It’s going to be a little while before the balance is restored in the T87 household, as returning from a European jaunt in the age of Covid-19 is not as easy as all that. We had to fill in a dozen extra forms, get a bunch of spy apps on out phones, spend three days in a hotel room (where I’ve been writing most of this from) and get tested three times to be let back to our digs. And now, for the next fortnight, we are all in lockdown. So time to catch up on my CC writing, eh? Let’s kick things off with something we’ll all enjoy: the legendary Hakosuka (“Box Skyline”).
The foxy and boxy Skyline C10, the nameplate’s third generation and its first as a Nissan, was an unmitigated success. Over 300,000 were made from 1968 to 1972 — a considerable run given the era and the car’s size. Of course, the GT-R is the one everyone is after, but those are exceedingly rare. Most C10 Skylines were more modest 4-cyl. family cars. This 2000GT is halfway between a sports model and a fleet sedan: it has the prestige of the bigger engine, but not the scarcity (and astronomical price) of the GT-R.
Some of you eagle-eyed readers might recall that I already caught this one on a cold and rainy day last year. That was quite an apparition, but it was inhabited at the time, so a closer investigation was out of the question. A few weeks ago, I lucked out and found it parked unattended – and in glorious sunshine, to boot.
How fortunate that I should bump into this well-preserved (but far from concours) C10 Skyline. There are some about, but usually they have been modified into GT-R lookalikes. Or they’re the genuine article, but telling one from another is not always easy. Thankfully, this one is not too far from the way it came out of the factory back in 1972, though I do have my doubts about that vinyl top. The aftermarket rims even look period correct.
The only detail that made me raise an eyebrow was that cinderblock in front of the rear right wheel, but I figure this might be a crude anti-theft device. These cars are very sought after, so perhaps that would be a concern.
There is no way to overstate how important this third generation was in the Skyline’s long story. This was one of the new models that Prince bequeathed to Nissan as a wedding present – the old company’s DNA is all over the car, except with the Nissan badges. And it’s the generation that ushered the coupé and the GT-R, which ended up being fixtures in the Skyline range up to the present day.
The Prince Motor Company was officially absorbed by Nissan in August 1966, but Nissan wisely kept the Prince legacy alive through its products (Gloria, Skyline) and even its structure. The Prince dealer network kept its name, just adding Nissan’s on top. The Prince factories in Tokyo, including the famous Murayama site, were kept open. Even Prince’s R&D branch was allowed to remain as was for years, completely separate from Nissan/Datsun’s Yokohama office.
Within the ex-Prince R&D bureau in Tokyo, the Skyline team was headed by Shinichiro Sakurai (the C10’s owner added his signature on the car!), who had directed the nameplate since its 1957 birth and would remain heavily involved in the Skyline programme until the ‘90s. Planning and design work for the C10, starting in 1965, took into consideration that the Skyline was to have both a 4-cyl. and a 6-cyl. version from the get-go, leading to a more homogeneous design than the previous generation‘s long-nose S54, though the 6-cyl. C10s do have a longer wheelbase than their 4-cyl. sisters.
The C10 Skyline was launched in August 1968 as a four-door saloon and wagon (split between a wagon and a more basic “van” version), solely with the Prince’s 88hp G15 OHC 4-cyl. and a live rear axle to begin with, also inherited from the previous generation. Standard grade cars made do with a front bench seat and a 3-speed column shifter, deluxe cars got separate seats and a 4-on-the-floor. A 1.8 litre version was eventually added to the mix, but kept the simpler rear suspension common to all 4-cyl. C10s.
At the October 1968 Tokyo Motor Show, the 2000GT was launched. It coupled a 2-litre six under its slightly elongated hood with a semi-trailing arm IRS – things were going to start heating up. Well, the heat was slow to rise at first: the initial 2000GT had the relatively sedate (and thirsty) L20 that had been pioneered on the Cedric 130 – not Nissan’s finest effort: at only 109hp strong, it was barely more powerful than the Prince G18 used on lower-tier Skylines and Laurels. A year later, the much improved L20A replaced it, adding an extra 10hp and making the 2000GT worthy of the name.
