Prince Skyline GT: Reader resto
John Hickey walked into the showroom and bought one on the spot. His resto was a whole other can of worms...
Prince Skyline GT resto
My love affair with the Prince Skyline GT began way back in 1965 in the Queensland city of Toowoomba, when a friend from the auto club paid me a visit and asked me to pop into the dealership where he worked. At lunchtime that day I dropped in and saw a gleaming light grey GT sitting front and centre in the showroom with the bonnet up, clearly displaying the overhead cam motor with three Weber carburettors. I bought the car there and then. It won over friends and influenced people pretty quickly. It was popular with the car clubs and the press – they just couldn’t get enough of it. Back in 1965, to have a Japanese sports car with all the trick bits was unheard of, let alone a Japanese car that was quick! I remember that in ’65 there were many EH and Cooper S drivers amazed when my little Japanese car outperformed them!
I had owned the car for about 12 months but eventually sold it, mostly due to joining the Air Force. I always regretted that sale, but deep down thought that I’d just buy another one sometime. A few years ago I saw one for sale at Sandown Raceway but my available funds didn’t quite match my enthusiasm, sadly. Family and business became the priority. But the business grew and eventually my brother suggested we visit the Leyburn sprints about four years ago. I bumped into an old friend who helped me source a Prince Skyline to restore. I also met ex-NSW Sprint Car and speedway champion Bob Blacklaw. I told him I was looking for a restoration project and he knew of another Prince and gave me contact details. It’s rare finding one! But two just fell into my lap.
The Prince GT register in Melbourne were very helpful and pointed me in the right direction and put me in contact with all the right people to help with research. I did the strip-down in my own workshop, taking about six months, tagging, protecting and sorting every piece as I went. It turned out to be a much larger task that I first thought. At one stage I thought the thing would be lucky to ever go back together again.
Big jobs like body repairs were entrusted to Terry Barnes in Tamworth, who took care of an EH restoration many years prior. He got stuck into the rust removal, of which there was plenty! Some sections had to be completely re-built, such as the boot floor. It was removed and totally re-manufactured. So too all the body panel re-alignment work – this was arduous like nothing else I can describe. Terry eventually waved his wand over it with a fabulous paint job.
In the meantime, I had all the chrome items sent to Melbourne for refurbishment, and the brakes went to local specialist BrakePro in Paramatta, who rebuilt the power booster unit and slave cylinders for the dual braking system. We managed to source a new set of brake cylinders and new brake shoes for the rear end. The front end was totally stripped and rebuilt, the ball joints had to be re-engineered to the correct tolerances, possible thanks to the comprehensive workshop manual I purchased with the car.
For the interior, the seats and head liner were covered by another Tamworth trades person, Mang’s Automotive Interiors, while the dash and door trims were attended to by Cools Auto Trims in Sydney. All carpet and insulation was provided by Tasman Car Carpets. The wheels were a special build from Adelaide – we decided that the car would look better with these rims – and while it sits a little lower than standard I think it enhances the look. While all the specialist work was being done I took care of the engine, gearbox and rear end. The front end was totally stripped, rebuilt and powder coated.
As time passed, it was clear some parts just couldn’t be individually sourced, so I decided to try and purchase another car, if indeed I could find one. It wasn’t long after making the decision a contact was made in Rockhampton. A quick trip and a hot coffee with the owner and a deal was done. However, the car was on a property about 10 kilometres out of Toowoomba, where it had sat for a decade. When my helper and I arrived to collect the car, the result was worse than I’d envisioned: a bushfire had passed through the area and caused significant damage to the car. I was heartbroken.
A brother-in-law’s workshop was used in Toowoomba to strip the car of its few remaining valuables, and the body shell was sold to an enthusiast in north Queensland. The rest came back with me to Sydney. By now a small spares stash was starting to build. I was able to buy items from people from all over Australia, but still there was a problem as this model came with a five-speed gearbox and this specific car came to me with a four-speeder.
After trying source a five-speed for two years and almost giving up, to the point of considering a custom-made one, blind luck delivered me a car for sale in Adelaide. Another visit and coffee date got negotiations started, and like a dog with a bone I kept at him.
This car had two motors and two gearboxes! We reached a deal and I promptly had the car purchased and shipped to Sydney. The gearbox was locked away, checked and serviced in readiness for fitting to the project car. This parts car had sat in a garage for 25 years – I couldn’t believe my luck.
We sorted through the bits and pieces, found new sets of rings and bearings, a set of new pistons to suit the Prince and a heap of good useable items that are rarely available anywhere. Many parts were rebuilt in the Hickey workshop, repainted, polished, and whatever else it took to get them looking like new again. Finally, Terry Barnes called and asked me to collect the finished body shell that had the doors, bonnet and boot lid fitted. So for Christmas 2013 I saw the Prince finally back in the workshop and ready for reassembly – Santa had been very good to me indeed. Night after night I bunkered down in the garage reassembling and finding all the marked parts that had been given a second chance at life. The jigsaw seemed to go back together with relative ease, and in September 2014 I could finally turn the key and fire up the little rocket for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime. Those Webers had been spruced up by Carburettor Services, but a funny thing happened when I went to see them about the work. An on-site specialist took one glance and said "Prince Skyline GT". It seems a lot of people had a lot to do with this model at one time or another.
The Prince has now been tuned and I’ve had the front end sorted. Good god it sounds sweet! It also looks the goods. For those who know Princes, it sits on 14-inch rims, not the 13s that it came with originally. My car is a BE 3, 1966 model, and comes with the limited-slip rear end and five-speed gearbox (hence the need to locate the correct gearbox), a 99-litre fuel tank and laminated windscreen. One slight difference is a noticeable change to the front grille. I’ve also had a twin exhaust system bolted up underneath and with the Webers it sounds bloody fantastic and makes every single trip an aural delight. The whole car slaps a great big grin on my face and knowing how many hours I’ve put into it, it’s the best reward.
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