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Two of Nissan‘s most iconic cars, the Skyline and the Z-car, have roots leading back to the Prince Motor Company. The Prince Motor Company’s origin story derives from companies that produced airplanes to support Japan’s war effort in WWII. So, how does a manufacturer transition from building warplanes to delivering some of the most iconic sports cars in America in a single generation?

Japanese manufacturing before World War II

In the mid-1920s, Japanese shipbuilders began building aircraft to diversify and expand their engineering knowledge. Ishikawajima Shipyards found success in providing training airplanes to the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1936 the Japanese Army took over the company’s aircraft division, renaming it Tachikawa Aircraft Company. 

In 1940, Tachikawa acquired licensing to build Lockheed-designed aircraft. However, the company’s war effort began in earnest after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As the war effort peaked, the company started assembling Mitsubishi Zero fighter bombers and Hyabusa aircraft. 

The Prince Motor Company’s origins

After the war, allied forces occupying Japan prevented manufacturing anything with potential for military application. This arrangement left Japan’s engineers and manufacturing experts free to explore other avenues, and Japan’s automotive industry flourished. 

According to Motoring Weekly, by 1947, Tachikawa merged with Fuji Precision Industries, another former aircraft manufacturer, to form Fuji Sangyo. Fuji Sangyo began producing training aircraft again in 1950. However, by 1954 Fuji Precision Machinery, using the 45-horsepower 1.5-liter engine developed by Fuji Precision Industries, spun off from the aircraft operations as a separate entity. 

Nissan-Global mentions several name changes between Fuji Sangyo and Fuji Precision Machinery during the years after the war. The Prince Motor Company, named as a tribute to the Crown Prince of Japan, Akihito, began producing high-end luxury cars befitting its name. The company introduced the Skyline in 1957 and the Gloria in 1959.

How Prince Motor Company merged with Nissan

The Prince Skyline and Gloria models were successful as passenger cars and competing on automobile racing circuits. This success attracted the attention of Nissan, which also held the Datsun brand, leading to the 1966 merger between Prince and Nissan.

Before the merger, Nissan lacked design engineering and bought designs from other companies. Adding Prince Motor’s engineering capability to Nissan’s manufacturing prowess led to the Datsun Fairlady’s transformation into the sporty Nissan 240-Z. 

This merger provided the basis for the design engineering expertise that gave birth to other Nissan Z-cars, such as:

  • 1991 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo
  • 2003 Nissan 350Z
  • 2005 Nissan Fairlady Z – Pikachu Z 

In addition to legendary Z-cars, Nissan created some impressive Nissan Skyline models, such as:

  • 1969 C10 Hakosuka GT-R
  • 1973 C110 Kenmeri GT-R
  • 1989 R32 Skyline GT-R
  • 1995 R33 Skyline GT-R
  • 1999 R34 Skyline GT-R
  • 2007 R35 GT-R

Nissan’s Skyline and Z-car models succeeded on race courses, drifting competitions, and many movie appearances. As a result, the cars instantly became modern classics, spawning car clubs and specialty modification shops across the country. Additionally, the original Skyline GT founded the GT-R badge worn by many of the most highly sought-after Nissan Skylines today. 

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