One of the most common flexes among the biggest automakers is to squirrel away examples of their best and rarest work over their history to eventually show off those pieces as an anthology. Not long ago, we received a glimpse at a new exhibit at the Honda Collection Hall in Japan, and much deeper in our past we've been exceedingly fortunate to get to visit places like Nissan's Zama Heritage Car Garage in Kanagawa and the secret stash stored beneath Mazda North American Operations in Irvine, Calif. What happens, though, when in the midst of a global pandemic those places become off limits or at a minimum much less accessible? If fans are lucky, their favorite OEM will have an online analog of their car archives like Nissan's virtual Heritage Collection.
We know it's not the same thing as actually being there, but if you're anything like us, checking out these sites can be an entirely different kind of rabbit hole to go down. Full disclosure: we didn't even know Nissan's online Heritage Collection existed until a couple of weeks ago, but since we found it, we've spent hours poring over its entries and boning up on all things Nissan and Datsun. The hub breaks down product by both era and model, marking milestones and providing context, and at least in this case offers A LOT of high-resolution imagery of most of the vehicles in the collection (which we think is effin' cool).
Nissan's virtual Heritage Collection is exhaustive, too, covering decades of car manufacturing going all the way back to the 1920s. It is hours of distraction for obsessive nerds like the staff of SS, and to give our followers a taste of what the online repository has in store, we decided to round up some of our favorite examples from the archive. In fact, the collection is so jam packed, we've chosen to split up this story into two parts, with race cars and motorsports machines here and then later another story looking at special production models, concept cars, and other various fare.
We start with race cars because while Nissan is the foundation, tuning that Nissan (which is something we know a little about) is informed at least in part by what people do with them on the circuit. In Japan, the short story is that historically automakers seem to prefer forms of road racing and rally, and for Nissan that has meant commitments to a variety of series and events over the last six decades, with Japan's Super GT series arguably the most prestigious of their current works programs.
An evolution of the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC), the Super GT name began being used in '05 and the series today travels to tracks throughout Japan and Asia. Racing is split into two classes, higher horsepower GT500 cars - a category that's been dominated by Japanese OEMs for the last 15 years - and GT300 cars. Since '08, Nissan and its performance division NISMO have campaigned R35 GT-R in Super GT's GT500 class, earning a handful of titles in the process, but in the era directly before it Z33 Fairlady Z (aka the 350Z) were employed.
The specs from each period speak to how racing power plants have evolved over time. For example, the Motul Autech Fairlady Z from '06 pictured above came not with a VQ35 V-6 you'd find in an average Z33 but actually a twin-turbo VQ30DETT due to Super GT regulations. The GT500 formula for today, however, is different, calling for single-turbo inline-4 mills capped at 2.0 liters of displacement. Wanna destroy a GT-R, NSX, or Supra fan boy? Tell them their favorite car is rocking a four banger in Super GT (burn!)
In fact, Nissan used that same racing-only twin-turbo VQ30 mill in the last years of the JGTC in both its GT500 Fairlady Z and earlier Skyline GT-R; that's no typo - at least for one season ('03), Nissan's Super GT GT500 R34 Skyline GT-R were V-6 (and RWD, too, to save weight, but that's not as unusual in motorsport). The Motul Pitwork Skyline GT-R was one such machine, representing the final year of the Skyline GT-R in the series before the Z swooped in.
There was apparently less straight-6 hate pre-'00 in JGTC GT500, because Nissan and NISMO R34 and R33 Skyline GT-R were able to run versions of the legendary turbo RB26 in competition and were even allowed to punch them out to 2.7 liters later on. In the GT300 class, entries like the Xanavi S14 Silvia above - which featured a 315hp SR20DET inline-4 - were dicing on track with the likes of Toyota MR2 and BMW. (By the way, zoom into each of the photos in the gallery to see how many Volk Racing and SSR wheels you can spot.)
As we move backward through time, the Japanese Touring Car Championship (abbreviated to JTC between '85 and '93, expanded to JTCC from '94 to '98) was where a lot of JDM OEMs focused a portion of their works road racing efforts in the '90s, and as the initialisms suggest the series had two distinct eras. The above pictured FWD Primera Camino and Sunny are from the Super Touring formula period of the JTCC, which mandated four-door chassis and naturally aspirated engines limited to 2.0 liters of displacement. If you guessed both of these cars rocked SR20 power, you'd be right, and they mixed it up with Toyota Corona EXiV and Honda Civic Ferio in the series, as well as various Opel and BMW.
