PROJECT B: Owning a classic car in Japan, Part 01 — The Search

Prince Skyline GT-B in Tokyo - GR21-870

Welcome to a new multi-part series on JNC, in which we document what it’s like to buy, register, and own a classic car in Japan. The car in question is a Prince Skyline GT-B, the car that started the Skyline Legend, owned by our friend Ken Lee, but not that Ken Lee, who lives in Tokyo. — Ben

My interest for classic cars began while hanging out with some friends and going out together on haikyo excursions across Japan. During these trips, I noticed that one particular friend, in addition to taking photographs of haikyo, had a thing for shooting the many old cars – noticeably classic cars of style — that we often came across. On our drives he would give me the lowdown on these cars and my interest was piqued. 

Prince Skyline GT-B & Honda S800- GR1-253s

Eventually, he purchased a Honda S800 Coupe, and was kind enough to walk me through process of car repair and take me along to classic car events — of which there are many in Japan! The turning point was when a group of friends went down to Hakone, in a rented AE86 and Hakosuka Skyline.

AE86 & Hakosuka - GR21-741

We toured the hills of Hakone, one of the birthplaces of drifting, and I fell in love with the feel of driving an old car, particularly the sensation of being in control. It wasn’t some modern, appliance-like device that only resembled a car in that it had doors and wheels. I decided that one day, I too would own a classic car.

Isuzu 117 - GR1-929

I started off surfing on Goo-Net and Car Sensor and dreaming of this car or that. I’m sure you all know how that feels! At first, I looked at foreign classics such as the Sunbeam Tiger or Porsche 911, but as we visited different shops around Tokyo, it was often apparent the owners of these shops were more interested in showing us their private collections than selling the cars in them.

Toyota 2000GT - GR1-567

We quickly realized too the prices for these cars were at levels that were more than I wanted to pay. This is when we began to look at under-valued Japanese domestic classics like the handmade Isuzu 117 Coupe, Bellett Type-R, or the sexy Cosmo Sports. We even considered, before they were million dollar cars, restoring a Toyota 2000GT. Fortunately, common sense prevailed.

While visiting one of the many shops in and around Tokyo we ran across a few Prince Skyline GT-A and GT-B. These cars really grabbed my attention, as they looked like normal sedans on the outside, but was packed with glorious inline 6-cylinder engines under the hood. I was hooked.

Prince Skyline GT-B - GR21-240Prince Skyline GT-B - GR21-820

Curiously too, I was surprised to see I had photographed a few Prince GT previously, before I was really aware of their history or role in Japanese motorsports. This began a long process of learning the great history of the Prince Motor Company and how these cars were the start of what would become the Nissan GT-R brand today.

Prince Skyline GT-B & Honda S800- GR1-341s

Now that I had the type of car in mind, the hunt began in Japan. Skorj and I visited shops all over Tokyo and the Kanto plain. We quickly learned a lot of the cars for sale were overpriced, or that they weren’t in the best of condition. Many JNCers have written nightmare stories about JDM cars purchased for export, only to find their condition not as expected. In many cases, we found this to be all too true.

Prince Skyline GT-B & Honda S800 - GR21-909

As best as I can figure, the business for the shops from whence poorly restored cars come is to sell you a mediocre car and then have you come back for repairs for the duration of your ownership. As such, these shops will do just enough to get the car on the road. Then it’s up to you to pony up for repairs or take the time to fix it yourself.

There are certainly high quality classics available, built to world standards, but these are almost entirely for sale through a very close network of friends and club contacts.

Prince Skyline GT-B GT-II - GR1-889s

After months of research, looking at a string of cars within Japan, and endless frustration, I remembered reading somewhere about the Prince Skylines being sold overseas. A very small number, around 300, were sold outside of Japan, in Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.

Prince Skyline GT-B - GR1-240s

I decided to look Down Under, and the first hit I got on Google was a blue Prince Skyline GT-B in northern Australia. The price was right, but it had been on the web for a few months so I thought it was a long shot. To my surprise, it was still available, and after many calls with the owner and detailed pictures of the car, I decided to go for it. Then the process of getting the car back to Japanese soil began. To be continued…

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17 Responses to PROJECT B: Owning a classic car in Japan, Part 01 — The Search

  1. Nigel said:

    Great story, and most (all) of us are now very interested in part two.

  2. Toyotageek said:

    Excellent story, and looking forward to part 2.

    But that’s funny…. living in Japan, but buying your car from Australia… who’d of ever thought that was the way to go.

  3. Bart said:

    Cool story. Interesting how the Isuzus are under-valued over there as well as over here. Hit me up if you ever run into an Isuzu Unicab for sale over there!!

    • Tokyo-2u said:

      The Unicab is very rare to find, I know where there is a mint one sitting in a warehouse that belongs to a friend of mine. He would want big money for it though, he has many cars just sitting around. I will be seeing him in a couple of weeks when I go to pick up a 510 Bluebird near his house. I am located in Sendai – Muyagi

  4. Sounds like a fun story.

  5. Moominsean said:

    Good stuff! Too bad we can’t get all three cars together for a drive…

    • Skorj said:

      That would be pretty neat; GT-B, Hako, and Hachi out at Hakone again. Usui touge would be great as well! I would even slow down through the corners, so you could both catch up…

      • Artsyken said:

        I would even slow down through the corners, so you could both catch up…

        Ha! Very true!!! But it would be cool indeed for all of us to go for another drive!!

  6. Serg said:

    Yeah, we have a very small following down here for the early early JNCs – Celicas, Zs, and the Datsun ilk are quite popular but the earlier models are pretty niche. Lots of demand for exporting K series skylines to the middle east though, those and the Toyotas seem to be very popular as they’re almost indestructible mechanically. I know a guy with a Prince, a Cedric and a limited option pack Fairlady of some description, all running just hidden away…

  7. Adam said:

    I humbly demand part 2 be posted ASAP. Pretty please.

  8. damagedduck said:

    More…………Please!

  9. A. Mans said:

    Curious, how much would a 55 Chevy two door restored sell for in Tokyo Japan?

  10. A. Mans said:

    How much can I sell a newly rebuilt 55 Chevy two door for in Japan?

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