Skyline. Just say the word and it conjures visions of Japan’s greatest motoring icons. From unobtainable high-tech monsters christened “Godzilla” by western journalists to sepia-toned commercials in which teenagers fell in love, the name evokes a meaning for everyone. However, if it wasn’t for a car very much like the one JDM Legends brought to the Japanese Classic Car Show this year, “Skyline” may have just been another forgotten model from the early days of Japan’s auto industry.
Nissan deserves much of the credit for the Skyline legend, but its seeds were planted years before the merger with the Prince Motor Company. While most of Japan’s 1950s auto industry focused on affordable transportation, PMC, a spinoff of the former Tachikawa Aircraft, focused on producing luxury sedans and large commercial trucks.
The Skyline actually began life at the bottom of the Prince range as a mid-sized four-cylinder sedan. It was Shinichiro Sakurai, the man who would eventually be called Father of the Skyline, who decided in the days leading up to the 1964 Japan Grand Prix that he’d stuff the G7 straight-six from a Prince Gloria into the Skyline and enter it into competition.
Sakurai elongated the nose nearly eight inches between the cowl and front tires in order to accommodate the 2.0L motor. He added triple Weber double-barrel sidedraft carbs, putting out about 125PS (123hp), and mated it to a 5-speed close ratio transmission leading to a limited-slip differential. Front discs helped scrub the speed and the whole shebang was enclosed in a reinforced body.
Prince entered seven hotted up Skylines in the race, and it was widely assumed that they would take the GT-II class win. However, a late entry by a privateer in Porsche 904 destroyed that notion. The mid-engined 904 was a 200hp purpose-built race car and the Skyline, essentially a stretched family sedan, had no hope of beating it.
Turns out, it didn’t have to. During one particularly heated lap, driver Tetsu Ikuzawa, against all odds, overtook the Porsche and, briefly, led the race. That was all the Skyline needed. The crowd rose to its feet, scarcely believing what they’d seen. The idea that a home-grown sedan from Japan’s burgeoning auto industry could get anywhere near an established marque’s race car was unthinkable.
Though the 904 ultimately regained the lead and won outright, the moment was seared into countless memories. The Skyline legend was born.
In the end Prince swept second through fifth. It’s important to note that Ikuzawa’s off-white #41 car ultimately came in third. The blue #39 car driven by Yoshikazu Sunako took second and is still preserved to this day in Nissan’s Zama collection.
As per homologation rules, Prince baked all the luscious performance ingredients of the race machine — front discs, 5-speed, triple-carbed straight six — into its road car. With its rarity prescribed by an initial production run of only 100 units, the Prince Skyline 2000GT immediately became the premiere Japanese sports sedan.
Remember, typical 1964 cars had single-carb setups and 5-speed transmissions wouldn’t become mainstream until the late 1970s. No other Japanese automaker built a car like this. BMW didn’t even build a car like this. To put it in a parlance Americans will understand, it was Japan’s first muscle car, though technically that term had yet to be coined because the American muscle era was just kicking off with the 1964 Pontiac GTO.
By 1966 the Nissan-Prince merger was underway and dual-throat Weber sidedrafts were getting difficult to secure. Nissan began selling a single-carbed, 4-speed version called the Skyline 2000GT-A, while the full-blown demon with five gears and Weber trips would continue to be sold as the 2000GT-B.
Go to enough classic car shows in Japan and you’ll see tribute replicas galore of Sunako’s #39. The JDM Legends’ 1967 Skyline 2000GT-B, however, is the first example of this iconic machine to be shown in the United States. It was an honor to have both the Salt Lake City-based builder of Japanese classics and their fine machine at our JCCS booth this year.
The JDM Legends crew worked long and hard to prep it for its big debut at Queen Mary Park. The goal for was a vintage racer with period correct modifications that could have been built by someone looking for a weekend circuit car in late 60s.
