New Zealand Classic Car - - FEATURE -

The old adage that ‘rac­ing im­proves the breed’ must have been qui­etly writ­ten some­where in Datsun his­tory. Datsun built its first race car in 1936, a 747cc midget, which raced at Ta­m­a­gawa Speed­way in Ja­pan. World War II ( WWII) in­ter­rupted any rac­ing, and it was not un­til 1952, with the newly launched DC-3 road­ster, that Datsun raced at club level in Ja­pan.

Nis­san’s ac­qui­si­tion of Prince Mo­tors in 1966 brought a com­pany with vast tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise into the fold. For­merly the Tachikawa Air­craft Com­pany, it pro­duced a num­ber of air­craft for the Ja­panese Army in WWII but was dis­solved af­ter the war. Af­ter var­i­ous name changes, the Prince Mo­tor Com­pany was formed in 1952, and, in 1954, it merged with its en­gine sup­plier to be­come Fuji Pre­ci­sion In­dus­tries. In that same year, noted air­craft en­gine man­u­fac­turer Naka­jima merged with the group, and, in 1961, the com­pany again changed its name to ‘Prince Mo­tor Com­pany’ once more. It was here that the ori­gins of Datsun’s mo­tor sport suc­cess re­ally took off. Prince was ac­tively in­volved in mo­tor sport, and it was the first Ja­panese com­pany to field a works team of cars in a rally, the Liege-sofia-liege, in 1962, with its Prince Sky­line cars. With this com­pany on board, Nis­san had the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop some great cars and en­gines. Prince also used a fair bit of Mercedes-benz tech­nol­ogy of the time. Sky­line GTS had com­peted well in the 1964 Ja­panese Grand Prix (GP), plac­ing in se­cond to sixth po­si­tions, with a lone Porsche tak­ing out the hon­ours. The de­ci­sion was made to build a cus­tom sports car for the 1965 event, the R380. It was pow­ered by a 150kw (201bhp) in-line six-cylin­der en­gine, the G8, a full race up­grade of the G7 used in the pre­vi­ous year’s Sky­line sa­loons. Nis­san took over the project and sub­stan­tially al­tered the body­work. When the GP was can­celled that year, Nis­san used the car for high-speed aero­dy­namic test­ing, and broke five E-class world speed records. Such was the suc­cess of the de­sign that four R380s fronted for the Ja­panese GP in 1966, lin­ing up against three of the new Porsche 906s. At the fin­ish, it was one-two to Nis­san (Prince).the fol­low­ing year, Porsche came back to re­verse the re­sult, with the R380s in se­cond, third, fourth, and sixth. An R380-II set seven new world land-speed records in Oc­to­ber of that year. De­vel­oped as the Nis­san R381, in 1968, it went on to record good plac­ings in the Ja­panese GP, and also the 1969 Chevron Par­adise 6 Hour race at Surfers Par­adise in Aus­tralia. In 1969, one was se­cond in the 1000km of Fuji race, and an­other placed se­cond in 1970 in a 200-mile (320km) event at Fuji. In 1969, Nis­san in­tro­duced the R382, pow­ered by an amal­gam of two in-line sixes in a for­mi­da­ble V12, and took the che­quered flag in the Ja­panese GP. It went on to build the GRX-3, with the V12 now putting out more than 447kw (600bhp). As a race-ori­ented com­pany, it was wellplaced to de­velop the en­gine for the 240Z.

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