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
As mentioned South Africa only got the sedan of this Skyline series. I never knew about all these delicious varieties! I’m so jealous! The coupe has a Mazda Cosmo vibe about it and the hardtop is truly desirable. Here in SA Datsun/Nissan had a very Jekyll and Hyde character, either the cars were poorly conceived and crumbled quickly, like the Nissan Langley, or were supernaturally tough like the Datsun 1200 bakkie which was sold here virtually unchanged for 37 years! This Skyline fell into the second category. I still see them around in great original condition.
Once you see the Pintara it’s difficult not to just see the whole generation as a (equivalently boring but likely bog-reliable over here) Stanza and thus a whole era of Skyline is just ruined for me, no matter how good the rest of the real deal is. That being said the one you found does still manage to look quite low and lithe in the most appropriate color scheme.
Tatra-san, as a Skyline fan, you need to get yourself a set of the official Nissan Skyline sushi plates as seen here at the Tokyo Motor Show in the Nissan booth…each rendered in the taillight design from the various generations.
I wonder if this would have been successful in the United States? Nissan certainly had a cohesive design language then and borrowed the Ein wurst, drei grosse page from the BMW playbook. The styling looks so ’80’s dated today, possibly more so than any other ’80’s car, but it was crisp, clean, refreshing, and vaguely high tech like a stereo system with dozens of grey on grey chiclet buttons. Nothing, of course, dates faster than yesterday’s vision of THE FUTURE. You really have to have a bleach blond, new wave, geometric hairdo with a members only jacket, acid washed jeans, a hypercolour sweatshirt, and high top sneakers to drive this car.
It’s awfully close to the Maxima but apparently more powerful. No idea how this would have competed price wise. I’m assuming, for no particularly good reason, that this would have been more expensive and the Maxima was probably as expensive as most people wanted to go in a Japanese sedan. The Cressida was more expensive enough than the Maxima that the Cressida was a distant also ran in sales.
Somebody should resurrect those wheel designs.
The wheels look like aftermarket Watanabes.
Of course CC-in-scale has one of these. This Fujimi kit is the “Passage GT” rather than the GTS you found. What the difference is, I don’t know. I don’t really care either; like you, I’d prefer an R32. Or an R30, they’re nice. This is just too square, like Nissan tried to do a Volvo.
As an Aussie, the Pintara came across as a half-baked disaster. I make no apologies; it you’re a Nissan fanboi, skip the rest of this paragraph. I’d guess the name was chosen to separate it from the Skyline for some reason; for my money they’d have been better off using the Skyline name (which stood for something, even in Australia then) to lift the four upmarket. As a car to sell against the Camry though, it doesn’t take a genius to guess what happened. Speaking of the four, testers hated that CA20E engine which really wasn’t up to the job. The solid axle rear was probably due to local content regulations and sourced from Borg Warner up the road. And the styling – when the rest of the world was embracing curves, Nissan came out with this prickly box! Really an octogenarian’s car.
But I still built one.
When I was stationed in Japan back in late ’91 to late ’93, these R31 “origami” Skylines were *everywhere* on base. Mostly 2-door coupes; they were quite stylish. Very popular with Sailors in Yokosuka. Of course, I was too cheap – I bought a ’78 4-cylinder Skyline sedan (automatic, for shame) for $75.
A guy I drove milk tankers with for a couple of seasons has one of these hardtop R31s but his is a diesel RD 28 it just keeps plugging along he reckons, these cars are getting rare in NZ and originals are quite prized now most met their fate at the hands of the cap on backwards brigade being crashed at speed into imovable roadside objects they handle great in the video games I’m sure but on bumpy wet coarse chip not so much, The Pintara wasnt sold in NZ thankfully but was a fail in OZ as was its Ford badged stablemate the Corsair.
Ah yes, the magnificent R31 Nissan Skyline and Pintara, also available new here in New Zealand, and the epitome of origami.
My late Uncle bought an R31 new in 1987, a light blue Skyline 3.0 Ti sedan. It replaced his 1982 Audi 200T. Being an Aussie-built model (like all NZ-new R31s), it sported the pre-facelift nose with three segmented headlights each side, and lacked the round stovetop taillights that gave the JDM models a modicum of character.
I rode in it a couple of times, the velour interior was comfy, and it was quick and silky-smooth as the RB-series engines tend to be. The exterior didn’t excite me though – the light blue was very pretty and really suited the car, but it was too rectilinear for my taste – certainly more straight-edged than most other new cars on the Kiwi market at the time.
The one thing I really disliked about the styling was the highly visible vertical join line on the top of the rear wheel arches below the door – see image below. It looked sloppy and cheap. And I guess Nissan thought so too as it’s airbrushed out of most of their advertising images of the sedan!
Although we got the R31 sedan and wagon new, we were inundated with the JDM versions as used-imports throughout the 90s. They were everywhere for a while, but hardly any remain now. Fun fact: the JDM R31 Passage GT was available with a multi-cassette-changer in the centre armrest.
Damn, you’re dead right about that join. Worse still, that crude join frequently rusted, just to draw even more attention to it. The fit of all the panels was not good on the Aus Skylines, an especially bad thing for this design. If you’re going to make it square, then MAKE it square!
“…than a vague European lost in the vastness of Asia.”
Come now Dr T, you are being too tough on yourself. You have never come across as vague.
Nissan cast a wide net in forming the styling of the Pintara, and, having apparently caught nothing, styled it as sold (if indeed “styled” is the word, which it isn’t). Luckily, it had little effect on sales, of which they were none. Well, few, but only once it became known amongst fleet managers of the crueler type that “pintara” was an Indigenous word that they understood to mean “practically free.”
They were savaged in the local press (which is also how they were styled, come to think of it, the stamp-it-and-see-method), but as usual, the press was paid-off and therefore understating things.
Sheepishly – a word that normally precedes a story from New Zealand – I must confess to having driven a couple of these machines, and they were somewhat passable, as most of the traffic immediately demonstrated. Manual rack steering, slick five-speed, 4 wheel discs, truly excellent locally-designed seats, quite decent handling and a very good ride, it was below-standard only in the harsh and overwhelmed performance of the four, and even there the injection made at least the response a lot more civil than plenty of the carburettored opposition of the time. It was like a cut-price Volvo 240 really, though it lacked the slick styling of that car. Says it all, really, that. The turnip, sorry, Swede, was a 12 yo design when this released, and the only thing cutting-edge it had over the rotten Ovlov was the edges of the styling. (Perhaps “pintara” is actually Indigenous for “indigestible fartfest vegetableof last resort, aka turnip/swede”, but I digress).
The answer to Pintara, which is a question too rarely asked, is to buy the Skyline. The creamy six made for a properly pleasant car – if one shut one’s eyes on approaching, it each day.
There is this to be said for this sad little cul-de-sac of Nissanery (which might have been a better name): it has the distinction that as a dated and not very great car, it was replaced by a thoroughly modern design (Bluebird U12) which was substantially worse.
” The Pintara wasnt sold in NZ thankfully but was a fail in OZ as was its Ford badged stablemate the Corsair.”
The Ford Corsair – I can’t remember the last time I saw one of them on an Australian road! The Button Plan is a worthy candidate for a CC article.