Hakosuka. What more can you say.
We all know that’s it’s cool and we all definitely want one….but what IS a C10 GT-R, and where did it come from? That’s a good question for a great many Skyline fans. For every 1000 guys who would gladly sell some internal organs to own one, there’s maybe only one guy who might be able to tell you anything meaningful about it.
So let’s change that right now. GrandJDM readers, welcome to the Cliff Notes on our favourite car, the C10 Skyline 2000GT-R.
Firstly Skyline started out as the Prince Skyline. Prince was a car-maker that started in 1952, from the bones of an aviation industry outfit that manufactured Zero fighter planes during WW2 (cool!). By Japanese standards, Prince made premium vehicles, with their big-sized car being the Gloria, and their middle-sized car was the Skyline. Run by real enthusiasts, they perhaps spent a little bit too much money going racing (like rallying its Gloria sedan in Europe in the 50s, to the left). In the 1960’s the Japanese government played matchmaker, making recommendations to businesses in all kinds of industries to make strategic mergers. The purpose was to combine complemantary businesses to increase industry power on a global level. At this time, many of the mergers that took place were actually “suggested” by the government, and such strong hints were supplemented by cheap loans of government money. One such arranged marriage was proposed to Nissan and Prince, which wisely accepted the kind offer and they merged in January 1966.
In the early 60s in Japan, touring car racing was all about the larger sedans like the Crown, Cedric and Gloria. The smaller sedans were more nimble of course, but the bigger saloons with their six cylinder engines were more suited to the long, high speed circuits.
In 1964, Prince’s chief engineer, Dr Sakurai, realised that shoehorning the six cylinder Gloria engine into their medium sized Skyline might just be a good idea for racing success, and so their skunkworks began to add length to the 4-cyl S50 Skyline’s nose (by no less than 8 inches, giving the car ungainly, cigarette proportions….check out the white one below) to make the necessary room for the Gloria’s six-cylinder mill. The result was the S54 Prince Skyline GT and it was an immediate racing success, pushing aside its lumbering full-size rivals on the racetrack. So in a very spiritual sense, the Prince Skyline was Japan’s muscle car and when Nissan took over the company in 1966 it did not mess with the formula.
While Nissan continued to produce Prince cars for a few years after the merger, the very first Skyline brought to life under Nissan’s watch is the C10, debuting in September 1968. Although considered a mid-sized sedan in its day, by modern standards, it is pretty small. Compared to say a current-model Mazda3, it is slightly shorter, 10cm narrower and with exactly the same 2640mm wheelbase. Powerplant options ranged from a 95ps 1.5L four-banger to a 120ps 2.0L six.
At the time, Prince’s dominant rivals on the track were the Toyota 1600GT5 Corona and the Isuzu Bellet GT-R. Both good cars, and so Nissan would have to raise its game if it was to continue the S54B Skyline’s winning ways. For a solution, Nissan looked to Prince’s past. When more performance was needed for the S54B Skyline, the solution had been in the form of an engine from a bigger sedan. So Nissan took that idea and kicked it up a notch. The C10 Skyline would get nothing less than a racing engine.
One of the financial follies of the Prince guys were an addiction to purebred racing cars. One of the most notable road-racing cars of the early 60s was the Porsche 904. It was low, sleek, lightweight, with a fibreglass body and had a twin cam flat four mid mounted to make it one of the winningest packages in any setting in that era, whether it was the Targa Florio road rally or Le Mans. Porsche (then and now) was more than willing to subsidise its own racing budget by selling racing cars to customers, so the 904 went into the hands of eager privateer racers all over the world.
Help! There’s a Porsche chasing me
When Prince debuted the S54 Skyline GT, it was at the Japan Grand Prix at Suzuka in 1964. And unfortunately for Prince, while the Skyline GTs performed extremely well and trounced its local rivals (as expected), there was also a privateer Porsche 904 present that the Skylines simply could not match. The S54 did pretty well, even leading the race outright for a while, making an incongruous sight as the tall and narrow Skyline leaned its way around the corners, all the while the waist-height Porsche was sniffing around just behind (pic above). And while a clear touring car class win was all that the Prince guys could have asked for, the Porsche made an impression on Sakurai-san, and they immediately started work on a purebred racing car of their own.
4dr PGC10 and its spiritual ancestor the Prince R380 behind
This would be the Prince R380, a lightweight, mid engined racer that bore more than a passing resemblance to a Porsche 904. Prince would however, stick by the G-series six cylinder Skyline 2.0L powerplant, adding a DOHC, four valve racing cylinder head to raise power from the Skyline’s 130ps to more like 220ps. This new engine was named GR8. Now the R380 racer is a pretty interesting car in its own right and so we will cover it separately in the near future, but the important contribution of the R380 was its engine.
