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Used Nissan Skyline review: 1986-1990

We talk about the big three, Holden, Ford and Mitsubishi, in the traditional segment for big family cars, but there was once another player trying to break in.  That company was Nissan when it was making cars locally, and the model was the Skyline.

The 1980s were tough times for local carmakers, struggling to stay afloat or scrambling to restructure as the Government removed protective tariffs.  The Government recognised there were too many carmakers and encouraged companies to produce common models, so Holden and Nissan got together.

Holden had found itself with a six-cylinder engine long past its use-by date and not enough money to develop a new one.  The answer came in the form of Nissan's 3.0-litre SOHC six-cylinder engine, which was shoehorned into the VL Commodore. It was a proven engine, though installed in the Commodore it had several problems.

But in the R31 Skyline it was a gem. The Skyline should really have won over more buyers than it did. It was a good car, well engineered and built, but let down by its conservative styling.  Ultimately, the company that fell by the wayside in terms of local production was Nissan, which turned importer.


THE R31 Skyline was aimed at the buyer of the traditional Australian family car: it was a similar size to the Commodore, with accommodation for five adults, powered by a six-cylinder engine, and drive through the rear wheels.  There was a choice of sedan or wagon. It was squarish, with sharp lines and a rather harsh outline when its rivals were heading down a softer path.

If it wasn't the best-looking car on the market, it made up for it with a solid mechanical package and build quality the others could only dream about.  For power, it relied on the RB30E 3.0-litre single overhead cam six. It had two valves per cylinder, and with fuel-injection it punched out 114kW and 247Nm, which gave it some decent get-up-and-go when needed.

There was the choice of a Jatco four-speed auto transmission or a five-speed manual box. Later models had a Nissan four-speed auto.  The base model was the GX, with an adjustable steering wheel, cloth trim, power mirrors, power rack and pinion steering, and two-speaker radio cassette sound.

In addition, the GXE had power mirrors, a remote boot release and four-speaker sound. The sporty Silhouette had a limited-slip diff, alloy wheels, aircon, sports seats, rear spoiler, and a trip computer.

The Ti topped the range and it had standard aircon, alloys, cruise, central locking, cloth trim, metallic paint, power mirrors and windows, four-speaker radio cassette sound, and a trip computer.  There were two minor updates, a Series II in 1987, and the Series III in 1988, which saw the introduction of the Executive auto.


THE Skyline is a very reliable car and would suit anyone on a low budget who wants reliable and comfortable transport.  Mechanically, the engine is very reliable, but the valve lifters can become noisy at high mileage.

Same goes for the diff, which is renowned for developing a howl.  If you can put up with the noise, they won't be a problem, if not, find a second-hand replacement that should cost about $250.

The auto transmissions are generally smooth and stand up well, but can be expensive to fix.  Look for harshness shifting from first to second, and flaring when shifting between second and third on cars with 200,000km-plus on the clock.


DENISE Wythe owned a 1987 Skyline up until last year and enjoyed 13 years and 300,000km of trouble-free motoring. The only complaint was a leaking boot, the result of a problem in the fitting of the rear lamps, which let water in.

Tony Jarvis has owned his 1989 GXE for about three years and loves it. It's powerful enough and the steering is not overly light but has good road feel.  Maurie French owns a 1988 Skyline wagon with 187,000km on the odometer. The diff and lifters are noisy and he has blown several power steering hoses, but it is a joy to drive.


Smooth, comfortable and reliable, a good car for beginners.


  • SMOOTH, powerful six-cylinder engine
  • ANNOYING diff whine
  • LIFTER rattle on cold starts
  • AVOID clunky auto transmission
  • GOOD solid body construction
  • SOLID reliable car
  • GREAT for novice drivers with a modest budget


Holden Commodore VN (1988-91) $3000-$5500
Ford Falcon EA/EAII (1988-91) $2700-$4800


Year Price From Price To
1990 $2,420 $8,140
1989 $2,420 $8,140
1988 $2,310 $7,480
1987 $2,310 $4,400
1986 $2,310 $4,400

View all Nissan Skyline pricing and specifications

Pricing Guides

Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
Highest Price

Range and Specs

Ti 2.4L, Leaded, 5 SP MAN $2,420 – 3,850 1986 Nissan Skyline 1986 Ti Pricing and Specs
GX 3.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,310 – 3,630 1986 Nissan Skyline 1986 GX Pricing and Specs
GXE 3.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,640 – 4,070 1986 Nissan Skyline 1986 GXE Pricing and Specs
Silhouette 3.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,640 – 4,180 1986 Nissan Skyline 1986 Silhouette Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist


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