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.
The 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 But by the time 1966 rolled around, the 904 had been superceded by the 906 (more commonly known as Carerra 6).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.
In 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.
A company by the name of Nautilus began work on reproductions of the R380 in 2001, and very promising it looks too.
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.
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!
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!