Nissan Prince A200 GT
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The Prince Motor Company was in existence from 1947 until 1966
when it was merged with the Nissan Motor Company. Prince created a racing GT Skyline in May 1964
. It was based on the S54 and used the larger 6-cylinder G-7 engine from the Gloria S41, though the car needed an 8" extension to the wheelbase (all forward of the cowl/firewall) to provide space in the engine bay for the lankier in-line six.
When it entered the 2nd Japanese Grand prix they hoped to win the GT-II class. Competitive against the Porsche 904, the Skyline managed 2nd through to 6th places. Largely due to the success of the race vehicle, the Prince Skyline 2000GT (also called GT-A, GT-B, S54A and S54B) was released to the Japanese market. There were two versions produced, the S54A – 1988cc G-7 single-carb L6, 105 hp (78 kW) and the S54B – 1988cc G-7 triple-carb I6, 125 hp (94 kW).
This article concentrates on the latter version, which featured three Weber 40DCOE-18 carburettors, a limited slip differential, 5-speed close ratio manual transmission
, and power brakes. Both the B and A used front disc brakes
with dual pistons and alloy finned drums in the rear.
Prince Pedigree, Nissan Finance
Can you name a road car that could be raced occasionally, was fit for a Prince yet was priced for a pauper, went well thanks to its limited slip differential, was arguably the greatest carburetted car then mass produced, and was Japanese? These days it seems to be long forgotten, but at the time Prince were producing one of the affordable greats – a car that these days would be a worthy contender (and perhaps winner) of any bang-for-your-buck shootout.
Nissan didn't wait long to instil some magic into the GT Prince after its take-over of this smaller Japanese company. The car didn’t lose from the merger - in A200 GT form it had gained. The ideas were almost certainly from the competition prone Prince side of the organisation but the money, the incentive and the backing were equally as attributable to Nissan.
Variously known as the Prince A200 GT, GTA 2000 and 2000GT/A, the Prince GT was more than a simple mechanical device - it had a spirited quality which would never have been envisaged when it was on the drawing board. Or maybe we are selling the Nippon designers short – and they had a genius with feeling for cars. It was not so much the five speed box, the rippy rear or the whine of straight-cut gears. As Dennis Denuto would have said, ”It’s the vibe of the thing”.
On paper at least, the A200 should not have been the car it was. It used a 102 in. wheelbase, was one ton weight, had a concentrated nose bias and scanty 49 in. Track. These attributes did not make for the world's best handling
GT sedan, although it didn’t eliminate it from the ranks of very capable touring-machines. There were a few refinements needed before anyone would have described the Prince a competition-bred machine (which it was) so Nissan marketed this version to shut down the sceptics.
Basically, the additions were four cogs with an overdrive, limited slip differential and long range near-20 gallon tank. Just to keep the change-with-progress idea going a full through flow ventilation system with pinpoint air induction nozzles was added. With the benefit of hindsight we can see what Prince were aiming at: a racing car that was just as practicable as a road car. The overdrive wouldn't be used all that often on a race circuit (Bathurst, Surfers, Longford perhaps) and if it did it was geared terribly close to top to make sure it pulled well but it was still economical. The LSD was obviously no handicap under any conditions with that sort of power on tap; and the long range fuel tanks doubled-up for interstate driving. But despite this earnest attempt to cater to two distinct types of market the Prince wasn't at all disjointed.
On the Road
It was definitely more road than track and it could possibly best be explained this way: the average buyer would climb into it and think it as a semi-competition machine, but an experienced racing driver could get behind the wheel and they were behind the wheel of a GT machine with genuine racing potential. The Prince obviously needed some careful legal fiddles even to make it fully competitive for series production racing. It would be hard to make the car show well even with violent modifications in improved production because of its classification in the open category. Its forte clearly lay with races of the era such as the Surfers Paradise 12-hour and other races with more categories. And between races it would satisfy owners as a general use road car, at which it excelled.
But the performance-inspired equipment wrought great changes to the Prince - even evaluating it as a pure road car. The limited slip differential unquestionably led to far better rear end control in all phases of operation. On getaway thrust the tail would not jibe outwards as it was prone to on the B model, and in cornering there was a feeling of great stability and steadiness at any speed even over the limit. And the fifth gear changed the whole pattern of the top end performance too. Third gear maximum was 70 miles per hour, where on the previous Prince models it used to be near-the-ton, and the other ratios were equally well-adjusted right down through the range: second peaked at 50, first at 35 and above them fourth at 95. That left overdrive pulling a neat 120 mph – or perhaps more, but most road testers from the era seemed to run out of road before a definitive top speed could be posted.
