You know when a car is nicknamed “Godzilla” it means business. The Nissan Skyline GT-R is a car that arguably defines the Nissan Motor Company. It’s a poster car for enthusiasts around the world and was the weapon of choice for Paul Walker in the Fast and Furious franchise. However to limit the Skyline GT-R to just a pin-up would be a huge injustice to a car that could just as easily destroy an array of supercars on a racetrack. In fact during the early 90’s the Skyline GT-R was so dominant in its race guise that competitors had to petition organisers of Macau Grand Prix to make the car run with a significant ballast just so they would have a chance of winning. All these factors combined made the Skyline GT-R one of the most recognisable names in the motoring world. So where did it all start?
The history of the Nissan Skyline GT-R can be traced all the way back to 1957 when the Prince Motor Company debuted the Prince Skyline as a means to create a luxury sedan that could rival the ones coming out of Europe and the U.S.A. An interesting point worth noting is that the chief designer and engineer of the original car, Shinichro Sakurai, played a key role in the evolution of the car until his death in 2011. Though the Skyline would start life off under the Prince name, it would soon become a Nissan when the Prince Motor Company merged with the Nissan Motor Company in 1966. But just a couple of years before Nissan would become the official bandwagon for the Skyline name, it was the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix that would spark the country’s first true love affair with the Skyline marque when the S54 Skyline 2000GTs would for the first time give a tough fight to the all-conquering Porsche 904 at the GT-II race during the Grand Prix weekend, ending up sweeping every position from second to sixth across the finish line. The Skyline legend was born…
Three years later the first Nissan Skyline Gran Tourismo Racer (that’s the full form of GT-R) came into existence. The car was rear wheel drive and was powered by a manual 5-speed, 2.0-litre engine that produced 160bhp. Though the car was initially sold as a 4-door variant it would be soon be available as a coupe in 1971.
The C10 Era
The second generation of the Skyline GT-R would debut in 1973. The car known as the “kenmeri” due to a series of commercials produced by Nissan that features two Americans known as Ken and Mary to attract interest in the American market was unfortunately deemed a failure due to the gas crisis that hit the world in the 70’s. Though the car built on the foundations laid by its predecessor the low demand for performance cars at the time hampered its sales and forced Nissan to retire the GT-R badge for over 15 years. Though the “GT-R” badge was gone, Nissan continued to use the Skyline name with their production of R30 and R31 generations of the car, they even made a special edition of the R30 when actor turned racing driver Paul Newman teamed up with Nissan to launch the Paul Newman Version R30 to commemorate his relationship with the brand. Both generations of the car would eventually pave the way for the “GT-R” badge to return in 1989.
Return of the GT-R
In 1989 Nissan began production of the third generation Skyline GT-R, the car was put into production with the sole aim of dominating the Group A class of racing. The production version of the car featured an advanced all wheel drive system that was powered by a 2.6-litre twin-turbo straight six engine which produced 276 bhp. An interesting side note is that around this time all the Japanese manufactures had a gentlemen’s agreement to not boast about their power outputs, this meant that though the R32 was marketed as having 276 bhp, in reality the engine produced closer to 330 bhp. The R33 was an evolution of the R32 and featured the same turbochargers and the manual gearbox of the third generation Skyline. The R33 however did fix a few issues that were found on the R32, such as the weak oil pump drive collar. The R33 also saw a Nismo version of the car (Nismo is to Nissan what AMG is to Mercedes) dubbed the Nismo 400R, the car essentially was a 400 bhp R33 with a few aerodynamic updates such as wider bumpers, side skirts, a new rear bumper, a new front bumper with bigger air scoops, and a redesigned bonnet and rear spoiler made of carbon fibre.
The final generation of what many consider the proper line of Skyline GT-R’s was produced between 1999-2002. The R34 was once again an evolution of the R33 much like its predecessor was of the R32. The biggest changes came in the form of a multifunction display on the dashboard, a Brembo brake system as well as a 50% stiffer body structure. The R34 and the Skyline GT-R name got a proper send off when Nismo released the Z1 and Z2 models of the car. The Z-Tune cars are essentially handmade versions of old R34s that were striped down and rebuilt from the chassis up. The cars produce an excess of 500 bhp, feature functional components from GT500 car (in the case of the Z2) and are capable of doing speeds of over 327 km/h.
In terms of motorsport pedigree the Nissan Skyline GT-R endured two periods of utter dominance, which as mentioned earlier forced organizers to change their rules in order to accommodate other competitiors. The first and second generation of the Skyline GT-R won an incredible 49 consecutive races on the Japanese race circuit between 1969-1972, however it was the R32 that cemented the Skyline’s legacy and earned the car it’s “Godzilla” moniker. After more than a decade in the doldrums Nissan wanted to reestablish themselves on the racetracks and the R32 was designed with the sole purpose of winning races. Flushed with cash from the Japanese bubble era, Nissan invested a lot of time and money into completely overhauling the R31 and introduced an array of changes such as 2.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engine and an all wheel drive system that would go on to become a mainstay in all future GT-R models.
The car also had a complicated electro-hydraulic clutch system inspired by the most technologically advanced car at the time, the Porsche 959. Long story short, the Skyline would go on to completely dominate the Japanese Touring Car Championship winning all of the 29 races it took part in and in turn winning consecutive championships between 1989-1993. The car experienced even more success in Australia, absolutely blitzing the competition by winning three Group A championships on the trot between 1990-1992 in addition to winning the Bathurst 1000 in 1991 and 1992. In fact the car’s sheer dominance in Australia forced a journalist from New Zealand to describe the car as “Godzilla”, a nickname that has stuck with future iterations of the car. In addition to its success in Japan and Australia the car also won the 24 hours of Spa in 1991. The R32 was so successful that in essence it was the reason the Group A class no longer exists as the Australian governing body banned turbo chargers and all wheel drive systems to make it a fair fight.
The Nissan Skyline continues to exist today in the form of the R35 more popularly known as the Nissan GTR and though this car is and engineering marvel in itself, it somehow lacks the raw feel of its predecessors, in part due to the amount of technology that’s packed into the car, something that can feel a bit intrusive to an experienced driver. The R32, R33 and R34 will forever be remembered as some of the most iconic cars to ever leave the Nissan factory. With the world moving towards electric motors it might be a tall ask for Nissan and anticipated R36 to deliver on the sheer driving thrill of their counterparts from the 80’s and 90’s.