According to JDM Legends Shop Manager Eric Bizek, it was purchased from a Japanese owner who used it in road rallies like the Japan Historic Car Tour in Hokkaido. However, the car was street driven as well, so concessions had been made to comfort and practicality. One of the first things JDM Legends did was ditch period-incorrect items under the hood and in the cabin (the Momo steering wheel, for example, was replaced with a Checkman three-spoke).
A recline-able Recaro was also removed in order to fit a vintage bucket, taken from a 1969 PGC10 GT-R that JDM Legends has at their shop. Several readers had asked about this seat‘s brand when we posted the teaser pic prior to JCCS, but so far there’s no answer. At JCCS the question was put to Shouji Inoue of Star Road and even he was at a loss, so for now the mystery remains. It does look perfect though, and the yellow Sabelt harnesss contrasts perfectly with the interior’s swimming pool blue.
The G7 had been recently rebuilt with a mild cam and head porting, but the 40mm Weber trips required a complete re-gasketing and syncing to work properly. Once tuned, a stainless steel header and twin-pipe exhaust system provided the Gloria six with a brilliant baritone rumble.
While they were at it, the JDM Legends team went over 46 years of wiring kludges and took the opportunity to re-plate corroded hardware. Since the whole body had already been sprayed in the vivid colors of Sunako’s #39 car, Eric fabbed two aluminum guards to protect the painted floorpan.
In photos, GT-Bs almost always look larger than they are. By today’s standards the original Grand Prix racers look almost laughably tall with their high-profile tires and large, black steelies. Its stretched fenders also give off the illusion of size, but in reality Prince Skylines are narrower than a Datsun 510.
The JDM Legends car, in particular, seems low and agile, in large part due to a custom one-off spring and damper combination built by Bilstein Japan specifically for this car. Satin black RS-Watanabes with a lower sidewall also help reduce the visual and actual mass of its unsprung areas. This car did come with five-lug hubs, and in an interesting side note, and the car is old enough that the lugs on the left-hand side are reverse threaded.
Though JDM Legends pride themselves on building cars that can be driven anywhere, the Skyline was trailered the 1,400 miles down to Long Beach due to the rarity of its parts. Eric says you always have to be ready to return a thumbs up and it was impossible to stop for gas without someone bringing up the 510 they used to own.
So what will happen to this one-of-a-kind car? “What makes [this job] difficult at times is constantly trying not to fall in love with every car we import only to be heartbroken every time one leaves the shop,” Eric told us. “Occasionally we make an exception and a Prince Skyline of this caliber is definitely a good reason to break the rule.”
Five years ago when JDM Legends was started, the inventory was largely comprised of founder and co-owner Trey Cobb‘s personal collection. In order to get the business off the ground, Trey was forced to sell off the Japanese classics he had amassed over the years. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy to see them all be brought back to the condition he always wanted them only to have them sold off,” says Eric. “And for that reason alone I am more than happy to finally get one back into his hands again.”
Though nothing is set in stone, Eric says, “We would like to explore a bit of vintage racing with this car because we all feel that is where this car belongs.” We could not agree more.
Here we have a car whose popularity and price do not yet accurately reflect its role in motorsports history or performance pedigree. Hopefully now that one has been shown at the JCCS, the elder statesman of the Skyline clan will get the recognition it deserves.
Please note that the Blue #39 ‘Sunako’ car in Nissan’s ‘Heritage Collection’ at Zama is also a replica. It’s not the original car. Also, Prince entered a total of SEVEN Skyline ‘GTS 54s’ in the GT-II race at the ’64 Japan Grand Prix race meeting, not six.
