When the Sky (Line)’s the limit

Nissan dealers were selling Skyline models new here until at least 1990. I know this for a fact because the Aussie-assembled 1989 model R31 I paid the princely sum of $475 for (way) back in 2009 was not first registered here until 1990.

In saying that I’m not so sure Nissan NZ sold any of the later R32, 33 + 34 models new. While they must have sold in their thousands here from the mid 1990 until the early to mid-2000s my memory suggests that the vast majority of Skylines sold after 1990 were second-hand Japanese imports.

Perhaps a reader will know one way or another and will be to put us right.

Of course, I’d always had a softish sort of spot for the R31, something to do perhaps with the overall very positive impression I was left with after road testing a top-of-the-line Silhouette model for a weekly motoring column I was writing at the time (this would have been in 1987 or 1988) for Wellington’s Dominion newspaper.

1989 Nissan Skyline BNR32 GT-R

Compared directly with the then new Nissan RB20E and RB30E-powered VL Holden Commodores of the day, the Skyline came across as an altogether tighter drum.

I was impressed and remember saying as much in the test report I wrote about it at the time.

As it turned out, however, it was more happenstance than anything else that led me down the path of R31 ownership.

At the time I bought my first, second and third examples they had been stranded at the very bottom of the Bell Curve of their individual value cycles and I was able to buy each one – registered and with a current WoF to boot – for (way) less than $1000 at a time.

Even when I bought a fourth – then fifth – R31 in more recent times I’ve – somehow – been able to stay on the correct side of just $2K.

The latest GTR35

Which – I hope – just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to be a so-called ‘Trust Fund Baby’ to enjoy the fruits of owning a true Japanese Classic.

In saying that New Zealand is no longer one of the only sovereign territories in the world which allows the wholesale importing and sale of second cars from Japan.

Where once, for instance, intrepid Kiwi car dealers might have been the only non-Japanese nationals to physically attend an auction in Japan, today, it is more like the United Nations (or, as one wag related to me several year ago, (‘like a scene from one of those bars in Star Wars!!) with dealers from every possible corner of the globe, all milling around, most with cell phones clasped to an ear, each eagerly awaiting the results of the now fully automated bidding process.

Car-mad Kiwis were very quick to take advantage of the ready availability of (finally fully-specced) cars, vans and SUVs – first eagerly joining entrepreneurial dealers on so-called ‘baggage car’ buying trips to Japan, then second, when the rules were relaxed and you no longer had to travel to Japan yourself, happily pay up to $19,995 for a series 1 Mazda RX7s and/or Subaru Legacy RS & GT turbo.

For a while there in fact we here in ‘little old NZ” were in the privileged position of being the only (other) group of car guys anywhere else on the globe to enjoy the same sort of unfettered access to the back catalogue of Japanese Domestic Model (JDM) greatness as the Japanese themselves.

What a lot of Kiwis don’t realise, however, is just how lucky we actually were, and it is probably only now, as the rest of the world has finally caught up with us, that we can see – aided by the clarity 20/20 hindsight brings to situations like this of course – what we actually had at the time.

Of course, no discussions on the merits – or otherwise – of these heady times when New Zealand’s new and used vehicle marketplace was arguably the free-est and most open one in the world, would be complete without mention of the car which for so many enthusiasts around the globe is considered to be THE best Japanese car ever, the 1989-1993 Nissan Skyline BNR32

America might now be the new ‘ground zero’ for all things BNR32 related, however I for one can’t watch another YouTube video without either 1) wondering (really, after all these years) what all the fuss is about and 2) thinking that as Kiwis we spend so much time looking out at what the rest of the world is doing ,we can often miss the significance of what is going on in our own backyard.

2022 GTR Festival car and driver lineup

’I’m as guilty as anyone else in this regard, though in my defence, by devoting a column to a particular subject, at least I can raise awareness of said subject, and – hopefully – get some dialogue going between interested parties.

Speaking of which. I was prompted to write about the BNR32 this week and – if I can drag some comments out of a couple of locals who I know were knee-deep into the things back in the day – next week as well – by a couple of things.

1/ The running, a fortnight ago now, of another successful ST Hi-tec/Jtune-sponsored New Zealand GTR Festival at Hampton Downs
2/ The fact that when I checked TradeMe the day after for a quick snapshot of the serious end of the local Skyline/GTR market the only ones listed were a $100K BNR32 and a (gulp) $359K BNR34 M-spec.

What that immediately  told me was that there is no longer a distinctive local market for cars as unique and collectible as BNR GTRs

Instead, serious collectors and/or investors who choose to live and keep their cars here are going to have to know as much about currency exchange rates as they once might have about BNR32 gear ratios if they are to survive and prosper in what is now a truly global marketplace.

Because I find the whole Prince/Skyline/GTR backstory so fascinating I’d willingly spend hours seeking out original text and piccies to make a story like this one a better, more comprehensive readd.

In saying that though, it’s amazing how much information you can literally squeeze into a typical YouTube video these days – and the link below takes you to one of the better ones.

So, before I return with some BNR32 stories of our own next week, can I suggest that you sit back, relax, and enjoy a frankly incredible story of Nissan’s first true Supercar, a car which former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has apparently, gone on record (somewhere) as saying he ‘quite liked.’

“And on that bombshell……etc., etc., etc.”

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines contract media work with weekend Mountain Bike missions and trips to grassroots drift days.

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