Curbside Classic: 1967 Prince Skyline (S54) 2000 GT-A – Birth Of A Legend

The myth of the Skyline looms large among enthusiasts, both in Japan and abroad. The nameplate is still alive on the Japanese market, but it has lost some of its luster since the mid-‘00s, in part because a V6 replaced the generations of in-line engines that propelled the Skyline to its star status. Stardom came early in the Skyline’s long history, even before Nissan adopted it. It arrived, along with an ill-fitting OHC straight-6, back in the mid-‘60s, with the Prince 2000GT.

We’ve had the pleasure of having been granted an audience with the Prince before a few years ago, but that was a 4-cyl. car – a more common type of automotive royalty, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron. More recent Skylines were motivated by 6-cyl. engines, but things were not always this way.

The 4-cyl. Skyline (S50) was launched in September 1963 to take over from the first gen car (above), which had debuted back in 1957. The original Prince was already a cut above the rest, with its leaf-sprung De Dion rear axle and coil-sprung double wishbone IFS – at a time when some Japanese cars still made do with solid front axles.

Building on its venerable predecessor, the new S50 family of Skylines was to feature unit body construction and modern styling, but keep the sensible Peugeot-influenced 1.5 litre OHV engine that Prince had devised in the previous decade to combat the likes of the Isuzu Bellett or the Toyota Corona, leaving its larger sister car, the 2-litre Prince Gloria, seen in the above illustration in its wagon guise, to face the Nissan Cedric or the Toyota Crown. At least, that was the plan.

But then Prince’s Skyline team started toying with the idea of shoehorning a Gloria 6-cyl. into the Skyline. Putting the big engine in the smaller car is not a particularly novel idea, but in the present case it produced a noticeably altered product, one that could be called a true sports saloon. So the Prince brass elected to manufacture a small 100-unit run of the “Skyline GT,” as it became known, just in time for the Suzuka Grand Prix in May 1964.

The cars were crude: the front had to be lengthened by 20cm to fit the OHC straight-6, which was given three Weber carbs and mated to a floor-mounted 4-speed manual (lesser Skylines still had a three-on-the-tree at that point) and precious little else. The extra length and substandard tyres meant the cars were quite a handful to pilot, but five Skylines finished in the top ten, only beaten by a much faster and nimbler Porsche 904 Carrera.

The 90-odd “civilian” 2000GTs like the one above were sold virtually overnight, presenting Prince with a problem: they had created a huge amount of demand and unprecedented publicity for their car, but had none in stock, nor any concrete plans to launch production.

The Skyline team, under the direction of Shinichiro Sakurai, worked day and night to iron out the 2000GT’s kinks and organize the assembly line; sales finally re-started in February 1965. The suspension had been tweaked and front disc brakes fitted to help tame the car better, but another snag occurred at this juncture: Prince were having issues sourcing enough Webers for their engines.

So by September 1965, the range was split in two: the “standard” car with the 125hp triple-carb motor became known as the 2000GT-B. The 2000GT-A, for its part, had a single Nippon Kikaki two-barrel carburetor, endowing it with 105hp (gross).

All this sporting success translated into commercial dividends, but alas it all came a bit late for Prince, whose fate was sealed by the infamous “men from the MITI” (Ministry of International Trade and Industry), who decided that there were just too many Japanese carmakers for their liking. This led to a few mergers in the ‘60s, notably that of Prince and Nissan, which took place in 1966. Henceforth, the Skyline and Gloria wore a discreet little “Nissan” badge on their rear end, but kept the Prince emblems everywhere else.

In late 1966, the Skyline got a facelift that included a simpler grille with a single chrome bar, different headlight bezels, a flow-through ventilation opening on its C-pillar and (only for the the 4-cyl. cars) revised taillights.

I’m not sure the interior was subject to many changes, but it looks the part. Imagine you saw it before you knew what you were looking at, what would you have thought? My personal guesses would have oriented me towards a Lancia, an Alfa or perhaps even a Triumph.

I hope that flow-through ventilation worked reasonably well, because this is a pre-A/C car with black faux leather seats, which would make for quite a sticky situation in the summer months here. That’s life in a ’60s Skai-line.

Oops, looks like this car was fitted with an aftermarket A/C! Probably worth it, summers here are brutal. Plenty of instruments and gauges to work with, but not everything was ticked on the options list. Seat belts? What are those?

Just because I found it online, here’s the 2000GT-A’s spec sheet, as published for export market versions of this car in 1967-68. Seat belts were just as optional as fender mirrors and tinted glass.

Nissan at least named the car Skyline GT, which had the merit of sounding good. Pre-merger brochures sometimes called it “PMC A200,” or some other impossible alphabet soup combination, depending on where they were sold. They even exported a Diesel variant, based on the short-nose Skyline, that seems not to have been available for the JDM.

I guess the Diesel version met its market, because it became a permanent fixture of the Skyline range going forward. But the most noteworthy traditions that our feature car heralded were the 2-litre straight-6, the racing cred and arguably the circular taillights, though they only really got those properly established as a “hot Skyline” identifier in the ‘70s.

When I photographed the S57 Skyline about three years back, I compared it to BMW and Alfa Romeo. This S54 version, with that long, protruding and forward-angled snout and those taillights, really gives out a very strong alternate-reality BMW vibe. Thing is though, BMW saloons of the mid-‘60s had a 4-cyl. Even the Neue Klasse had to bow to the Prince.

When the C10 Skyline took over in the summer of 1968, the long-nose 2000GT variant followed along, obviously. It soon lost the limelight when the GT-R burst on the scene, but the S54 had paved the way for it. Good night, sweet Prince – your legacy lasted over 50 years and counting. Almost makes one turn monarchist.


Related post:


Curbside Classic: 1968 Prince Skyline (S57) 1500 Deluxe – Positively Charming, by T87