Long ago, I've seen pictures on the Internet where there was this secret hideout of every Nissan cars which was kept away from the public. I thought to myself at that time "Only VIP or close personnel of the company could have gotten in and norms like us wouldn't stand a chance", but I never thought that day would come. When I realised that there is actually a guided tour for public, I did my best to make it happen. And, here is my special coverage to Nissan Heritage Collection at Zama Factory. :)
To get to Nissan Zama Factory in Kanagawa Prefecture, you can board the train on Sotetsu Line from Yokohama Station to Yamato Station, before switching to Odakyu-Enoshima Line and alight at Minami-Rinkan Station (36 minutes journey). Hop on a bus or taxi to quickly reach it or if you’re on a budget like me, you can try walking 2.3km for 30 minutes.
There were two Nissan buildings across each other but the Heritage Collection Hall is at Plant #2. The guided tour is restricted to those who applied in advance and have booked the time slot based on their availability at their website.
Since I arrived early and scheduled for the 2pm time slot, I had ample time to enjoy my lunch at the nearby '7-E' and loiter around before being transported to the front of the secret garage.
The Guest Hall was where all the lucky participants gathered first and some of the cars there...
... like the Kenmeri Skyline 2000GT-R, Tekkamen Skyline 2000 Turbo RS, and Nissan R382 racer were sort of teasing us with what we're about to see later.
We were then asked to be seated for a presentation on Nissan's 80 years of heritage and Zama Plant's contribution today. Zama Factory used to manufacture road cars but now, it focuses on the development of electric motor and battery which can be found in their up-to-date EV line-ups.
After the short introduction, it was finally the time that everyone had been waiting for – the Entrance to the Holy Grail of Nissan.
Your jaw will probably drop when you’re at the front door looking at this, because I know I did. About 400 models of every Nissan ever existed from 1930 to 2010 are stored in this 5,600m2 wide exhibition area. All looking perfectly clean like it has never aged.
Before we're allowed to wander around ourselves, we let the sweet Nissan lady finished running through history lesson for some of the prominent cars that made Nissan brand known to the world.
45 minutes of self tour time in the hall seems to be quite decent I initially thought but in fact, it wasn't enough at all if you want to thoroughly inspect every single one of them at your comfortable pace. Let me remind you again there were 400 cars, all arranged properly according to the year it was produced.
The first car that the Nissan lady talked about was the ’36 Datsun Type 15. It was the earliest mass-produced car in Japan with a 722cc engine.
You should be familiar with the current Fairlady Z sports car model in Nissan line-up, but did you know the first car that uses the "Fairlady" name was '61 Datsun SPL213 (1200). It was named after the popular Broadway musical "My Fair Lady" by former Nissan President.
The delicate name stays on with successor model '63 SP310 (1500), '65 SP311 (1600), and '67 SR311 (2000) which are shown in the picture on the right.
Then came the Fairlady Z series in 1969. The 240ZG (HS30) on the left is the top-of-the-line model sold only in Japan. It has the long nose, over-fenders and rear spoiler as standard features, and used to be the fastest Japanese car at 210km/h top speed. The Z family grows bigger with 260Z, 280Z, 280ZX, 300ZX, 350Z and the latest 370Z.
The GT-R family is one of those sports cars that has influence over a generation and maybe kickstarted a boy's dream to own one, but its legacy wouldn't have happened without the legendary Hakosuka.
There were two in this hall which looked very similar. The original Skyline GT-R (KPGC10) is at the right while at the left is a 2000GT-X (KGC10). The difference between them is the engine where 2000GT-X uses a less powerful L20 instead of GT-R's S20.
The GT-R badge continues on with successor Kenmeri KPGC110, BNR32, BCNR33 & BNR34. Just beside the R33s, there was a rare R34 M-Spec Nür in my favourite Millennium Jade paint and only 250 examples were produced. The Bayside Blue R34 is a standard V-Spec model.
Silvia is also a remarkable sports model by Nissan. I love the S12, S13, S14, and S15, but the first true S-chassis is the Silvia CSP311. This coupe was handbuilt based on the Datsun Fairlady Roadster. Its low production volume of 554 during year 1965 to 1968 made it a valuable collectible car today.
Wait, what's this Honda NSX doing here? That was what came into my mind when I saw it. It's a Nissan MID4 II, a mid-engine four-wheel drive concept model that was unveiled at 1987 Tokyo Motor Show. Unfortunately, the project was dropped due to cost.
Nissan/Datsun first involvement in rally motorsport dated back to 1958 where they participated in Australia Mobilgas Trial with "Fuji" and "Sakura" Datsun 210 (from left) and came in 1st and 4th placing respectively in its class. Datsun Bluebirds were running in East African Safari Rally in late 60s, ...
... before the introduction of 240Z. The mighty Zs performed brilliantly in Safari Rally winning 1st overall in '71 & '73, and came in 3rd overall in '72 Rallye Monte-Carlo. Those achievements at that time really put Nissan's name to the top in the rally. You could still see the battle scars they earned 40 years ago.
Beside the rally machines were three bright coloured competition racers from the 70s - (from left) Fairlady 240ZG, Sunny Excellent Coupe, and Cherry Coupe X-1.
The 240ZG Omori factory test car was easily one of my top pick in the hall. I just love kyusha cars with wide fender flares and wheels.
