There is no US city more hostile to the automobile than New York. Most of its 8.5 million residents don’t own cars. Here, they are nothing more than 3,000-pound accumulators of parking tickets and dents. Some of the city’s roads aren’t even paved. Then we go ahead take a genuine hakosuka Skyline GT-R worth at least a quarter-million dollars through this concrete jungle of jutting construction equipment, suicidal jaywalkers, and potholes so large they’re sometimes mistaken for subway entrances.
The car had just arrived from California. So had we, but on a redeye into Newark. Despite a conspicuous lack of sleep, we head straight for an transport truck idling outside the massive Jacob Javits Convention Center. A Nissan representative informs us that in a few hours the cars have to be inside the building, ready for display at one of the biggest international auto shows in the world.
The barn doors fly open and the Hako is separated from its trailer-mates, a kenmeri, three Bubble Era GT-Rs flown in straight from Nissan’s Zama warehouse in Japan, and a camouflaged R35. Most occupants in passing cars barely even look up, but a few faces burst with joy at the sight of quad taillights peeking from the trailer. It’s a moment worthy of Insta.
Turn the key. The S20 barks to life. Even in the din of clattering diesels and perpetually depressed cab horns, the Prince-Nissan straight six announces itself with authority. A throaty burble from the triple-carbureted, twin-cam multivalve reveals not a whir of modern precision, but the raw mechanical bluster of a decades-old mill borne from motorsport.
Is this what it felt like to be in the grandstands in 1972? Is this history being made? After all, it could very well mark the first time a KPGC10 has run through the streets of New York City. Godzilla’s granddaddy was never sold here, remained more or less unknown to most Americans until 10 years ago, and even now there are six, maybe seven factory hakosuka GT-Rs in the entire country.
The Hako bombs down to the Meatpacking District, where streets are still made of 150-year-old Belgian blocks. Its sport suspension jars over every brick, and semi-slicks send all available loose detritus — of which there is ample supply — pinging off the floorpan like a cooling racing exhaust. Driver-owner-friend of JNC Tom Knudsen possesses a supernatural ability to suppress his cringe reflex, apparently.
With double-parked delivery trucks and alighting taxi fares wantonly flinging yellow doors into open traffic, most streets are too narrow to safely accommodate a six-figure work of Japanese art. A courier on fixie with as much concern for road sharing as Mad Max could blaze by at any moment and take out a fender mirror with zero remorse. We find a plot of cobblestone cordoned off by take-no-shit New York construction workers and ask if we can park there for some photos. Magically, gruffness turns into smiles and orange barrels are whisked away. Cameraphones are raised. Respect for the machine.
One comes up to us and says he just saw it on Instagram and that he owns an R34. Young guy, but of course he is. The Hako is car recognized the world over by enthusiasts who, at the time Nissan was dominating Japan’s touring car races, were not yet gestating. The older crowd doesn’t know what to do with it. The badge is not a European coat of arms; it’s a marque primarily known for making the Sentra.
Still, you can’t help but notice it. In a city whose chief modes of transportation are steel underground tubes and hired cars owned by other people, any classic car sighting is an occasion. Most vehicles older than the Clinton administration have been banged up by uncaring parkers long ago or slowly digested by salt over many winters. Jaded pedestrians will never forget the time they saw that silver car with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
As much as a homologation 1971 Skyline looks like a UFO in New York, the city is alien to the car. It’s not meant for slow crawls through brick and iron-lined avenues of the Olde World. It was built to unravel a twisting touge on an island made out of volcanos and lay waste to a racetrack at the base of Mt Fuji.
Sadly, our window is short. With the clock ticking before our regimented load-in time and rush hour closing in, Tom floors it up the West Side Highway, dodging traffic like Kunimitsu Takahashi passing lapped rivals down the FISCO straight. Apologies in advance for the poor quality of the video, which was taken with a Samsung Potato III.
Auto show rules stipulate that only union workers can bring cars in and out of convention centers so the GT-R goes back into the truck, which will then drive around the block and unload 50 years of Nissan heritage into the Javits loading docks. We retire to an Italian restaurant for pizza, then write articles. At no point this week do we get more than three hours of and sleep a night.