Because in 1969, Nissan would install a version of the GR8 racing six into the Skyline sedan as its touring car weapon. Now re-named as S20, this special version of the Skyline four-door sedan was coded PGC10, or Skyline 2000GT-R. Still sporting a DOHC, 4valve head (at the time even Ferraris and Lamborghinis were only 2valve) the roadcar version sported triple Mikuni carbs and was detuned to 160ps at 7000rpm. Weighing 1120kg, it was enough to imbue the upright sedan with a 16.1s quarter mile performance and a 200km/h top speed. It had a 5 speed gearbox and clutch-type LSD, steering was by recirculating ball, front suspension was by MacPherson Strut, and rear suspension was by subframe-mounted semi trailing arms (very similar to a 510 in other words). Brakes were discs up front (but with small diameter, unvented discs and single piston calipers) and drums out back.
In outright terms, the roadcar GT-R had very good performance in its day, but it was by no means the fastest car you could buy in Japan. In stock form, Nissan’s own Fairlady 2000 roadster was quicker (15.6 qtr mile) and so was the Toyota 2000GT (15.9 qtr mile). But in racing terms of course the motor had already been developed to 240ps so the racecar would be a different kettle of fish entirely.
Such race-bred sophistication didn’t come cheap however, and the GT-R version retailed with a ¥1.5M sticker, which was rather a lot more than the regular 2000GT Skyline which sold for ¥0.8M.
Its first race was in May 1969 at the hugely fast Fuji raceway (which in those days had a wickedly quick, long banked corner leading off the pit straight). Its main competition that day would be the Toyota Corona 1600GT5, which was a twin cammed 2 valve 1.6L four which, in road trim, put out 110ps. Somewhat outgunned by the GT-R on the road, and so the race would prove, the GT-Rs coming home 1st and 2nd, lapping the poor Corona (yellow and red cars below) on the way to the chequered flag.
The GT-R was so far ahead of everything else that it would go on to dominate its class absolutely. Other fast cars like the Fairlady 2000 roadster, the z432 version of the 240Z (also with the S20 motor) and the Toyota 2000GT were sports cars and so weren’t eligible for touring car racing. From May 1969 to January 1971, the PGC10 Skyline GT-R sedan would win every race it entered. Occasionally it would be beaten to the flag by a Z432 or say a Porsche 906 but they would be in different classes and so, the GT-R would still claim victory in the touring-car class.
Familia has the grunt but fails to match GT-R in the corners
In April 1970 at Fuji the Mazda Familia Rotary (returning from a successful stint in Europe) would give the Skylines a fright but GT-R would still come in 1st and 2nd. By January 1970, the 4dr Skyline GT-R would have amassed an unbroken winning streak of 36 wins. The opposition was simply nowhere, with no answer to the Skyline steamroller. The Mazda Familias could match the Skylines on power, but not on handling. Toyota was still campaigning its Corona and Isuzu the Bellet GT-R but collectively they were nowhere.
So if you were racing a Toyota, Isuzu or a Mazda, then in March of 1971, there was worse to come!
The two door Skyline Hardtop was introduced, and the S20 installed into its engine bay. The roadcar was still called Skyline 2000GT-R but the model code for the 2dr was KPGC10. While the hardtop was 20kg lighter than the sedan, more importantly its wheelbase was 7cm shorter for nimbler handling and better balance…..and so the unassailable position of the PGC10 now got a little more unassailable.
By this point, the Skyline had touched a nerve with the Japanese people. Newspapers would track the progress of the race cars and the sports pages would lead with headlines of how many victories the Skyline winning streak was up to that week. In a time when Japanese society had finally shrugged off the rubble of WW2 and had started to look forward to building a bright new future with optimism, the Hakosuka was the hero car to end all hero cars.
Kunimitsu Takahashi….old school drift king with his trademark attacking style
7th March 1971. The debut of the KPGC10 Hardtop. Suzuka circuit. Fifth outright, behind four S30Zs (two of which were Z432s) and a Porsche 910. 37th straight win. 23rd May 1971 Fuji circuit. GT-Rs 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th. 43rd straight win. 18th July 1971. Fuji 1000km. GT-Rs 1st and 2nd, a Mazda RX2 Capella 3rd. 45th straight win. 10th October 1971. Fuji Circuit. GT-Rs 1st and 2nd, a Mazda RX2 Capella 3rd. 49th straight win.
10th October 1971. Starting grid for 1971 Fuji 250km. GT-Rs on P1, P2 and P3, an RX2 Capella on the front row, but the one to look out for in the future will be the striped RX3 in the second row.
And then we head to the Fuji Tourist Trophy, 12th December 1971. Mazda gets its act together. It’s a story we have recounted before (here) but it’s a torrid day for the Skylines. Crashes and reliability issues thin the Skyline ranks, allowing Mazda to sneak its newly released RX3 Savanna into contention for the lead. The leading Skyline of Kubota/Sugizaki breaks a steering arm, the Mazda RX3 takes the lead while the stricken GT-R is being fixed in the pitlane.
