Rare Rides: The 1966 Nissan Prince Royal, an Imperial Family Limousine

In the first part of our coverage of the discontinued history of GM’s Turbo-Hydramatic transmission line, your author referenced a very exclusive Nissan that used the heavy THM400. This extremely formal Rare Ride has been on my mind ever since, so here we are. Please Your Majesty: The 1966 Nissan Prince Royal.

Today’s Rare Ride was created at the request of the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. The agency is headquartered on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and is in charge of all state affairs of the Japanese Imperial Family. The Agency was formerly called the Imperial Household Ministry, a title that lasted from 701 to 1947.

The Agency handles security, travel, healthcare, state visits, cultural events, and administration, and includes several different boards of directors. It retains the two main seals of Japan, and even handles household chores and creates catering menus. With such a wide range of responsibilities, private vehicle transportation for the Imperial Family falls within his domain.

In the 1960s, the Japanese automobile industry was booming. The Imperial Household Agency wanted a beautiful big car to carry around the Emperor in grace and utmost dignity and to reach out to the great names of the nation. This was a significant turning point in the country’s automotive industry, as motor transport for the imperial family was still provided by imported vehicles. The first emperor to have a car used Mercedes-Benz 770s in the 1930s, which were replaced in the 1960s by the Rolls-Royce Phantom V. With its auto industry maturing, it was time for a national manufacturer to provide a royal limousine.

Shortly after, an announcement was made by the Prince Motor Company: it was the manufacturer chosen to provide the royal transport. Prince was relatively new to cars; it was founded as an aircraft manufacturer called Tachikawa Aircraft Company and supplied aircraft to the Japanese military during World War II. At the end of the war, the company was reorganized into Fuji Precision Industries. Soon after, she founded her automobile division, the Tokyo Electric Car Company.

The electric car project did not last long, and in 1952 the company renamed itself Prince. This name change was in honor of Akihito, who was named crown prince that year. Adept at change, the Prince identity lasted two years. In 1954, the company reverted to Fuji Precision Industries. In this case, Fuji bought out its client the Prince Motor Company and absorbed the identity. But the Fuji name was boring after a few more years, and in February 1961 it reverted to Prince Motor Company.

During the name changes, Prince built a larger car called the Gloria from 1959. Related to their sporty mid-size Skyline model, the Gloria was aimed at a more affluent customer as a luxury car. It wore different body panels from the Skyline but used its platform and engines. The very first Gloria was presented to Crown Prince Akihito in 1959 and established the royal bond with Gloria. The luxury sedan was a wedding anniversary present.

The Gloria moved to its second generation for 1962 and grew decently bigger in all dimensions. It rode on a longer wheelbase and gained a straight-six engine with 2.0 or 2.5 liters displacement. Much like the first Gloria which used American styling cues via its quad headlights and Dagmar bumpers, the second mimicked the look of 1959 Buicks and had some similarities to the Chevrolet Corvair. Underneath it was still on the same platform as the Skyline.

The second Gloria (S40) remained in production until 1967, by which time Prince was in a bit of trouble. Although the Skyline and Gloria were successful, the company was small and lacked the full lineup of big names like Nissan and Toyota. Nissan in particular liked what the Skyline and Gloria had to offer and was considering a merger with Prince.

The official announcement was made by Prince in May 1965 and the merger was completed in August 1966. Prince was absorbed entirely into the larger Nissan, although its new leader kept the Skyline and Gloria models on sale. Nissan had its own Gloria competitor (the Cedric), and the two merged into the Gloria platform for 1967.

Meanwhile, the development of the new Imperial limousine was well advanced at Prince. When Prince announced the contract in 1965, the initial order was for two vehicles. The first will be delivered in 1966, and the other in 1967.

Although the S40 Gloria is still in production, the order from the Imperial House would mirror the upcoming third-generation Gloria, coded A30. If the second generation opted for a Corvair and Buick look, the third Gloria was entirely dedicated to Cadillac. Up front, the quad headlights remained but were stacked on top of each other instead of a horizontal configuration. The wide fender line that blended into the hood like an Invicta was replaced with a boxy front end with a single crease down the middle, decorated with a chrome trim strip.

