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
ITS SPEC SOUNDED LIKE CONCEPT CAR
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.