Final Fantasy - 1970 Nissan R383

After the glorious success of Nissan’s first complete in-house design, the V12 R382, the company’s lust for victory had only increased. Twice in a row they had managed to defeat bitter rivals Toyota and powerful outsiders Porsche, but they could not afford to rest on their laurels. The playing field in motorsport was ever-changing, as all manufacturers frantically searched for more and more advanced sticks to beat each other over the head with.

Porsche had finally sorted the lethal stability problems of the 917 with the help of customer team John Wyer Automotive, and Toyota was determined to finally make their 7 model capable of curb-stomping Nissan’s cars into submission. Additionally Isuzu had joined the line-up in 1969 with a Chevrolet powered car, a concept Nissan itself used with great effect with 1968’s winning R381. The 1969 race was a turning point in history of the Japan Grand Prix, with European star drivers like Mike Hailwood (GB), Jo Siffert (CH), Vic Elford (GB), Hans Herrmann (GER) and David Piper (GB) lining up on the grid. The race’s international recognition could attract the attention of more experienced manufacturers from all over the world, which worried Nissan greatly.

The R383 received a very different radiator arrangement.

The R383 received a very different radiator arrangement.

With this in mind chief engineer Shinichiro Sakurai and his experienced team of former Prince engineers were ordered to come up with an even faster car for 1970. Wary of the possible teething problems of a radical new design, Sakurai-san opted for a strategy of evolution rather than revolution. After all it had taken his team two full years to prepare the R382’s advanced 6L GRX-3 V12 engine. A repeat of the desperate situation experienced in 1968 was simply unacceptable.

Sakurai-san then concentrated his efforts towards improving the GRX-3 engine, which was producing a reliable 580 horsepower. In testing the figure had been as high as 600, which indicated the brand new unit was far from the end of its development potential. The engine’s basic dual overhead cam, 4 valve per cylinder, mechanical fuel injection layout remained unchanged, but significant refinements were made to make it more reliable and more balanced. The end result was an incredible 120 horsepower hike to 700 horsepower at 7500 rpm. Torque also improved, rising to 647 nm (477 lb ft) from 608 nm (448 lb ft). The newfound savagery earned the engine a different designation: GRX-3 KAI. The Hewland 5-speed manual transmission was retained to channel the fury to the rear wheels, and strengthened where needed.

For the first time the engine bay was completely enclosed

For the first time the engine bay was completely enclosed

With the engine sorted, Sakurai-san moved to improve the car aerodynamically. His R382 had been built around active aerodynamics the year prior, which were taken away at the last second by an FIA-wide ban. This made the R383 the first car to do without these devices, which called for very different design principles. The bodywork of the R382 was relatively messy, with a huge hole in the front and the radiator oddly mounted to the rear spoiler. In reality the R382 had been another rush-job, forced to claw back downforce after the active wings were taken off

For the R383 Sakurai-san drew a much smoother, more refined shape. The lessons learned from the R382 inspired him to make the car as aerodynamically efficient as possible. The nose section was smoothed out and fitted with a small NACA-duct instead of the giant letterbox seen before. All around the body was smoothed out further, and the rear spoiler was lowered substantially. In addition the car now incorporated two radiators sat beside the engine for improved cooling.

The change necessitated larger openings in the doors, which fed the radiators with nice cool air coming from the front. On the older car the radiator was blasted by hot air coming from the engine, which rendered running more power impossible as the V12 would overheat too easily. The spot formerly occupied by the radiator was now taken by an oil cooler, another measure to increase reliability.

The offset intake threatened to rip your left eardrum out through your helmet.

The offset intake threatened to rip your left eardrum out through your helmet.

The extra cooling measures also made it possible to enclose the engine bay completely for the first time. Along with this change the large airbox seen on the R382 was also deleted in a bid to further reduce drag. In its place a much lower letterbox-style intake was mounted in an offset position, right by the driver’s left ear. As a result the induction roar coming from the furious fuel injected fire-breather was positively deafening.

The various little tweaks on the car’s body resulted in a much more slippery and elegant design, a far cry from the cartoonishly overdone shapes present on its predecessor. In the process Sakurai-san and his men had also found the time to reduce the car’s overall weight by 50 kg (110 lbs), which brought it down to just 740 kg (1631 lbs).

Although the new design looked promising, Nissan had concerns about the car’s output. Rumors were flying around of a twin-turbocharged version of the Toyota 7, which was said to produce 100 horsepower more than Nissan’s new machine. In response, Sakurai-san directed his team to investigate the new technology.

His men reserved one of the V12’s as a test mule, and started experimenting. Two massive turbo’s were added to the already exceptionally large powerplant, with the goal to smash Toyota’s supposed power level. Reportedly the team succeeded in spectacular fashion. At full chat, the turbocharged GRX-3 KAI rammed out a mesmerizing 900 horsepower.

Just as the project was really coming together, the Japanese Automobile Federation shot it out of the sky. Without warning, JAF had decided to cancel the Japan Grand Prix for 1970. Despite the rise in popularity the race had seen under FIA Group 7 sportscar regulations, JAF felt its focus needed to shift to single seaters in an attempt to secure a Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. FIA Group 7 racing, although very popular in Japan and North America’s Can Am, simply wasn’t a global discipline. The glamour and prestige of Formula One was something it simply couldn’t compete with.

The sudden cancellation left Nissan with an expensive and unfinished prototype, and nowhere for it to race. As a result the program was cancelled shortly after the devastating JAF announcement, and the car was never even finished. Despite the JAF’s enthusiasm for single seater racing, Nissan didn’t bother with it. As a consequence the R383 would remain the last Nissan sportscar until the introduction of the March-based R85V in 1985.

The Nissan R383 was Nissan’s final completely in-house designed and built sportscar, and the last to be conceived by visionary designer Shinichiro Sakurai. Sakurai-san had built five different machines to conquer Fuji Speedway for both Prince and Nissan, but was denied a chance at a third victory. The greed of the Japanese Automobile Federation brought the mighty Group 7 monsters to their knees, and Nissan left sports car racing entirely for fifteen long years.

Sakurai-san’s final fantasy was realized some 36 years later when Nissan revisited the unfnished chassis while building their Heritage Collection. A lone naturally aspirated machine was finally completed by select Nismo engineers, finished in a dazzling blue and silver color scheme. The R383 took its rightful place in the Datsun Nissan Heritage Center. When it’s not on display for all to gawk at, the R380-series’ final chapter enjoys doing laps with its older sisters at select promotional events like the Nismo Festival.