But in the interim, Prince engineers had already put together the S20, a completely different 2-litre six with twin overhead cams and four valves per cylinder fed by three Mikuni-Solex 2-barrel carbs churning out 160hp. Mated to a five-speed gearbox and helped by a lowered suspension and bigger brakes, the infamous GT-R, initially with four doors, sent Nissan on a 50-race winning streak starting in 1969. The Skyline GT-R was an instant icon.
In late 1970, the boxy sporty Skyline got its definitive shape by way of a shorter hardtop coupé version, which became available throughout the range — from lowly 1500cc base model to fire-breathing GT-R, where it replaced the saloon outright. This was the Prince Motor Company’s very last model, in a way. A summation of their efforts, since the early ’50s, to design and manufacture a truly independent Japanese family car, which doubled up as a great sports car as well.
The C10 Skyline continued on for another couple of years. The traditional mid-life facelift of 1970 called for a simplified grille and squared taillamps, as well as a new dash layout and, from 1971, a honeycomb-texture panel between the taillights and on the grille, giving the later C10s a very ’70s feel.
By late 1971, a slightly improved GT-X trim level appeared, with the L20SU twin-carb found in the Fairlady Z, good for 128hp. Only offered on the two-door to start off with, the saloon got this spec in early 1972. It was a Nissan engine rather than the Prince-made one found in GT-Rs, but still the most powerful four-door C10 on offer during the car’s final year.
Our feature car, however, is a late model 2000GT (sans X), so it made do with the regular L20A engine. The 120hp therein is apparently capable enough to make the car quite sprightly, and the all-independent suspension and front disc brakes are able to handle the power just fine. Very late model ’72 cars were even equipped with a 5-speed manual, but this one appears not to be one of these.
A 3-speed automatic was also available, but in this car would seem like something of a sacrilege. The interior of these later higher trim cars, with the generous plastiwood trim, console full of mysterious switches and deep-set circular dials give a slight Alfa Romeo vibe to this cabin. The soundtrack, with the ignition turned on, would probably amplify this impression.
Another reason to love this generation of Skyline saloon: there is actual room in the back. Compare this to the R32 or the R33 made a couple decades later, and it’s clear that the Skylines of the ‘60s were designed with families and export markets in mind, not just sportiness. Just how many C10s were exported is unclear to me, though I’m sure the usual suspects (Australia / New-Zealand, Southeast Asia and certain European destinations) must have bought a few of these back in the day.
The rear fender / door’s character line, known in Skyline circles as the “surf line” for reasons that I’ve not been able to ascertain, was apparently added at Sakurai’s behest for aerodynamic reasons, though it as just as likely to have been added to give the car’s profile some flavour.
It is rumoured that he used a coat hanger to trace the unusual trajectory of this crease on the rear doors. This peculiar kink was carried over to the two Skyline generations that came after the C10, but none of them wore it better than the original, where it is understated and works well in conjunction with the straight beltline and the lower body crease.
But for my money, the front end is this where the design really shines. There are hints of the Peugeot 504 in this face (the two cars are completely contemporary), so maybe that’s why I like it so much. The key aspect, which is only present on the post-facelift C10s, is how they incorporated the headlamps in the grille, which was itself cleaned up and simplified. The early cars look too busy, but this slightly menacing gaze is close to perfect, especially for a saloon with a sporting pedigree.
The quad rear lights also became something of a design fixture for future Skylines. That feature persisted all the way to the end of the R34’s production life in 2001 – another reason why many consider that particular generation (the 10th) as the last true Skyline.
That’s a story for another time, though. As far as this particular Skyline is concerned, though I’d personally get rid of that huge wart of a yellow fog lamp, or whatever that thing stuck on that front bumper is, it’s a perfect C10 out of 10 from me.