A little aside about that Porsche 904 in the race: It was entered and driven by Sokichi Shikiba, founder of the ‘Racing Mate’ driving accessories firm. At that time Shikiba san had close ties to Toyota, and gossip at the back of the pits suggested that Toyota had paid for the Porsche and had given it to Shikiba in an effort to spoil Prince’s party in the GT-II race. However, Shikiba had an off in practice and damaged the Porsche’s front end quite badly. They managed to put it together again for the race despite a lack of spares, but the steering was still somewhat deranged and Shikiba was struggling a little with it. This allowed the Skylines to harry him and it looked like the pack of hounds was catching the fox. Shikiba and Ikuzawa were good friends, and there was speculation that Ikuzawa overtaking Shikiba was somewhat staged or at the very least a little playfulness on their part. Whatever the truth, the presence of the Porsche ultimately benefitted the Skylines and nobody would have taken much notice of a clean sweep by them had the Porsche not been there. So was it cross and double-cross, or was it a PR-spoiling stunt that backfired? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it is perhaps fun to speculate…
I have heard the story about the Toyota conspiracy, including a refutation from someone high up at Nissan which will be part of an upcoming article. It is indeed interesting though.
Correction noted on the cars entered, but I have heard that the Zama car is original.
The story comes via Shikiba san himself, but there are twists inside the tales inside the twists inside the tales and on and on, so we’ll probably never be 100% sure of the truth…
Unlike the situation with the #39 car at Zama, which is absolutely NOT the same car as the original second place finisher. The real car is long gone, just like the #15 KPGC10 ’50th Victory’ car.
nissan doesn’t say it’s a replica, so it must be the real deal
Trust me. Much like the #15 works KPGC10 ’50th Victory’ car ( via the Harada Collection ) the car is actually a show car that was built in period for publicity purposes. It was restored / refurbed recently, but it’s not the *original* #39 Sunako car.
There are a few other similar situations in the Heritage Collection, and it’s quite understandable in the circumstances.
What’s the story behind the 5-stud hubs though? They’re not original are they?
They are five lug affair from Prince
Yes, they are original, and in fact I added a sentence to clarify since many people had asked about the wheels. Interesting side note: the left-side lugs are threads reverse threaded!
It was really nice to see one of these at JCCS.
(And hearing the history of the car I always see in J’s Tipo and G works.)
“We would like to explore a bit of vintage racing with this car because we all feel that is where this car belongs.”
Good read. I’m glad I got to see this car!
I fell in love with the car right away when I saw it at JCCS! I’ve alwasy been a sucker for vintage J-tin racers. This is one of my top favorites!
What were the questions about the seat?
Basically who makes it. Nobody knows!
Brilliant effort on JDM Legends part. Desperately not wanting to diminish JDM Legends efforts, have a few issues with the historical facts about the form the Prince Skyline 2000 GTs entered in the 1964 gt2 race were in.
I would like to raise a potentially contentious issue regarding in what form the S54 raced at the 1964 Japanese GP. I firmly believe the cars entered ran the G7 engine in the same basic format as they appeared in the S41 PMC Prince Gloria from which they originated, running the single Nikki down draught (?) 2 barrel, that is NOT with the 3 X Weber DCOE 18’s that first appeared in the S54-B.
Unfortunately I’m currently stuck in Hospital (for an as yet unknown duration…… Dammit !) with zero access to my reference library but I have investigated this in the past and am quietly confident what I suggest here is fact.
For those familiar with the significant differences between the S54-a and S54-b you will know the A model had a completely different dash to the B model. There are pictures around from 1964 showing the interior of the podium finishing Prince with an “A ” model dash.
I recall some other pics of the engine bay of the 39 car showing a single down draught carbs wearing a forward facing scoop of sorts.
There is an extremely rare PMC brochure out there from the very first S54’s , grey with an embossed or in relief open faced helmet shape as its cover. I THINK this is for the Prince Skyline 2000 GT S54-A1 as a production version of the cars that raced in 1964. The triple weber GT-B was always referred to as a B2 (or the exports as Be-2)
I do have an article or two that would seem to contradict my assertions so I’m calling out to any like minded PRINCE & SKYLINE history heroes (tragics!?) who are in a position to research this little conundrum and find something definitive as to whether the Prince Racing team ran the cars entered in the race that started” the wolf in sheep skin”legend with 3 DCOE Webers or a two barrel Nikki (?)
