A Nissan Skyline Built for Cruising

Story and Photography by John Webber

You’ve spent years reading the stories, listening to the hype, and patiently awaiting its arrival on our shores. Now, we present the legendary Skyline Coupe. It’s time to rev this baby up, drop the clutch and see what she’ll do. Or maybe not. 

Gearheads everywhere know about the Skyline GT-R, the beast that put Japanese car culture on the map. It’s the machine that was dubbed Godzilla, and its DNA lives on today in Nissan’s GT-R supercar. 

This is not that car. 

Make no mistake; this is a Nissan Skyline. But it’s not a GT. It’s not a GT-X. It’s not a clone, either. So what is it? Think of it as Godzilla’s diminutive, smaller-snouted and lesser-known nephew, Godzooky. His signal cry could summon his uncle over great distances, just as this model conjures the look and character of its GT-R relative. In a city-leveling battle royale, however, the base Skyline isn’t going to do much damage.

King of the Monsters

To get a firm grasp on this car, a little history lesson is in order. In 1957, the Prince Motor Company of Japan introduced its first Skyline: a boxy, four-door sedan powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that produced 60 horsepower. The car was a commercial success, and the Prince followed up with a second-gen model in 1963. 

Racing fans took notice when Prince Motors entered a fleet of modified Skylines in the 1964 Grand Prix of Japan. These four-door racers were stretched eight inches to accommodate a 1.5-liter, inline six-cylinder racing engine that put out 165 horsepower. Despite their obvious aerodynamic disadvantage, the boxy beasts finished second through sixth in class, losing only to a Porsche 904. The car’s performance legend was born.

The Japanese driving public liked the cleverly engineered Skylines, and Prince Motors continued to produce and sell the car in a bewildering variety of body styles and engine options. In 1966, Prince Motors merged with Nissan.

Godzilla Raids Again

Nissan had something special in store for the first Skyline to bear their badge—chassis code C10—but they started slow. The third-generation car arrived in 1968 in sedan and wagon forms, and it came bearing a pair of four-cylinder engine options. The larger one displaced 1.8 liters and made a bit more than 100 horsepower. Nothing monstrous there.

The table was set for the arrival of a true beast,  however. When Nissan unleashed the GT-R variant of the C10 Skyline in February of 1969, Japan finally had its answer to the muscle car.

Tacked-on fender flares and bare steel wheels made the C10 Skyline GT-R instantly recognizable. Its triple-carbureted DOHC inline six, called the S20, borrowed heavily from the engine used in the Prince-developed R380 race car that won the 1966 Japan Grand Prix. A five-speed transmission, strut-type front and independent rear suspension rounded out the package. The GT-R, especially the fixed-roof coupe form, was an instant hit with the performance crowd both on and off the track. Fans refer to this model as the Hakosuka, Japanese for “boxy Skyline.”

They’re Not All Monsters

While the GT-R model garnered the bulk of the attention, the four-cylinder Skylines soldiered on in relative obscurity. The car featured here is one of those more pedestrian models, a 1971 Nissan Skyline 1500 Deluxe carrying the chassis code KC10. Skyline buffs will immediately note that the VIN prefix is missing a “G,” which identifies the longer-wheelbase, six-cylinder model. 

This is the economy C10, powered by Nissan’s 1483cc G15 four-cylinder engine rated at 94 horsepower. It’s equipped with a four-speed transmission, air conditioning and AM radio.

The car weighs just 2260 pounds, and it features the normal Nissan underpinnings: struts in the front and leaf springs in the rear mounted to a live axle. It’s equipped with drum brakes at both ends. 

While not exactly a bare-bones model, this car was aimed at buyers who wanted a Skyline but were not interested in driving it fast. Apparently, that market niche was limited. This car’s VIN indicates that by 1971—the last year of the C10—fewer than 2900 of these coupes had been produced. It’s highly likely that only a handful of KC10s were built after this example.

The next year, Nissan brought out the C110 Skyline, which became known as the Ken and Mary version. Its nickname comes from the fun-loving couple featured in the car’s advertising campaign.

