Generation Why: The Skyline Fades From The Rear-View Mirror

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

It’s not just oil, water and other precious resources that we’re running out of here on planet earth. Apparently, we’re a little short on automotive nameplates too. If you believe the reports in industry trade pubs, we’ll eventually be overrun by obscure alphanumerics as the number of trademark-ready monikers gradually thins out. Scarcity isn’t the only factor behind it either. Frequently, nameplates get retired, and an all-new version of the previous car is re-introduced with another combination of numbers and letters – just like Nissan is planning to do with the Skyline after 56 years of production.

Members of the Playstation Generation that still care about cars (yes, we exist, we are legion and we are too saddled with debt to even think about buying a new car, thank you very much) revere the “Skyline” name like a person of faith reveres the Tetragrammaton. It is an ineffable, unknowable bit of four-wheeled technology that we were never privy to, and therefore, it’s reached iconic status among North American car enthusiasts, who were only exposed to the car via Gran Turismo or the Fast and Furious franchise.

Like most instances where the grass is greener on the other side, it turned out the grass was a little less lustrous and colorful once you got over the fence. Canada’s flexible importation laws meant that older Skyline GT-Rs have been flooding the nation’s streets for some time. Driven today, they aren’t terribly remarkable cars, neither particularly fast or involving. I found my friend’s Toyota Celica GT-FOUR (another piece of all-wheel drive turbocharged forbidden fruit, albeit one closer to a rally special than a Grand Tourer) to be a much more compelling way to spend $10,000 and inconvenience oneself with right-hand drive. The breathless Ray Hutton and Don Schroeder reports telex’d from Japan are not congruent with our current reality. I am sure that in the early 1990’s, this car was certainly something compared to the C4 ‘Vette, but there’s a reason why Nissan never sold them here.

The idea of paying between $60,000-$100,000 for a car with the interior from a B13 Sentra and the sex appeal of Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a recipe for commercial ruin. The 300ZX on the other hand, had the Z car heritage, as well as the rectum-puckering performance, plush interior and removable T-Tops demanded by mustachioed 1990’s sports car buyers. Besides, the Skyline name meant nothing to most consumers.

But it means something to me, and to most readers who got their licenses right around the time the Skyline ceased to exist as we knew it. The introduction of the V35 Skyline, aka our Infiniti G35, brought an end to the familiar Skyline formula, with its naturally aspirated and turbocharged straight-six engines and its rather anonymous salaryman packaging. The V6-powered V35 shared its underpinnings with the Z car – something true Skyline enthusiasts would regard as blasphemy.

The Skyline was originally a Prince product, and legend has it that when Nissan absorbed Prince in 1966, Prince’s products, Skyline included, were regarded as orphans. The Skyline’s racing pedigree was apparently considered both unremarkable and enough of a threat to the homegrown Fairlady Z that they were never imported to America. Within Nissan, the two cars were always regarded as distinct entities, with the Z being the sports car for Nissan. Only when the forces of industry economics were brought to bear on Nissan, in the form of Carlos Ghosn, did Nissan take advantage of any synergies between the two cars.

Now that Nissan is planning to sell the Infiniti brand in Japan, the assimilation is complete. The Skyline nameplate will die alongside the V36 Skyline/G sedan (no word on whether the current G Coupe will carry on the name), and the new Infiniti Q50 will carry that name in Japan as well.

The fatal blow to the Skyline nameplate was delivered when the R35 GT-R divorced itself from the Skyline range upon its 2009 introduction. Without the GT-R, the Skyline is just another anonymous commodity car in its home market, just as the Chevrolet Impala is a rather unremarkable car when the hot SS versions aren’t around. But the reality is that the conditions that helped foment the “golden age of Japanese sports cars” have been absent for a long time now, and we’re now feeling the hangover after years and years of non-stop good times. Combine that with the relentless pressure for greater profits derived via increasing economies of scale in a cutthroat global auto market, and the decision to axe the Skyline name in favor of promoting the “Infiniti Brand” and the Q50 shouldn’t surprise anyone. But it does leave me a little dewey-eyed.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Cris Cris on Jan 29, 2014