Not only Nissan excels in off-road rally, they are also superior on asphalt track. The history of Japan's modern motorsport started in 1963 with 1st Japan Grand Prix race at Suzuka Circuit. The Fairlady SP310 (left) was the winner of the B-II race.
The following year, Prince Gloria Super 6 (blue middle) won the T-VI race, but the Skyline 2000GT (blue right) was defeated by Porsche 904 in the GT-II class. That was when the company decided to develop Japan's first true racing car, the R380-I (#11) and won the championship in 1966.
R380-II (red) arrived after R380-II but didn't win first place in '67 Japan GP. Then, it was a comeback win for Nissan with the R381 (middle) in '68. To substitute the Chevrolet engine in R381, the R382 (yellow) was equipped with Nissan's own 6L V12 engine and dominated '69 Japan GP beating Porsche and Toyota 7. R383 (blue) was created succeeding R382 but did not race because the grand prix was cancelled in 1970.
The one racing series which was popular to Japanese in the 80s is the Super Silhouette. Standard production cars were slapped with outrageous wide-body kits and full tuned to spit flames in race. If you know about Bosozoku/Yankii car culture in Japan, this is where they took the inspiration from.
Few of Super Silhouette cars were Masahiko Kondo's '82 March K10 built by Nismo, '83 Silvia KS110 driven by Kazuyoshi Hoshino of Impul, ...
... Haruto Yanagida's '83 Bluebird KY910, and Masahiro Hasemi's '83 Skyline KDR30, the most famous monster machine from Super Silhouette Group 5 series. Most Tomica collectors would notice the Skyline right away. :D
Next up was an array of very remarkable Super GT machines. I grew up following JGTC series (All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship) and that is where I learnt to support my favourite car teams battling it out on famous Japanese circuits. But one thing I have to admit, the Nissan team never fails to come out top.
It was JTC (All Japan Touring Car Championship) before JGTC and SuperGT, when Skyline GT-R R32 earns the nickname "Godzilla" due to its unbeatable feat winning all 29 races during its 4 year appearance in Group A. This #12 Calsonic GT-R was the most iconic one among the rest as it won the championship in '90 and '93.
Who will ever forget about the famous Pennzoil Nismo livery in JGTC series. The team won the championship in two consecutive years, in 1998 and 1999 with #23 GT-R R33 and #1 GT-R R34 respectively.
To make the series more competitive in 2003, new regulations were set which led to the revision of JGTC machines. Nissan made their Skyline GT-R lower and wider, replaced the RB26DETT with a more compact VQ30DETT V6 engine, and removed the AWD configuration to follow the new rules.
Despite the changes, the #23 Xanavi Nismo team won the 2013 season and it was the last time we saw the R34s in JGTC. The R35 GT-Rs arrived in 2008 Super GT.
The area that I kept going back to and has the most awesome cars in the Zama Factory was the Group C cars at Le Mans section. These cars were the fastest in my virtual world, that’s Gran Turismo I’m talking about, and to see all of them there was beyond my imagination.
Let’s go through the evolution of the Nissan Group C cars, starting from ‘85 Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo which was running from 1985 to 1990 in IMSA GT Championship. '85 T85V Amada and '86 R86V Nichira competed in the 1986 Le Mans but only the #32 Amada car finished the race at 16th position.
Clockwise from top left: '88 R88C, '89 R89C, '91 R91CP & '92 R92CP.
The R91CP was completely built by Nissan, not like its predecessors. It was the first time for the Japanese team to win at Daytona 24 Hours in 1992, driven by notable drivers Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Toshio Suzuki. The #1 Calsonic R92CP achieved incredible result, 5 of 6 wins in '92 JSPC series.
Nissan sent three R390 GT1s in 1997 Le Mans to race with the big guys like Porsche 911 GT1 and McLaren F1 GTR. Due to struggle with reliability issues, only one of three cars was able to finish the race. It was this #23 car which came in 12th overall and 5th in its GT1 class.
The following year, four upgraded R390 GT1s raced and fortunately all of them crossed the finish line in one piece. Even though they didn't win first place, it was a huge achievement for the Nissan team. The #32 car came in 3rd overall, best result from Nissan.
According the rules for GT class in Le Mans, the vehicle must be based on a production car, therefore this road car version of R390 GT1 was created solely for that purpose. Only two examples were built, one was auctioned off to a wealthy customer and one is at this place.
The Nissan R390 is the fastest Japanese production car with a recorded top speed of 354km/h.
GT class rules were changed in 1999 Le Mans, forcing Nissan to leave R390 GT1 and developed the R391 for the LMP class instead. Anyhow, both R391s retired early in the race. After the victory at Le Mans-Fuji 1000km in November that year, Nissan took a break from Le Mans.
And, returned to Le Mans recently with their new Prototype racer known as the GT-R LM Nismo.
Nissan Heritage Collection or the Zama Factory is not a showroom nor a museum, it's the holy ground of Nissan where their heritage, achievements and spirit of racing are treasured for decades to come.
I am lucky to have visited one of the greatest car place in the world, and I hope you too can someday experience what I really felt inside the vast Nissan Heritage Collection Hall.
Thank you for reading, and hope you learnt a few things about the history of Nissan. :)