Nissan Zama Heritage Collection 86

It’s great to have a glimpse of the future, as we did at the recent 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, but sometimes it’s good to take a pause and look back – not to dwell on the past, but to see how far we’ve come. Worth it, even if it’s just for the warmth that nostalgia brings. Nothing like the good old days indeed.

That’s why the visit to Nissan’s Zama Heritage Collection was the favourite segment of the recent Nissan 360 Asia & Oceania event for this writer, and one that I will remember for years to come. The visit was unfortunately short, but then again, this is the kind of place that one could spend an entire day in, and still say “not enough time”.

For a collection of such value and significance, it is housed in a very unassuming building. Located in Kanagawa prefecture about 25 km from Nissan’s home city of Yokohama, Zama was previously a car producing factory (a veteran media colleague in the group had visited Zama in its previous life) and looks like just another old warehouse.

An old warehouse that’s bursting at the gates. The collection of significant Nissan cars over the decades is over 450 strong and around 300 are packed very tight in the relatively bare facility – nothing fancy like interactive displays or even carpeting, just lights and backdrop.

Amazingly, 70% of the vehicles are in running condition, and while we were there, some were being brought home from the Nismo Festival that happened at Fuji Speedway over the weekend.

Keeping the collection sparkling and running is no mean feat. A couple of organisations share the task as guardians of the galaxy – Nismo takes care of the race cars, a firm called Safari Motors maintains the production cars and a volunteer organisation is in charge of the race cars that are production car-based.

The latter, established in 2006, has a core group of 30 members and consists mostly of Nissan employees, although there are occasional open recruitment intakes. They restore one or two cars per year, and the 1995 Le Mans GT-R is an example of the club’s good work. Speaking of selflessness, it’s amazing to note that half of the production cars in the collection were donated by private owners. Yes, donated.

The race cars are from the Nismo motorsports division. The collection occasionally buys cars from the open market, and would be happy to accept a clean S13 Nissan 180SX (I’d think that it shouldn’t be too hard to find one, or have all of them morphed into drift monsters?) and a racing 310 Bluebird from the 1950s. Otherwise, the collection is pretty complete.

It’s not quite the full live catalogue of all the cars that Prince Motor Company, Datsun and Nissan have produced (you won’t find a Grand Livina here, and the house is full anyway), but all the significant ones are represented. It’s impossible to elaborate on each car you see here (and we didn’t get to see every car in the hall due to lack of time), but they can be divided into a few categories.

Nissan has a rich if not always jubilant motorsport history, and rally machines from all eras are present here – from the Bluebird and jacked-up Fairlady that won the East African Safari Rally in the 70s, to the SR20DET-powered NME Sunny GTI-R WRC car from the 90s.

Nissan didn’t reach the rally heights of Japanese rivals Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru (which is also why the WRC Sunny isn’t half as famous as the “Castrol Celica”, “Marlboro Evo” and “555 Impreza”) and shifted its focus to Le Mans.

Endurance racing enthusiasts can enjoy the sight of Nissan’s “R” family of racers at Zama, including the R391 that was created to win the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours (it failed) and the R91CP that won the 1992 Daytona 24 Hours. Retired JGTC and Super GT cars also call Zama home.

The production car collection starts from the company’s first four-wheeler. Launched over 80 years ago, the Datsun Model 12 “Phaeton” was where it all started for Yoshisuke Aikawa’s Jidosha Seizo Co (he earlier acquired the manufacturing business from DAT Jidosha Seizo Co), which changed its name to Nissan in 1934. The Datsun 12 made 12 PS from its 747 cc four-cylinder engine.

The leaping creature on the Datsun grille above is a rabbit, which was subsequently removed because it kept falling off due to owners supporting themselves on the emblem when hand-cranking the engine. That’s the reason why we never had a Bunny on a Sunny.

The Prince Motor Company merged with Nissan in 1966, and a couple of the former’s significant models are housed in Zama. The Tama, an electric car from 1947, was an answer to the scarcity of oil after World War 2. The four-seater could travel up to 96 km on a single charge and had a top speed of 35 km/h. Nissan Leaf, bow to your ancestor.

With the Prince merger, Nissan inherited a very famous name – Skyline. The Prince Skyline ALSID-1 is the original luxury car from 1957, and it’s parked next to two Prince Skyline Sport coupes from the 60s, the blue and gold cars above.

Next up is the first Nissan Skyline, and the first one to wear the now iconic GT-R badge – the Hakosuka based on the C10 series. The legend from 1969 was powered by a S20 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine with 160 hp and 177 Nm, good for a top speed of 200 km/h – sensational at that time.

The S20 is a descendant of the GR8 engine that powered Prince’s R380 racing cars. We showed you the engine and the race car in our Nissan Global Headquarters Gallery post. Both the PGC-10 GT-R sedan and the KPGC-10 GT-R coupe are in the gallery below for a closer look.

Only 197 units of the next-generation C110 series GT-R – killed by strict exhaust emission regulations – were made and sold in Japan from 1972-1973, making Zama’s two units very rare. The GT-R badge would not surface again until 1988 with the R32 Skyline.

Another famous Nissan nameplate is Fairlady. But before the sexy 240Z, the Fairlady badge was stuck on Datsun roadsters like the truck-based, Corvette-inspired four-seater SPL213; and the pretty little SR311 a.k.a. Datsun Sports 2000. The latter’s 2.0 litre engine with 150 hp, 7,000 rpm redline, five-speed manual and 950 kg still sound yummy today.

The first Z-car needs little introduction. The PS30 Fairlady Z/240Z combined a gorgeous shape, high performance and good pricing to great effect – Nissan sold over 520,000 units of “the poor man’s Jaguar E-Type” from 1969 to 1978.

The smash hit is seen here as a rare JDM Fairlady Z 432 (yellow car) powered by the Skyline GT-R’s S20 engine. ‘432’ refers to the six-pot motor’s four valves, three carburettors and two camshafts. Magnesium wheels were standard. The Japanese police used this Z, and a patrol car is in the gallery below.

Other interesting cars I managed to see include the first Silvia (clearly inspired by the Lancia Fulvia), a Bluebird that was signed by Japan’s Mexico 1968 Olympic team, Skyline 2000 RS-Turbo (in signature red-black), Sunny RZ-1 Coupe (Twincam Nismo Series), the famous Datsun 510 Bluebird 1600 SSS coupe and the boxy KP910 Bluebird 1800 SSS, the last of the RWD ‘birds.

Two cars in the hall will be familiar to all Malaysians, car nut or not – the Nissan Sunny (B11) and the Datsun 720 pick-up truck. A personal mission to find the Datsun 1200 (the driving school car) and Datsun 160J SSS that my grandfather and dad once owned was successful, although Zama only had the two-door Violet.

Lastly, you’ll find a 90s supercar that never was in the gallery below. Under the MID 4 II’s curious shell (you have to check out that behind) was a mid-mounted VG30DETT 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 engine with 330 PS and 382 Nm going to all wheels, with HICAS four-wheel steering. Another one that never took off is the fuel cell X-Trail FCV concept.

Hope you will enjoy browsing this gallery as much as I did snapping the pics.