The favorite vehicle of 13-year-old boys worldwide, the Nissan Skyline GT-R is among the most famous cars to ever come from the land of the rising sun. With humble roots in a small Japanese manufacturer, the Nissan Skyline, through dominance on and off track, has become a dream car for any and all Japanese car nerds. With more and more Skylines coming stateside as the 25-year rule lifts the ban on their importation, now more than ever, it seems like a good time to delve deeper into the history of the Skyline to see what made it such a huge success
Following a merger of Prince and Nissan in 1966, the Skyline would finally bare the Nissan badge. While the Skyline remained in production, it was not until 1969 that another performance-centric model would grace the roads of Japan. The 1969 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R was the first-ever Skyline to bear the now iconic GT-R badging. Commonly known as the “Hakosuka” by fans, the name was a combination of the Japanese word for box, hako(ハコ) and an abbreviation of the word skyline, suka(スカ). The first Skyline GT-R would use an inline 6 motor that was taken from the Prince R380 racecar and modified for road use. This motor, partnered with front and rear independent suspension, would be the perfect combination to use in the touring car racing of the late ’60s and early ’70s. During its run in Japanese touring car racing, the Skyline GT-R managed to sprint its way to 52 race wins in the 3 years it competed.
1973 was a tumultuous year for the Nissan GT-R, the energy crisis meant that the sales numbers for the GT-R were not where Nissan would want them to be. The C110 Skyline debuted at the 19th Tokyo Motor Show in 1972 and went on sale in 1973, but due to the aforementioned energy crisis, only 197 examples were ever sold. These meager production numbers made the C110 GT-R one of the rarest and most desirable Nissan GT-Rs in history.
No Skyline would bear the GT-R badge until 1989, but that doesn’t mean that fans of the vehicle had to go without performance models until then. In 1980 the first of the Skylines to bear the R3x model designation was released. The R30 was not initially a sporty model. Still, after the success of the iconic 570 horsepower R30 Skyline Super Silhouette in the Super Silhouette racing series, fans were biting their nails waiting to see what would be available at their local Nissan dealers. What the people received was the R30 Nissan Skyline Turbo RS. At almost 200 horsepower, this Skyline was the most powerful Skyline to hit the streets. Even with this added power, the R30 Skyline never received a GT-R trim level. The trend of withholding the GT-R trim level from new Skylines continued with the R31 Skyline. Introduced for the 1986 model year, the R31 would receive a sporty model in 1987. The R31 Skyline 2000GTS-R would be powered by a 210 horsepower inline 6 and wore styling inspired by the Skyline GTS-R Group A race car.
Finally, in 1989 the GT-R badge came to a triumphant return in the form of the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. The R32 was the first Skyline to be powered by the iconic RB26DETT engine, as well as the first GT-R equipped with an all-wheel-drive system. The R32 saw fantastic success on and off the track. Off the track, among street racers and performance enthusiasts in the early ’90s, the R32 GT-R gained a reputation for one of the best platforms to build an all-out performance-focused street car. On the track, the world-famous blue Calsonic GT-R dominated Group A Touring Car racing, winning all 29 rounds in which it competed. It was this domination both on and off track that gave the R32 GT-R its “Godzilla” nickname that has stuck with it ever since. The R32 GT-R didn’t even stop gaining fame after production halted. Because of games like Gran-Turismo featuring the Calsonic GT-R and the anime series Initial D featuring the R32 GT-R as the vehicle of choice for the leader of the Night Kids racing team, the GT-R gained a new level of fame in the United States. Now with the 25-year import rule, you can bring these amazing machines to the United States and experience the engineering marvel of the R32 GT-R for yourself.
