Curbside Classic: 1980 Nissan Skyline (C210) 2000 GT-EL – Facelift Facepalm

Even storied nameplates like the Skyline have had their low points. Some might say the R34 (1998-2002) was one, when production dropped below six figures. But if looks are the main consideration, I might submit that the post-mid-1979 facelift C210 Skyline (1977-81) was the breed’s lowest point. But it was certainly a successful car, regardless.

Nissans of the ‘70s sure were a mixed bunch. A lot were horribly awkward, but some did manage to weather the decade relatively unscathed – the Fairlady Z or the 330 Cedric/Gloria, for instance, looked downright great. The Skyline started the decade with the crisply-styled C10, followed in 1972 by the Fuselage-infused C110. That was already a step in the wrong direction, but it wasn’t the worst thing Nissan put out in those troubled years – not by a long shot.

But then, on a dark day in August 1977, the C210 took over, bringing the Skyline into the fugly fold of the majority of Datsuns. The previous generation’s Fuselage look wasn’t completely ditched, but was bastardized beyond recognition. The rear hips got thicker, with the famous “surf line” still present. All in all, the car seemed heavier, despite not weighing more than the C110.

Let’s be clear on the Skyline C210 family tree, before we get too far into the weeds. Broadly speaking, the JDM range consisted in two series – the 4-cyl. cars (1.6 and 1.8 litre), known as the Tis, and the 2-litre 6-cyl. GTs. Three body variants were on offer: a saloon, a hardtop coupé and a van/wagon.

On GTs, the longer front end originally wore a combination of quad round headlamps and a honeycomb texture. In July 1979, that was switched to a sad-looking pair of rectangular headlights. As we can see in the photo above, the TIs kept the quads – as did the export models, which came with a wider variety of engines than were on offer for the JDM.

This is one of the noteworthy facts about this generation of Skyline: it was a time when Nissan really tried to peddle these in a lot of overseas markets. There were always some markets that welcomed these cars, even back in the Prince days – the Australian market (advert above), for one, was an avid client.

Global English-language C210 brochure excerpts, 1978

Nissan never exported the C210 Skyline as a mere 2-litre – only the rigid Japanese rules about engine displacement imposed that solution for the JDM. Instead, the foreign market GTs got a smoother 2.4 litre version of the L-Series engine, usually becoming known as the 240K. Markets where the 4-cyl. variants received the 1.8 litre (180K). The 2.8 litre Diesel straight-6 was also on offer in selected markets.

The C210 was never exported to North America due to the complex safety requirements of that particular part of the world, but those corners of Europe that had hitherto not seen the “sporty” Datsun, such as Germany, France or Italy, got their contingents of Skyline/240Ks. Several Middle-Eastern and Asian markets also received them.

Station wagons (vans on the JDM) did not exist in 6-cyl. guise, but could get a 65hp 2-litre Diesel 4-cyl.

Contemporary European journos were usually favourably impressed by the big Datsun – sometimes called Skyline, but more often given an alphanumeric soup that made these cars seem a bit generic. However, sales results must have been rather muted, given that few European markets transitioned to the R30 for MY 1982.

But still, that sad summer of ’79 when the higher-tier C210s got a new front end was decidedly the final act in Nissan’s decade of dubious designs. Sure, that ugly mug was chiefly grafted to the cars that stayed in Japan (some export markets got them as well), but that was a large majority of the Skylines produced.

The rear end is much better treated. The lower-end cars had blocky composite taillights that looked somewhat anonymous, but the 6-cyl. cars kept the four circular taillights that were a hallmark of the skyline since the late ‘60s – and remained one until the early 2000s.

From a technical point of view, the C210 pioneered a few key features for the Skyline breed. The 4-cyl. cars kept a live rear axle but now had a multilink setup; GTs boasted a coil-sprung semi-trailing arm IRS. The 1998cc OHC 6-cyl. in the EX-EL variant we’re looking at features what Nissan called “Electronic Gasoline Injection,” more commonly known as EFI. This gave the “small” 6-cyl. as much oomph as the 2.4 used in export models – 130hp. Late in 1979, the range-topper JDM Skyline GTs got a new engine with a turbo giving out 145hp. This was the first of a long line of turbocharged Skylines.

Despite the fugly looks, the thirsty engines (during a major oil price spike) and the lack of exports to North America, this was the second most popular Skyline generation. The old Prince factory at Murayama, Tokyo, produced almost 600,000 of this generation of Skyline from August 1977 to August 1981, including about 50,000 export models. This was a little less than the C110, but still constituted a major hit for Nissan.

There are not too many around these days – especially non-modded and non-coupés. So this was a most fortuitous encounter. Even more serendipity occurred on this particular shot, when a rare Autozam AZ-1 blew past, a bit too quick for my smartphone to fully capture.

All in all, this is an interesting but really (to me) ungainly design, especially that blocky nose – but really, there are no good angles on this thing. About a block away, I caught a contemporary Mitsubishi Galant Sigma in the same colour (soon to be featured on CC, all good things come to those who wait). The Sigma and this Skyline are broadly similar, but the Mitsubishi’s graceful and tasteful esthetics is the C210’s polar opposite.

Still, it’s a fine example of a late ‘70s Japanese 6-cyl. saloon and it’s in incredible condition. It seems a great many of these got butchered and boy-raced to an early (or not-so-early) demise, so let’s count our blessings and draw those lace curtains while averting our eyes.


Related posts:


CC Capsule: 1978 Nissan Skyline (C210) 2000GT-EX Coupé – Disco Sucks, by T87

Cohort Classic: Nissan Skyline/Datsun 240K – “Like A Love; Like A Wind” – The Car That The “Ken & Mary” TV Ads Made Famous (With Video), by PN