MOTORSPORT: How Nissan thwarted Toyota in the golden age of the Japan Grand Prix

3383 NISMOFestival2015 Nissan R381

By 1968 Toyota had had enough of losing their home country’s biggest race — the annual Japan Grand Prix — to Nissan. They had just debuted the nation’s flagship sports car in the 2000GT, but it was getting trounced by the Prince/Nissan R380, a purpose-built race car that had no street-legal counterpart. 

3381 NISMOFestival2015 Nissan R381

Word on the street was that Toyota was developing a new race car, a dedicated race machine from their top secret Division 7. That car, of course, would become the incredible Toyota 7, a 3.0-liter V8 strapped to a wing with wheels. Nissan knew that its dominance with the R380 and its Prince-developed 2.0-liter straight-six was about to come to an end, so they set about developing its successor, the R381.

3386 NISMOFestival2015 Nissan R381

As the day of the 1968 Japan Grand Prix approached, however, Nissan was running short on development time and knew the R381 would not be finished my the day of the big showdown. The only thing they were more certain of, in fact, was that they were hell-bent on preventing a Toyota win. So they hit up Moon Equipment Company (Mooneyes) of Japan for a 450-horse 5.5-liter small block Chevy, strapped legendary Hakosuka works driver Moto Kitano behind the wheel, and won the day.

3387 NISMOFestival2015 Nissan R382

By the following year Nissan had finished its in-house motor for the R382, and it was a doozie. The 600-horse, 6.0-liter V12 ruled the 1969 race, sweeping the podium with a 1-2-3 win and coming in three seconds ahead of the 4-5-6 Toyota V8s.

44 NISMO Festival 2015 Nissan R382

By 1970, concerns about emissions prompted both Nissan and Toyota to pull out. With its two biggest players gone, the Japan Grand Prix was canceled, to be reborn again the following year as a Formula race. The age of unlimited prototype machines had come to an end.

3379 NISMOFestival2015 Nissan R382

At the recent NISMO Festival at Fuji Speedway, the legends of these Nissans was relived by fans and drivers alike. Looking on at the storied machine in his Russian hat was none other than Yoshikazu Sunako, the driver of the number 39 Prince Skyline at the history-making 1964 Japan Grand Prix.

13 NISMO Festival 2015

We will have more from the NISMO Festival, including Super Silhouette racers, and a new line of scale models. To be continued…

Yuichi Ikegaya is founder of Utilitas, a DR30 and Land Cruiser specialty shop in Tokyo. Images: Utilitas, NISMO

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6 Responses to MOTORSPORT: How Nissan thwarted Toyota in the golden age of the Japan Grand Prix

  1. Toyotageek said:

    “…and a new line of scale models.”

    You have my full and undivided attention.

  2. Toyotageek said:

    Ben, your next book needs to be the definitive guide to Japanese race car history, in English.

  3. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    Great article. Gorgeous cars!

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