This is a brief 14 year manufacturing history of the Prince Motor Company and will cover some of the weapons this manufacturer produced: one an aircraft and the second one would become the Nissan Skyline.
In 1924 the Ishikawajima Shipyards branched out into aircraft manufacturing. Many car manufacturers in Japan followed this path starting in ship building before diversifying into aircraft and then car manufacturing. Ishikawajima was successful in providing aircraft to the Imperial Japanese Army for training purposes. So successful in fact, that the Army took full control of the aircraft division in 1936 renaming it the Tachikawa Aircraft Company after the town where the factory was located.
Ishikawajima eventually became IHI, renowned for aircraft engines and turbo units found in many sports cars. Incidentally, the shipyard also founded the Harima Dock Company who subsequently took over an automotive division inside the group which was then spun off as the Ishikawajima Automotive Works (IAW). This company had a licensing agreement with Wolseley to build cars in Japan. After changing its name twice, it became Isuzu Motors in the mid 1930s.
In early 1940, Tachikawa licensed some Lockheed aircraft designs, however after Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese brought the might of the US into conflict they also bolstered the national war effort by assembling the Mitsubishi Zero fighter bomber that was used by several Asian countries during the 1940s. After the hostilities were over, Japan found itself in a similar position to Germany – it was being occupied by the Allies and wasn’t allowed to manufacture aircraft or other equipment that could possibly be used in a military way. Tachikawa and another aircraft company, Nakaima, merged to form the Fuji Sangyo company and many engineers left to join other factories including Toyota.
In 1947 the company started to develop cars as a way of using their engineering knowledge and even produced an electric car, the Tama or “ghost”. It was built for about four years and was very similar to “early” modern electric cars – low power and range with lead acid batteries, however high tech in those days! In 1950, the company was reformed and the manufacture of training aircraft started again and in 1952 the car division was renamed Tama Motor Company and turned into a subsidiary. Two years later it was renamed the Prince Motor Company and spun off completely.
New models were being developed on the back of the Tama, although they were more conventional to compete in a petrol powered market. Prince also saw an opening at the top end of the market making luxury vehicles. This tied in with their name – to honour Prince Akihito. This is where several model lines started that motoring enthusiasts will be familiar with. The first is the Skyline, launched in 1957 as the ALSI-1 model with a 1.5 litre, 60hp motor. Styling was very 1950s General Motors and even though it was a luxury vehicle, it spawned the Prince Miler, a pickup truck (or ute) and the Skyway, a delivery van.
The 1958 version of the Skyline known as the ALSI-2 featured minor styling updates and an extra 10hp and was joined by the BLRA-3 Skyline that looked a lot like a 1960s Triumph thanks to the design coming from Michelotti in Italy who also penned many Standard-Triumphs at the same time.
The original ALSI was used as the basis for a new model in 1959, the Gloria fitted with a 1.9 litre four cylinder motor. The second generation came out in 1962 as the Gloria S40 and S44 with a choice of engines including their first six cylinder in the S41 Gloria 6. Styling was definitely influenced by late 1950s American metal.
In 1963, the second generation Skyline was launched, again in a number of variants and took the S50 badge with several being used for the factory saloon racing team. The success produced the GT line that used the six cylinder 100hp motor from the Gloria. A modern icon was born.
During 1964 the Grand Gloria S44P was released with a 2.5 litre straight six motor. Success at the top end prompted the company to start developing new models further down the scale. One was the Laurel and another was called the Cherry. Both cars were still in design when the company merged with Nissan, holder of the Datsun brand, in 1966. Thus all the cars were rebranded Nissan or Datsun, depending on the market the cars were destined for.
At the time Nissan were buying designs from other manufacturers for assembly in Japan – a bit like how the Koreans got started around the same time. Nissan recognised that to grow and succeed they needed a design shop that was capable of developing market leading cars. Prince had this capability, coming from a solid engineering background with success on the track and rallying.
With the aircraft knowledge: good dollops of power in a lightweight but strong chassis and body – Prince knew how to package up a competitive car, something that Nissan struggled with. It was this knowledge that helped the old technology in the Datsun Fairlady become the super svelte 240-Z, and the birth of another iconic range – the Z cars. Some reports even suggest that the Z was named after the Zero fighter as many of the Prince engineers had worked on the aircraft when they assembled it during the 1940s.
It can still be seen that Nissan gained a huge amount from the merger, with all model names continuing on for several decades and the Skyline and Z cars becoming modern classics with the GT spawning the GTR badge that became its own hard core sub-brand and successful racer.