NISMO Heritage: A History of Maverick Engineering in Motorsports and Attainable Performance

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CHICAGO - NISMO. Five letters taken from the words NISsan MOtorsports. Known around the world racing fraternity for nearly 50 years. Passionately embraced by grassroots Datsun and Nissan club racers and electronic race gamers alike. With the addition of the new 2013 Nissan JUKE NISMO model in the United States – joining the potent second-generation 370Z NISMO, the NISMO name is about to become much wider known among the general populace.

The launch of JUKE NISMO, and a stable of future NISMO street models to follow, is the latest chapter in the story of maverick engineering and innovation that began half a century ago. It's a tale of passion for motorsport, pioneering spirit, after-hours vehicle development and a desire to succeed. The engineers' commitment also led to the birth of a name badge that has become legend in Japanese performance car history: Skyline.

The NISMO story begins in 1964 when the Prince Motor Company – a local car manufacturer that would be taken over by Nissan two years later – realized it was possible to boost sales through competitive motorsports. Engineers took the 2.0-liter six-cylinder block from the Gloria, a large luxury sedan, and shoehorned it under the hood of the much smaller Skyline by extending the wheelbase. With a vastly increased power-to-weight ratio, they realized the racing potential of what they had created – the Prince Skyline 2000GT (S54). Working all hours, they battled to produce 100 examples for customers to meet the strict competition rules.

It was a race against time, which they won with only hours to spare. The car was officially launched on May 1, 1964 and competed in its first race just two days later. The performance was bittersweet; while victory went to a Porsche 904, the Skyline took every position from 2nd to 6th. They didn't realize it at the time, but these maverick engineers had given birth to what would in time become an iconic performance car brand. The spirit of NISMO emerged for the first time.

Prince joined the expanding Nissan family in 1966, and the following year the Skyline (S57) was launched, featuring the most powerful 1.5-liter engine of its day. More motorsport success followed and in 1969 came the debut of the now-legendary GT-R badge. Originally a sedan, a coupe called the KPGC-10 quickly followed. For motorsports use, they were stripped out to save weight and the formula was an instant hit – sharing 50 victories between 1969 and 1972.

Nissan Motorsports International Co. Ltd: NISMO
Nissan's motorsport activities had been split into two divisions, one for works (factory) teams and the other for privateer outfits. In September 1984, the company decided to merge them to cement its commitment to all competitive racing. The new unit was called "Nissan Motorsports International Co. Ltd," abbreviated to NISMO. It was established as a separate company, but as a wholly owned subsidiary of Nissan.

The founding ethos was a simple one and is as relevant today as it was in 1984 – and 20 years earlier with the launch of the Prince Skyline. NISMO represents the spirit of Nissan's proud motorsports heritage and its performance ambitions. NISMO's goal is to perfectly embody the Nissan brand: making innovation, technology and excitement for everyone.

In 1986 came Nissan's debut at one of the world's unique motorsport challenges, the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. It was the start of an amazing relationship with the endurance event, which has seen numerous NISMO-prepared GT and prototype cars compete at the famous La Sarthe circuit since. Following is a brief look back on a few of the famous NISMO racers.

Nissan Skyline R32
In 1988, Nissan's first dedicated race car debuted, based around the Saurus roadster, to take part in a single-make series. But the following year saw the launch of a car that propelled NISMO in front of more mainstream audiences both in Japan and with motorsports fans around the world – the iconic Nissan Skyline R32.

Showcasing four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering, the Skyline R32 made a stunning circuit debut and never looked back.

R32s wearing the GT-R badge won 29 straight victories in 29 starts in domestic racing, wrapping up the Japanese GT Championship Group A four years in a row.

The Skyline R32, however, is perhaps best known for its total domination of the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1990-93 and the nickname it received. A local journalist christened it "Godzilla," alluding to the fearsome Japanese movie monster that strikes terror into all who see it. The name was apt and it stuck. Today, the R32 racer is known to fans around the world simply as "the Godzilla car." A Group A homologation version of the R32, badged NISMO, was available for enthusiasts to buy in select markets. Its successor, the Skyline GT-R (R33), became the first production car to lap the Nürburgring's famous Nordschleife in less than eight minutes.

