Nissan Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Nissan Home Country: Japan Japan

Sorry if we list Datsun cars under the Nissan name. But it always was one and the same car manufacturer, so we did not want to split them in two. Datsun is the oldest Japanese car maker, founded in 1914 and existing i.e. more than 20 years before Toyota. The company was originally founded by 3 people: Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama & Meitaro Takeuchi. Take the first letters of these gentlemen's surnames and add the Japanese flag symbol, the red "sun", and out comes Datsun. However it appears here we have a car manufacturer financially struggling throughout its existence. In the mid 1930s, when most other Japanese car manufacturers were founded, Datsun fell under full ownership of Nissan. Nissan itself is an abbreviation for Nippon Sangyo, meaning simply Japan Industries, a company that produced automotive equipment and electronics and is also affiliated with the Hitachi Group. When in 1983 Datsun was renamed to Nissan, this was solely a change of marketing name, Datsun was fully Nissan owned since 50 years! The reason for this move was again financial problems, followed by an attempt to change brand image. It didn't help much, in 1999 Nissan (cars) fell under Renault ownership.

In rallying Nissan/Datsun is the first Japanese make to come out with a true in house rally program (in 1969). And they are distinctively different to their Japanese opposition as not only was Nissan/Datsun first, they were run out of Japan and they didn’t need persuading by a European rally driver to take on rallying. If you look into the rally history of i.e. Toyota, Mitsubishi and Mazda, you find that Nissan really is the exception in Japanese attitude, at least in this respect.

Nissan/Datsun’s Japanese head quarters saw from the start there was a huge marketing potential in rallying and their main attention was always to the specific events Monte Carlo and Safari – of which however they never managed to win Monte Carlo. The measures they took for this were incredible. The first Datsun 1600SSS (510 model) was a simple, small saloon car, a bit on the lines of the early Ford Escort and maybe as well looking at the Peugeot 404 and 504. Although the Peugeot models were much bigger than the Datsuns, they were simple and robust and hugely successful in Africa, which was the type of events the Datsun 510 was aimed at. However not much later Datsun as well launched the Fairlady 240Z, a 6-cylinder sports coupé that was aimed for Rallye Monte Carlo success. But the 240Z was big and if the 1600SSS was not stunning out of the box, the 240Z was way off its intended success in Monte Carlo. Ironically soon the 240Z was “misused” by a number of drivers and taken to Safari and RAC rallies, while Datsun’s main attention stayed in line with the more promising 1600SSS project.

The next Datsun cars in line were based around the Violet model range, which were similar to the 510 1600SSS. Here the 180B (actually Bluebird, similar but slightly larger than the Violet) and especially later the 160J (Violet) models turned very successful in Africa, in fact the 160J won the Safari 4 years in a row, but they seemed to have little to offer on performance events. Two outstanding exceptions were Timo Salonen winning the 1980 Rally NZ in a Violet 160J and Tony Pond coming 3rd on the 1981 Tour de Corse in a Violet GT. Specially Tony Pond’s tarmac performance had Datsun bemused if they didn’t miss an opportunity i.e. for a Monte win as Datsun themselves never regarded the Violet as a good tarmac car. However their attitude wasn’t to change greatly. When Datsun turned Nissan and they launched the groupB Silvia 240RS, it was a very good car but not a groupB car in the true sense. Being a conventional car launched in 1983 Nissan was either hugely mislead or the Silvia was never meant to be a WRChampionship winner in the first place. Most likely the latter is the case even though the Silvia 240RS was as well entered in events as Monte Carlo, Corsica, Finland.

Maybe at this time there was split personality within the Japanese works team Nismo (= Nissan Motorsport). Reflecting on the Silvia 240RS, Nissan surprised the whole rally world for being the first manufacturer to show a full house groupS rally car, the 300ZX based mid-engined 4-wheel-drive 4-wheel-steering MID4. However when groupS was cancelled and groupA came, the heavy RWD Silvia 200SX could once again only have been with African adventure rallies in mind.

Nissan’s attitude only turned away from Safari specials to full scale WRC in the early 1990s. The dead born groupS car aside, their first and in fact only car clearly designed to win the whole championship was the groupA 4x4 turbo Sunny GTI-R, launched in 1991. Interestingly only then Nissan’s operation turned away from Japan to a business based at Didcot, GB and run by former star navigator Dave Whittock and conveniently named NME (= Nissan Motorsport Europe). This project however was hugely embarrassing. Not only was reliability a major issue, but for its performance and being groupA a big problem of the road car version of the Sunny GTI-R became very apparent: for some reason the intercooler was placed above the engine and exhaust manifold, the hottest place in the engine bay, such it acted more as an interwarmer. This meant performance was a problem and because of groupA the engineers were not allowed to move the intercooler. A funny side effect of this was that to improve the under bonnet air circulation Nissan was running on all events even at full daylight always with the full light pod fitted.

