R31 – another alphanumeric, another Skyline. This is the seventh generation of the breed, made in Japan from 1985 to 1990. Those were the origami years. Not my favourite era of automotive design, but out of the whole R31 family, I lucked out and found the most interesting one. Lucky me, lucky CC. And at least, it’s not a Pintara.
In my never-ending quest to learn more about all things Skyline, I learned of the Pintara. It’s the Australian-built version of the Skyline. Of course, our antipodean CCommenters and CContributors will have much more to say on the subject than a vague European lost in the vastness of Asia such as my stupid self.
But rank cluelessness has never stopped me writing before, so I’ll just have to go on without knowing much about anything, flying blind as per usual. After all, I took a bunch of photos of this Skyline hardtop, so I now have to accompany those juicy pics with some dry prose, right?
The fundamental identity of the Skyline is as a RWD sports saloon, though other variants were always in the range. One constant was the wagon: from the first to the seventh generation, all Skylines were available as one – that stopped with the eighth generation (R32), for whatever reason. Coupés appeared with the third generation (C10) and stayed on for the duration. And then, there were the “experiments.” The R30 introduced a strange fastback sedan, which disappeared with the R31. But the R31 was available as a pillared saloon and, for the first and only time, as a four-door hardtop. That’s the R31 variant I found – which is why I was calling it “the most interesting one” in the opening paragraph.
It’s a genuine hardtop, by the way. Japan’s faux-hardtop era came a bit later, in the ‘90s. I’m just adding the above photo, which I found on the web, of a Skyline hardtop with its windows lowered to prove it – seems a number of CC readers are under the impression that real hardtop sedans died out in the ‘70s, but they certainly lasted much longer than that over in Japan, though they did eventually make ones with pillars.
The R31 was the Skyline’s great return to 6-cyl. performance engines. Since the Prince days back in the ‘60s, the Skyline always straddled the big four / small six borderline. Lower trim cars and wagons made do with 4-cyl. engines, fancier coupés and saloons got the 2-litre 6-cyl. status symbol. But with the R30 (1981-96) generation, the 4-cyl. RS was the top dog: its FJ20ET engine had four valves per cylinder, a turbocharger and an equivalent displacement compared to the six, but produced 50hp more.
But for the R31, the 4-cyl. reverted to being the lowest rung on the ladder – it was a 1.8 litre 90hp block, nothing fancy at all. That’s because a completely new RB series 6-cyl. was given to the Skyline. In Japan, the 6-cyl. was only available in 2-litre form in various states of tune – with either single or double OHC and optional turbo, but in other markets, a 157hp SOHC 3-litre version was available.
By “other markets,” I chiefly mean Australia. Chiefly, but not only: almost 30,000 Skyline saloons were assembled in South Africa (above) from 1987 to 1992, including some with the 3-litre engine. But the Australian assembly line was the more important one. Australia got the saloon and the wagon, but not the hardtop nor the coupé. However, the term “Skyline” was reserved for the 6-cyl. versions – the 4-cyl. cars were badged as Pintaras.
The Pintara was therefore a lesser sort of Nissan, a junior sibling, for Australian clients in a way that the 4-cyl. Skylines never were in Japan or other markets. I’m not sure how this helped Nissan in any way to sell more cars. And to add more confusion and further debase the name, the Pintara switched over to being the Ozzie version of the FWD Nissan Bluebird U12 in 1989.
To top it all off, Nissan Australia decided that the Japanese Skyline’s IRS was too much trouble and/or expense and replaced it with a live axle. So the Ozzie Skyline (not to mention the Pintara) were really cut-rate versions of the real thing. No turbo, no hardtop, no IRS. Even the South African cars had the IRS. Nissan’s Australian customers could not have nice things.
What we have here is the polar opposite, then. This is a facelift car (post august 1987) with the headlamps similar to the coupé’s, giving this car a more refined look than the foreign-made Skylines of the same vintage. And behind this enigmatic face, in the engine bay, lies a turbocharged 24-valve straight-6 churning out 190hp and sending all that to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual. You know, like a Skyline should.
That’s not to say that the R31 is all that exciting to me. It isn’t. Too squarish, too ‘80s for me. For the more modern Skylines, I actually prefer the R32, from an esthetic point of view. It has the same engine as the R31, but just looks a lot better.
However, I have to recognize that the R30 and R31 (they’re usually paired with each other, though they are somewhat different) Skylines have a very dedicated following here. They even have a monthly magazine just for these in this country. So obviously, I’m in a minority. As a European in Asia, I’m used to it. But hey, at least it’s not a bloody Pintara.
Curbside Capsule: 1986-90 Nissan Pintara/Skyline – The Boxes Enter The Ring, by William Stopford
CC Capsule: Well-Traveled Wagons On The Street Less Traveled, by William Stopford