Prince R380: Want One?

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A couple of weeks ago, we touched on the topic of the Prince R380 racecar in our retrospective on the Hakosuka Skyline GT-R. As we take up the story, the S54B Skyline debuted at the Japan Grand Prix in 1964. That day, the Skylines won the Touring Car class easily, but was beaten to the flag by the Porsche 904, a purebred mid-engined tarmac racer. Dr Sakurai, head of engineering at Prince Motors, then took steps to ensure that Prince would have a purebred racing car of its own, to wrest back glory at this most prestigous of all Japanese motorsport events.

And so work began. Using a Brabham BT82 chassis as inspiration (which was itself a 2 litre mid engined circuit racer), Sakurai-san’s team developed a slinky, low slung chassis with a bespoke alloy-panelled body. It was powered by a modified version of the Skyline’s 130hp 2.0L straight six: a 200hp, DOHC-headed racing motor, mid-mounted with a Hewland transmission behind it.

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215_takicarrera6a.jpgThe car was ready for the 1966 Japan Grand Prix, but by now the Porsche competition had heated up. The Skylines had been bested in 1964 by a single, locally-entered Porsche 904. But by the time 1966 rolled around, the 904 had been superceded by the 906 (more commonly known as Carerra 6). Whereas the 904 was powered by the 356-derived 1.6L flat four, the Carrera 6 (that’s one on the left at the 1966 Japan GP) had raised the stakes quite a bit with its 911-derived 2.0L flat-six, pushing out 220hp.

So the R380 would not have to be not only match the Porsche 904 that took overall victory in 1964, the new Prince would have to be significantly better. And so the 1966 race would see four R380s gridded up against 3 Carrera 6s. The R380 was a little less powerful at 200hp than the 220hp German car, and quite a bit heavier too (660kg vs 580kg). Hence while expectations were high, Porsche had definitely brought its A-game.

215_sunakor380.jpgIn the end, the Princes would prevail and come in 1st, 2nd and 4th, and Prince would realise the dream of winning the most prestigous home event on its own terms. The 1966 race would also be the very last time the R380 would race as a Prince. For the 1967 event, it would be known as a Nissan R380 (now updated to R380-II guise). 1967 would not be a kind race for the R380s because a Carrera 6 would get the victory, the R380s coming 2nd to 5th.

But as a glorious swansong for the Prince company, just as it was absorbed into Nissan, the R380 did the job, allowing the proud old company to go out with a bang, and more importantly, allowed Sakurai-san and his team to walk into the new, merged company with head held high. Nissan loves it too, after all, over 20yrs later when Nissan unveiled its 1997 Le Mans contender, the resulting car was called the R390 GT1. Now that’s respect.

Here’s a Youtube of Sakurai-san being reacquianted with the R380:

But….let’s just say you’re so touched by the R380 story that you want one. After all, it is arguably a more significant Japanese racing car than the Hakosuka. And let’s just say that you don’t have access to a time machine and a Prince Motors employee pass.

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A company by the name of Nautilus began work on reproductions of the R380 in 2001, and very promising it looks too.

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It looks like they made an old-school wooden body buck of the R380, and hand made a set of alloy panels for it. On top of this goes what looks like a fibreglass female mould for further FRP body panel production.

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Chassis is handmade spaceframe, and power will be by a modern Nissan straight six, either the RB25 or RB26. But don’t hold your breath however, because this project seems to still be in the cooking process after all these years!

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But maybe in the meantime you will be sated by one of Nautilus’ other cool products, which is a 7/8ths scale McLaren M6 Can-Am replica. A single seater, it’s powered by your choice of 2.0L car engine or a mental superbike engine, it looks like a hell of a lot of fun!

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4 Responses to Prince R380: Want One?

  1. KPGC10-001218 said:

    Hope you don’t mind if I make some comments on the article:

    First of all, the first Prince R380 was built around a bare Brabham BT8 space frame ( chassis no. SC-9-64 I believe ) – “BT82″ must be a typo?

    You write that this first R380 was equipped with an engine which was a “…..modified version of the Skyline‚Äôs 130hp 2.0L straight six.” but the GR8 engine was not based on the G-series at all, and was a completely fresh design.

    The first R380 was finished in October of 1965 and in November ( before it went racing ) Prince used it to set a number of international speed records at Yatabe proving ground / test course. This was quite a feat, and made big news in Japan. Nissan themselves would – somewhat ironically – use these records set by Prince as a target for the Nissan R380 to beat, which they did successfully. The irony being that many of the same Prince staff that set the first set of records were now working under the Nissan banner and aiming at breaking their own records…….

    There was actually only one Porsche Carrera 6 in the 1966 ‘Japan Grand Prix’ race – not three. However, there were three Carrera 6s in the 1967 ‘Japan Grand Prix’, where Nissan’s R380A-IIs came in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th.

    Regarding NAUTILUS and the replicas, in fact Nautilus were contracted by S&S Engineering ( the company headed by Dr Shinichiro Sakurai ) to make the body for the one-off S&S Engineering R380 replica project. A fully functioning and running car with a replica GR8 engine, this is the actual car that featured in the NHK ‘Project X Challengers’ TV show ( and DVD ) – a clip from which is featured on the YouTube link you gave above. They never mentioned in the show that the car in the studio was a replica!

    Cheers,
    Alan T.

  2. Kev said:

    Cheers for the clarifications :D

  3. Pingback: Japanese Nostalgic Car – Blog » Blog Archive » Prince Skyline

  4. Pingback: Royally Fast – The Story of the Prince Motors R380 : Hooniverse

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