The earlier so-called JTC era relied on Group A standards that were an extremely broad, almost sliding scale of specs based partly on stock engine size, and they opened up touring car racing to a lot of platforms. Nissan dominated this stretch of the JTC with the AWD R32 Skyline GT-R and its RB26DETT, which won many races and was used by no fewer than seven teams in '93 when the Group A period ended. The pictured STP Taisan GT-R is the rig that took the second round in '93 and was copiloted by none other than Keiichi "Drift King" Tsuchiya.
In general, touring car racing was pretty big in the '90s around the world and Nissan even saw successes outside of Japan. In the British Touring Car Championship, for example, this SR20DE-motivated Primera GT killed the '99 season, winning an impressive 13 out of 26 races competing against the likes of Volvo S40, Renault Laguna, Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo and Honda Accord.
Since touring cars are in Nissan's '90s racing DNA, endurance racing is as well, and for it the automaker and its accomplices at NISMO used as their primary weapons Skyline GT-R of both the R32 and R33 variety. The ZEXEL BNR32 ran the Spa 24 Hours in Belgium from '90 to '92, while the no. 23 BCNR33 GT-R LM beneath it (a special version of the R33 GT-R) was part of a two-car 24 Hours of Le Mans effort by NISMO in '95 and '96. It rocked a 2.8-liter RB26 that made almost 600hp and kept its AWD configuration; its counterpart, the no. 22 (buried in the photo gallery), had a somewhat different approach to the French enduro classic, with power from a Group N-spec 400hp RB26DETT and a RWD setup.
The '90s marked the end of the road for Nissan's involvement in the World Rally Championship, even though privateers continued to champion the brand in the WRC and elsewhere well into the future. In the early '90s, Pulsar GTI-R compacts like this one from '92 led the charge, mainly because of the turbo SR20DET under hood (which engineers turned up to make nearly 300hp) and its ATTESA (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All) four-wheel-drive system.
As you can probably tell from the ton of sports car prototype racers in the photo gallery, Nissan was heavily involved in both Group C-/GTP- and GT1-spec competition on an international scale in the '90S; they were running in the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC), IMSA in America, and the World Endurance Championship/World Sports-Prototype Championship/FIA Sportscar World Championship (so many stupid names) in Europe. Chassis first came from Lola Cars and March Engineering before Nissan started building them on their own and depending on ruleset came with everything from twin-turbo V-8s to the naturally aspirated V-12 you'd find mounted in P35 prototypes. Much success was had in these machines.
So much love is heaped on '90s cars that Super Silhouette racers of the '80s nearly always get overlooked, but dude! These things are cool! Super Silhouettes were short lived (raced just in the early part of the decade) and built to Group 5 "Special Production" touring car rules, meaning they were production vehicles with their native engine blocks and limited to 3.0 liters of displacement, and that's pretty much it. Teams could go as crazy as they wanted with every other part of the machine, and by the looks of it they often did. We even read that some engines could reportedly make more power than Formula 1 mills of the time.
The no-Fs-given approach to car creation made Super Silhouettes popular, so popular that singer/actor/racer Masahiko "Matchy" Kondo had a K10 March hatchback done up in the boxy widebody style in '82. Nissan took part in the category via Violet (710A10), Bluebird (910), Silvia (S110) and Skyline (R30), and all of them ran similarly built turbocharged LZ20B inline-4 making north of 560hp. (For an updated take on the Tomica R30, check out what Liberty Walk did with an ER34 Skyline 25GT for the '20 Tokyo Auto Salon.)
Elsewhere in touring cars, the range-topping '87 Skyline GTS-R homologation special took dead aim at Group A racing and carried on the line's legacy in the category after the R30 began it a generation earlier. This particular HR31 was built by Nissan Motorsports Europe for the European Touring Car Championship and was propelled by an inline-6 RB but not the one you're thinking of - these racing machines sported RB20DET-Rs, a 2.0L version of the straight-6.
The '80s were a culmination of sorts for Nissan rally racing. In the early part of the decade the Violet continued to shine, especially in the hands of Shekhar Mehta, who drove a Nissan A10 (first as a Datsun 160J, then as a Violet GT) to four Safari Rally titles in a row, concluding with the victory in '82 when the Group 4 ruleset was phased out. The latter wins came with LZ20B 2.0L inline-4 power in the engine bay, but that same year everyone got a glimpse at the future with the S110 and its FJ motivation. An S110 Silvia finished third (with an LZ20B) in the '82 Safari Rally, while over in the WRC the above S110 240RS was built for a little something called Group B competition, outfitted with a 2.3L FJ24 generating 240hp plus from the factory. Later in the '80s, VG30 V-6-powered 300ZX and S12 Silvia made a splash in rally.
