Rare Rides: The 1966 Nissan Prince Royal, an Imperial Family Limousine

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

In Part I of our Abandoned History coverage of GM’s Turbo-Hydramatic transmission line, your author made reference to a very exclusive Nissan that made use of the hefty THM400. That extremely formal Rare Ride has been on my mind since then, so here we are. If it pleases your majesty: The 1966 Nissan Prince Royal.

Today’s Rare Ride was created via a request from the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. The agency has its home office right on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and is in charge of all state matters of the Japanese Imperial Family. The Agency was formerly called the Ministry of the Imperial Household, a title that lasted from 701 to 1947.

The Agency handles security, travel, healthcare, state visits, cultural events, and administration, and includes several different boards of directors. It keeps the two main seals of Japan, and even manages household chores and creates dining menus. With such a broad set of responsibilities, the private vehicular transportation of the Imperial Family falls within its realm.

In the Sixties, the automotive industry of Japan was on the upswing. The Imperial Household Agency wanted a nice large car to ferry around the Emperor in grace and utmost dignity and reached out to the big names within the nation. It was an important turning point in the nation’s automotive industry, as prior Imperial Family car transport was always provided by imported vehicles. The first Emperor to have a car used some Mercedes-Benz 770s in the Thirties, which were replaced in the Sixties by the Rolls-Royce Phantom V. With its maturing car industry, it was time for a domestic manufacturer to provide a royal limousine.

Shortly thereafter, an announcement was made by Prince Motor Company: It was the manufacturer chosen to provide the royal transportation. Prince was relatively new to cars; it was founded as an airplane maker called Tachikawa Aircraft Company and provided planes for the Japanese Army in World War II. When the war was over, the company was reorganized into Fuji Precision Industries. Shortly thereafter it founded its automotive division, the Tokyo Electric Car Company.

The electric car plan didn’t last long, and in 1952 the company renamed itself again to Prince. That name change was to honor Akihito, who became invested as the Crown Prince that year. A fan of changing things up, the Prince identity lasted two years. In 1954 the company became Fuji Precision Industries again. In that instance, Fuji bought out its customer the Prince Motor Company and absorbed the identity. But there was boredom with the Fuji name after a few more years, and in February 1961 it became the Prince Motor Company once again.

During the name changes, Prince built a larger car called the Gloria from 1959 onward. Related to their sporty midsize Skyline model, the Gloria was intended for a wealthier customer as a luxury car. It wore different body panels to the Skyline but used its platform and engines. The very first Gloria was presented to Crown Prince Akihito in 1959 and established the royal tie to Gloria. The luxury sedan was a wedding anniversary present.

The Gloria switched to its second generation for 1962 and grew decently larger in all dimensions. It rode on a longer wheelbase and gained an inline-six engine of 2.0 or 2.5 liters in displacement. Much like the first Gloria that used American styling cues via its quad headlamps and Dagmar bumpers, the second one played off the looks of the 1959 Buicks and had some similarities to the Chevrolet Corvair. Underneath, it was still on the same platform as the Skyline.

The second Gloria (S40) remained in production through 1967, by which point Prince was in a bit of bother. Though the Skyline and Gloria were successful, the company was small and lacked the full lineups of the big names like Nissan and Toyota. Nissan in particular liked what the Skyline and Gloria had to offer, and eyed a merger with Prince.

The official announcement was made by Prince in May of 1965, and the merger was completed in August 1966. Prince was fully absorbed into the larger Nissan, though its new leader kept the Skyline and Gloria models on sale. Nissan had its own Gloria competitor (the Cedric), and both merged onto the Gloria’s platform for 1967.

Meanwhile, development of the new imperial limousine was well underway at Prince. When Prince made the announcement about the contract in 1965, the original order was for two vehicles. The first one would be delivered in 1966, and the other in 1967.

Though the S40 Gloria was still in production, the Imperial Household’s order would reflect the upcoming third-generation Gloria, coded A30. If the second generation went for a Corvair and Buick look, the third Gloria was all about Cadillac. At the front end, the quad headlamps remained but were stacked atop one another instead of a horizontal configuration. The sweeping fender line that merged into the hood like an Invicta was replaced by a squared-off front end with a single crease down the middle, decorated by a chrome trim strip.

The grille was split horizontally into two large sections and reflected a diamond mesh pattern. The prior grille was split down the middle vertically and had a tighter, simpler mesh. Retained on the new car was an extra grille below the main one, divided into several sections by chrome bars. The lower grille resided above a chrome bumper that was more square than before and tucked closer into the front of the car.

