Nissan Philippines Inc. last month gave the experience of a lifetime to a bunch of motoring hacks by flying them to their home base in Japan for the Nissan 360 Event. The event is a showcase of Nissan’s latest and greatest vehicles for both road and track use as well as concept models that will soon hit the roads. This year’s event saw members of the Philippine press join their counterparts from Southeast Asia and Oceania regions, to experience what Nissan is all about.
The Nissan 360 event is an automotive spectacle that includes driving the brand’s vehicle lineup, learning first hand the new technologies being developed for future cars and experience its racing DNA through the Nismo Festival at the Fuji Racetrack. One of the highlights of the event, however, was the visit to Nissan Heritage Museum, located on the grounds of Nissan’s Oppama Motor Plant in Kinagawa Prefecture, which is 39 kilometers south of Tokyo.
Arriving by bus at the driveway of what used to be a production plant, the metal-clad building is nondescript and does not even resemble a museum. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary factory is a sprawling industrial city. Even the foyer was very plain with only three cars parked on the heavy-duty floors coated with epoxy resin – seemed really boring, at first.
Our group was led to an adjacent room where a short briefing was given telling us that the old factory has a collection of cars that make up the company’s extensive history. After the briefing, the group was split into four smaller groups to make it easier for the English-speaking guides to handle. From the ante room, we were then led to a glass door that opened toward a bigger room – a much, much bigger room! Lo and behold! A cavernous storage facility was just behind the glass door. And neatly parked all over are over 450 different cars bearing the Datsun, Prince, Nissan and Infiniti brands; race/rally machines; show car concepts; production cars; trucks; and one-offs had built, over Nissan’s 82-year history.
Stunning would be an understatement to describe the Nissan collection, and to learn that each and every unit still runs and works perfectly made it more exhilarating.
Our soft-spoken but very knowledgeable guide, Shimizu-san, explained to us that Nissan was initially named Datsun when in started back in 1914. The company first made a car called the DAT (after the initials of the three founders). The DATson (the son of DAT) name was coined. However, in Japanese “son” sounds like a word that means “loss” so they changed it to “sun,” thus Datsun.
Here are some of the cars we saw on display:
1933 Datsun 12
The first car on display was the 1933 Datsun 12, the first-ever mass produced car made by the company. It is an adorable truck with styling that is truthfully 1930s. It looks similar to the American-made Buick truck but scaled down in size. There were several more Datsun 12s models alongside the first model making it a truly wonderful sight.
Datsun 1000, the father of the Z
Nissan unveiled this car back in 1951. It was powered by an 860-cubic centimeter engine with 20 horses under its hood. Its smart looks and comfortable ride made it a popular choice among enthusiasts. It later became the foundation of the Datsun 2000, 3000 and later, the Fairlady Z.
1956 Datsun 113
Like most factories in Japan that were converted to military use during Asia Pacific War from 1941 to 1945, Nissan’s factory sustained heavy damage from the Allied air assault. It took years for Nissan to rebuild its factory. And the 1956 Datsun 113 was one of the very first models built during the post-war period.
The Silvia CSP311 made its public debut in September 1964 as the “Datsun Coupe 1500.” The introductory model was a hand-built coupe based on the Fairlady convertible. It was powered by the 96-hp 1.6-liter Nissan R series engine equipped with twin SU carburetors. Production ceased in 1968 after a mere 554 were made. The year 1975 marked the return of the Silvia. Badged as the S10, this was the first mass-produced Silvia built on the all-new S platform, fitted with a 1.8-liter L18 inline-four engine, which it shared with the Datsun 610/Bluebird 180B.
After making its brand known the world over with finely crafted cars, Nissan grew bigger and began acquiring smaller marques. In the early 1960s, Nissan began collaborating with Prince, a company then better known for its aircraft, which later led to its acquisition in 1965. Nissan still used the badge on products like the 1965 Prince Skyline GT until 1968.
The Prince badge was Nissan’s premium model, as it boasted more advanced and luxurious features. Performance, however, was reserved for Nissan models, like the 1965 Skyline GT. Back at that time, Nissan was already carving its presence in the motor sports world, with its power-plants becoming more powerful. The Skyline GT’s 2.0-liter inline-six powertrain churned out a whopping 150 hp, enabling the brand to take a class victory in the 1964 Grand Prix – coming in a close second behind overall victor, a Porsche 904.
Nissan introduced the first ever Z car in 1969 with Fairlady Z, and the Zama Garage houses an impressive collection of street and track models. Initially, the Fairlady models came out as the Datsun 1600s and Datsun 2000s. It was only in 1969 that the “Z” appeared signaling its entry into the sports car segment.
At the opposite end of the hall are the Skyline GT-Rs from 1969. The first-generation GT-Rs were produced from 1969 to 1973 with only 197 being made. With fuel prices skyrocketing in 1972, production of the GT-R stopped and was only revived in 1989, with the Skyline R32 model. The variant was given the monicker “Godzilla” as it went on to win the Japan Touring Car Championship four years in a row. The GT-R is now Nissan’s flagship performance model that showcases the pinnacle in its advance technologies. The heritage museum showcases the complete lineup of GT-Rs in different setups, from road-going to track-ready cars.
Nissan Rally Cars
The Heritage Museum also has on display rally cars used in races all over the world. You can tell that these cars have proved their mettle as most of them still have the scars and dents gained from their brutal battles on the track.
Our time going around the museum (one hour) was not enough to get to see every nook and cranny of the place. I say an entire day would be enough to devour all the history and heritage the cars on display had to offer. Visiting the factory, however, is no easy feat as the place is normally not open to the public. There are a few parts of the year where visitors can request to visit the place and if you do get a booking, you have to bring your own English interpreter with you. But once you do get it, prepare to be impressed! Nissan’s huge collection of historic cars is something really worth seeing. Visit Nissan’s Heritage Collection website to get details.