Godzilla Sr.

Story By Zachary Mayne

The current Nissan GT-R is a complex, high-tech super-car. It features an all- wheel drive chassis, is turbocharged to the tune of 530 horsepower, relies on a sophisticated dual-clutch gearbox, and boasts an array of performance-maximizing technological aids that also protect the driver—even if he has an over-exuberant right foot. The GT-R is a deeply impressive car by any definition, and it’s as happy tackling the Nürburgring Nordschleife as it is whisking its occupants to dinner in luxury.

But back in 1970, well, the machine that would go on to become Nissan’s greatest driving car was a bit more simple. The contrast between GT-Rs old and new is impossible to forget when sliding into the driver’s seat of Eric Bauer’s 1970 example. This may be a tribute car based on a Skyline 2000 GT rather than a real GT-R, but it’s still utterly and completely cool.

Compared to the latest GT-R, this vintage example’s interior is basic and unadorned. Just past the three-spoke Nardi steering wheel are the analog gauges, which are set into deep pods that recall the 240Z dashboard. No electronic doodads here—just the car, some basic controls, and the driver.

Then comes the good stuff. Pump the gas pedal lightly a couple of times, then turn the key in the ignition. After a second or so of cranking, the L28 straight six whomps to life with a deep, unmuffled roar. And that’s not cheap automotive journalism hyperbole either. The noise the Skyline’s engine makes is intimidating before the car has even pulled away from a stop.

Behind the Wheel

Eric Bauer gladly hands over the keys to his Skyline so we can get a feel for what it’s like on the road. The original seats have been replaced with a very period correct looking pair of buckets from Autolook. They perfectly suit the hotrod nature of the car. Once we’re settled in the laid back seat, a look around the interior reveals a couple more additions by way of a four-point anti-roll bar and a leather- wrapped Nardi wheel. The center console has a home-made-looking carbon-fiber plate that houses additional gauges.

A turn of the key and a prod of the gas pedal brings the L28 to life with a barely muffled bark, sending the exhaust note echoing off buildings in Old Pasadena. The first challenge arises immediately: This is a right-hand-drive car, so obviously shifting must be done with the left hand. The shifter slots into first with the same feel as a 240Z or Datsun roadster, so it’s very mechanically direct and tight-feeling though the gates. With a little throttle and a deft but quick release of the stout clutch, we’re off, the exhaust barking and growling and the whole car tingling and shaking a bit.

Once we have enough clear, straight road ahead of us, we mat the gas pedal. The acceleration builds very quickly, tugging us back in our seats, but it’s the sound the engine makes that is utterly intoxicating: There’s the intake snort of the triple carbs, plus the howl of the exhaust. Lift off the gas, and the exhaust pops and bangs on overrun. Were it not for the carpeted and upholstered interior, we’d swear this was a full-on race car, not something wearing a license plate.

The Skyline feels nimble enough around corners, but we don’t taste the limits during our initial encounter. We’ll leave that to the owner.

You Hear That?

It is entirely appropriate that Eric's Skyline feels like a barely disguised race car. Go back through the mists of time—well, at least to the ’60s and ’70s—and the GT-R’s history as a competition machine puts it firmly in the rarified world of cars like the Alfa Romeo GTA and Lotus Cortina.

The Skyline’s story actually begins way back in 1957, when the Prince Motor Company began producing the Skyline ALSID-1, a sporty sedan that was considered a landmark Japanese car. In 1966, Nissan and Prince merged at the government’s suggestion; conventional wisdom believed that merging smaller companies to create larger ones would minimize the chances of a hostile takeover by foreign businesses.

Despite the merger, the popular Skyline model was retained along with its name. For the 1969 model year, the first GT-R badge was tagged to the back of a Skyline, the model referred to internally by Nissan as the PGC-10. Based on the four-door Skyline platform, it was powered by a 1998cc, DOHC inline six that put out an impressive 160 horsepower and was mated to a five-speed gearbox.

The initial GT-R was immediately an on-track success, and for 1970, Nissan added a two-door coupe to the lineup—same drivetrain but slightly different internal designation, KPGC-10. The sharp-edged, simple styling of both the sedan and coupe versions of the GT-R earned it the Hakosuka nickname by fans. Hako means box in Japanese, and suka is short for Skyline.

The square-edged but rakish-looking GT-R coupe went on to even greater competition success than the sedan. In the three years Nissan campaigned it, the GT-R won 50 races.

As a road car, the Skyline GT-R was just as much of a hit thanks to its low weight of 2425 pounds and that revvy, 160-horsepower engine. However, the model’s days were lim- ited. Nissan restyled the Skyline for 1973, and only 197 copies of the upmarket GT-R were sold that year.

Although the Skyline continued on, the GT-R version was discontinued until 1989. However, thanks to all-wheel drive, a 280-horsepower turbocharged, inline-six engine and a virtually unbeatable track record, the second coming of the GT-R picked up where the old one left off, dominating the day’s professional racing scene and quickly gaining the Godzilla moniker. The Skyline and GT-R evolved throughout the ’90s and the first few years of the 2000s.

