About a month ago, I made the decision: I’d sell my 1970 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT.
This wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind, but unlike all those other occasions, this time it felt right.
The car’s been part of my daily routine for 12 years. Even if I wasn’t driving it, my days would always start and end on a good note because I’d get to see it crouching in the garage. And when we drove it, we drove it a lot. Of all the cars I’ve ever owned, this is the one I’ve put the most miles on.
The C10 Skyline range came out in Japan in 1968, with the first 2000 GT-R coupe version arriving a couple of years later and quickly making a name for itself. Fifty years on, genuine GT-Rs with their S20 engines and racing pedigree have become extremely valuable, but just as much of the Hakosuka story belongs to the other Skyline models that regular people bought.
There were sedans, coupes and station wagons, and the range would start with four cylinders, drum brakes, and solid axles for police cars and taxis. At the top of the range were the glamorous GT coupes and sedans, with twin-carburetted straight-six engines, 5-speed transmissions, disc brakes, and all-round independent suspension. A Skyline GT cost ¥700,000 at a time when a family-spec Toyota Corona was ¥500,000 yen.
Nissan marketed the Skyline masterfully. Practicality was king in Japan at the end of the 1960s, and car commercials would often show moms putting kids into the back of a sedan. But Skyline commercials would have a lantern-jawed young man, donning driving gloves to go pick up his date. Skylines were less about families and more about sex, a premium small car that was the same price as a big sedan.
And when Nissan went racing with the 2000 GT-R, it won every race it entered for three years. Off the back of this, Nissan’s marketing hinted at the fact the car wasn’t for everyone – only seasoned drivers and real men.
That only made everyone want a Skyline more, and in its debut year, the C10 was a commercial hit, tripling the sales records of the previous Skyline. If you’d like to witness some charmingly masculine ’60s JDM advertising, check out this clip.
Later in the C10’s production, the flame-spitting GT-R racing coupes brought something special to the entire Skyline range – even the four-banger base models. The C10 story isn’t just about the GT-R, and like the first Ford Mustang is to Americans, today even Japanese people who don’t like cars seem to know what a Hakosuka Skyline is.Owning An Icon
My car started life as a 2000 GT coupe, born with a 105hp, single-cam straight-six engine and 4-speed transmission. While it was pretty boss ride for the day, it missed out on options like twin carbs, aircon, power windows and power steering, which were reserved for the plush 2000 GT-X edition.
Somewhere along the line in Japan, it was hot-rodded with GT-R-type spoilers and over-fenders, repainted in signature silver, fitted with a 2.7L straight-six and wide RS Watanabe wheels, and given a nice slam. Many non-GT-R Hakosukas were upgraded in a similar way, and today it’s much harder to find a stock-bodied C10 coupe than it is a GT-R look-a-like.
Like many older cars, decades later my car fell into a cycle of disrepair and restoration. By 2004 it had gotten the better of its last Japanese custodian, who stored it away in a partially deconstructed state, and it would never drive again on Japanese soil. I came along in 2007 to inherit the project, but it wasn’t until 2009 that I had it running and driving, and I’ve been restoring it ever since.
Okay, cool story, but what’s it like to drive?
If you’ve driven a 240Z, then a lot will be familiar. Behind the wheel, it’s easy to imagine yourself as the dashing Hakosuka commercial guy as you survey the dash full of gauges (it wouldn’t be a 1960s GT without them), the chunky dished steering wheel and the vintage ergonomics, like the big toggle switches for the wipers and washers.
The driving position is very period, in that you’re laid back with that classic ’60s straight-arm position where the steering wheel is a little too far away. All the major controls, like the clutch and steering have a lot of heft. Once you’re moving, the steering lightens up but always takes some effort.
The gearshift is awesome; it has just the right amount of resistance, a nice mechanical feel, and well defined, clicky slots. Its brakes are fine on a winding road or track, but like most old cars, it’s in city driving that you discover the limitations. When traffic suddenly stops, you can’t be shy with the brake pedal.
The brakes might take some getting used to, but the handling is a pleasant surprise to everyone who’s driven it. Struts at the front, and semi-trailing arms at the back with a 2-way LSD, it’s a very modern-feeling setup for a ’60s car, just like a BMW 2002.
The steering is heavy because the ratio is quick, so not like old cars where you’re constantly winding the steering wheel. Thread a Hakosuka down a winding road and there is a little bit of mid-corner understeer, and just like a well set up 240Z, the nose lightens and it goes into a slight tail-out stance as you feed in the power. As is common with performance cars of the same era, it’s always sliding a little, but there’s a lot of feedback so it never feels threatening.
But the biggest highlight of all is the engine.
The Nissan L-series is Japan’s small block Chevy; it’s big, plentiful, strong and has been developed for racing use over decades. Mine is bored out to 3.0L, with triple Webers, a big cam, big compression, big cylinder head ports, and a built bottom end.
All told, the engine is good for 250hp, and sat in a chassis that weighs in at just 1,100kg, she goes pretty good. But it’s the sound that is to die for, with that ripping-canvas shriek that only performance cars of the ’60s era seem to pull off.
So why am I selling it? Well, the short version is that after 12 years of living and breathing old Skylines, I feel like I’ve done everything there is to do, and I’m ready for the next project (don’t worry, you’ll like it).
It’s time to hand the keys to the next custodian.
Photos by Matthew Everingham