I’ve been finding a number of ‘70s Nissans of late. They’re always a source of mixed emotions, as it’s certainly a pleasure to come across any 40-plus-year-old automobile in Tokyo. At the same time, Nissan really designed a lot of stinkers in the ‘70s. The Gloria 330 I found last summer and last month’s Laurel were not the worst of the bunch by a long shot, but the C110 “Kenmari” Skyline we have here (especially in this condition) is, to my eyes, pretty… challenging.
I might be in a minority about this, but this Skyline is far worthier of the nickname “Pig Butt” that was bestowed upon its Laurel stablemate. What we have here is a caricature of an American design, with added weirdness for good (or rather for worse) measure. Such as that famous “Surf line” hind quarter body crease.
The C110 Skyline is particularly uninspired when seen in comparison to its two immediate predecessors, the S50 (1963-68, top pic) and the C10 (1968-72, bottom pic). The former was still badged as a Prince. It was as close as Japan ever got to a Neue Klasse BMW, and it pioneered the use of the 2-litre straight-6 that was to be the Skyline’s mainstay for eons. The latter introduced the coupé version and the GT-R badge – two quintessential additions to the Skyline mythos – all wrapped into a superbly styled body.
It was always going to be tough to keep the hits coming, but the C110 really fell from the ugly tree and hit most branches on the way down. That’s not limited to the two-door, either. I’m personally quite partial to a nice wagon, but that C110 van/wagon is a complete disaster. The saloon is the least offensive of the bunch, but it still looks like a Dodge that got rear-ended.
The front end gives me both Fuselage Chrysler and Renault 17 vibes, only slightly more pouty. It’s the duck-lipped Botox look so popular with our century’s vapid Instagrammers, but for the Disco era. There are uglier front ends, especially in the Nissan world, but this is hardly the most distinctive schnozz. Again, if we compare with the previous couple of Skylines, it’s a let-down.
The rear end was not available for comment. Or for much of a photo, come to that. The coupé’s quad circular taillamps became a trademark Skyline thing. But credit to where it’s due: these were actually pioneered on certain versions of the C10. The C110 merely generalized that design element and set it in stone. Well, in metal, anyway. And they were placed within a dark panel surrounded by a chrome loop, echoing the front grille’s motif. Botox in front, xotoB in the back.
The blandness of the front and the rear do nothing to mitigate the car’s bulkiness, which is strangely coupled with a slightly gaunt look. Nissan were deep into their Empty Coke Bottle & Strange Body Crease era, and it shows.
Nissan also hit upon the power of PR in the ‘70s, and the Skyline got more than its fair share of that action in the shape of Ken and Marie. This fictional couple personified the C110 Skyline so well that the car became known as Kenmari. As we can see from the 1975 Skyline brochure excerpt above, Nissan cashed in on the popularity of their advertising creation with a flurry of Skyline-branded merch.
But let’s move beyond the sheetmetal and the image. This particular car is in a sorry state and obviously abandoned, but it has had a lot of work done before it conked out. The rear spoiler, the fender flares and the blacked-out grille all point to a rather popular modification with C110 hardtops: an attempt at turning this relatively run-of-the-mill GT-X into a precious GT-R.
There was a GT-R coupé in the C110 lineup, but it really was a case of blink and you’ll miss it. It only lasted a couple months in early 1973 and total production of the real GT-R, as shown above, is said to have only reached 197 units. Genuine GT-Rs had a 160hp version of the race-bred S20 DOHC straight-6 as well as disc brakes all around, the latter of which being eventually adopted by the GT-X.
It is said that the C110 GT-R’s tiny production numbers are a result of tightening emissions regulations and the fact that Nissan had a leftover stock of about 200 R-spec engines from the C10. Whatever the case may be, the result is that GT-Rs of this generation are extremely rare and valuable, so there are probably more fake ones out there than anything else.
The GTX was a high-trim version in its own right, so seeing one being wasted like that is rather sad. The interior looks like it belongs to a different car, not a rusting wreck pretending to be something of value. The aluminium instrument panel was unique to 1975-77 GTXs – makes for a nice change from the usual formica-plastiwood combo prevalent in so many cars of that era.
The 2-litre straight-6 in the GT-X was the L20 also used on the Nissan Cedric, initially with a twin carb setup. This deluxe/sporty version of the Skyline was only available on saloons and coupés; it had the independent rear suspension common to all 6-cyl. C110s. In late 1975, more or less coinciding with the traditional JDM mid-life facelift, the GT-X the engine was given EFI and delivered 130hp. So it’s no slouch on its own terms, being second only to the GT-R horsepower-wise. But I guess the temptation to turn this fair steed into a unicorn was irresistible to some.
Nissan sold over twice as many Kenmaris as they did C10s – i.e. about 730,000 units, counting the export models (usually known as the Datsun 240K, if sporting the 2.4 litre six not seen on the domestic Skyline). So that’s why Nissan kept making fugly cars throughout the ‘70s: with the help of a little PR magic, people actually bought them.
As a result, the C210 that came in late 1977 was pretty much a continuation of the C110, still sans GT-R, which disappeared from view until the late ‘80s. The Skyline turned from a lithe and sporty Alfa/BMW rival in the ‘60s to a mini Ford Torino with fat lips in the ‘70s. Kenmari has not aged gracefully, but then the effect of Botox is always a temporary one.
Car Show Capsule: 1973 Nissan Skyline C110 GT-R – Delectable, Rare Wagyu, by William Stopford