After a short break, an all-new GT-R arrived for the 2007 model year. The GT-R had finally become its own halo car, with the Skyline name reserved for a more pedestrian model. Until 2007, however, Nissan never imported either the Skyline or GT-R to the U.S., making older versions of the Skyline a very rare sight in the States.

King of the Monsters!

Despite its rarity, the original GT-R coupe has long been a Holy Grail to American fans of Japanese classics. Automotive and industrial designer Eric Bauer falls into the camp of true believers when it comes to the model. “In the mid- to late ’90s I got pretty involved in the California Honda scene, and that’s where my love of Japanese cars started,” he recalls. “During the summer of 1998, I quit my seasonal job working for Burton

Snowboards and, more or less on a whim, booked a flight out to Tokyo.” He lucked out by being able to stay with his college roommate’s parents for free: “I spent over a month in Japan exploring all aspects of their car culture, and that’s where I saw and heard my first Hakosuka. It was a silver car with the GT-R look to it, but it had a bored and stroked L28 single-cam straight six. It looked and sounded mean as heck, and I was hooked.”

Once back in the U.S., Eric continued with his life, going back to school at the famed Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and eventually buying and tuning a Datsun 240Z. But he never forgot about his goal of acquiring a Skyline of his own, he says.

In mid-2011, Eric decided it was the right time to make the dream a reality, so he approached JDM Legends in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the name implies, the shop partially focuses on importing and reselling Japanese-market cars.

“When I called Eric and Ryan at JDM Legends and told them what I was looking for, they told me they thought they had something that might be exactly what I was looking for,” Eric says. He received photos and immediately knew the red Skyline in the pictures was the one. The only problem: There was a list of several potential buyers, and Eric wasn’t at the top.

“I called and emailed often from October through January to inquire about the car,” Eric explains. “Persistence paid off because in January, I was told the car was mine if I still wanted it.”

Eric booked a flight to Salt Lake City and was soon inspecting the car in person. While its general shape and looks were about what Eric expected from the photos, the noise it made was a different story. “As soon as I heard it, though, I just about fell over,” he says, still marveling at the memory of that uncorked L28’s roar. JDM Legends had bought the car from an auction in Japan before importing it to the U.S. What Eric got was a thoroughly hotrodded 1970 Skyline 2000 GT coupe that had been heavily modified for better performance and to emulate the looks of the original GT-R coupe. External changes included a GT-R-style front grille, lower chin spoiler, rear trunk spoiler and, of course, the rear fender flares. “While I love the GT-R add-on pieces, I’ve removed the GT-R badges it came with because, obviously, it’s not a genuine GT-R,” adds Eric. Tucked under the wheel arches are a set of rare Watanabe RS wheels, Japan’s version of the classic Minilite. These measure 15x8 inches at the front and a massive 15x10 inches out back; they’re shod with 205/50R15 and 235/50R15 Toyo 888 tires at the front and rear.

An Unknown Still Prevails

Since Eric’s Nissan came with no documenta- tion, figuring out its mechanical specification has been something of an archaeological exercise. Whoever built the car was intent on making a Skyline that was vastly faster than a stock GT-R ever was. Eric’s fairly sure the L28 engine has been bored and stroked, and he believes displacement is near 3.0 liters. Judging by the lumpy idle, there is likely a hot cam inside, too.

A trio of Mikuni/Solex side-draft carburetors sporting chromed air horns sprout out from the intake side. The exhaust consists of headers and an aluminum muffler that’s had most of its fiberglass packing blown out. “I’m still exploring and finding new things about the car on a daily basis, so I’ve kept it pretty faithful to the way its former Japanese owner built it up,” says Eric. One major revela- tion came when he opened up the MSD 6AL ignition box to check the rev limiter’s setting: Astonishingly, it was set north of 8000 rpm.

Some things are still not known, like the brand of coil-overs holding up the front of the car. The rear uses Nismo struts paired with mystery springs. “The suspension could be a touch stiffer for my taste,” Eric admits, “but overall I’m really happy every time I get in and start it up.”

In person, this GT-R clone is even more impressive than it is in photos. The original Skyline coupe design is still stunning, particularly when seen in profile: It has equal parts BMW 3.0CS, Alfa Romeo GTV coupe and American pony car styling cues all mixed together.

Even in a place like Southern California, where high-octane fuel seems to pump through most people’s veins, the Skyline is a sight to behold. At Irvine’s Cars & Coffee event, where the car was sandwiched between a red Enzo and a white Diablo, people still called out to the Skyline. “Imagine that,” Eric says. Yes, we can.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Datsun and Nissan articles.
View comments on the GRM forums
jsquared Reader
9/4/14 10:59 a.m.

I like it. I see a callback to MiniLite-type wheels from some angles. Is the screen in the center console removable? BMW did the same kind of thing, made it look more like an aftermarket add-on than integrated into the design, but overall, I really like it. Clean exterior lines but still some sharpness, fairly simple interior by modern standards.

Oh yeah, and 220 lbs lighter than the NC! Any figures on HP/engine yet?

Our Preferred Partners