Curbside Classic: 1998 Nissan Skyline (R34) 25GT-t – End Of The (Sky)Line

It was great while it lasted – and to be fair, it lasted a very long time. Just a few years shy of four decades. From the mid-‘60s to the first years of the naughties, the Skyline always stood for something consistent. There was a gradual evolution over the generations of course, but the essence of the breed was recognizably preserved. After the R34, things would change.

First, a word about the scene, as for once I found this Nissan in a far more interesting setting than the usual parking lot. It was really a case of come in for the temple, stay for the Skyline. I was near Asakusa, which is another massive temple complex near Ueno, when I chanced upon this one. It’s called Honzan Higashi Honganji and it was first erected (in wood) about 400 years ago. After a Pythonesque series of fires, earthquakes, collapses and sinking into the swamp, it was finally rebuilt in concrete in 1939. Quite a sight.

And that R34 saloon is a looker too! So a bit of unscheduled Nissan worship took place, with the Shin Buddhist stuff definitely taking a backdrop role. Such is the nature of CC hunting: you sort of happen upon finds even as you’re focusing something else. There are still a fair amount of R34s about, both the saloon and the coupé, but the art lies in finding the right car at the right time.

Skylines are particularly prone to have some pretty extensive mods, especially of the boy-drifter sort. This one seemed pretty much stock and it had the added bonus of being a very early car: the two-digit license plate classification number makes this an early 1999 model at most – likelier a ‘98. The R34 was launched in March of that year, at a time when Nissan were on the brink of bankruptcy. But even a mortally wounded conglomerate can hit it out of the park. Or at least out of the temple grounds.

Since the very first Skyline, back in 1957, the model was defined as a sporty saloon, although the second generation (S50, 1963-68) was the one that really started putting more of an emphasis on performance through the fitting of a Prince straight-6 under the hood and taking the result to a racetrack. The die was cast and the Skyline became a fixture of the Japanese automotive landscape or the remainder of the century.

Other key Skyline features, such as the 2-door variant, the GT-R and the quad taillights, came with the third generation (C10, 1968-72) – the first one to wear the Nissan badge. And to be fair, those traits lasted beyond the R34, but the straight-6 did not. And that is a pretty big deal. In this Skyline generation, just like the R33, engine options included a base-level 2-litre and several variations of the 2.5 litre RB, including the 280hp turbocharged NEO variant that ultimately made its way in the R34 circa 1999. Our CC being an early R34, it probably has the older 250hp RB25 – plenty to work and play with.

Another rather big deal is Murayama. This historic Tokyo factory, originally built by Prince, was the source of Skyline production since 1962. Our feature car was made there, but when Renault took control of Nissan in 1999, Murayama found itself on the chopping block. The last Skyline rolled off the assembly line in September 2000 and the factory was shut down, bulldozed and the land sold to developers.

The Renault influence was on full display when the V35 Skyline saloon was launched in late 2001 – about a year ahead of schedule. The styling was developed by Porsche, the engine became a V6 and the exclusivity went out the window as the same car was sold on international markets as the Infiniti G35. To soften the blow, Nissan kept the R34 coupé in production for another 15 months, including the fire-breathing GT-R.

This late model R34 coupé is not a GT-R, it’s just here to illustrate this two-door variant’s appearance a bit. The R33 coupé had been criticized in its only major market due to its bulk – which, compared to the R32, had been pretty stark. The R34 was right-sized, with a reduced front overhang, tighter wheelbase and less overall length compared to its immediate predecessor.

There are plenty of differences between a standard GT and a GT-R, so the GT-R is considered by many as a separate model, though it only became a truly separate model with the next generation of Skyline – another reason why the R34 is now seen as the last of a certain breed.

Here is an actual GT-R, one of the 11,500 made between 1999 and 2002. If and when I catch a decent example in the wild, CC will get a look at one in detail. These were and still are extremely sought after sports cars – probably the best one Nissan ever made before the Renault era.

The R34 GT-R came with a host of differences from the standard-issue R34 Coupé, but the most notable would have been the turbocharged 2.6 litre engine mated to a Getrag 6-speed manual. The engine output was advertised as 280hp nominally, but in actual fact and in certain rates of tune could be closer to 330hp. So more on those special R34s if and when the CC Tokyo trawler manages to net a nice one.

Symbols, according to George Carlin, are for the symbol-minded. Point taken, but this particular one festooned the flanks of Skylines since the Prince era, so this little GT emblem carried some sense of tradition. Both the R34 saloon and the coupé wore it, but the subsequent generation didn’t bother. Some signs don’t lie.

Due in part to its shortened production span and to the general disarray within Nissan at the time, the R34 was sold in markedly fewer numbers than any Skyline except the very first generation. Including the aforementioned GT-Rs, Nissan produced just under 65,000 units of the R34. By comparison, they sold almost 300,000 R32 saloons and coupés, and well over 200,000 of the R33s.

Yet the R34 remains extremely popular and can be seen frequently in traffic in this country. This may not last too long, as the potentially giant Skyline R34 market that is the USA is still not able to start vaccuming these up under the 25-year rule, but that date is fast approaching. The GT-Rs will be the first to go, but eventually even the more modest early turbo saloons such as our feature car will be sought after by Skyline lovers everywhere. Because there aren’t all that many, because it’s pretty awesome and because it’s the last of the true Skylines, the R34’s profile is only going to improve with time.

With this post, all the classic Skyline generations (except the first one, but those are very rare), plus the related 1996-2001 Stagea wagon, have now had their day on CC. I’ll continue writing up the nicer ones I can find – I have a fine C210 in store, for instance – but I just wanted to wave the CChequered flag on this famous nameplate. The Gloria, the Cedric and the Crown might follow in due course, if my luck holds up.


——- T87’s Skyline Collection ——-

Gen 1 (AL/BL/L20)  –  Gen 2 (S50)  –  Gen 3 (C10)  –  Gen 4 (C110)  –  Gen 5 (C210)

Gen 6 (R30)  –  Gen 7 (R31)  –  Gen 8 (R32)  –  Gen 9 (R33)  –  Gen 10 (R34)  –  Stagea (WC34)