The 2016 New York International Auto Show saw the debut of the latest version of the Nissan GT-R, but the 2017 model was upstaged somewhat by the ring of family members that Nissan had arranged around its display at the Javits Center. One example of each previous version of the Skyline GT-R (with 'Skyline' being the name the coupe has traditionally worn in the Japanese market) sat proudly displaying the brand's extensive performance heritage—and it's not a stretch to say there were more eyes on the classic metal than on Nissan's latest high-tech supercar.
Let's take a quick look at each member of the Skyline GT-R Historic Exhibit at the New York International Auto Show.
The very first GT-R hit the scene in 1969, and was immediately dubbed the 'Hakosuka' or 'Box Skyline' by fans due to its 90-degree angles. Featuring a 2.0-liter, inline six-cylinder S20 motor and triple side-draft carburetors, the 1969 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R produced 158 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque—numbers that weren't overwhelming for the era, but which perfectly complemented the GT-R's lightweight and balanced chassis. A year later the coupe version of the Hakosuka was on the streets, and a legend was born that would echo for decades throughout the world of Japanese performance cars.
The 1973 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R, or 'Kenmeri' is the rarest of the breed by a considerable margin. Only six or so months of production made it out the door of Nissan's factories before the energy crisis stifled the production of high performance cars in Japan and put the GT-R model on Hiatus. The Kenmeri's unusual nickname came from an equally out-there advertising effort from Nissan that followed the exploits of Ken and Mary, a couple who just happened to own a Skyline. The short-lived GT-R version of this generation Skyline featured the same S20 engine as its progenitor—and fewer than 200 were ever built.
After the demise of the Kenmeri, it took 16 years for the world to see another Skyline GT-R. In some ways, the wait was worth it: the 1989 Nissan Skyline GT-R introduced features like a turbocharged six-cylinder engine and computer-controlled all-wheel drive that have since become trademarks for the model. The RB26 DETT twin-turbo 2.6-liter engine is one of the most renowned sports car motors in history, and in stock trim the R32 it offered up 276 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. As part of Nissan's racing program, the RB26DETT would prove even more potent in dominating various domestic series throughout the 90s and introducing the famous phrase 'The Skyline Can Never Lose!' to the street racing lexicon.
The 1995 Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 foreshadowed the evolution of the model from track-focused athlete to grand touring straight-line speed demon. All-wheel drive and the RB26 were still in the mix (with horsepower listed at an identical 276 ponies thanks to a 'gentleman's agreement' between Japanese manufacturers not to advertise more than that figure), but a slick limited-slip rear differential was now part of the package. Torque was up to 271 lb-ft in the coupe, which was fast becoming the de facto choice for racers legal and otherwise across Japan.
By the time the 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 arrived on the scene it was clear that the RB26 under its hood was capable of producing insane amounts of power with modest investment from the aftermarket. 1,000 horses weren't uncommon from devotees of the R34 GT-R, which gave it an intimidating reputation on the international scene despite not being offered in the United States—and in the face of its official engine output still listed at 276 ponies (alongside 289 lb-ft of torque). The model on display in New York is an 'M-spec Nür' that took after Nürburgring endurance racers, a track that the Skyline GT-R regularly lapped in record time.
The Nissan GT-R R35 was the first edition of the famed coupe to ever be offered in America, and while it might have left its Skyline name back in the home country, it certainly didn't forget its racing roots. In fact, although larger and heavier than ever before the R35 is the most explosive performer in the Skyline portfolio, swapping out the RB26 for a new 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 capable of generating up to 600 horsepower and 481 lb-ft of twist as in this NISMO model. All-wheel drive and a six-speed automated manual transmission helped this particular GT-R NISMO set the 'high volume production car' lap record of seven minutes, eight seconds at the Nürburgring in 2015.