Monsters From an Unknown Planet

George Andrews, who lives near Athens, Georgia, is a lifetime gearhead of the highest order. He describes himself as an Air Force brat who moved a lot as a kid, but he spent his formative years on Okinawa, the island of Japan where his dad was stationed. That’s where he fell in love with the Skyline. 

“The cops drove them there, so they could catch almost everyone,” he says. “At night we used to hang out in an A&W parking lot and watch all the cars go by. If a car went through with its parking lights on, that meant the guy wanted to race. Skylines were the fastest cars around; they literally ran circles around all the others. I wanted one since I was 15.”

Years later, he bought a 1989 Skyline, an R32-chassis car. He loved that machine, but eventually it had to go. With three teenagers at home, it wasn’t the most practical car for George’s needs, and insuring it became increasingly difficult. Of course, as often happens, seller’s remorse soon set in. As a display of his Skyline affliction, he still keeps a framed copy of the title to his old car on the wall. After a suitable mourning period, he started searching for an old-school Skyline, one that would take him back to his teen days in Okinawa. 

When he found this coupe, he was actually searching online for a 1971 Skyline GT. He could see this car wasn’t a GT, but he was intrigued by its originality and good condition. Plus, the car was already in the U.S., and the price was significantly less than the nosebleed amounts commanded by the GT models.

“I bought it from a company in California,” he explains. “I didn’t know exactly about this particular model, but it was a very nice car and it was hard to pass up. They took at least 30 digital pictures of the car, so when I got it, there were no surprises.” The Skyline was advertised as a one-family car with 12,224 kilometers on it, and so far George has not discovered any issues that make him doubt that claim.

The company that imported this C10 says it was one of very few left in Japan, and they have found that this model is even more difficult to track down than the long-nosed version. The short-nose Skylines were not popular with the tuner set—no room for a six-cylinder lump under the hood—which may have contributed to this car’s survival in original, unmolested condition. 

Since he acquired the car, George has searched for other four-cylinder C10 Skylines in the U.S., but so far he has come up empty. In fact, he’s yet to find anyone who has even seen this particular model in the States.

The C10’s front section looks stubby compared to the longer GT, but its distinctive roofline, front fender mirrors and rear flank treatment signal that this is indeed a Skyline. Designers were generous with identifying badges on the side and rear.

You won’t find any fender flares here. No rear spoiler, either. Instead of massive Watanabe wheels with big meats, this car wears Nissan wheel covers and 175/70R13 rubber. Instead of a menacing stance, this car looks perky and engaging. 

Godzilla Millenium 2000

Okay, so this is not the fearsome Skyline GT-R. But what this coupe lacks in grunt, it more than makes up for in rarity, originality and charm. It’s an oddball Skyline survivor, and now that George has learned how rare it is, he says he doesn’t feel compelled to apologize for the lack of two more cylinders. 

From moms in minivans to kids on bicycles, everyone wants to talk about this little car. They all know it’s something different, as they’ve never seen one quite like it. Only a few diehards are disappointed because it’s not a GT. In fact, these days only the Nissan faithful even know what a GT is. 

Just to make sure there is no confusion, George never drives his Skyline through the A&W with its parking lights on. But if someone should call him out, they may just want to consider this car’s family ties.

Godzilla always takes care of his own.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/14/20 8:48 a.m.

I always forget that there is a whole world of Skylines out there that aren't GT-Rs.

Wicked93gs New Reader
2/14/20 9:25 a.m.

I want an early Skyline badly...too bad the price ranges on the things are so far out of my reach...not like you can find one "in need of restoration" on this side of the world.

Appleseed MegaDork
2/14/20 12:15 p.m.

I would do awful, awful things to that car.

_ Dork
2/14/20 12:26 p.m.

It's so cute! LOL. The skylines are even used as taxis. Just imagine if Toyota would've followed the same path with the Camry? We would all have some sort of GTR halo all-wheel-drive TwinTurbo Camry.

TheRX7Project HalfDork
2/14/20 2:43 p.m.

In reply to Appleseed :

I've already hacked the wiring with my mind

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