The cars we loved.
Where Japanese sports cars are concerned; none is as famous as the Nissan Skyline. The Skyline goes back to the 50’s, but the modern high-tech cars we came to recognize as Skylines began to take shape in the early 80’s with the R30 models. Through the years the Skyline would see over 10 body and chassis generations with code names beginning with the letter R proceeded with a number. The Skyline would be available as a coupe or sedan, but the highest performing models were usually 2 door coupes.
The Skyline was sold in Japan and Europe mostly, with no official export to America. For years the Skyline would dangle above Nissan’s US offerings as forbidden fruit, seen only in magazines or in video games like Grand Tourismo. Even in its absence, the Skyline had become legendary, earning the nickname Godzilla due to fierce performance – from Japan. This performance came from the use of advance technology like four-wheel steering, all-wheel drive, twin turbos and variable valve intake systems. While its two biggest competitors, the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 were sold and discontinued in America, the Skyline would have to make due as an expensive proposition from third part importers.
The look was slow to evolve, with a basic three box shape. The closest American could come to the form factor was the 240SX. While the Skyline was always front engine rear wheel, it had gained a sophisticated all-wheel drive system with the R32.
By 1999, the last of the boxy shaped Skylines would debut. Called the R34, it was Nissan’s attempt to make a kinder gentler supercar. It looked almost identical to the R33. Still available as a 4 door sedan or two door coupe, the new R34 featured Nissans new variable valve lift technology called VVL. In addition to being the most fuel-efficient Skyline ever, it was one of the most powerful if bought in GT-R form. Because of the Skyline stellar performance in wet weather conditions, it earned it the nickname Godzilla or the tag “Beast from the East”.
The monsters of the family were top trim coupes, but the Skyline was
really a range of cars that came in trim levels with milder 2.0L versions of
the inline six. These more tame cars came with features like child seat inserts, navigation systems and sunroofs.
Higher trim levels started with the 2.5L GT-R on to V Spec and ended with limited edition 2.8L NISMO cars. One of the rarest Skylines was the 2004 NISMO GT-R Z-tune. The almost race car for the street limited edition had a 2.8-liter engine that produced an amazing 178 horsepower per litre for a total just over 500.
The interiors were well-appointed with an array of gauges monitoring the many performance systems on board. Entertainment options were limited by today’s standards, but the Skyline would have one of Nissan’s first LCD screens for navigation. The snug race style seats offered considerable lateral support, but the small seats in the back were better suited for light luggage vs. passengers. There was a functional trunk for larger items.
The R33 had been available with a choice of two automatic (4 and 5-speed) and a 5-speed manual. The R34 reduced that to two replacing the old 4-speed auto with a 4 speed Tiptronic unit. Although factory horsepower numbers ranged from around 280 to 330, tuners have distorted the output with tweaks to the turbos that have resulted in cars with well over 500 hp. During the nineties, it was uncommon for a Skyline to do 0 to 60 in the high 4 second range on wet or dry roads. While top speed was 155 mph, that speed was made more manageable thanks to all wheel drive, advance differentials and a responsive MacPherson strut suspension. All the technology amounted to a heavy car ar nearly 4,000 pounds, but the Skyline was a nimble as a Lotus and far more comfortable when cruising thanks to big 18 inch wheels.
Production of standard Skylines winded down in 2002, but a protracted period of production ended with the very last models rolling out as late as 2008. After a few half starts, the Skyline returned in 2011 as an official member of Nissan’s US offerings. Code named R36, it dispenses with the classic angular shape of the R30-34 cars. It also manages to be more powerful, more comfortable and fuel-efficient, but the R34 will likely remain the legendary car generations of game playing American kids learned to lust for.