In a nondescript building on the grounds of a large manufacturing facility, Nissan’s heritage collection of more than 300 vehicles gleams under bright overhead lights. It’s a stunning gathering of important cars from the company’s history, and it makes the somewhat confusing and chaotic journey very, very worth it.
The museum is located roughly 30 kilometers outside of Yokohama, Japan, and getting to the facility involves myriad alleyways, backroads, and battles with bicyclists. Once you pull inside the main parking area, another drive and keen eyes are required to locate a small lot with a small sign indicating you have arrived.
The reason the museum is difficult to find is simple: It was only made public quite recently. The staffers have been busy upgrading the facility to make it more accessible, and we are told things improve daily—perhaps by the time you visit, the signage will be more prominent. The collection encompasses row after row of restored and original-condition cars, trucks, race cars, and more, and it’s frankly hard to tell where to begin. But we made it through, and here we present our 10 favorites:
1938 Datsun 17T Truck
We started by viewing a row of early 1930s and 1940s Datsun trucks. The 1934 model was called the Datsun 13, and it was followed by the 14, 15, and 17; there was no 16 due to the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese war. During Japan’s involvement in WWII, no cars were produced, with factories instead being instructed to make trucks and commercial vehicles. This meant the Datsun 17 was produced from April 1938 through January 1944. It was then replaced by the Datsun 1121 and 2124 trucks.
This truck was designed to be a two-seater and was powered by the same 15-hp, 722cc engine used in Datsun passenger cars. The T was really just a reworked version of the 17 with its build and specifications mandated by a lack of resources during the war, such as the use of one color for the body.
It has an overall length of about nine feet (3,020 mm) and an overall width of about four feet (1,197 mm)—compare that to a 2019 Ford F-150, which can be as long as 21 feet overall and just over seven feet wide. Go ahead, put this early Datsun truck in the F-150’s bed.
1961 Datsun Fairlady Sports SPL213
When people think of the Nissan Fairlady, some version of the Z car often springs to mind. This one, however, is really the Z’s granddaddy—it was the first U.S.-market Nissan sports car. It was launched in 1960 as the Datsun Sports 1200 (SPL212) and was only slightly revised for the 1961 model year. Both were called Fairladys and rumor has it Nissan President Katsuji Kawamata chose the name “Fairlady” after watching My Fair Lady while visiting the U.S. in 1961. Just 217 of this particular car were built, but it left an impression and the Fairlady name would carry on for decades.
1963 Datsun Fairlady 1500 (SP310)
Just a few years after its introduction, the Fairlady was entered into the first Japanese Grand Prix—it was held as a sports-car race, and then other types before F1 took over in 1976—in May 1963 at the Suzuka Circuit southwest of Nagoya. This race marked the beginning of racing interest in Japan, and the 1963 Datsun Fairlady 1500 won the B-II race and quickly cemented a reputation for being an authentic sports car even though the car featured a nonoriginal Cedric engine.
1966 Prince R380A-1
With large No. 11 stickers, the Prince R380A-1 was created to beat Porsche, the champion of the second Japanese Grand Prix in 1964. Developed by Prince Motors prior to it merging with Nissan in the same year as that race, it accomplished its mission and won the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix. It’s also worth noting the R380A-1 chief engineer was Shinichiro Sakurai, who became famous for engineering several generations of the Skyline.
1969 Fairlady Z432
Wearing a striking mustard color, the 1969 Fairlady Z was how it all began: This was the first of the Z sports cars Nissan would become famous for building. The mirrors on the fenders, the inset headlights, and the flowing roofline and rear end are all hallmarks of vintage Zs, which differed slightly for the U.S. and Japanese domestic markets. In Japan, it continued to be badged as the Fairlady to keep it in line with the prior-generation Datsun Sports roadsters. This particular model with its Z432 distinction was known as the high-performance version; the 432 refers to the S20 engine’s configuration (4 valves, 3 carburetors, and 2 camshafts).
1989 Nissan Pao
While the museum is filled with sports cars, there are some other more whimsical vehicles as well—like this 1989 Nissan Pao with a canvas roof. Often known as the “Pike car” due to its production at the Pike factory, this 51-hp hatchback was built from 1989 through 1991 as a retro-styled vehicle that featured external door hinges, a split tailgate, chrome luggage rack, and flip-up windows to evoke the simple European small cars of the 1940, ’50s, and ’60s. Power came from a 1.0-liter four-cylinder hooked to a three-speed automatic or five-speed manual. The first run sold out in just three months, and as part of Nissan’s retro car line of the early 1990s, it enjoys quite a cult following today.
1989 Nissan S-Cargo
Another vehicle from the same line as the Pao is the 1989 Nissan S-Cargo, which is actually taller than it is wide. The name is meant to stand for both Small Cargo and as a nod to the snail-like styling—escargot is the French word for “snail,” you see. The run of Escargots was small—8,000 or so—and each featured a 75-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a three-speed automatic. Other models in the retro line include the Figaro and Be-1.
1988 Nissan R88C
The 1988 Nissan R88C sits in a row labeled “Japan Sports Prototype Car Endurance Championship Group C” cars, all of which were produced from 1982–1991 for the World Sports-Prototype Championship series. Each of them, like the R88C, had requirements for vehicle dimensions, minimum weight, fuel-tank volume (100 liters), total fuel usage, and enclosed bodies. The rest was left to the designers and engineers.
This particular model was powered by a VRH30 engine developed for Le Mans racing. It was a twin-turbo, DOHC, aluminum-block V-8 producing 740 horsepower at 8000 rpm and 542 lb-ft at 5500. The engine and the R88C were only raced for two years by Masahiro Hasemi, coming in 15th in the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans and notching top-five finishes in both the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship (JSPC) races and World Sports Prototype Championship. It was replaced in 1990 when the new VRH35 engine was introduced.
1991 Nissan R92CP
Featuring the VRH35Z twin-turbo V-8, the 1991 Nissan R92CP also received slight design tweaks over the R91CP and R91VP to better compete with Toyota and Mazda in the JSPC. This car would make racing history for Nissan. Competing only in the JSPC after Nissan withdrew from the World Sportscar Championship, it would see Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Toshio Suzuki win the Driver’s Championship with three wins in seven races in 1991—and repeat the feat in 1992. It would also help Nissan capture the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championships for three years in a row (1990-1992) before the racing series folded after the ’92 season.
1989 Calsonic Skyline GT-R R32
Sitting behind the Group C prototype cars, the 1989 Calsonic Skyline GT-R R32 is part of the Japan Touring Car Championship (Group A) group of vehicles. This group was limited to four-seat automobiles with an annual production of 2,500 or more. The range of modifications was severely limited, making the base performance the deciding factor. None of these limitations mattered to the R32.
The Calsonic Skyline GT-R R32 collected 29 straight victories in 29 races from the model’s debut in 1990 to its last race in 1993. Its dominance is said to have killed the racing series, and led to its famous “Godzilla” nickname.