GT-R celebrated during 2018 Monterey Car Week

The Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger all have one thing in common: a lineage that can be traced back to the 1960s. They served as competitive platforms in motorsports and were driven by some of the most iconic names in racing. Muscle cars from the 1960s and 70s continue to be celebrated while the legendary Skyline GT-R has mostly been overlooked… until now.

When I began my career as an automotive journalist it was common to hear, “I’d roll over in my grave the day a Japanese car is on the concours lawn.” I have spent many years advocating the significance of Japanese cars, and in particular, the Skyline. This year, the Skyline GT-R celebrates its 50th anniversary, Nissan is the first-ever Japanese featured marque at the Rolex Motorsports Reunion, and JDM vehicles will be on the lawn at Pebble Beach. No – the sky isn’t falling, and pigs aren’t flying.

As the celebrated marque, Nissan will display 14 significant cars in the paddock, one of which is a Nissan GT-R by Italdesign, a prototype that could become the blueprint for a minimal run of hand-built production vehicles regarded as the GT-R50.

The GT-R50 prototype is estimated with 720 hp and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the GT-R by combining power with extraordinary performance, and style to be the ultimate expression of the GT-R.

1969 2000GT-R at Laguna Seca | Photography by Nicole Ellan James

To really appreciate the anniversary, I think it is essential to take a look at how the car has evolved. The first car to bear the Skyline GT-R name made its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1968 and launched in 1969. Regarded as the 2000GT-R, it was the Nissan-Datsun version of the formidable 2000GT-B that came with the acquisition of the Prince Automobile Company, which also produced the Skyline sedan line.

The car was known internally as code KPGC10 and carried the “Hakosuka” nickname, which was an amalgamation of the Japanese words for box and skyline. It was powered by the S20 dual-overhead cam 2.0-liter, inline-6 engine and earned 33 victories in its first year and a half, attempted 50 consecutive wins but fell short at 49, and snagged over 1000 victories by the time the model was given an update for 1973.

1973 Skyline GT-R on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum

The second-generation Skyline GT-R, KPGC110, adopted the “Kenmerry” nickname because of a song by a young couple used in the advertising campaign for the debut of the car in 1973. Despite using the same inline-6 as the earlier car, the Kenmerry Skyline is the only GT-R to never participate in a significant race. This is in part due to the oil crisis and the stricter emissions standards that choked performance in the mid-1970s. Only 197 KPGC110 GT-Rs were built.

R32 GT-R on the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

Today, the most recognizable Skyline GT-R’s are known as the R32, R33, and R34.

The R32 was initially put into production to meet requirements for racing homologation but soon became known as a technological marvel that was doing amazing things for 1989 as it captivated us with its performance. Nissan decided to allow an unlimited production run of the R32 after the automotive press went wild and the public demanded access to the car. It featured a 2.6-liter twin-turbo inline-6 engine and all-wheel drive designed by NISMO, Nissan’s motorsports division.

Accomplishments of the car include five consecutive championship wins in the all Japanese Touring Car Championships and more than 200 race wins, plus the unofficial lap record for a production car at the world-famous Nurburgring. Just about every part of the R32 has been developed and refined on the race track.

R33 leading R34 and R35 on track at Laguna Seca

While the R33 serves mostly as an evolution of the R32, the R33 is not to be overlooked. The car accomplished a 7:59 lap of the Nürburgring and earned the “Godzilla” nickname in Australia for its dominance over the Ford and Holden V8s.

The R34 GT-R has served as the forbidden fruit for U.S. car enthusiasts as it was featured in several of the “Fast and Furious” movies. The unobtainable Japanese performance car benefitted from the racing and testing done for the two previous generations. The R34 had more torque, the body was stiffer, and aerodynamics were improved from previous generations. It also made the use of a carbon fiber rear diffuser. The car was even shorter, as was the front overhang.

R35 Nissan GT-R

The R35 is regarded as a deviation from the original Skyline. It is the first GT-R to be offered in the United States. The Skyline name was dropped, and it featured a twin-turbocharged VR38DETT 3.8-liter V6 spinning out 480 horsepower.  The Hicas all-wheel steering system was gone, and so was the 6-speed manual, replaced by a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Nissan GT-R50 by Italdesign prototype

The Nissan GT-R50 by Italdesign will participate in demonstration laps at Laguna Seca throughout the weekend and a race car caravan from the track through the streets of Monterey and Carmel, California to a gathering at the Quail Lodge on Friday, August 24. Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s global design chief, will be riding in the GT-R50 by Italdesign during the drive, providing commentary on its design and performance.

Datsun 510 on track at Laguna Seca

Additionally, more than 50 Nissan/Datsun race cars have registered to compete on the track. Among them will be IMSA champion Steve Millen in his Daytona and Le Mans-winning Nissan 300ZX Turbo and Hall of Fame racer John Morton driving the BRE Datsun 240Z. Comedian and vintage car collector Adam Carolla will drive his SCCA National GT-1 Championship 300ZX Turbo, initially raced by Paul Newman.

Nissan R382 on display at Petersen Automotive Museum

Other cars on display in the paddock include the 1969 Japan Grand Prix winning Nissan R382 and Nissan R390 GT1. The 2019 Altima and Leaf will be on display to showcase Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility and the all-new Nissan Formula E race car which previews the next generation of Nissan Motorsports.

In addition to the collection of unique cars, Nissan’s large paddock display will host Adam Carolla’s popular “CarCast” podcast live from noon to 1 p.m. PDT, Saturday, August 25. The legendary driver, designer, and car builder Peter Brock will join Carolla to talk about the beginning of BRE and the team’s run to history more than 50 years ago.

For more information on the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, including race schedules, entry lists and up-to-the-minute event updates, see the Laguna Seca site. 

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About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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