The Nissan Skyline GT-R is the technical whizz of the supercar world, capable of defeating the giants of the performance car industry it’s hard to imagine that the first marque rolled off a very small production line of just 1,945 Hakosuka GT-Rs between 1969 and 1972.
Whilst walking around the Eckington Classic Motorshow something caught my eye, it looked like a mini Ford Mustang Fastback from one of my favourite films Bullitt. However, this was Japanese, a Nissan badge, it was one of that first small batch and next to it, owner Shaun Lawless from Newbold.
I struck up conversation and this man that has played a large part in the cult following of this car in the UK since his involvement in the GT-R scene since the 1990s. Shaun's love affair with cars started in his teens!
“I’ve always had a passion for Japanese cars” says Shaun. “Cars are a family thing; my brother Kevin has a Ford Escort (Ed: which was parked next to the GT-R) and my other brother Eamonn helps with the logistics.”
“I’ve had a wide range of cars, Ford Escorts RSs, Ford Cosworths, but one of my first cars was a Datsun 240z, these were sold in Japan as Nissans, and the same cars sold outside the Japanese market being badged as Datsuns.”
“In the late 90s I got my first GT-R, a Nissan Skyline R33 and this was the beginning of my route into the GT-R scene. The GT-R was not sold directly from UK dealers in the early days so all cars, were imported in very small numbers. Early owners had to be very determined to find a car, you couldn’t simply walk into a Nissan dealer and buy one.”
In the early days of the internet Shaun set up an owners’ forum where discussions took place about all aspects of GT-R life. With the backing of the NISMO (Nissan Motorsports International) racing division, this led to trips to Japan visiting specialist tuning shops and led to the formation of many life long relationships.
“I’ve had the pleasure to meet so many interesting people through the forum, including Kazutoshi Mizuno (Mizuno-san), known as ‘Mr GTR’ across the world, he's a good friend and the chief Nissan engineer behind the GT-R. We had forum trips across Europe to the Nürburgring and Spa circuits and it wasn’t long before I purchased a R34 GT-R.
So how did you find one of the rare first-generation cars? “Obviously my interest with GT-R’s dates to the original car, the KPGC10 (Ed: that’s a Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R 1969 to 1972, or Hakosuka GT-R) but they are so hard to find. I have a good friend who runs a garage and he set about finding a good clean car to import, it took about 18 months to source the right car, but we got our hands on it about four years ago.”
This is the white car you see in the pics on these pages, I’d not seen one prior to the show and instantly fell in love with it.
“What makes the cars even harder to find is that people don’t like them to leave Japan, so it was quite an achievement to find a good one and bring it across to the UK.
“The car has had a full restoration by a UK GT-R specialist and apart from a few minor changes is standard. We’ve had custom suspension fitted to lower the ride height, added flared arches to the front, the back always came with flares as the cars run 10.5” wide wheels at the rear and 8.5” at the front and I sourced some Watanabes magnesium racing wheels.
“These wheels caused great concern as they are 14” diameter and it’s difficult to find wide tyres to fit 14” rims, 13” no problem but not 14”. The tyres fitted came from Australia, the size issue lead to the craze for stretched tyres that so many cars feature these days.
“You need to be so respectful of these cars when working on them, you can’t just nip to your local auto parts store. The S20 twin-cam engine is one of rarest engines in the world, only ever fitted to the early GT-R and about 20 extremely 240z 432s.”
Shaun loves to show his cars but he also loves driving them, he’s driven his R34 up the legendary Stelvio pass in Italy and has done the Gumball rally twice across Europe. He loves the attention the cars get, and the way people step up to chat and find out more.
One of Shaun's cars that typifies this love is an extremely rare Nissan GT1. “Just four of these homologation cars were built for racing.
“A good friend ran a race team; the team were also part of the Playstation Acadamy that took successful gamers into actual cars and onto the track. The GT-R was the first car to run an LCD screen in the car which was developed by Sony.
“Four cars were built for the FIA GT1 world series in 2009, the series was killed off in 2011 and the cars returned to Nissan, destined to be toured around the world and demonstrated at events. I was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed where one of the cars was being run by NISMO and driven by FIA GT1 World champion Michael Krumm, and I enquired if there was any chance it was for sale, ‘No way’ was the answer.
“But a while after I was invited to the Spa circuit by NISMO as a guest, I thought it was down to my involvement in the Nissan forums, but it turns out I was being vetted to see if I was to be a suitable owner for the GT1!
“The car is purely for show. I can’t do track days in it, it’s too loud, I can’t race it as there is no series, but I can show it at events, it’s been to Chris Evans’ Car Fest, demo’ed at the Nürburgring, classic events and even displayed in the foyer of the RAC headquarters in London which was a very tight squeeze getting it in!”
So why would you do this, own a car that is so expensive to run and has so few places you can us it? It was clear to see that Shaun has a passion for things different, “these old cars have a charm about them, they are so impractical compared to today’s cars, but they are just so lovely to own. The GT1 is a work of art, my Picasso.
“I think many people want cars with Google Connect and Apple play, the car and what it looks like is a secondary requirement. Cars bring back memories for me, each one relates to a period in my life, to people around me and to experiences.
“An old friend stays in touch via Facebook, she always mentions the car I owned at the time, the music and reflects nostalgically. This is what makes it for me, people love the old GT-R, like you, you stopped to talk. It’s great to see people appreciate it, the social side of things, I suppose that’s why I do it.”
What's your best car experience? “One of them is Silverstone in 2019. 13 members of the GTR forum got together and started the GT-R drivers club, and in 2019 we celebrated 50 years of the Skyline.
“We were humbled that Nissan bought the concept GT-R 50 over from Japan to display, these Italdesign, £1Million+ supercars, of which 50 were later individually produced to order, reflect the heraldry of the car. At Silverstone I lead out a parade of GT-Rs from the oldest and original, my car, to the GT-R 50 concept car bringing up the rear. It was a real honour to be involved and to help bring this event together.”
Huge thanks to Shaun for taking the time out to chat cars and to Richard Gibson for the fantastic images.
Words: Paul Chapman
Images: RG Images & Paul Chapman