Thanks and kind regards,
Jim ( I’ve lost my login ,) Webb (GT R-380)
Some great information you have there although I will have to politely disagree with some of it. From my understanding the Prince cars entered in the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix were all equipped with the Weber carburetors rather than the earlier down draft Nikki. In reference, you will find a link to a Japanese Wiki article in regards to this subject. Wiki is not always 100% correct, although this covers it from my understanding very well.
第2回日本グランプリ GT-II部門タイトル獲得を目指し、より強力な グロリア スーパー6用のG7型直列6気筒OHC1,988ccエンジンを、防火壁（前部バルクヘッド）直前を200mm延長して空間を確保した特別なシャーシーに搭載した スカイラインGT （S54A-I型）を開発。スポーツオプションとして、ウェーバー製サイドドラフト・ツインチョーク気化器3基をはじめとするエンジン関係やサスペンションなどシャーシー強化の各キットも同時に用意され、レース車両にはこれらが組み込まれた。
This specifically addresses this subject stating that the Weber side draft carburetors were built into the race car. Also, in the picture below you can easily see the tops of the Webers in the #40 or #36 car I believe.
In regards to the dash, you are exactly correct. If this were a 100% accurate replica it would have the earlier dash, as well as steel wheels and a few other minor tidbits.
If anyone else has any information they would like to touch on I would love to hear it.
I believe the car in your engine bay shot is the #36 car of Tassu YOKOYAMA.
Look closely at that top photo…a Prince, A Princess, and a Queen.
Hello Ryan, and thanks for the reply.
Looks like we are off to a great start to solving this puzzle. Please understand I am not out to “prove” my suspicions, rather to establish provenance of the setup of the cars that actually raced. Yes Alan ! I have some idea of how hard this may be !! 😉
The GT-B setup makes sense on the surface, everybody wants to believe the more exotic setup is the start of the legend. It is only because I have been so smitten by the Prince GT (since 1974!!!!! ) and devouring any and all info I could find , that in that time more and more little teasers and snippets I’ve come across suggest something other than the “obvious ” race car setup.
I’m stuck 3500km from my hard copy resources , so by getting any of you like-minded folk involved in researching this with an open mind we may uncover some interesting facts?!
Something that bothers me more than ever about this is a comment beneath a picture in a Motorsport magazine article circa 1964 covering a Japanese GP event showing a PMC race team Skyline 2000GT post race. The article author states they ( Prince reps) refused point blank to open the bonnet (hood) of the race car. Not much in itself but has connotations in the context of my quest 😉
Thanks for indulging me guys, I hope we can have a great time with this.
Yours in research,
Kind regards, Jim. ( gotta get back on the forums..really !)
Sorry to hear that you’re in das Krankenhaus ( get well soon! ).
I think the engine spec of the ’64 Japan GP meeting GT-II race Skylines is a delicate subject, and it’s delicate because it wasn’t all entirely above board….
Realistically, there was no time for Prince to homologate the ‘GTS54’ properly before the race ( they just could not build enough of them and do the testing / paperwork with JAF before the race ) so I suspect we are looking at something of a fudge with JAF allowing the cars to race with Prince promising that they’d comply with homologation properly in due course and trying to avoid undue attention to the engine bays and any awkward questions.
In period ( May 1964 ), Prince was giving performance data for both single ( two barrel ) carbed and triple dual throat side-draught ( Weber ) carbed race versions of the G7 engine ( 142ps @ 6800rpm in single carb, and 165ps @ 6800rpm in triple carb form ) and the triple carb advantage was clear.
