Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (2022)

Zama is where some of the wildest and strangest Nissans ever made are lovingly stored – in working order

The Nissan Zama Heritage Collection is mecca for JDM (Japanese Domestic Model) fans and Nissan aficionados alike.

Located in a former manufacturing plant in Yokohama, in the very halls they once built the Sunny, Cherry and Datsun trucks, you'll find the priceless collection of more than 300 cars… But whatever you do, don't call it a museum!

A museum is a place where cars go to gather dust, our guide told us – and that's not what happens at Zama, where at any given time 70 per cent of vehicles here are drivable.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (1)

Nissan itself owns most of them, but since the collection was opened to the public six years ago individual owners and clubs now also store their pieces of the car-maker's colourful history there.

Today, we're here not to chart the storied history of Nissan, but single out some of its slightly mad highlights.

Trust me, when you're walking around an aircraft hanger with every iteration of the Nissan GT-R from road to race, it wasn't an easy decision picking out what should make the list.

Let us know what you think we might have missed.

1. 1995 Nissan GT-R R33 LM

There's a huge choice of wild Nissan GT-Rs at Zama but absolutely nothing tops the wide-hipped R33 GT-R LM.

The story goes that the R33 LM materialised when a change in the rules saw Nissan's Group C Le Mans program become obsolete.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (2)

Instead of a bespoke racer, the new rules demanded a race car was based on a current production car. Nissan engineers had little choice but to reach for the R33 Skyline GT-R and the LM was born.

Weighing in at just 1150kg, the LM was light but rear-drive.

Capitalising on the lack of mass, the famous turbocharged straight-six had comfortably more than 300kW and had spent some serious time in a wind tunnel. Hence its colossal aero -- necessary for the downforce and better cooling needed flat out at speeds of more than 330km/h.

It certainly looks the part, but back in 1995 when it actually went racing it didn't stand a chance against the supercar-derived McLaren F1 and Ferrari F40 racers.

Just a single road car was built to homologate the racer. Nissan is rumoured to have received and rejected many seven-figure offers for the LM, making it virtually priceless.

2. 1998 Nissan Stagea 260RS Autech

If you're looking for the world's coolest family wagon, congratulations -- you've found it, because nothing is more sub-zero than Nissan's Stagea 260RS Autech.

In what was nothing less than an inspired decision, back in the late 1990s a bunch of engineers decided it was an awfully good idea to bolt the R33 Skyline GT-R's powertrain into a humble Stagea.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (4)

Carried out by Japanese tuner Autech, the 260RS uses the GT-R’s 2.6-litre RB26DETT coupled to a five-speed manual transmission and features Godzilla’s ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system, plus the same trick rear diff.

Back when it was launched, Nissan claimed it produced exactly the same 206kW as the GT-R, which of course was a barefaced lie. It produced much, much more.

In the right hands the Stagea 260RS is said to be as quick as the GT-R – and we're not just talking about in a straight line, but round any given track you care to mention.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (5)

Whisper it -- some even preferred the way the wagon drives to the GT-R, such was the engineering job by Autech.

Better still, buy one and nobody will ever know, thanks to its bland, forgettable looks.

3. 1997 Nissan R390 GT1

Despite numerous attempts Nissan has never won the Le Mans 24 Hour and that must be a great source of pain (and shame) for every single NISMO employee.

No matter, at least the heartbroken bunch of engineers and designers can console themselves with the fact that the Japanese car-maker's involvement in the world-famous endurance race led to the birth of one of the fastest, wildest road-going hypercars of all time.

Typically, the day we visited, said road car was mysteriously 'out'. I'm starting the rumour right here that Nissan is secretly working on a return to Le Mans in the new 2021 hypercar class.

Hence, Zama’s R390 GT1 road car is AWOL in some designer or engineer's lair for inspiration, while its replacement is being readied.

Instead, we had to make do with the R390 GT1 racer that nabbed third at Le Mans.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (7)

In the flesh, both road and race car are beautiful and that beauty is more than skin deep with the R390 GT1 crafted from the finest carbon-fibre and exotic Kevlar composites.

It remains to this day devasting in the performance department. Powered by a mid-mounted twin-turbo 3.5-litre V8, conservatively the road version produces 410kW. With a few tweaks this could be boosted to almost 480kW.

The reality is something that could hit 100km/h in around 3.0sec and top 350km/h. And remember, this was 1997 not 2019.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (8)

Nissan offered the R390 GT1 for sale for $US1 million dollars and... Nobody bought one.

Even weirder, the one 1997 car the factory made went back to factory to be converted to longtail-spec -- mimicking the aero changes to the '98' racer.

Despite the update, cruelly still no-one bought the car, which is a crying shame because it is astonishing in the metal.

4. 1990 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R

Another case of motorsport improving the breed at Nissan is the Pulsar GTI-R

Although never officially sold Down Under, plenty of these have snuck into the hands of Australian Nissan enthusiasts through grey and private imports. And it's no wonder. These are seriously special and quite deranged.

Launched back in 1990, the pint-size GTI-R was again a homologation tool to push through a WRC rally car.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (9)

That explains its wild and outlandish but functional aero, and the fact the Pulsar came with a 170kW 2.0-litre turbo donk and a development of the R32 GT-R's advanced all-wheel drive and a close-ratio manual gearbox.

Tipping the scales at just 1190kg, the Baby 'Zilla could hit 100km/h in around 5.0sec and top 230km/h.

5. 1983 Nissan Silvia 240RS

Nowadays if you want to create a rally car you start with a small basic hatchback, but back in the early 1980s you could get away with using a cool coupe like the Silvia.

What I love about the resulting 240RS is it looks a bit, er... rushed.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (10)

Take a look at the stuck-on wheel-arches, huge long-stroke suspension and poorly fitting body panels.

Better still, beneath the skin is a hand-built high-revving 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four that produced a muscular 195kW. Later Evo cars pushed that to more than 200kW.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (11)

Just 200 were made to homologate the Group B WRC entry. Sadly, the rear-drive rally car had to go up against the new all-wheel-drive Audi quattro that would go on to dominate.

The poor Nissan could only manage a second place in the NZ rally but the 240RS's toughness and unburstable reliability meant it racked up numerous top 10 finishes.

6. 1989 Nissan Figaro

How can you have a list of the wildest Nissans of all time and neglect the little Figaro?

Frequently copied but never bettered, as a piece of automotive design the Figaro delicately skates to the edge of being 'retro' but never quite fell into the abyss.

Made in Japan: Nissan's wildest models (12)

In the metal, the Figaro is exotic -- from its looks to its cabin that features plenty of bespoke chrome switchgear not shared with any other Nissan vehicle.

Who cares that, beneath the skin, the illusion is shattered by the use of a humble Micra platform… Or that fact its wheezy 1.0-litre triple turbo engine produces a meagre 57kW.

The attention to detail, love and the care lavished on the Figaro means that even today the car is a testament to how good design improves the streets.

Related Reading:
Made in Japan: Nissan Note e-POWER Review
Made in Japan: Nissan DAYZ 2020 Review
Made in Japan: The Eastern view
Made in Japan: Nissan GT-R generations
Made in Japan: It Begins

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