The next day is setup. All the cars are haphazardly crammed into a half-built booth, a booth that needs to look like a million bucks for the world’s automotive press in less than 24 hours. Crate after crate stenciled with “Nissan” and “Japan” are wheeled in and placed wherever there’s a square of standing space. Carpets are unrolled. Lighting is hoisted. Indoor cranes articulate like the necks of Imagineered brontosauruses.
Professional detailer Tim McNair is brought in from Philadelphia to clean New York off of the Hako. Two secrets of his trade: Honda motorcycle spray cleaner and bamboo barbecue skewers that get into small crevices.
Fresh in from Germany is a camouflaged R35, the latest GT-R to break a Nürburgring Nordschleife record. On September 30, 2013, the NISMO N Attack Package GT-R lapped the Green Hell in 7:08679 to claim the fastest volume production car title. Hiroshi Tamura, Product Chief of the GT-R, Z, and NISMO cars, was there that day. He tells us it almost didn’t happen due to poor weather during Nissan’s reserved track time. Then, on the day’s last possible run, the time attack gods smiled upon Godzilla and it snatched the ‘Ring ring.
With the Zama cars unloaded, we are among GT-R royalty. Most westerners probably came to know Godzilla when the R33 became the first production automobile to break the Nürburgring’s 8-minute mark. This is that very car, all stock except for a barely noticeable safety cage, on US soil. There is also the star, the facelifted 2017 GT-R, sculpted with new bodywork and imbued with 20 extra stallions for an apocalyptic total of 565 horsepower. By the time the cars are cleaned, very little of the booth seems like it will be ready for showtime.
Through the miracle of union overtime, by 6:00 am on opening day everything is in place. Nissan and the heritage cars are in a prime location. A kenmeri and hakosuka GT-R are literally the first things you see as you enter the largest auto show in North America.
It’s the first time all six generations have been displayed at an international auto show outside of Japan. The Nissan booth buzzes all day with press domestic and foreign. Even those who don’t fully realize the rarity of what they’re looking at are stunned by the visual impact of the classics.
At some point that day, the gathering of legends becomes the top trending thing on Facebook. It’s an incredible feeling. Like watching history in the making.
Full disclosure: JNC worked with Nissan to source the classic Skyline GT-Rs for the New York International Auto Show.
Those cars are pure legend and will forever remain so!
The shot in front of the fire escape is perhaps the best photograph ever to appear on this website.
Great photos Ben!
I’d be afraid to drive a million-dollar car around NYC!
Betcha felt like a movie hero cruising in it, though! That’s what’s missing from today’s vehicles.
The skewers was an idea I’d never thought of for cleaning up.
(BTW, remember the discussion about the big-wheel/low-profile vs. smaller-wheel/higher-profile tires on the IDx? That Belgian block / cobblestone street is EXACTLY what I was talking about in terms of the day-to-day live-with-it experience, and why I was SO obstinate. Eight of those pix are every-road reality for some of us. If anyone saw the Audi ad, going up Canton Avenue, that literally IS my neighborhood.)
It’s amazing how much of a difference a taller tyre can make on roads like that, irrespective of suspension setup. The ride quality of classic cars always amazes me – on smaller imperfections like cobbles, at least.
But I can also appreciate the reasons manufacturers go for a lower profile. More grip, less movement in the tread blocks, less of the “undamped spring” effect of a taller tyre etc. And styling, of course. They don’t ride as well over harsh imperfections in the road, but they’re a lot less floaty and sketchy at speed.
It makes the modern cars that both ride and handle well despite being on low-profile tyres quite an amazing engineering feat.
One of the best articles Ive read! Very well written, got me feeling the passion!
Finally the Grand Daddy Godzilla comes to my little town 🙂 By the way I’ve been noticing a few of the later ones on car carriers starting to work their way into NYC. So glad we get to see some of these now in the flesh over here
Great piece Ben. I spent an inordinate amount of time walking around both the hako and the kenmeri at the show. Both absolutely immaculate.
And while I’m a fan of the later Skylines (the R34 particularly) and the R35 is fantastic to drive, there’s a lot to be said for how tiny the hakosuka seems in comparison. A quick look reveals it to be over half a foot shorter, five inches narrower and around the same height as the R34 (which itself is tiny next to the R35). Perfect size, perfect proportions and beautiful details.
Thank you for your kind words, Ant. Hope we can meet in person next year!
Timeless! Like a fine wine it just gets better with age I swear!
I’ll have to be content with my 1:64 scale diecast versions – #Hotwheels FTW