The '80s also saw the start of Nissan's prototype racing endeavors with the introduction of the Lola Cars-chassis GTP ZX-Turbo for the IMSA series in the US. Developed by Electramotive Engineering, the sleek racer was equipped with a turbo VG30 V-6 making 641hp, motivation similar to what came in the R85V in '86 (top photo above), Nissan's debut into the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The VG30T era gave way to the turbo VRH V-8 phase later in the '80s, first in 3.0L and then in 3.5L form, while Lola and March Engineering seemed to alternate in chassis development as Nissan challenged in Japan and around the globe.
The '80s had Super Silhouettes, but the '70s launched Tokusyu Touring Car racing, more commonly referred to as TS race, a special series of support competitions at Fuji International Speedway that featured little cars with little engines (well, maybe not so little for Japan in the '70s). Like Silhouettes, these things were wildly popular, and Nissan through its Datsun brand did incredibly well in the motorsport, especially with FR Sunny Coupes like the ones above, which won TS championships from '71 through '74 and also in '77, '79, '80 and '82.
Nissan's first FF was the Cherry, and it came with the same A10 and A12 inline-4 engines that were in the Sunny. This one was prepped for the Minor Touring class of the '72 Fuji Speedway Grand Champion series, another support race, and was armed with a 1.3L A12 making just under 150hp.
Above any other motorsport of the '70s, Nissan staked its claim as a top-tier brand in professional rally racing. The success it saw in the '80s was a carryover from efforts that began in the '50s and '60s and matured the decade after, and the RWD Datsun Bluebird was sort of where it all started. This battered beaut (we love how Nissan left these cars as is, warts and all) was the 510 that broke through at the '70 East-African Safari Rally and gave Nissan its first big internationally recognized wins in the sport.
Nissan also repurposed S30 240Z for its rally racing whims, which has always seemed a little weird to us given how sexy and sporty the Z is seen as. But with motorsports versions of the platform's L24 inline-6 under the hood, the car did well, winning the prestigious Safari Rally in '71 and again in '73, proving the S30's mettle. As a result, more and more drivers began driving the Z-car at rallies.
The decade ended with Violets taking center stage in Nissan's rallying ambitions and proved to be a worthy successor to the Bluebird and 240Z. This one was one of two Violets to win the Southern Cross Rally in Australia at the end of the '70s, and a similarly L20B inline-4-powered A10 is what driver Shekhar Mehta used to begin his four-peat of the Safari Rally.
The '60s was the era where racing really began proliferating for Nissan as a brand, primarily because Japan as a country started to embrace motorsports. We're told the first competition of Japan's modern era was the inaugural Japanese Grand Prix held in '63 at Suzuka Circuit, and this modest looking Fairlady 1500 roadster won the B-II class race at that event, an achievement that helped solidify the platform as a sports car. Based on the Datsun 310 chassis (aka the first-gen. Bluebird), these Fairlady featured a G15 inline-4 power plant that was the same found in Nissan Cedric of the time.
Nissan's legendary reputation in rally arguably began with this second-gen. Datsun Bluebird 1300SS, the compact sedan that won the '66 East-African Safari Rally. The race was apparently so punishing that some 90 percent of entrants didn't finish, and team Datsun's heroic story of the event is what inspired the Japanese motion picture "Safari 5000," which came out in '69.
Modern prototype sportscar racing began for Nissan in the '60s with the Prince R380A-I (top photo above), an aluminum-bodied Brabham BT8 chassis fitted with a 2.0L GR8 inline-6 and constructed to beat Porsche and everyone else in the '66 Japanese GP; it was also the last Prince race car before the company merged with Nissan. The R38X platform pivoted to Group 7 racing a couple of years later, which was another categorization that seemed to encourage ridiculous builds; it had no limitations on engines, tires, aero or dimensions, so long as the car had room for two seats and was enclosed in bodywork. That freedom led to wild machines like the R381 (bottom photo above) in '68, which sported a 443hp 5.5L Chevy V-8 and active split rear wings, and the R382 in '69, a car with a nearly 600hp GRX-III V12.
We close our trip down Nissan's race car memory lane with what the OEM calls the first "GT-R," this '69 Skyline 2000GT-R, a high-performance sedan purpose built for touring car racing that came with the world's first four-valve dual overhead cam (DOHC) engine for production cars, the 2.0L S20 straight-6. The platform was reportedly a bit too much car to handle for most hobbyist racers, but we like to think that just speaks to how much of a beast the GT-R has always been. Fun fact: if you spot a Hakosuka build and see it has a "PMC-S" sticker, that's a reference to Prince Motorist Club Sports, a group of motorsports-loving Prince owners back in the '60s, Prince being the OEM where the Skyline model originated.