Beginning with the next generation, the R34, NISMO produced the first V-Spec. The "Victory Specification" version of the Skyline GT-R R34 was given the addition name of "Z-tune," which referred to a road-going vehicle designed to achieve world-class top speed and endurance. With nearly 500 horsepower from the car's 2.8-liter engine, it was the ultimate tuned Skyline for the serious enthusiast. Only 20 were ever made, built by NISMO around pre-owned R34s with very low mileage.

NISMO Awareness Grows
Nissan's motorsport prowess was growing in stature and more success followed throughout the 1990s. Awareness of NISMO grew in the U.S. and Europe when the Skyline GT-R (R32) took the overall win in the Spa 24 hours in 1991, NISMO GT-R LM (R33) claimed 10th place at Le Mans in 1995 and the Nissan R390 GT1 finished 3rd at Le Mans in 1998.

At the same time the GT-R was dominating on the track, it was winning over a new generation of car enthusiasts and gamers on virtual race tracks. Harnessing the potential of the digital age, NISMO cars became global superstars in Sony's long running Gran Turismo® series. No longer were thrilling cars the preserve of the wealthy minority. In the U.S., where the GT-R was not yet offered for sale, its legend – and NISMO's – grew exponentially year after year.

Back in Japan, the Skyline GT-R (R34) competed in the GT Championships from 1999 to 2003, clinching the driver and team titles in the first and the final years. In 2004, fans witnessed the arrival of the NISMO-prepared Fairlady Z (sold as the 350Z in the U.S. and Europe). It was an astonishing start. In its debut season in the Japan Super GT series, it won its first race and eventually took the driver and team titles. It retained the latter trophy in 2005.

Away from the race track, NISMO's spirit of innovation was also evident in the grueling world of competitive off-road endurance rallying. NISMO developed the Nissan RAID Truck for the Dakar Rally, most famously in 2004 when British driver Colin McRae was behind the wheel and earned two stage wins on the way to a memorable finish.

True to its motto of accessibility, NISMO products were now available to enthusiasts in select markets who wanted their own road cars to benefit from the technical innovation they were seeing on the track. NISMO filled this gap in the market, developing a highly respected tuning business that saw authorized NISMO performance parts appearing on vehicles on the streets of Japan.

The Ultimate Nissan GT-R: R35
The global launch of the stunning new Nissan GT-R road car in 2008 inevitably led to a renewed focus on racing. In the Super GT championship the car won the driver's title that year and repeated the feat in 2011 and 2012.

That summer Nissan teams finished 1st and 2nd in the LMP2 class at the Le Mans 24 Hours race. The silver-placed team included GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez, perfectly illustrating just how relevant and authentic the virtual-to-reality race program had become.

In 2013, Nissan's commitment to global motorsport remains as strong as ever with the mighty GT-R GT3 racecar competing in series all over the globe. However, there can be no better illustration of the pioneering NISMO spirit than the award-winning DeltaWing project, which features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a traditional Le Mans sports car.

As a result, it uses half the fuel and tires of a conventional racer. At the cutting edge of research into how racing can be more environmentally aware, DeltaWing is as ambitious a project as the Prince Skyline was almost 50 years ago.

NISMO also has an active hand in another upcoming racing format: electric vehicles. The Nissan LEAF NISMO RC, a bespoke track-ready carbon fiber prototype with a 100% zero-emission lithium-ion powertrain serves as a rolling laboratory for the accelerated development of EV and aerodynamic systems, as well as a platform for the development of new green motorsports series. The car can hit 62 mph in 6.8 seconds and has a top speed of 93 mph. It has a running time of around 20 minutes per charge under racing conditions.

The NISMO brand has expanded dramatically since its official launch in 1984 but the ethos remains the same. There is no better illustration of the brand's passion than the NISMO Festival, staged by the company in Japan. Attended by tens of thousands of devoted fans, it brings together cars and personalities from the entire history of Nissan motorsport in a high-octane celebration of the NISMO brand. NISMO also has an ongoing and growing presence in U.S. Datsun and Nissan enthusiast gatherings and Z® Club conventions. Many of the vehicles at these events have been modified with NISMO parts and accessories, which are available online or through select Nissan dealerships nationwide.

In 2013, NISMO production vehicles such as the 370Z NISMO and new JUKE NISMO will make the thrill of performance driving attainable to more customers by widening the available offerings. After nearly 50 years, NISMO is just warming up.


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Issued by Nissan