation Skyline was the first to use a V6 engine and had a front midship layout, giving it better weight distribution. At the same time, the layout would improve interior space in both sedan or coupe layout.

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

2006: Nissan Skyline/ Infiniti G37 (V36)

Continuing on the foundations of the V35, the V36 was now seen as a more mature, premium luxury sedan. The 12th generation Skyline would adopt a new platform, which was an evolution from the V35, and had been upgraded with new technology at the time. Like the 370Z, it would use the same 3.7-liter V6 engine, but had HICAS to improve handling. 

In 2007, the GT-R name plate would be revived but as an independent model called the R35. It no longer shares the platform with the V36, which is why it should no longer be called 'Skyline GT-R'. 

Sky's the limit: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

2014: Infiniti Q50/Skyline (V37)

Outside of Japan, the 13th generation Skyline, the V37, is called the Infiniti Q50. To continue its legacy inside Japan, the V37 is simply called 'Skyline'. Despite being sold by Nissan dealerships, it still sports the Infiniti badge. The V37 is said to combine both premiere styling and state-of-the-art technology to give it a premium sports sedan feel.

The most significant change to the V37 is the steering. It no longer uses a conventional column but instead relies on computers, a system Nissan calls direct adaptive steering. The steering provides comfortable handling with no response delay despite not having a physical connection.

Beyond Godzilla: 60 years of the Nissan Skyline

Throughout 60 years, the Nissan Skyline, had evolved dramatically through the decades. With the GT-R now its own model, it seems like the current generation Skyline is slowly returning to its roots of being an premium sedan with sports appeal. So what's next for the Nissan Skyline? With the all-new model, it looks like it's taking on the Europeans.