The grille was split horizontally into two large sections and reflected a diamond mesh pattern. The previous grille was split vertically down the middle and had a tighter, simpler mesh. The new car retained an additional grille under the main one, divided into several sections by chrome bars. The lower grille resided above a chrome bumper that was squarer than before and closer to the front of the car.

From the side, the strong Buick-influenced character line was gone. The crease was pulled much closer to the body and lacked chrome decoration. It was completed with a chrome trim strip that started between the headlights and ran the full length of the car. A lower character line remained almost the same as on the second generation Gloria. It extended between the middle of the tires and extended out the back. The vertical greenhouse was only slightly modified, with a similar glazed area between generations.

Thicker and ’60s-ready, the revised C-pillar was squarer than before. Said square pillar leads to a much squarer rear window; a wraparound design in the old Gloria. The rear was changed a bit in the transition and became more formal and serious. The 1966 ovoid stoplights became upright rectangular units for 1967, much like a Cadillac.

The trunk was generally squarer and ended in a rear fascia with a full-width chrome trim panel. The panel contained the reverse lights and had “GLORIA” lettering above, which replaced the script logos of the second generation Gloria. The rear bumper, like the front, was more square and tucked against the body.

The wheelbase between the second and third generation Gloria remained constant at 105.5 inches, but the overall length increased slightly, from 183.1 inches to 184.6 inches. The width remained the same at 66.7 inches and the height increased from 58.3 inches to 56.9 as Prince pursued a lower and longer look.

Body styles were two in number throughout the second and third generation Gloria, as a more formal sedan and a practical family car. The engines were three, all of 2.0 liter displacement. The entry-level version was an inline-four, while the other two were an inline-six. Transmissions were either a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic, and 1967 was the first time a Gloria was offered with an automatic.

It was from this base that Prince’s engineers developed the transport of the Imperial family. The Gloria’s wheelbase has been lengthened considerably, at 152.8 inches. It made an overall length of 242.3 inches, which was 57.7 inches longer than the standard car. The Emperor’s limo was also much wider than the standard car at 82.7 inches, and it had a formal hat-ready roof that meant an overall height of 69.7 inches.

Although the dimensional changes necessitated completely bespoke bodywork, the Royal retained the factory styling. The roof was noticeably taller and more formal, and the rear doors adopted a rear hinge, but these were the only substantial design changes. Imperial required seals have been applied to the front and rear of the Royal (no license plate required). Chrysanthemum seals also appeared in the middle of the passenger doors.

Things under the hood were decidedly different from a standard Gloria. The Royal was very heavy at 7,054 pounds and therefore required an engine well beyond a 2.0-liter straight-six. Prince developed an engine specifically for the Royal, and it was impressive. Dubbed the W64, the mill was a 6.4-liter V8 – way beyond the passenger car engines Japan was producing at the time. With overhead valves, the 90-degree engine produced 256 horsepower. Quite an American specification. Only eight examples were produced, and five of these went into examples of the Royal.

To pull all those tons and liters of displacement on the road, Prince needed a strong transmission. He turned to GM’s new three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 400. Like other users of this particular gearbox, the THM400 impressed by brushing off the big weight and horsepower numbers.

The Royal’s tires were also custom made and made by Bridgestone. Elsewhere on the engineering front, the Royal had double-wishbone front suspension and leaf springs in the rear. The brakes were drums at all corners and power-assisted. The double glazing protected against outside noise and made it possible to pressurize the passenger space. There was no lowering of the glass partition with the driver: all communications must be via the car’s telephone.

Inside, luxurious appointments included eight passenger seats, configured in three rows in the rear. The middle seats were of the folding type and only intended for security guards. The rear saloon also included a bar. While the driver sat on vulgar dead cow surfaces, the rear cabin was covered in wool padding, as expected.

Although development was done by Prince, as Nissan was the identity of the merged company, it also put its name to the Royal. The cars were however registered as Princes. A total of five Royals were delivered to the Imperial Household in 1966 and 1967, including one in hearse configuration. The Imperial family enjoyed a long life from their V8 limousines: they were used until July 2006, when all were replaced by the Toyota Century Royal.

[Images: YouTube]