When we think Skyline, we likely will think GT-R as well. Though not exactly synonymous, they do go together. And the Skyline GT-R, particularly in its initial C10 form, is the grail of JDM otakus and petrolheads the world over. But there weren’t many made (around 2000 units), and the ones I’ve seen so far may be real ones, but it’s hard to tell. Turning standard long-nose C10s into GT-R lookalikes is a fairly routine operation, here. So here’s something that’s almost as good and (wheels aside) 100% genuine: the GTX hardtop coupé.
When the Prince Motor Company started the Skyline line, back in 1957, the model was not necessarily destined to become a hot car. It was one of the better Japanese family saloons, to be sure, but performance was not the initial goal. The influence was more Peugeot than Porsche, though there was a tiny run of Michelotti-designed two-door cars – a trial balloon of sorts. Things really started to change with the second generation, when the Gloria’s 2-litre 6-cyl. found itself shoehorned into an elongated Skyline, showing that there was potential for a Japanese Alfa Romeo to be created. Then came the Hakosuka.
In the summer of 1968 came the third generation C10, still a 100% Prince design, but now badged as a Nissan. There were still two body styles only – four-door saloon and wagon – in the range, but the long-nose 6-cyl. cars were given even more prominence. Then, in 1969, the phenomenal GT-R was launched, followed in late 1970 by the hardtop coupé. The Hakosuka (“boxy Skyline”) nickname it garnered might seem trivial and a bit unfair, but it was probably coined posthumously in the later ‘70s, when Skylines developed more rounded fastback styling. At least, that’s what I’ve read on a couple Japanese websites…
Nickname notwithstanding, the new coupé was a major game-changer, both image-wise and in terms of performance. The hardtop design was a given in those days – and Skyline coupés remained pillarless for several generations – but Nissan’s crucial decision was to shorten the wheelbase by 7cm. This ensured that the coupé would not just be sleeker than the saloon, but also slightly lighter and endowed with better handling. So the GT-R badge logically went to the sportier car.
But not everybody wants an expensive, fire-breathing, gas-guzzling 160hp status symbol taking up the only space in their garage. Nissan figured there was a gap between that and the rather more sedate (115hp) 2000GT model, so they took the twin-carb 6-cyl. from the Fairlady Z and created the 130hp GTX in September 1971.
It was an inspired piece of marketing. The gen 3 Skyline already had a wheel out of the door by the time this new variant appeared (it was replaced 12 months later by the Kenmari C110), but the GTX kept buyers interested right to the end of the C10’s run. And whereas the GT-R badge was rather short-sightedly discarded by Nissan for most of the ‘70s and ‘80s (only to return with a vengeance afterwards), the GTX had a decent decade of being the top dog of long-nose Skylines.
One of the hallmarks of this trim level was to mix in a dollop of luxury (and gadgetry) in with the extra performance, as evidenced by the power windows in this car. This was still a rare item in Japanese cars in those days, especially non-chauffeured ones. And this is definitely not a car with back seat passengers in mind.
Beyond the GTX trim and its goodies though, the star of this post is the two-door body style itself. It became a huge part of the Skyline’s identity and cemented the model’s sporty bona fides – with or without the GT-R badge. The image was so well crafted and strongly associated with the Skyline that the coupé only disappeared from the range with the current (13th) generation, launched in 2014.
Present-day Skylines (known abroad as the Infiniti Q50) have retrenched to being a saloon-only model, after having dabbled in questionable crossover forms in the late ‘00s and early teens. It was perhaps inevitable that the coupé would disappear at some point, given how few examples of this once-popular body style are still in production now, but it sure took a long time to bow out. Modern Skylines, aside from the name, the RWD layout and the 6-cyl. engine (now V-shaped, of course), have little to do with anything as old as the Hakosuka of course, but the survival of the name and basic layout is an achievement in and of itself. How many MY 2024 cars can trace their lineage directly back to the late ‘50s? In Japan, only the Toyota Crown can claim such ancient heritage.
In my personal C10 dream garage, the long-nose four-door saloon remains top of the list – there’s just no better version of that Skyline generation, in my view. But I think I may have found the next entry in this GTX hardtop. It really is number one at being number two.