The vintage cars were Nissan Skylines, from the early 1970s all the way through 2001. The Skyline was the grandfather of the original GT-R line that had garnered Nissan massive racing and video-game notoriety. Two in particular caught the most attention from bystanders: A 1971 Nissan Skyline 2000GT-R “Hakosuka” and a 1973 Nissan Skyline 2000GT-R “Kenmeri.”
Those embody a particular 2000GT-R style that evokes the best vintage Nissans ever produced. The version first released in February 1969 had a 1,989cc DOHC 24-valve inline 6-cylinder engine that hit 158 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpn. It also came with the famous Nissan S20 powerplant that later appeared in the Fairlady Z432, a model with the same body as the 240Z but never offered in America.
The basic Skyline series started with the Prince Motor Company in 1955 but went to Nissan after the companies merged in 1966. This iconic third-generation version, called the C10 Skyline 2000GT-R, was marketed by Nissan after the merger.
Skyline 2000GT-Rs first came out as five-speed manual sedans but quickly morphed into coupe form—all the better for the race track. Nissan stripped that version of unnecessary equipment so that it would be superlight and nimble (but thankfully it kept those handsome analogue dials and cool wooden interior accents). It worked: The racing version of the Skyline won more than 50 times from 1969 to 1972, which fanned enthusiasts’ obsession with the car. The model was never exported to the U.S. (Original Skyline 2000GT-Rs from the early ’70s are so rare on the collector market in the U.S. that Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in vintage cars, doesn’t compile figures yet for the brand.)
But massive racing wins and a reputation for exacting prowess do much to cross international barriers. A discerning group of fans outside Japan has loved the old Skyline models because they are so entertaining to watch race—and to imagine driving.
“These were the hot cars, the early aspirational cars, from the video games,” said Jonathan Klinger, the head of communications for Hagerty. “If there is a vehicle that you can put as the poster child for the video-game obsession aspect, this car is that. And of course The Fast and the Furious has really made this the thing for millennials.”
Traditionally in the U.S., it has been exceedingly rare to see an early Skyline 2000GT-R on the auction block. But times are changing. From 2014 to 2015, Hagerty saw quote activity—people searching online for prices—increase 377 percent for the Skyline 2000GT-R, “a bigger increase than I’ve ever seen before,” Klinger said. Even more interesting: 80 percent of the vehicles quoted were searched by millennials, which bodes well for its continued popularity as those buyers age, and acquire more wealth, over the next decades.
Here’s why: It’s illegal to import to the U.S. any types of Skyline that are less than 25 years old. They have to wait till that age to be grandfathered in to federal emissions standards as historic vehicles. And as the popular R32 version from the late ’80s is just becoming available and sought-after on the auction block, it will foster interest further down the line in the earlier models, according to Klinger.
“Until very recently, you almost never saw those cars here in the States, but you’ll probably see them more in the next couple years,” Klinger said. “There has been some pent-up demand. And the popularity of the newer generations is going to continue to bring more interest to the original ones.”
Buy in Early
If you want to buy a “Hakosuka” (“hako” means box, “suka” is the Japanese pronunciation of the "Sk" in Skyline) or a “Kenmeri” (nicknamed for an ad campaign featuring a young American-style couple named Ken and Mary, a spokesman for Nissan said) in the ultimate condition, be prepared to pay six figures. Nissan made only 832 Hakosuka sedans and 1,197 of the Hakosuka 2-doors, and of the few hundred known to be remaining, the ones in good condition rightly cost thousands of dollars. The marque made even fewer of the rare Kenmeri version; production was halted after only 197 units when stricter emission regulations were introduced shortly after their debut.
The two models “have progenitor status and rarity and will be of interest as awareness of these cars becomes more mainstream,” Klinger said, adding that if you want to buy them as a long-term investment, you’re probably on to something. “Although they aren't likely to provide significant returns in the next 12 to 18 months,” he added.
If you can settle for one with some obvious wear or heavy modifications—especially if it has lost that very special S20 engine—you can halve its cost. The DuPont Registry, for example, lists a 1971 model with just 3,107 miles for $50,000.
Or go to Japan, were prices run the gamut, from high-end options such as a ’72 Skyline GT-R for $205,000 to the more affordable ’72 Skyline Hakosuka listed for $41,500 and the ’71 for $55,000. It will cost only a few thousand dollars extra to ship your baby back home, so it might be worth the effort to just go over and get one there.
Then Bide Your Time
Any way you look at it, you’ll spend much less on a Skyline than you would on the premier original Asian sports car, the Toyota 2000GT.
“Other than the Toyota 2000GT, this would be the next aspirational Japanese car,” Klinger said. “You have the 240 Nissan Z, but those were very attainable and affordable and sold in the U.S., so they did not have the same unattainable factor that the Skyline does.”
The key is to be patient. Buy one now, if you can find a good example. Then wait a few years. Your prescience will pay off.