    I think that the author of this article might want to do a little research. If the Skyline's racing history is so unremarkable why we they so amazingly successful over the history of the various models. A Celica GT4 a more involving drive than a BNCR33? Again that's a very strange viewpoint. Nothing wrong with GT4s (assuming that the author is referring to ST205s) but they are not the same thing. To understand the significance of the Skyline you have to take them in the context of the time they were released. Limiting this to the more modern turbocharged GTRs the BNR32 was released in 1989. It had a six cylinder twin turbo engine revving to 8,200rpm. Destricted it produced close to 400bhp. So you've got a car with a similar power output to a Corvette ZR1 with about the same weight yet it has four seats, 4WD and 4WS. Why didn't Nissan sell the car in the USA. I guess lack of LHD was the first problem. Maybe federalising the car would have been too hard - were there problems with turbo-charged car regulations in that time period perhaps (I assumin something was going on otherwise the S13/S14 would have had the turbocharged CA18DET/SR20DET). Money had been spent on the Z32 which is very much the Nissan for the USA. Furthermore the GTR was the homologation car within the Skyline range. The Skyline range wasn't sold in the US market. Would the GTR have been able to run in any US based race series? Skylines in general are just a BMW 3 series competitor and like the 3 Series the range sometime throughs up some amazing homologation cars. With most racing cars bearing little relation to their road counterparts the need for a homologation model has receeded. This can be seen with the more recent M3s just like the GTRs. Once the link is broken it becomes just another spec level/model. This is happening across manufacturers. Even Ferrari are in on it with 599GTO. It's sad really that this heritage has been lost.

  • R R on Mar 05, 2017

    Ummm.. the author seem to miss that there are "skylines", but only a few are "GT-Rs". See, not every skyline is automatically a GT-R, which is popular among the Playstation Generation. There are lots of differences between them, GT-Rs and non-GTRs, from engine, drivetrain, GT-R's wider body, aluminum panels, interior, etc. etc. Weird the author even compared it to a toyota cel gt-4, they're in different levels altogether. We tune some of this not so popular toyota, and it doesn't deliver that much compared to a GT-R. A non-Gtr skyline probably, but a GT-R, NO. Even guys from Japan (eg. Best Motoring) has tested them already, and their performance is, errr, not on the same page to say the least. Maybe the skyline the author is talking about is non-Gtr? ;) As for being fast, a bone stock GT-R is declared as 278 hp I think from the factory, but it's actually putting down around 320-330 hp. Which is pretty good for a Japanese 90s car which has power regulations. Maybe you like the more twitchy, because the GT-R handles like a train, on rails! It's awd Gran Tourer anyways, so it's steady machine unlike other awd like the Evo. And no, they don't have b13 interior for Pete's sake. The thing that might be the same are the oem clips and bolts nothing more. xD Lastly, and the most importabt thing of to why these cars are special is.. it's motorsports pedigree. No other Japanese car has done what the GT-R blood line has done in motorsports history. From then old school Hakosuka, to GT-R BNR32, which is BTW the reason why they're called Godzilla, and now R35. Other JDM, Euro, Am sportscars can only dream what their bloodline has done. From getting banned to compete, rewriting grp a rule books, lap time records, 29, 49 consecutive official official race wins, you name it! So by that, I guess they're pretty fast cars. ;) To be honest it maybe a good thing the GT-R badge has left the skyline name. It's actually an anti poser (non-Gtr putting Gtr emblems etc. :D), and will set it apart from the skyline name to avoid confusion that not all skylines are Gtrs. Maybe the author is in the same situation too. Because he even said skyline Gtrs are flooding Canada's streets which is FALSE. Again there are skyline alright, but not all of them ate GT-Rs, only a few of them are. Some skyline Gtsts, Gtts are even dressed as one. Just like what we saw for sale few weeks ago. But you can tell by their price tag which is which. GT-Rs are much much pricier. They're turning into collector's car already, prices in Japan are soaring. So ladies and gents if you have one, take care of them and keep them. Parts, from oem and aftermarket are getting more expensive too.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.