Arriving at Nissan’s global heritage museum in Zama, Japan, you pass warehouses, an engine plant, and an abandoned Red Lobster. Other than a small sign above a set of double doors, there isn’t much to tell you that tucked inside a corner of one of Nissan’s legacy manufacturing facilities lives the ultimate Gran Turismo Nissan showroom of your dreams.
Upon passing through the anonymous-looking entrance, you’re greeted by rows of Nissans, Princes, and Datsuns spanning decades. There’s everything from prewar pickup trucks to Le Mans prototypes and more Skylines than you’ve ever seen in one place.
Some quick stats: Nissan began collecting its historic vehicles in 1958, and it now has approximately 300 significant cars and trucks, about 70% of which are drivable at any given time.
The Nissan Heritage Collection (also called the Zama Heritage Collection) is located just 90 minutes outside Tokyo by car, but access was entirely private until 2014. Now, anyone can visit, but you have to apply for a group tour on Nissan’s website, and they’re only given in Japanese by volunteers and retired Nissan employees of the past 60 years. Who knows, you might be shown around the company archives by a guy who engineered the L series engine or one who tuned suspension and steering for the Calsonic GT race cars. (Those are real-life examples.)
As of 2018, about 15,000 visitors had reportedly made the pilgrimage. I was lucky enough to join their ranks last week while in town with Nissan for the Japan Mobility Show. Here are some of the coolest cars there.
Nissan MID4 II Concept
We’ve written about the MID4 before, but seeing Nissan’s could’ve-been NSX fighter in real life was a serious pinch-me moment. This silver concept is the second iteration of the MID4, which debuted in 1987 and featured the 3.0-liter, twin-turbo VG30DETT V6 from the 300ZX twin turbo as well as all-wheel drive.
For more background info on the MID4 project, I recommend reading James Gilboy’s excellent feature; all I can add is that its stance and hips are even more NSX-meets-Ferrari-Testarossa in person.
Nissan R390GT1 Road Car
Sticking with the mid-engine theme, here’s another car of which there is only one in the world: the R390 GT1 homologation car. Back in 1998, Nissan had to build a roadgoing prototype of its R390 Le Mans GT car to meet class requirements for racing. It features a 3.5-liter motorsport V8 and a six-speed sequential transmission and weighs just 2,420 pounds—roughly the same as a modern Mazda Miata.
The R390 GT1 was a similar story to the 1995 SARD MC8, except the one blue car Nissan built was never sold. Today, it sits in Zama alongside two R390 race cars. Nissan has brought it around the world for car events, but I’d guess most of us first saw it in a racing game—either Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport.
1964 Prince Skyline 2000GT
This unassuming blue sedan was among the first race cars to wear the Skyline badge. Prince engineers extended its wheelbase by nearly eight inches to fit the G7 inline six-cylinder engine for the first time. Although a privately-entered Porsche 904 won first place in the 1964 Japan GP, Skyline 2000GTs finished second through sixth, proving that Japan could compete in motorsports on the global stage.
Seeing this car in the metal was kind of like meeting a long-lost great-uncle. Knowing the immense Skyline legend of today, it’s pretty neat to trace its humble beginnings.
1966 Prince R380
Following the Skyline 2000GT’s successful 1964 campaign—and ultimate defeat at the hands of Porsche—Prince engineers agreed the next step was to develop a mid-engine race car. The goal? Beat Porsche at its own game. Enter the R380.
The R380 featured a GR8 engine based on the G7 but with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. There was no 1965 Japan GP held because of stalled negotiations between Suzuka Circuit, where the race was held, and the Japan Automobile Federation. In 1966, this very No. 11 car won with Japanese driver Yoshikazu Sunako at the wheel.
Nissan restored the No. 11 car to its original livery in 2018, and the GR8 racing engine was the basis for Nissan’s S20, which powered the first Skyline GT-Rs and the Fairlady Z432.
1969 Nissan Fairlady Z432
The Nissan/Datsun 240Z is one of the most iconic and successful sports cars of all time, selling more than 500,000 units worldwide. It cost half as much as a Porsche and delivered more performance, plus a spacious rear trunk and a gorgeous design. Hell, my mom learned to drive in one.
If that wasn’t enough, the limited-production Z432 added a race-derived S20 engine (the first mass-produced Japanese engine with more than two valves per cylinder). The “432” stands for four valves, three carburetors, and two overhead camshafts. It also included a limited-slip differential and magnesium wheels—advanced stuff for 1969!
Only 299 were built and sold between 1969 and 1970, at a price as new nearly twice that of the normal 240Z. But they’ve more than kept up with inflation, with a Z432 changing hands for $297,000 at Mecum’s Monterey auction this past August. The museum houses many other Z cars, including the 1971 East African Safari Rally 240Z in as-raced condition.
Nissan Middle Sports Concept
Nissan of the mid-’90s was strapped for cash, kinda like … well, Nissan today. Desperate to pump some life into its showrooms in the form of a new Z car that was lighter and more affordable than the 300ZX, it developed this S14 240SX-based prototype with a four-cylinder KA24DE engine. It brought the prototype out for track testing, and Z-car proponent and former head of Nissan U.S. Yutaka Katayama reportedly enjoyed driving it.
Unfortunately, it was canned for budget reasons, and we had to wait until 2003 for the 350Z. I had never heard of this car before my visit, and it was fascinating to see how close it came to becoming a reality.
It’s a shame the Zama collection isn’t more known or accessible, because this is a bucket-list-worthy destination for any car geek. If you’re headed to Tokyo and have a free half-day, I highly recommend a trip out. Just remember to make a reservation. Since there isn’t enough space to detail every noteworthy car here, I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos from my visit.
If you prefer a video, the talented Larry Chen also did a fantastic walkthrough of the collection earlier in 2023, which you can watch here.
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