March 1964. That’s the month I first saw the light of day. And - in an entirely unrelated event in Suzuka - the Skyline became a legend. The Skyline actually began life at the bottom of the Prince range as a mid-sized four-cylinder sedan. It was Shinichiro Sakurai, the man who would eventually be called Father of the Skyline, who decided in the days leading up to the 1964 Japan Grand Prix that he’d stuff the G7 straight-six from a Prince Gloria into the Skyline and enter it into competition.
Sakurai elongated the nose nearly eight inches between the cowl and front tires in order to accommodate the 2.0L motor. He added triple Weber double-barrel sidedraft carbs, putting out about 123hp, and mated it to a 5-speed close ratio transmission leading to a limited-slip differential. Front discs helped scrub the speed and the whole shebang was enclosed in a reinforced body. Despite some handling trouble, it set a lap record at Suzuka at 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
Prince entered seven hotted up Skylines in the race, and it was widely assumed that they would take the GT-II class win. However, a late entry by a privateer in a Porsche 904 destroyed that notion. The mid-engined 904 was a 200hp purpose-built race car and the Skyline, essentially a stretched family sedan, had no hope of beating it.
The 904 was driven by Sokichi Shikiba, who would later to go on to found the racing supplier Racing Mate. Rumor has it that Toyota secretly sponsored Shikiba, even helping him obtain the 904, all in order to take down the rival Skylines. But despite the Porsche’s advantage, something amazing happened:
During one particularly heated lap, #41 driver Tetsu Ikuzawa, against all odds, overtook the Porsche and, briefly, led the race. That was all the Skyline needed. The crowd rose to its feet, scarcely believing what they’d seen. The idea that a home-grown sedan from Japan’s burgeoning auto industry could get anywhere near an established marque’s race car was unthinkable.
In truth, Shikiba had an off in practice and damaged the Porsche’s front end quite badly. They managed to put it together again for the race despite a lack of spares, but the steering was still somewhat “off” and Shikiba was struggling a little with it. This allowed the Skylines to chase him. Shikiba and Ikuzawa were good friends, and there was speculation that Ikuzawa overtaking Shikiba was somewhat staged or at the very least a little playfulness on their part.
Of course, the Porsche did win in the end, and the Skylines dominated the rest of the field, with this #39 car driven by Sunoka coming second. The other Skylines took up all the other spots down to number six. But the mere fact that a Japanese sedan had overtaken a Porsche race car made it an instant legend - perhaps more so than if the Skylines had merely beaten a pack of the usual Japanese suspects.
The Tomica casting you see here has a slightly strange history too. It was first released as a “Tomica Limited” (not “Limited Vintage”) in 2001. Obviously, Tomica couldn’t resist issuing both the #39 and #41 Race car version as well.
Later issues appeared with Regular Tomica wheels in special releases, such as this Event Model. At the time of the first “Limited” release, I just bought the standard street version, but couldn’t convince myself to shell of for the racing ones as well. But I’m glad I managed to track down this version of that famous race car. After all, we share a Birthday, sort of.
Happy New Year Everyone, we’re nearly there already so I’d better get off the computer!