A NISMO ODYSSEY
MARCUS HEADS TO THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN TO CHECK OUT NISSAN’S DEEP HERITAGE IN MOTORSPORT
MARCUS FLIES TO JAPAN TO TAKE IN THE NISSAN HERITAGE MUSEUM AT ZAMA AND THE MUST-DO EVENT FOR ALL NISSAN FANS — THE NISMO FESTIVAL
Nissan is one of Japan’s oldest car companies. Founded in 1911 as the Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works, it built its first car in 1914, the DAT. The name ‘Nissan’ didn’t arrive until the 1930s, and a reshuffle of assets created a new automobile subsidiary in 1934, then called ‘Nissan Motor Co Ltd’.
Given that history, not to mention the brand’s role in motorsport from the 1930s, it comes as no surprise that the company boasts a collection of racing and road-going cars that are well worth showcasing. That collection — some 350 cars strong — is housed at Zama, a former manufacturing plant There, all these vehicles are on display, restored to their former glory and ready to run. It’s all thanks to a few companies such as Nismo and Safari Garage, and a team of retired Nissan employees who are restoring vehicles down to the smallest detail. Each year, a few projects are completed and added to the collection, with over 50 currently awaiting their turn.
Everything from the very first production model to a full array of racing machines, from what many consider to be the most successful and varied racing history of any car manufacturer, can be found among the rows and rows of beatuifying restored tin. Sadly,
this facility is not open to the public, although you can get the chance to view many of the race cars running in anger around the famed Fuji Speedway once a year, an event that took place the day before our visit to Zama.
Known as the ‘Nismo Festival’, it’s a one-day event of colossal proportions, regarded as the Holy Grail of festivals by any diehard Nissan fan, and a chance to get up close and personal with the proper heroes of the Nissan collection. Each year, the Nissan team brings a range of race hardware from Zama, along with a bunch of Nismo vehicles and privateer vehicles. At this event, you can see 50-odd cars running throughout the day, most of which have some serious credentials — cars like the dominating Calsonic R32 GT-R, which took the Japanese Touring Car Championship in 1991 and 1993, plus a big collection of modern GT500 and GT300 GT-Rs, 24 Hours of Le Mans specials, GT3 cars, Z Cup cars, Hakosukas, Datsuns, and the menacing Super Silhouettes.
Alongside the on-track action, the paddock and car park just scream Nissan. Even more Zama cars were on display dotted around the paddock, as well as a swap meet, trade stands, and an RB26-building competition that pitted three teams head-to-head, all of which kept punters happy.
But our favourite fan activity had to be the Circuit Safari: when you ride on a bus during a live track of GT cars going at race pace. Words simply cannot describe this feeling. It’s things like this that you will only ever experience at events like the Nismo Festival.
However, the highlight for most was watching the on-track action, including those thundering Super Silhouettes of the ’70s and ’80s, and then the final exhibition race, the Nismo Grand Prix, featuring modern and current-spec machines, the fastest of which were the GT500s, these hitting 300kph along the front straight of the Formula 1 track — a sight and sound most will not forget in a long time.
If you ask us, holding the event as a single day simply does not allow enough time to really enjoy everything, as you are constantly forced to make some serious first-world decisions: Do I stand in the pits and watch the team wrenching on the Tomica R31? Catch the JGTC-winning R33 spitting flames on track? Or go and grab the signatures of drivers such as the legendary Toshio Suzuki or Masahiro Hasemi?
Will we go back? Damn right we will, and we suggest that if you’re a Nissan fan, you too should add this event to your bucket list.
At times, it was nearly impossible to work your way through the crowds at the trade stands. We managed to grab a few bargains and stuff them in our suitcases. Sadly, not a set of GT500 Nismo wheels, though
The ’80s were a wild time in terms of bodywork. Just check out this S12 Silvia and skyline. Both are powered by an LZ20B turbocharged 2.0-litre unit making 425kW (570hp)
This is the result when OS Giken reimagines the L-series engine. Complete with alloy head, this motor is, for many, the Holy Grail of naturally aspirated six-cylinders, with 11.5:1 compression and somewhere over 300kW (402hp)
During the 1960s, Nissan built quite a few Can-Am cars, most featuring a 6.0-litre, 447kW (600hp) V12 and using non-Nissan chassis from companies like March
With a mix of highly strung naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, the Hakosukas, Datsun 1200s, and Datsun 180Bs sounded amazing as the full field fought for position on track. These guys were not messing around, even trading paint a few times
During our visit, all the cars were returning from Fuji Raceway and being pushed back into place until next year
The 1999 British Touring Car Championship–winning Primera