We Just Raided Nissan’s Global Archives And You’re Welcome
Photography by Nissan
We live in a world where automotive research can be initiated as easily as speaking a voice command to initiate a Google Search. That said, there are countless resources and libraries, both offline and on, but it’s rare that a manufacturer has a comprehensive a library as Nissan. Let’s look at its earliest motorsport history, shall we?
I’ll skip the company’s early exploits in long-distance rallies and road racing, heading straight for the car that many know little about: the Prince R380. Credit where it’s due: Prince (and Nissan) were the Japanese automakers who first took on the challenge of sports car competition.
The name ‘Prince’ may not seem familiar to you, but the Prince Motor Company was one of the few companies to try its hand at auto manufacturing in Japan after the Second World War. By the early-’60s, however, the company was already sending its latest models to race against the world’s best—how better to develop road cars?
One of those cars is the grandfather of the GT-R, the ’S54’ Skyline GT that valiantly fought off a Porsche 906 in the second Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway. With more power, it finished close to the Porsche in 1964 but was not in the same league—so Prince took its most powerful straight-6 engine, the G7B-R (updating it into the G8) and crafted a mid-engined chassis for it.
1966 Japan GP
Prince wasn’t there to finish behind Porsche at its home race, and amazingly, the R380 won its first race, the 3rd Japan GP in May, with Yoshikazu Sunako (#11) behind the wheel. The company made an all-out assault on the event, entering a number of R380s, with most of them fairing well over the race.
Once Nissan merged with Prince, the brightest engineers got their hands on the R380, deciding to update its aerodynamic and engine performance. If you’re familiar with the more modern R390 sports car, you’ll recognize some of its relative’s styling cues, especially at the rear.
1967 Japan GP
Nissan’s attention to the tune of a reported 220 horsepower straight-6 wasn’t enough to overcome the Porsche 906s entered into the 1967 race. Because of the number entered, R380-IIs dominated the top 10 but simply couldn’t match the German sports car.
What to do? Challenge speed records.
Nissan R380-II Speed Record Challenge @ Yatabe
Setting international speed records? Check. Early on in the Prince 380’s career, it was run on the Yatabe course in order to set FIA-recognized records, but the results weren’t valid on the non-FIA-approved track. Two years later, after setting Japanese speed records, the car was entered again with full FIA approval and scored a number of impressive records:
T. Yokoyama’s most impressive record has to be the 1 hour international speed record, averaging 235.06 km/h (146 mph) with little more than 200 horsepower at his back.
1968 Japan GP
This race saw both the now-privateer R380s face off against Nissan’s new R381. Built in both open and closed versions, with movable rear spoilers—and sometimes Chevrolet V8s—the new car was quick but now had to face Porsches, Daihatsus, and Toyota’s brand-new 7. If the car had raced in North America, it’d run under Can-Am regulations (Group 7 elsewhere).
The winner? The #20 R381, driven by Moto Kitano.
1969 Fuji Speed Cup
Continuing the car’s winning streak, it also took home the gold at the 1969 Fuji Speed Cup—its last big triumph before being replaced by the R382.
1969 Nissan R382 Shakedown Test
Now with a wholly Nissan-developed V12 engine, the Group 7 machine was without question a monster—and built just three years after Prince won its first big race. Take a long, hard look at this car…in period, it could possibly have been a front-runner in international competition.
1969 Japan GP
Why? In its first race, the car bested not only the Toyota 7 but a factory-supported Porsche 917K as well. R382 drivers finished on the top two steps of the podium, Yoshikazu Sunako and Motoharu Kurosawa—the latter you may know as Gan-san (ガンさん) from Best Motoring.
Like many racing cars, the R383 was developed into a car that had nowhere to race. The annual sports car event that it featured in was cancelled, and Nissan had little interest (or perhaps budget) to send the car around the world to compete in Group 7 or Can-Am.
A shame, as its 6.0-litre V12 developed a reported 700 horsepower…or as much as 900 when engineers bolted on a turbocharger.
What’s your favorite car from Nissan’s historic archives?