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Nissan Skyline GT-R Legacy: The Beginning Is Probably Not What You Thought

Godzilla as we know it today was once very different.

It originally wasn’t even a Nissan, nor did it even remotely resemble what’s known now as Godzilla. The story of the Nissan GT-R, or the Skyline GT-R elsewhere, is something that every gearhead needs to know. Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) enthusiasts often consider the Skyline GT-R series to be the greatest performance machines to have ever come out of Japan. It’s kind of hard to dispute that. If you worked for the Prince Motor Company in the late 1950s, you’d be shocked to see what the car is now.

That’s because the original Skyline was launched in 1957 as a luxury car and it wasn’t all that powerful. With a 1.5-liter engine with just 60 hp under its hood, it had a top speed of only 87 mph and weighed around 2,900 lbs. What’s more, it wasn’t even available as a coupe with only four-door sedans and five-door wagons on offer. It wasn’t until the early 60s when the first Skyline coupe and convertible appeared. Styling, as was common back then, was inspired by Americans cars, that time by the Oldsmobile 88. An updated Prince Skyline came to market in 1963 and this was when things began to drift towards the performance realm.

The S50 series, once again built only as a sedan and wagon, was shorter than before and was even sold in a few European markets. By 1964 it was already being aimed at competition such as the Datsun Bluebird and Toyota Corona when Prince launched the GT Skyline. In order for it to accommodate an inline-six, its wheelbase was expanded. But wait…why an inline-six? Because Prince wanted to race the car in the GT-II class of the Japanese Grand Prix where it won second through sixth place. And the public responded in kind to that success. The Prince Skyline 2000GT was launched and its performance credentials were officially born.

At around that same time, in 1966 to be precise, Prince and Nissan merged into a single company. Nissan opted to keep the Skyline name but instead of its luxury car origins, it decided to focus on its newfound performance creds. Before Nissan completely took over the Skyline’s development, Prince released an updated car in 1967 with a new engine of its own design. In fact, it was the most powerful 1.5-liter engine in the Japanese 1500 cc racing class, rated at 87 hp. But in 1968, Nissan launched a redesigned Skyline that has truly become a classic. The following year was when the first Skyline GT-R hit the market. The sedan was powered by a new 2.0-liter inline-six with 160 hp and in the 1970 a coupe version launched.

Both were successful race cars and between them, achieved 83 victories by 1972. The car to end the GT-R’s winning streak was the then new Mazda RX-3. That same year, a redesigned Skyline hit the market, and was sold outside of Japan as the Datsun K-Series. Like before, buyers could choose between a sedan, coupe, or five-door wagon body styles. A Skyline GT-R debuted that year as well, but was discontinued in 1973 in the wake of the oil crisis. In fact, Nissan quit motor racing entirely that year so there was no point in keeping the GT-R around; just 197 examples were sold in Japan. Thus began the Skyline GT-R’s 16-year-long production absence.

Beginning the early 1980s, however, Nissan began to slowly bring back performance with the R30 Skyline generation, most notably with the Paul Newman Version. It was released to commemorate the relationship between Nissan and the iconic actor who began racing for the automaker in late 70s. The Newman car, however, wasn’t a true performance vehicle. That’s because it was nothing more than a top trim level with unique embroidery and decals. But during the 80s, Nissan continued to improve the Skyline lineup in terms of tech and features. It even became the company’s flagship model. But the R30 did more for the Skyline nameplate than many realize.

For example, Japanese drag racers loved it and it kicked some serious ass in Australian touring car racing. Nissan took notice of the Skyline’s cult status among racing people, and figured the time was right for a proper factory-spec GT-R revival. That happened with the R31, launched in 1985. The real standout here was the GTS-R, powered by a turbocharged inline-six with 210 hp. Only 800 examples were built due to homologation rules for Group A touring car racing. And so Nissan realized that, once again, it had something special. The R31 was a far cry from that luxury sedan some 30 years prior. But now it was time to look ahead, and in 1989 the so-called modern era of the Nissan GT-R officially began with the R32.

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