The presence of the 904 GTS is woven into this intrigue too, and there’s no doubt that it was entered as something of a Prince show spoiler. Did Toyota know all about Prince’s deal with JAF and want to show it up? Did their plan backfire and turn a race loss for Prince into a PR victory? After all, nobody talks about the clean sweep ( top seven places for the ‘short nose’ 4-banger S50D Skylines ) in the T-V race at the same meeting do they?
Point of interest: The #39 car in the Nissan Heritage collection ( I believe a ‘show car’ built in period from a different test/race car ) has the single twin-choke downdraught carb and small ‘scooped’ intake that you describe, and period photos of the #39 ‘show car’ show the same thing …..
Hey! I can’t find any info about the T-V race S50 Skylines, I know there was a T-V S50 with number 73, If you have any pics and more info about this race please message me! thanks.
….and many thanks for the good wishes. Unfortunately I’ve got about a years worth of reconstruction surgery to go. I get to ” pick” my nose in a totally new way 🙂
Yes, I now suspect more than ever the scenario you’ve posed is true. Amongst the paperwork I received with the first s54b I owned was photocopies (this was 1983) of submissions by Prince Motors to the F.I.A. of both the GTA and GTB specs. This over the passing of time proved to be odd. I have never seen a PMC Skyline 2000GT-A ( single carb version) All I’ve ever seen is the GT-B version or S54-B2 ( or Be2 ) Plenty of the later NISSAN PRINCE A200 GT-A’s and GT-B’s ( or Ae3 & Be3’s )
The variety and variance in Prince Motors and Nissans approach to nomenclature in reference to the S54 series only adds another level of difficulty !
So frustrating not having access to my references!! The original PMC Skyline 2000 GT brochure I mentioned earlier, I believe does show a single carb version Prince Motors 2000 GT… but to be honest I cannot be sure.
I’m wandering off track now, as much as I love waffling on about the various differences in the types and year models, it’s” in what form did they race” I set out to investigate.
AH! I just remembered an article on the S54-B in… I think it was the April 1974 “MOTOR INTERNATIONAL” technical review of our time. States to the effect the FIA initially refused Prince Motors entry of the S54 in any class as the proof of minimum numbers built for sale was not forthcoming. Apparently they relented and conceded entry to the GT-II Class when Prince presented their confirmed order for 100 sets of 3 x 40 DCOE 18 from (Eduardo ) Weber carburettors . Trouble is, the same article carried some other decidedly dubious claims!!! Sorry guys, all this is from memory and we all know how reliable that is!?!?
Did Prince perform a neat sleight of hand ? If so which way was it? Hiding the fact the cars did indeed run Webers? Or as unlikely as it sounds, running with the Nikki two barrel and encouraging the belief the cars were already running the more exotic triple twin choke setup to be made available on the road going GT-B version????
How ’bout I contact “Moderator Kev”get my login sorted and we do this on the forums?
‘Reconstruction surgery’ sounds a bit drastic….. Hope all will be OK for you.
I think the GT-II class race at that meeting was a special JAF sanctioned class ( not strictly compliant with FIA rules, and especially as no homologation had been undertaken yet ) so the holes in the net were perhaps a little bit bigger than normal. We can catch a slight whiff of something not being quite right just from all those tightly shut bonnets / hoods. In a normal situation the bonnets would be at least half open and the Japanese race mags would have had their noses in there. But no engine bay shots in the race reports, so something going on…. I believe the engine bay shot in Ryan’s photo ( the Yokoyama car from the race ) is taken very much post-race. Possibly just before a later race….
Yes, I think we ( you! ) should make a dedicated thread for the subject and I’d be pleased and honoured to join in. This conversation is going to drop off the bottom of the blog soon anyway and we will all be lost.
I would love to be a part of this thread on the forum. This is all interesting to me and I am certain we can come up with a conclusion whether it is with Weber Carbs or not.
Jim, absolutely no offence taken. It is all in good fun and ultimately to bring out the truth. The history is always the most exciting part for me!