DEAD ON AR­RIVAL Nis­san’s Fer­rari F40 ri­val that was never to be

An­other car that was to fall vic­tim to a fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Nis­san’s would-be su­per­car at one stage even had Fer­rari’s mighty F40 in its sights




IN THE ’80S, JA­PANESE COM­PA­NIES usu­ally showed off their new cars at the Tokyo mo­tor show. So for Nis­san, maker of un­ex­cit­ing mush such as the Mi­cra and Sunny, to fetch up at the 1985 Frank­furt mo­tor show, slap bang on Europe’s doorstep, with a sur­prise new model, and for that sur­prise new model to be a mid-en­gined su­per­car, was a punchy move.

And though its spec, in­clud­ing a 3-litre, quad-cam, 24-valve V6 with throt­tle-by-wire, plus four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer­ing and anti-lock brakes sounded like con­cept car ma­te­rial of the time, Nis­san proudly made clear this was a pro­duc­tion car in wait­ing and would be on sale in Europe be­fore the end of 1987.

It even in­vited jour­nal­ists to Ja­pan and let them loose in hard-used en­gi­neer­ing cars to show how se­ri­ous it was, and the re­sul­tant sto­ries made en­cour­ag­ing noises about the quick­ness of the steer­ing and the grip of the four-wheel-drive sys­tem with its 35/65 front/ rear split that, Nis­san qui­etly re­minded peo­ple, was ‘like the Peu­geot 205 rally car’. Even the styling, which re­sem­bled a Lo­tus Ex­cel do­ing an im­pres­sion of a Fer­rari 328, was cau­tiously said to be more at­trac­tive in the real world. All sounded promis­ing for Nis­san’s su­per­car.

Be­hind the scenes, how­ever, Nis­san knew the MID4 was com­pro­mised. Its metal hull was clothed in a cheapo glass­fi­bre skin, while its gear­box came from a front-wheel-drive sa­loon, dic­tat­ing the trans­verse mount­ing of its V6, which in turn made it too wide and sad­dled it with car­ry­over strut sus­pen­sion.

Soon af­ter that Frank­furt de­but in late ’85, Nis­san had a ma­jor rethink and de­cided to do the MID4 prop­erly. The V6 gained two tur­bos, boost­ing power from 227 to 325bhp, and was turned to sit length­ways, feed­ing an up­dated four-wheel drive sys­tem al­lied to a more ag­gres­sive four-wheel steer work­ing in tan­dem with dou­ble-wish­bone sus­pen­sion, all meant to make the MID4 com­pet­i­tive in Nis­san’s new use for it, which was Group S ral­ly­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, by the time the rechris­tened MID4-II was ready to show off at the ’87 Tokyo show, Group S had al­ready been dead for over a year, and when, shortly af­ter­wards, Nis­san once again in­vited jour­nal­ists to try the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion pro­to­types at a Ja­panese test track, it freely ad­mit­ted the project was in limbo. Nonethe­less, the write-ups were up­beat, this time prais­ing the lusty per­for­mance of the V6, which gave cre­dence to Nis­san’s claim of 0-100kmph in five sec­onds flat, over half a sec­ond faster than a Fer­rari 328 GTB.

Pri­vately, how­ever, Nis­san was aim­ing for a big­ger tar­get, and that tar­get was, as­ton­ish­ingly, the Fer­rari F40. To that end, the MID4-II was aban­doned and a third-gen­er­a­tion car drawn up with a twin-turbo V8, or per­haps even a 6-litre V12. Press re­ports said Nis­san’s am­bi­tious new take on a su­per­car could be on sale by 1991 as a flag­ship for its new US-cen­tric In­finiti spin-off, just as the NSX had brought ex­cite­ment to Honda’s Acura divi­sion. It never came to pass.

As a new decade dawned, all went quiet on the MID4 grapevine and, though no of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment was ever made, it is safe to say the project was per­ma­nently laid to rest by the Ja­panese eco­nomic crash of the early ’90s. Which was a shame be­cause, given the speed with which the first two gen­er­a­tions were can­celled and their am­bi­tions up­graded, if the MID4 pro­gramme had car­ried on for an­other ten years it would have been a nu­cle­ar­pow­ered space­ship.

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