Kamo RX3 dicing with the Kubota GT-R for the lead
Since we wrote that original Mazda article we’ve been lucky enough to find some old racing footage of that fateful race. The day is clear and bright, and all of the cars are lined up in a neat row along the pit wall, the drivers poised in a runner’s crouch across the other side of the track, ready for a classic Le Mans start. The flag drops, drivers sprint across the track, dive into their cars and stumble down the track, doing up belts, accelerating and gearchanging all at the same time. First lap, it’s RX2, GT-R, RX2, GT-R, GT-R, GT-R and RX3. But soon it’s the #6 GT-R of Kubota/Sugizaki in a clear lead for the great majority of the race.
Then suddenly, on lap 130, smoke billows out of the #6 Skyline. The right front is hanging off at a crazy angle, Kubota screams into the pit lane trailing a massive cloud of tyre smoke, with the GT-R pitched at an odd angle, finally coming to a halt in its pit bay, with the right front corner on the deck and the left rear a clear 2 inches off the tarmac. Mechanics frantically grab at the wheelarches to lift the nose off the ground, people are swarming out of the pit garage, people are pushing on the roof rails, the windows, anything…to pitch the Skyline up far enough to get a jack under the sills.
The mechanics swarm all around and under the stricken #6 car, in front of the car is a mob of photographers four or five deep, and standing dejectedly in the pit garage is Kubota, with hands in his pockets, with a look that says that he knows its all over. Then suddenly, it’s fixed! He jumps into the driver’s seat, drops the clutch, and in the days before pit lane speed limits, drops the hammer, and is well into 4th gear by the time he passes the last pit garage and rejoins the track! But it’s too late. Mazda rotary wins, and the Skyline’s winning streak will forever be stuck at 49.
20th March 1972. Unfinished Business. Fuji raceway again, the spiritual home of the C10 GT-R (home to 21 of the Skyline’s 49 wins at this stage). As race day dawns, a sudden wind blows and blue skies turn to grey. Rainstorm. Mechanics roll jacks and tyres out to swap slicks for deep treaded wets. The wind and rain is blowing so strongly, all of the grandstands are empty, the spectators having abandoned them for shelter. On the grid it’s Skylines on pole and second, with Toyota’s new Celica 1600GT (with the new 2TG DOHC mill) in 3rd spot. As the flag drops, the field wheelspins away in front of deserted, but drenched, bleachers.
The rain is so bad that the TV cameras can hardly see 200m away. As the cars spear flat-out through the banking, every car leads a rooster-tail of rainspray 20ft tall, and the front tyres ride a bow-wave of water waist-high. You really can’t see anything, but the the acoustics are unmistakeable, each ball of spray being accompanied by either the Skyline bellow or the high pitched Mazda wail. As the race wears on, there are spins and crashes. Yellow flags are waved as the circuit ambulance goes out to a crash scene yet again. Cars are spinning out on the straight and clobbering the pit wall. But in the end it’s the Skyline of Kunimitsu Takahashi that crosses the line first.
The Skyline may not have 50 straight wins, but it’s a 50th win just the same, at the GT-R’s spiritual home of Fuji, a win that had to be fought tooth and nail against the elements. A worthy win for a hero car.
So what was the C10 GT-R. Was it a fast car? Well it certainly was respectable in its day, but the stock roadcar (with its 16.1s qtr mile) was hardly the all-conquering supercar that legend would suggest. Nissan itself made faster roadcars at the time. Was it a great handling car? Well it’s chassis is simple and effective but to be truthful, it would have no more handling potential than a 510, which shares its suspension layout. Was it a great racecar? Ahh yes well it certainly was very successful. It can be argued however that in its reign from 1969 to 1972, it didn’t have much competition, and when it shared the track with sports cars from the non-touring class, the 240Z and Z432 would often prove to be faster. And the C10 was never raced outside of Japan so we will never know how it would have compared against European touring cars of the same era like the Ford Capri V6 or BMW CSL.
Would the C10 have won that fateful 50th straight win at Fuji if it weren’t for suspension failure? Yes, most probably. The Skyline winning streak was cut short at 49 by mechanical misfortune but racing is racing and that could have happened easily at any time in the three years and 49 races (across several classes and various championships) when the C10 was at the top of its game. So for the Skyline to be unbeaten for so long is quite an astonishing achievement. Add that racing record to a bodyshape that looked just like the 1.5L Skyline family car that your Dad would probably buy, and you have the classic recipe for a hero car that anyone would relate to…even people who might not even like cars. By the way the young guy on the left is Motoharu Kurosawa, one of Nissan’s main GT-R drivers of that era (yes that’s right, Gan-san from Best Motoring).
Nissan has certainly held the nameplate in such high regard that it has reserved it for its very fastest cars, and from 1974 to 1989, admirably withheld the GT-R badge when it didn’t have a car worthy of the name.
The legend might be a little bit bigger than the reality, but hey, it always is. And yeah, I still want one.
And I’m willing to bet that you do, too.
And here’s some Youtubes!