The evolution of the Nissan Skyline

16th July 2021, 12:53pm
11 min read
The evolution of the Nissan Skyline

The Skyline, or Godzilla as it is affectionately known, is the quintessential JDM car. If you are even remotely familiar with Japanese Domestic Market cars, the legendary GTR from Nissan has been permanently engraved in your mind.

Everything from its iconic body style to it’s legendary engine which so many have come to love is proof that the ’90s was the best time for JDM enthusiasts. But, how much do you actually know about the car and its legendary heritage?

Quick history of the Nissan Skyline

Nissan produced the very first Skyline in 1957 and has since then undergone a total of 13 generational changes. Of course, when we think about the Skyline, chances are that we are envisioning an R32, R33, and R34 generation.

It may come as a surprise to some but the very first Skyline was a 4-door sedan/saloon or an optional wagon made by the Prince motor company (which later merged with Nissan). Back then making an extremely capable car was not a priority. Instead, the focus was to have a relatively cheap and reliable family car with a fuel-efficient 1.5L engine.

All that was thrown out the window when the Skyline name was taken over by Nissan. The once boring sedan was given a performance injection which slowly but surely helped pave the path for what the Skyline has become today.

1969, the year that Nissan added the Skyline to their lineup, was also the first time enthusiasts saw the once boring sedan get a high-performance brother. Although the automaker used the PG110 code, many argue that it was the first time the GTR made an appearance.

Since then, Nissan has helped keep the skyline brand alive by undergoing no less than 13 generational changes. Although most were not available in North America, enthusiasts drooled over them as they were forever immortalised in films such as Fast and The Furious.

The Nissan Skyline’s rise in popularity

After the Skyline gave Porsche a run for its money back in the day, the Japanese public realised that the mighty Nissan is a force to be reckoned with. 

Fast forward a few decades and the R32 is unveiled to the world. What is there not to love? In its final form, the R32 GTR is nothing short of iconic. It featured AWD, an engine that is extremely tuner friendly, and weight distribution that rivals some of the best exotic cars of the time. Need we say more?

Its instantly recognisable body lines, iconic round tail-lights featured in the R32-up generations and numerous media appearances have all helped build the cult-like following it has today.

Looks are one thing, but being able to hold your own when it comes to horsepower and handling is just as important. The mighty Skyline has come a long way since it was unveiled nearly 70 years ago. A modern-day R35 comes with a 3.8L twin-turbo V6 and upwards of 600 HP from the factory. But by far, the most iconic engine is the RB26. It was based on a 2.6L inline-six that was made famous thanks to its use in the R32, R33, and R34 Skyline GTRs.

Although not all Skylines came equipped with top-of-the-line features, they are still popular. RWD sedan/saloon cars will still be sought after by enthusiasts simply because of their name. They may not bring top money but are still very much in demand.

Generational reliability

The Skyline was and still is a very reliable car. It was initially designed to be a luxurious, yet affordable sedan. However, focus quickly shifted to a more performance-oriented vehicle as soon as Nissan took over the brand back in the 60s.

Once the 90s rolled around and the R32 was introduced, enthusiasts started noticing a few problems. As a whole, the car was reliable and featured high-tech features for the time. But as the years wore on, ceramic turbine wheels found on the R32 RB26 engines seemed to be their biggest downfall. Under stock boost, the turbos would be fine, turn the pressure up and problems would quickly make themselves apparent.

Another common issue was the four-wheel steering. Initially, these systems were hydraulic but Nissan changed them to electric as they were prone to leaks. If you are looking for an older Skyline, we recommend going with the R33 or R34 as most of the problems were resolved by the time these generations were released to the public. 

The difference between the Skyline and the Skyline GTR

Back pre-R35, the GTR was the top trim for the Nissan Skyline. For the R35, the Japanese automaker dropped the Skyline name in an attempt to distance itself from the regular Skyline.

