By on March 24, 2016

The newly refreshed 2017 Nissan GT-R on the rostrum drew the focus of many, but it was the five historic vehicles Nissan decided to bring to the New York International Auto Show that shouted for my attention in the crowd.

These five Skylines represent the race-bred heritage of the GT-R, while simultaneously taunting American enthusiasts who could never buy these iconic sports cars when they arrived new to dealerships.

I spoke with NISMO Chief Product Specialist Hiroshi Tamura and asked him what drew him to the GT-R.

“Ten-year-old Hiroshi goes to Fuji Speedway with his older cousin who owned a car. I wanted a Nissan GT-R someday. Unfortunately, for the next thirteen years, I had no GT-R,” Hiroshi said.

He went to work for Nissan, and eventually worked on several GT-R programs including the R34, often known as Godzilla.

The R34 Skyline GT-R shown here today is the M-spec Nur model, a limited edition built for endurance racing. The gold-painted valve cover signifies the N1 spec RB26 twin-turbo engine, still nominally rated at 276 horsepower under the Japanese auto industry’s handshake agreement to not advertise more powerful engines. Anyone who spent any time with Sony’s Gran Turismo knows that there is plenty more beneath that long hood.


The R34 evolved from this 1995 R33 GT-R, famous for lapping the Nurburgring Nordschleife in just under eight minutes. The R33 was itself evolved from 1989’s R32 GT-R, a revolution at the time in Japanese performance car scene. A powerful twin-turbo, twin-cam inline six-cylinder engine motivated all four wheels of these GT-Rs by way of Nissan’s ATTESA E-TS torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system.

These high-tech marvels were a vast departure from the original GT-R. While the racing histories of all five Skyline GT-R generations are dominant, the earliest cars were a bit more traditional in design.

The 1973 Skyline GT-R shown here — known alternatively by the C110 chassis code or the “Kenmeri” nickname after a commercial featuring the car and a young couple named Ken and Mary — is one of 197 produced before new emissions regulations cut off production of the high-performance coupé.

The car that started the legend of the GT-R is the last on our trip down memory lane. The C10 chassis, known as Hakosuka by fans, launched in 1969. Tamura tells me “Hako means ‘box’, suka is short for ‘Skyline,'” which is quite clear after comparing it to the later generations.

2.0-liter six-cylinder engines powered both the Hakosuka and Kenmeri, and were quite advanced for the time with twin cams and four valves per cylinder. These advanced engines produced 160 hp and would rev to 7,000 rpm, making these dominant in Japanese touring car events.

Tamura further emphasized the significance of the four round (usually) taillights as a thread connecting the Skyline generations. He referred to them as “four red doughnuts.”

Skyline GTR Taillamps

Within the Japanese motor industry, Nissan’s motorsports heritage is unmatched: from these GT-Rs that dominated Asia, to the triple threat of the 510, Roadster, and Z here in the U.S., to the unbeatable IMSA and Group C racers of the ’80s and ’90s. It is a special treat to see these classics in the sheetmetal.

[Images: © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

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24 Comments on “NYIAS: The Evolution of GT-R Shown Within One Thousand Square Feet...”

  • avatar

    Where is the missing link… the R30?

  • avatar

    So basically, all you need to do is put an overpowered engine into a car, give it an automatic transmission, All Wheel Drive and sell it at a price that is “attainable” by more people…and maybe even MAKE IT BIGGER SO IT CAN BE USED AS A DAILY DRIVER…

    AWD, An Automatic Transmission and a chitload of power so that ANYBODY AND THEIR MOMMA can drive it…


    Considering Lamborghini, Bugattis, Porsche and a bunch of other cars that offer ALL WHEEL DRIVE, AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS and A CHITLOAD OF POWER are selling better year-over-year than ever in their history…

    …o well – I guess that’s just it.

    • 0 avatar

      Different strokes for different folks. I still believe there remains a small band of drivers who prefer light vehicles with great driving dynamics and manual transmissions.

    • 0 avatar

      The GT-R sells about ~1200 units a year. Hardly a strategy I would say is “working”. It’s not practical either, at least not due to its size. 911 is a better daily driver in pretty much every way, and outsells it by like 9:1.

      But why let FACTS get in the way of ALL CAPS!!!

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I am a GT-R junkie. In late 2014 I visited a friend in Japan who was a civilian working on Yakota AFB in a western suburb of Tokyo. While traveling around Japan I found the only places you really saw performance cars were in museums and on the bases (bought by US JDM fanboys). The only other places I saw were just outside the bases at used car dealers lots.

    I got what I thought would be the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to sit in and start up an R33 GT-R Spec V. I didn’t ask to drive it because I figured I would be told no and getting it off the lot would have been an all day affair of moving things around. I got the spec sheet dealers put together describing the cars they sell. If I recall, he was asking $13,000 for the one I sat in which had about 44k miles on it. I had to quickly decide if it was worth giving up my current life to find some way to stay in Japan in order to buy it. The R33 is my preference in modern Skylines.

    This September I’m heading back over (now a friend of my wife is working on a Navy base) and I am specifically going to Nagano to the Prince and Skyline Museum. I’m very excited about it and I am going to have a much lighter wallet after visiting their gift shop.

    That said, screw Nissan for taunting us like this.

    • 0 avatar

      My own experience pretty much follows this. Given the expense, most older performance cars fall into a niche market in Japan.

      Make sure you look me up when you come out.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        I will definitely do that. Any advice or suggestions would be gratefully appreciated. We’re planning to hang around the Yokosuka area for a couple days when we arrive and I have no idea what’s there.

        Also, good grief, you’re up early.

        • 0 avatar

          I usually wake up with the chickens.

          Maybe take the train up to Kamakura and see the big Buddha or go all the way into Yokohama and visit the Chinatown. Right in Yokosuka is the pre dreadnought battleship Mikasa. It’s open for tours. I need to get over there one of these days.

          Maybe you can hang out with me one day too, we can find something fun to do.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I really like that ’73. Thanks for a good story.

    • 0 avatar

      The Kenmeri has become my favorite, too. I don’t know what it would be like to own or drive one, especially compared to the others, but in my mind it looks the best. I miss that funky 70s styling the Japanese cars used to have,

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    what a shame those older versions weren’t able to make their way to our shores.

    I really like the look of the older ones.

  • avatar

    I’m not particularly a Skyline junkie but I would sell numerous left body parts for that ’69.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    To be nitpicky, Godzilla was the R32 GT-R: a fire-breathing Japanese monster that destroyed Group A.

    The original Skyline 2000 GT-R (PGC10) was a 4-door, but most people like the coupes better.

  • avatar

    Did car design peak in the late ’60s?

  • avatar

    I always liked the chunky gen 4 the best, with the big rear blinkers.

  • avatar

    Nice tail lights. Well, other than the orange one. It looks diseased.

  • avatar

    Someone line up baby seals for me to club to get that ’73, it’s freaking boss.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      It was closest to the doors, so I was quite tempted. The Javits Center requires the cars have no more than a miniscule amount of fuel while on the show floor, so I don’t know that I’d make it far beyond 34th Street.

  • avatar

    Previous generations had nice, clean and simple classic 2-door design , this new one is a different, more muscular(“bulky”) approach – it’s got “interesting” side and rear view, but “the face” of this car is rather blunt and lacks personality ..

    BTW> After all this car needs new replacement, not refresh ..

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