At 115 mph the tacho would be showing 5700 and at 110 it was at 5400 – and this was well below the 6000 redline, which meant as an autobahn cruiser you could maintain 100+ mile per hour speeds with ease and without even hearing the engine work. During performance testing drivers noted that power would peak at around 5800 rpm and by the time you reacted on the gear lever
6000 would be the actual change point.
You could tune the car to pull 6,500, or in stock trim simply learn to shift a little earlier than you might have otherwise done in other cars. We have noted that several road testers pushed long past the 6000 theoretical readline, in an era before rev limiters were fitted, with no problems experienced with regular excursions to 6500 rpm. One road tester felt that the engine could have continued on to 7000 rpm, but since he had to hand the keys back to Nissan he did not attempt to prove his theory!
Behind the Wheel
The qualities of the Prince did not simply end with good straight line performance. Back in the day, Japanese tyres
did not have much of a reputation. But the Bridgestone six-ply low profile nylons (rated for 100 mph) fitted to the Prince were reassuring and gave plenty of grip, and thus confidence. They were not perfect, however, as their tread-free shoulder pattern mad them squeal badly on low track pressures but round town they remained quiet except when they came in contact with tramlines or road markings, where they would produce a weird tearing sound. The Bridgestone’s produced no sidewall rolling under extreme cornering pressures and tracked safely under brakes.
There were two slight flaws in the Prince's handling
from a track viewpoint. The main one came from excessive wheelspin on very tight corners, which even the LSD couldn't cure, although you were never left without plenty of power at one driving wheel. This seems to arise out of slightly too harsh springing which allowed roll oversteer to wind up a rear wheel. But it wasn't a road problem and unless you were doing track work all was well.
The second flaw was a braking habit which also only showed up in extreme racing conditions but which could arise in panic stops on the road. The back wheels had a tendency to lock up one at a time with severe application and this could become embarrassing. A line pressure-limiting device properly adjusted to throw the majority of the braking effort even more on the front discs would have cured it although it was partly associated with the harsh rear springing.
The front discs would have been able to accommodate more braking effort, leastwise we assume so as road testers from the time all spoke of just how good the front discs were, refusing to fade with prolonged abuse – and for normal road use they would have been class leading. But even with these minor faults they were more than compensated for by the brilliant handling
. The steering
set-up must have been mainly responsible for this. It was so positive in its feel and so perfectly placed for complete control with one armful of lock that, provided you were somewhat proficient at driving, it was almost impossible to get into trouble.
A Potent Family Car
Better still was the Prince’s application as a suburban family car. The better spaced gear ratios made for more pleasant work in city streets than the previous Prince B model, although the gears themselves were not nearly as easily manipulated. We checked the handbook and it claims all synchromesh
on the top four (overdrive included there) but this is at odds with road testers observations that it operated on a crash system most of the way through. With rpm in hand the road testers claimed you could get any gear without effort - and without it they all become too stiff. Quoting one observation, “...first was impossible to grab on the move without a spirited double-shift and lots of arc on the tacho
needle, and it is usually quite difficult to engage at a standstill - even if you move to second first. The others are all stiff and notchy until you put a few rpm on the input shaft. First and reverse whine almost embarrassingly (yes, more than a BMC product) and you don't spend much time in them round town because you can move away in second if you wish. Fifth also has a whine that comes in about 45 and goes out again around 55 mph. It isn't serious and you don't notice it after a while”.
The Prince’s tractability was astounding – probably a big part in making it that were the three dual throat 45 DCOE Webers. But the Prince engineers also breathed the head smoothly to make sure the combination worked efficiently. Simply, you would have to describe the car as the best carburetted production car then in the world for its price. It didn't load up in traffic even up to three-quarter throttle application and it wouldn’t falter until you put your foot flat at too slow a speed in too high a gear. Fourth would pull away without pinking right down to 20 mph and you could use fifth under the speed limits without getting driveline shudder and vibrations. You had to be careful too with the downshifts from fifth or fourth - it was easy to enter the unprotected reverse gate and get a grind - though this was mainly ownership practice.
And the Prince sounds right. Prince Motors went to some trouble to get the right sort of local Aussie muffler (it was a Lukey unit) to combine free-flow efficiency and tasteful note. The result was a soft burble that sounded strangely V8 but is powerful and unobtrusive, with the window glass up or down. Not many were sold in Australia, and we think very few survive to this day. Shame then, given it really was one of the first truly great Japanese touring GT’s. (Please note: The larger image below if of the very similar 1965 Prince Skyline GT-B).