The modern GTR only resembles the Skyline but does not share any parts with the modern-day vehicle. In past models, the GTR was based on the actual Skyline platform. Nissan used only the best parts in their arsenal to turn the skyline into the legendary “Godzilla” we have all come to know and love.

For example, R34’s had an advanced AWD system while the normal Skyline didn’t. On top of that, major engine upgrades were added which took the RB26 engine into the reported 280 horsepower (reported) range. Lower trim models got nowhere close to that number. 

The suspension was another component that Nissan took seriously when designing the GTR. Beefier components throughout the entire chassis were added to make sure the car could handle the increased power.

Finally, the brakes were increased in size to give it increased stopping power. Put simply, the GTR was a better car from any angle. Besides all the improvements, there were several other small, but noticeable changes that were added. All of which broke several records and made anyone that got behind the wheel feel like they were king of the road. 

Did the 'modern' GTR kill a legend?

To the purists, the modern-day R35 has marked the end of a legend. But why? Nissan took the already famous Skyline GTR and improved on it from every angle. At one point or another, we have to come to an understanding that the analog cars of yesteryear are no longer an option.

Technology is meant to improve our lives and the Japanese automaker used the tech available to basically build a new, supercar killer from scratch. As much as some may think that the R35 is no longer a Skyline, one thing is true; overall it is still a superior car. Power has increased, 0-60 times have gone down, and the handling has never been better.

Previous models are and will always be legends. But as time goes on, new heroes (or supervillains) must rise and carry the torch.

As far as a manual transmission goes, chances are that we will never get a 3rd pedal in modern-day Skyline GTRs. Shifting gears is slowly but surely becoming a lost art. However, it is not all bad. The R35 has an extremely responsive automatic transmission that eliminates the human delay of physically shifting gears by hand.

Current costs of the Nissan Skyline

GTR’s, especially clean R34s are currently skyrocketing in value as they are nearing the 25-year rule to be legally imported into the US. While other models are still fetching healthy numbers, everyone's eyes are on the R34 GTR. Check out this clean R34 V-spec GTR that sold for over $300,000. We know it is one of the cleanest and most desirable specced examples, but it just goes to show how much some people are willing to pay so they can have a real-life Grand Turismo car in their garage.

While a new GTR starts at $110,000 US, it can go up to over $200,000 for a top-of-the-line Nismo trim. There are many supercars that one can get in this price range, but the GTR is a way to pay homage to Nissan’s legendary car.

Older models such as the R32 and R33 are currently going for around $50,000. If you ask us, it is a great deal for one of the best and likely last analog true JDM supercars. 

In recent years, the interest has skyrocketed for older GTRs. It is not due to their performance, but rather the “cool” or nostalgia factor. If you want to own part of this legendary line, be prepared to pay. Hagerty reports that clean, 2nd gen GTRs will fetch a premium. Right now, the average price of a second-gen GTR has an average asking price of $131,00, while a top example sold at auction for over $400,000!

Final words

No matter if you want to get a Skyline or GTR for the sheer driving pleasure that only this legendary car can provide, or are looking for an investment opportunity that is almost guaranteed to go up in value, the Nissan Skyline is sure to tick all of the boxes.

There are few cars still left out there that are being produced after so many decades, especially a race-bred monster like the GTR. If the pinnacle of performance and advanced technology tickles your fancy, the R35 is a must-have. But for those looking for something more old school that involves a more hands-on driving experience, the R34 or previous generations are the ones to go for.

Regardless of model or trim, the Skyline, especially the GTR has been and always will be a beast. It has been plastered on teenagers' walls since Paul Walker drove one in Fast And The Furious.

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Written by Robert M.

“If It has 4 wheels and an engine, I’m in!” That’s always been his motto. From track-ready JDM monsters to lifted 4X4s, they have probably passed through Robert’s hands at one time at another. Being fortunate enough to do what you love is a gift, and every article put out truly encompasses the passion he has for cars.