With 1995 came the next generation Skyline, the R33 Skyline GT-R, and with it, a few extraordinary editions of the GT-R. While many people tend to dislike this generation of the GT-R, it took some of the best aspects of the R32 and improved upon them. Nissan took handling seriously for this model, through improved chassis rigidity, better weight balance, and overall improved handling the R33 lapped the Nordschleife 21 seconds faster than its predecessor. Speaking of the Nürburgring, one of the first special edition R33 GT-Rs ever made was the Skyline GT-R Nürburgring Time Attack, this vehicle was modified with a roll bar and sent around the Nürburgring to set an official lap time. This one-off GT-R, chassis No.000055, was the R33 that set the infamous 21 second faster lap. The next, and rarest R33 ever produced was the Nismo GT-R LM Road Car. Due to changing rules in racing, for Nissan to run in the GT Class at Le Mans, one GT-R LM had to be homologated for use on the road. Registered in the UK, the R33 GT-R LM Road car is the only one of its kind and most people will only ever get a chance to see, let alone drive it, through the use of video games. Other notable mentions from the line-up of special editions include the Nismo 400R, V-Spec, Autech 40th Anniversary Edition, and N1. The Nismo 400R was the child of Nissan’s racing division, more commonly known as Nismo. The vehicle boasted improved handling characteristics as well as a massive bump in power to 400 horsepower, which is where the “400” in 400R comes gets its name. Only 44 examples were ever built, any of the surviving examples can often be found in prestigious collections being carefully watched over.
The last GT-R to be in the Skyline model line would be the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R. The R34 was released to the public in 1999 to much acclaim. This model was a much larger vehicle compared to previous generations, but it made up for it with some fantastic technology. A multifunction LCD screen to the center could display engine functions such as throttle position, turbo boost pressure, water and oil temp, and others. You could also option up to a Nismo display, which could track lap times and G-force.
Similarly to the R32 and R33, the R34 GT-R was available in a V-Spec N1 trim. This N1 trim was specially built to homologate the R34 for racing and was stripped of creature comforts like A/C, radio, and the rear wiper blade. This model was mostly used for racing, but some examples made it into the hands of private customers. One other notable mention in the R34 family was the M-spec Nür, which was aimed at endurance racing and shared the same tune as the N1 trim. The M-spec Nür is easily identified by the gold valve colors as well as the exclusive pale gold paint that coated the body of the car. Due to a gentlemen’s agreement between Japanese manufacturers where they promised not to produce vehicles with excessive horsepower, the M-spec Nür was and still is, advertised by Nissan at about 280 horsepower. However, independent testing showed this number was closer to the 330 horsepower mark. One of the most notable R34s ever came to audiences in the states through the Fast and Furious franchise. The late Paul Walker was first seen driving his iconic silver and blue 1999 Nissan GT-R in the prelude to 2 Fast 2 Furious. Combining the fact that no GT-R was ever sold in America as well as the immense success of the Fast and Furious movies, the R34 has gained a cult following in the US. With R32 and R33 GT-R’s being legal in the US, it is becoming more and more common to see these later model GT-R’s having extensive bodywork performed to look more like the R34.
Unveiled in 2007, the newest generation of GT-R’s would no longer be part of the Skyline range. While the R3x model naming structure would continue the newest model being designated the R35, the Skyline branched off into becoming a line of luxury sedans. Renamed to Infiniti for the US market, the Skyline name carries on in what American consumers would know as the G35, G37, and later the Q50. With 2020 arrives a callback to one of the most prestigious road cars built by Nissan, the R33 Nismo 400R. The 2020 Nissan Skyline 400R, unfortunately, won’t come with any of the fancy graphics or aftermarket wheels like its older sibling. However, through the use of a twin-turbocharged 3.0 liter V6, it still hits that magic 400 horsepower number.
While it is sad to see the Skyline moniker relegated to the realm of luxury sedans, there is hope for the future. With the new callback to the 400R going into production, there is more hope that Nissan will continue to dive deeper into its history to create more performance-centric models in the future. Nissan has a long history with motorsport, and even now, there are 11 vehicles available with a Nismo trim level for sale in Japan. Provided customers express enough interest in performance-focused models, there is a chance we will see more hot Skylines in the future.
All photos courtesy of Nissan Motor Company
William Van Essen
William Van Essen is an automotive marketer, photographer, and avid car enthusiast. He spends most of his time off watching racing or going to events to take photos of the racing in person. He has been in love with anything that goes "vroom" since he was a toddler playing hot wheels in the living room.