Down the side, the strong Buick-influenced character line was gone. The crease was pulled much closer to the body and lacked any chrome decoration. It was supplemented by a chrome trim strip that started between the headlamps and ran the full length of the car. A lower character line remained almost the same as it was on the second-gen Gloria. It stretched between the midpoint of the tires and extended onto the rear. Only slightly modified was the upright greenhouse, with a similar glass area between the generations.

Thicker and Sixties-ready was a revised C-pillar, which was more squared off than before. Said squared pillar lead to a much squarer rear windscreen; a wraparound design in the old Gloria. The rear end was changed quite a bit in the transition and grew more formal and serious-looking. The ovoid brake lamps of 1966 became vertical rectangular units for 1967, much like a Cadillac.

The trunk was generally more squared off and ended at a rear fascia with a full-width chrome trim panel. The panel contained the reverse lamps and had “GLORIA” block lettering above it, which replaced the script logos of the second-gen Gloria. The rear bumper, like the front, was more square and tucked in against the body.

The wheelbase between the second and third generation Glorias remained consistent at 105.5 inches, but overall length increased slightly from 183.1 inches to 184.6″. The width remained the same at 66.7 inches, and the height shrunk from 58.3 inches to 56.9 as Prince pursued a lower, longer look.

Body styles were two throughout the second- and third-generation Gloria, as a more formal sedan and practical wagon. Engines were three, all of the 2.0-liter displacement. The entry-level version was an inline-four, while the other two were inline-six. Transmissions were a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic, and 1967 was the first time a Gloria was offered with an automatic.

It was from this basis that the engineers at Prince worked up their Imperial Family transportation. The Gloria’s wheelbase was extended considerably, to 152.8 inches. That made for an overall length of 242.3 inches, or 57.7″ longer than the standard car. The Emperor’s limousine was also much wider than the standard car at 82.7 inches, and it had a hat-ready formal roof that meant an overall height of 69.7 inches.

Though the dimensional changes required bodywork that was entirely bespoke, the Royal maintained factory styling. The roof was notably taller and more formal, and the rear doors adopted a rear hinge, but those were the only substantive design changes. Requisite Imperial Seals were applied at the front and rear of the Royal (no license plate necessary). The chrysanthemum seals also appeared on the middle of the passenger doors.

Underhood things were decidedly different from a standard Gloria. The Royal was very heavy at 7,054 pounds and thus required an engine far beyond a 2.0-liter inline-six. Prince developed an engine specifically for the Royal, and it was an impressive one. Named the W64, the mill was a 6.4-liter V8 – far beyond the passenger car engines Japan produced at the time. With overhead valves, the 90-degree engine produced 256 horsepower. Quite an American-like specification. Only eight examples were produced, and five of them went into examples of the Royal.

To pull all those tons and liters of displacement down the road, Prince needed a strong transmission. It turned to the new three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 400 from GM. Like other users of that particular gearbox, the THM400 impressed by shrugging off big weight and power figures.

Tires on the Royal were custom as well and made by Bridgestone. Elsewhere on the engineering front, the Royal had double-wishbone front suspension, and leaf springs at the rear. The brakes were drums at all corners, and power-assisted. Double pane glass protected from outside noises and allowed the passenger area to be pressurized. There was no lowering glass partition with the driver: All communication must occur via in-car phone.

Inside, luxurious accommodation included eight passenger seats, configured in three rows in the rear. The center seats were of the folding variety and only intended for security guards. The rear lounge also included a bar. While the driver sat on vulgar dead cow surfaces, the rear passenger compartment was covered in wool upholstery, as expected.

Though development was done by Prince, as Nissan was the merged company identity it also put its name on the Royal. The cars were registered as Princes, however. In total, five Royals were delivered to the Imperial Household in 1966 and 1967, with one in hearse configuration. The Imperial Family enjoyed a long service life from their V8 limousines: They were used until July of 2006 when all were replaced by the Toyota Century Royal.

[Images: YouTube]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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3 of 18 comments
  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on May 05, 2022

    "The grille was split horizontally into two large sections and reflected a diamond mesh pattern." That doesn't look like a diamond pattern - are you referring to the production Gloria, rather than the imperial limo? Also, the headlight bezels remind me more of the '67-'68 Rambler Ambassador. The taillights are somewhat like those on the '64 Cadillacs. Prince may have been a small carmaker, but they made some interesting cars.

    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on May 05, 2022

      Yeah, the design stuff is comparing g2 and g3 standard sedans!

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on May 05, 2022

    Emperor would better served by Imperial. Imperial looked much more Royal than this Nissan.

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