Nissan’s roots in the auto industry can be traced back as far as 1914. The Nissan nameplate was first used during the early 1930’s. Over time this small Yokohama, Japan based company has blossomed into one of the largest automotive companies on the planet. They sell vehicles on every continent and can be found everywhere from the fastest racetracks to the deepest jungles. They can also be found at Woodbine Nissan, located across the street from Woodbine racetrack at hwy 27 and Vice Regent Blvd. Woodbine Nissan is part of the Auto|One Group.
The history of this company is quite interesting (they built airplanes!). Nissan’s have had more name changes than The Artist Formerly Known As Prince: DAT, Datsun, kwaishinsha, Nippon Sango, the list goes on… They have had more business partners and trade allegiances than Justin Beiber has Twitter followers: Hitachi, Prince Motors, Ford, Austin, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Renault and Daimler to name a few. Some of these trade alliances are still in effect to this day. This is not why you are reading this blog though. You are reading this blog because you love cars as much as we do. Let’s dive into Nissans rich and delicious sports car history. We will save Nissan’s bulletproof trucks for another blog as they deserve their own.
The Datsun Fairlady was Nissans answer to the MG’s and Triumphs. These adorable 2 seat convertibles were originally introduced in 1959 and a blast to drive. The first examples were only 37 horsepower and the engine was less than 1 liter but the sporting abilities were undeniable. Incredibly light, spry, spunky and basic these cars grew into a 2 liter engine by 1967 pushing upwards of 150 horsepower in competition guise. This may not seem like much but consider this: curb weight of just over 2,000 pounds, 200 kilometer per hour ability, better fuel economy than your midsize sedan in the garage and a motor that revved to 7,000 RPM. This was in 1967. While most people were too busy getting there first muscle car at the time, those who did notice these beautiful imports were treated to one of the most organic driving experiences. These were the first sports cars that were imported from Nissan to North America, they are quite rare and should be worshiped by all for what they contributed to vehicle dynamics.
Nissan S30 is what replaced the Fairlady. You probably know them better as the “Z” cars. These were the first of the cult cars from Datsun/Nissan. The nameplate has been around for enthusiasts to lust over since 1969 with out losing there shirts. These cars were sports car bargains when sold new, part of Nissan’s strategy to gain a foothold in the North American market. Despite a brief hiatus from market these cars have still remained a viable option for many buyers. This is because of a simple formula that Nissan has followed. All cars are offered in manual transmission, rear wheel drive and offer a smooth high revving 6 cylinder engine in a 2+2 body. These cars have stood the test of time with their long sloping hood, sweeping cabin and flat short trunk. They look like and perform like what you would expect from a sports car.
The Datsun Z was the first Japanese car to truly capture the heart of North American buyers who were looking for a cheap, fun, reliable alternative to the gas guzzling, heavy American V8’s of the day that were not as “tossable” in corners.
From the original 240z, 260z and 280z/x-turbo the 300zx of the late 1980’s was born. Never as popular as it’s 1990’s replacement. Yes, they both had T-tops (so cool!) but only in the 1990’s did Nissan ditch the angular styling of the 80’s for something sleek and include wicked turbos! Nissan understands that turbos are like love birds, they blessed the 300zx with two turbos. This would lead to the 350Z of early 2000’s. these cars have always remained relevant and true to their core followers. No front wheel drive has been offered, no overbearing electronic nannies, just good clean fun form a reliable sports car. Today we have the 370z that still holds true to those original roots of the 240z from 1969
Up to now we have talked about sports cars but imagine creating a car that is so intense, powerful and intimidating that your home market jokingly calls it Godzilla. When Nissan unveiled the Skyline that is the nickname it earned through its reputation of destroying the completion and owning any racetrack it shows up to. All-wheel drive, manual transmission, and turbo’s the size of Jay Leno’s chin… these cars were a recipe for fun right from the factory. Technically the first skyline appeared in the mid 1950’s on the Prince nameplate which was eventually absorbed by Nissan. The ones that really changed the face of the Japanese sports car market however are the later R32, R33 and R34 bodied cars built from 1989-2002 era. This is when Nissan decided to put the power to all four corners of the car. Keep in mind that this recipe came out in the late 1980’s when most manufactures were still touting that disc brakes were standard. This is the template that other manufactures adopted for their sports cars.
They were never officially imported to the North American market, however they do show up on our shores as grey market imports and they are becoming increasingly popular to see at a show’n shine or import tuner car show. These cars are a favorite of aftermarket tuners because of their robust drivetrain and customizable suspension. It is not uncommon for GTR’s to make 800 reliable horsepower in the hands of someone skilled.
The Nissan Silvia was the little sibling with attitude to the Nissan Skyline. Originally marketed as an economy sports car, what set them apart from the Honda accord 2-door and Toyota Celica was that it was rear wheel drive. These cars have not been sold new in North America since 1998 however you can still see them all over the car scene. Coveted by drifters for their rear wheel dive setup, ease of use and cheap to modify. The 4 cylinder powertrains they came with can be swapped out for a 6 cylinder or just ad massive turbos to the current 4 pot! They usually have bashed up corners, no bumpers and sometimes no hoods…. Not to worry though! It is a Nissan! Bulletproof in every other way that your crappy driving is not.
For more information on Nissan’s rich history, drop by Woodbine Nissan. They are always happy to assist in all manner of driving needs. Want to talk about classic Nissans no problem- they are car people too, just like you!