Thereafter Nissan and NME attempted a few F2 projects with the Sunny and the Almera. But while their only full scale WRC program was an embarrassment and stopped after only 1 ½ years, it is extremely unlikely we will see Nissan back with a similar full championship attempt. Maybe, or very likely even(!!!!), they would like a specialised, limited program again, but under current rules this is not possible, nor would the current choice of events in the WRC be of interest for Nissan. Ironically Nissan supports the N-GT class in Belgium and Spain with a 350Z and there was a Datsun entry in the IRC Safari Rally 2007.

COLOURS & TYRES:

Only rarely they were found with sponsorship (Marlboro), most of the time Datsun as well as Nissan had a layout cooperating white, red & blue. The Datsun 240Z/260Z is famous for an all red colour scheme with mat black bonnet. This was also applied to the small saloon cars, but made way for the white, red & blue colours at about the time the WRC started. The later change of brand name from Datsun to Nissan interestingly did not at all effect the house colours.

The two big tyre companies in rallying are considered to be Michelin and Pirelli, but the 3rd one was Dunlop (really surprisingly good) to whom Datsun/Nissan stayed loyal, even the Sunny GTI-R in 1992 was still on Dunlop tyres.

REGISTRATIONS:

All the way until 1990 works Datsun and Nissan were usually on the complicated Japanese reg plates. There were a few rare exceptions with cars registered on the Greek importer (just a 5-digit number) or the Kenyan importer (3 letters 3 numbers, as seen in many other countries too, but always starting with a "K" for Kenya). There were also quite a few official cars prepared by Europe's Nissan friends Andy Dawson and Bill Blydenstein. These cars were usually on Irish reg plates, very early Andy Dawson ones on Luton, UK, like GM UK cars. All this changed in 1991 with the Sunny program. Now Nissan moved base to Europe. To be exact, former star navigator Dave Whittock was in charge, the team moved to premises in Didcot, Oxfordshire and was known as "NME" = "Nissan Motorsport Europe". And this is exactly what the private UK reg plates displayed from now on, the 3-letter-block being "NME".

Chassis numbers: Well there are no build numbers except the groupB Silvia 240RS. And here rally cars were simply picked out from the existing 200 chassis at random - though the groupB debut car with Salonen in Monte 1983 "UIA 4275" was chassis 001.

Nissan Rally Cars

Model Class
Nissan Nissan 510  Group 2
Nissan Nissan Almera  Formula 2
Nissan Nissan Bluebird 180B  Group 2
Nissan Nissan Bluebird 180SSS  Group 2
Nissan Nissan Fairlady (Z)  Group 4
Nissan Nissan March (Micra)  Group A
Nissan Nissan Micra  Formula 2
Nissan Nissan Silvia  Group 2
Nissan Nissan Silvia  Group 4
Nissan Nissan Silvia 200SX  Group A
Nissan Nissan Silvia 240RS  Group B
Nissan Nissan Skyline R32  Group N
Nissan Nissan Sunny (Pulsar)  Formula 2
Nissan Nissan Sunny (Pulsar)  Group A
Nissan Nissan Sunny (Pulsar)  Group N
Nissan Nissan Violet 160J  Group 4
Nissan Nissan Violet 160J  Group 2

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1994 WRC Group A 9th. Nissan (2pts) 10

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1992 WRC Group A 6th. Nissan (37pts) 14

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1991 WRC Group A 7th. Nissan (16pts) 14

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1989 WRC Group A 8th. Nissan (18pts) 13

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1988 WRC Group A 8th. Nissan (23pts) 13

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1987 WRC Group A 11th. Nissan (9pts) 13

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1985 WRC Group B 4th. Nissan (56pts) 12

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1984 WRC Group B 7th. Nissan (46pts) 12

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1983 WRC Open 4th. Nissan (64pts) 12

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1982 WRC Open 3rd. Nissan (57pts) 12

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1980 WRC Open 66th. Nissan (18pts) 12

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1979 WRC Open 2nd. Nissan (108pts) 12

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1978 WRC Open 5th. Nissan (52pts) 11

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1977 WRC Open 6th. Nissan (40pts) 11

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1976 WRC Open 5th. Nissan (39pts) 10

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1975 WRC Open 9th. Nissan (26pts) 10

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1974 WRC Open 6th. Nissan (28pts) 8

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1973 WRC Open 6th. Nissan (34pts) 13

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