CC In Scale: Nissan Skyline Part 2 – The Lean Years

Nissan has always struck me as something of a peculiar company. There are excellent cars like the 510, the 240Z, and yes, those early Skylines. Then there are the dull cars, the boring cars, the ones that get you from A to B in perhaps reasonable comfort, but seem to have no soul. Then they get it ‘right’ again, and then they retreat.

Last time we dipped into Skyline history, we looked at those heady years from 1963 to 1977. These were the ones that really made the model’s history and gave it something of an iconic following in Japan and elsewhere.  The long-nose S54s, the first S20-powered GTR. But now we come to the lean years, the dull years, the years when Skyline was treated as just another model in a range becoming bewilderingly complex. The years when Skyline almost lost its way, in danger of becoming just another mid-sized Nissan.

Like last time, we’ll be considering three distinct model generations. Funny how Skylines seem to group themselves in threes. Now I know there’ll be fans out there who’ll be spluttering with incoherent rage, saying “How could you call these dull? What about the Tekkamen? And the mighty FJ20? And the first of the RBs?” Yes, there were some great cars during this time, but compared to what had gone before, these were the lean years.

You can sort of gauge this by the range of offerings from the kit manufacturers. Compared to the eras before and after, these models aren’t well-served, and much of what is available seems to be forty-year-old tooling rehashed.


C210: 1977-81

After the ‘Kenmeri’, this generation was known as the Skyline ‘Japan’. The C210 was basically a reskin of the C110. Out went the thick Mt. Fuji-shaped pillars, the funky curves, and in came straight lines with something of a wedgy profile, until the bottom of the rear window when it all went downhill. Literally. Nissan’s approach was not to use a high tail like an Alfa Giulietta, or even to run it straight back like a P76, but to let the tail kind of slope down and dwindle away apologetically to an average kind of trunk lid height. Did they hope you weren’t going to study the car in profile? It could have been worse; its platform-mate C230 Laurel was. The rear quarter ‘surf line’ became just a curiously-angled plane which gave rather a strange highlight. All rather peculiar. But in case you were wondering, it was still Shinichiro Saikurai wielding the crayons, same as he had since the S54 which began this.

This model was sold in Australia as the Skyline, not 240K, ending the alphanumeric model names here. Unusually for Australia, we got both the sedan and the coupe. At the time I was working with a guy who had a Skyline coupe, the only one of this generation I’ve seen here.

There was definitely no GTR, though you could get a 2000GT-EX. Top engine for these in Japan was a 2-litre turbo six good for 143hp; you may recall the good old twin-cam Prince S20 was good for 160hp, but that was a detuned sixties race engine. In Australia, we got the L24E with allegedly 127hp. While it ran beautifully smoothly, in Australian early-emissions tune it had a huge flat spot and consistently stalled off idle. According to the dealer, “They all do that”. Yeah, right, no comfort for hill starts in Ballarat – ask me how I know! Uncle Ted didn’t keep this for long.

A mid-model facelift brought the obligatory aero headlights and plainer grille. Like almost every other early eighties car, really.



R30: 1981-85

With this model, Nissan seemed to have got all the funky styling genes out of its system. The waistline dropped down at the A-pillar and then ran straight through to the tail, making for a much more coherent look. The headlights swept back a bit to the body sides. And the surf line which had been with Skylines since the beginning, went AWOL. A nice, inoffensively-styled sedan or coupe. Or wagon. Or even a 5-door hatch, should you want one.

But there was nothing about it that said ‘Skyline’. Except perhaps the four round taillights, but not all variants had those.

This generation had an incredibly wide variety of engines, from the Z-, CA-or FJ-series fours to four different L-series sixes, plus diesels with either four or six cylinders. They seemed to be trying to build a Skyline for everybody. That FJ-series was developed with competition in mind. A sixteen-valve twin cam injected four, good for 190hp with a turbo – way more than was available from any six on offer. The hottest Skyline – with a four? That didn’t seem right.

But it worked!

The usual mid-cycle facelift was barely detectable, except on the top coupes, which adopted slimmer headlamps and grille for this face, nicknamed Tekkamen (‘Iron Mask’). This is an old Fujimi kit from the eighties, with later paint; better ones are available now. I just haven’t bought one.


R31: 1985-89

Ugh. My least-favourite Skyline. There, I’ve said it; full disclosure. Larger and squarer at a time when global styling was going curvier, it seemed like Nissan was going out on a styling limb again, almost as though they were trying to out-box Volvo. Grandpa’s car. It seemed like they couldn’t win. But hang on a moment, look past that oh-so-passe styling…

Nissan’s L-series six was really getting a bit past it. The VG-series V6 had been proven in countless other model lines since 1983, but Nissan proudly told us the Skyline name was identified with a straight six. So when the R31 series broke cover in 1985, it also brought a new straight six.

And what an engine! In single cam 12 valve and twin cam 24 valve form, it was a thorough overhaul of the old L-series which dated back to 1966. In a mad but inspired bit of component-sharing, Holden offered it in the Commodore in single-cam 3 litre 155hp and 3 litre turbo (205hp) form. The Atmo 3 litre RB30 appeared in Aussie Skylines; the turbo remained a Holden exclusive.

The RB30 never did get the DOHC 24 valve head as a production engine – though of course it’s been done – but Nissan Australia did get 190hp out of it for the Skyline GTS2, nearly as much as Holden’s turbo job.

Only sedans and wagons for Australia, though Japan got their usual coupe and this surprise four door hardtop;

But the best was yet to come.

In Part 3 we’ll meet Godzilla! Next time…