Nissan historics Part 2: True racing pedigree and the '60s Japan Grand Prix racers

Nissan historics Part 2
by Paulo Rafael Subido | Dec 20, 2011

Because of the sheer number of cars in the Zama Garage, it’s easy to get distracted. But things start to cook when you delve deeper into what is on display. It is then that you realize how priceless a lot of these cars are. These three beauties caught my eye, and I instantly felt that there was something special about each of them.

This is a row of Japanese Grand Prix racers from the ’60s. The series should not be confused with the Formula 1 round with the same name. Japan had its own Grand Prix, and it was held from 1963 to 1969. Each car here is in working condition, and boy do they look like they mean business. These were obviously the inspiration for the original Speed Racer cartoon. Race cars were much sexier back then, don’t you agree?


The white car is the R381, winner of the 1968 Japan Grand Prix. The yellow car is the R382, which also won the Grand Prix in 1969. The blue and silver car, designated as the R383, didn’t get a chance to race in 1970 because of the cancellation of the Japan Grand Prix. The engine is said to produce 700hp, though. Get close enough and you can smell the oil, fuel and burnt rubber. And let’s not forget that each of these cars has a story to tell. Call me crazy, but I also felt the spirit of the '60s. I got goosebumps by just standing within close proximity of these Grand Prix racers.

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The artistry and engineering of these machines is amazing. Look at the bends of the 1969 R382’s exhaust manifolds and how they extend beyond the bodywork.


Air is fed to the V12 via six dual-carburetors. I should have asked the curator to fire up this motor. I regret not having done so, because they probably would have accommodated my request. Damn! This engine is an all-Nissan unit.


The older R381 has a more conservative V8 setup, but it is no less sexy. Imagine driving a carbureted race car with its exposed engine right behind your head. That’s my idea of automotive bliss. Those red covers are used to keep debris from falling into the intake while the car is in storage. By the way, the engine is a Chevrolet unit that Nissan reluctantly had to use. The Japanese company was still in the process of developing its own race engines in 1968.


I don’t think it can get any more basic than this. It would be a dream come true for me pilot a bare-bones Grand Prix racer.


Here’s a shot of the R381’s wings and deep-dish magnesium wheels. Those wings are famous because the left and right side moved independently. The R381 is known as the “Monster Bird”.


Parked beside the Grand Prix cars is the 1967 R380-II. It is one of the very first sports cars to be made by Nissan, under the Nissan name. If you look closely at its nose, you will see that its emblem still has traces of the Prince Motor Company’s original crest. I found this out because the head of Nismo was present during our visit, and he knows the history and story behind almost every single race car on display. The man has a very cool job. The R380-II set numerous Japanese speed records.

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Here’s a parting shot of the R383’s rear end. Thanks for all of the comments and for checking out this blog. This feature is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more Nissan historic goodness at the Zama Garage, so do keep logging on. More cool posts to come!

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