There are some absolute beauties in this selection.
Nissan’s illustrious history in the USA spans nearly 60 years, after a man who went by the name ‘Mr. K’ insisted that the US market would be the ideal one to expand Nissan’s global ambitions. Along the way, the Japanese carmaker has released some spectacular sports cars – the likes of which enthusiasts have lusted over and imported, sometimes even illegally. Though some of them go by the Datsun nameplate, the following are 10 of the hottest performance cars Nissan has ever built.
Back when the British and Italians dominated the world of small sports coupes and roadsters, Nissan provided an unlikely rival. The Datsun Fairlady SR311 pre-dated the Z-cars, but was the cheapest sports car in its class, and proved to be a dominant race car in production classes the world over. It was powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine with an aluminum head and a 5-speed manual gearbox – a rarity for the time. When equipped with a competition package, outputs were a robust 150 horsepower, delivered exclusively to the rear wheels.
Thank Mr. K for this! The Datsun 240Z was the first Z-car from Nissan – built to expand Nissan’s sports car regime into the USA, and in the process becoming a cult classic. Sporty styling, rear wheel drive, and a 2.4-liter inline 6 that developed 151 hp in a lightweight body; and it came standard with a manual gearbox, though the USDM models only got a 4-speed transmission. Race pedigree? It had that too, after it won the 1973 East African Safari Rally in Kenya on the WRC circuit.
Hakosuka translated loosely to ‘Boxy Skyline’ and was the name given to the first generation Nissan Skyline GT-R. Launched originally in 1969 as a sedan, a coupe was soon offered, with a total of 1,945 Hakosukas finding their way into the world. Power arrived at the rear wheels from a 2.0-liter inline 6 cylinder with dual overhead cams and outputs of 160 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission was a 5-speed manual, and the Hakosuka symbolized the beginning of one of the most revered nameplates in motoring.
By 1989, the Skyline GT-R had already made a name for itself. But it was the R32 generation Skyline GT-R that earned the title ‘Godzilla.’ Developed to compete in Group A racing, the R32 GT-R introduced the world to the 2.6-liter RB26DETT twin-turbo inline 6 engine and Nissan’s ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system. It earned the title Godzilla as the monster from Japan that dominated Group A racing – winning all 29 races it was entered in and taking every title from 1989 to 1993. In production trim it produced a meager 276 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque but on the road the R32 GT-R was an absolute giant killer!
The R34 Skyline was the last to get the GT-R treatment in the Skyline family, but at the end of production the Z-Tune was the most special of them all. A concept developed by Nismo, the RB26DETT engine was enlarged to a 2.8-liter capacity, with upgraded internals, including the crankshaft, engine block, and turbochargers. The result was a 500-hp monster that could crush the 0-62 mph sprint in 3.8 seconds and top out at over 200 mph. Just 19 Z-Tunes were produced including the two original prototypes, each using an existing second hand Skyline GT-R as a base.
The Z-car’s current, and potentially final, iteration came into being essentially as a massively overhauled 350Z. But the shorter wheelbase, shorter overhangs, and more powerful 3.7-liter V6 engine generating up to 350 hp made it quicker and more nimble – and the styling looked sleeker than the chunky 350Z. It’s still on sale today, and although it feels dated compared to turbocharged rivals, back in 2009 the 370Z was something very, very special.
When the Skyline hung up its GT-R boots, Nissan finally released a real supercar. The R35 Nissan GT-R was considered somewhat of a performance bargain, slaying exotic cars with a price tag of double or even triple that of the Nissan. It’s clever/complicated all-wheel drive system, transaxle gearbox, and immense 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 made it a force to be reckoned with – and with every model year it’s been steadily improving. Now 11 years old, it’s in need of a replacement – but the Nissan GT-R will always be remembered for how it reshaped the supercar game in all aspects.
So it’s not technically a Nissan, but as a subsidiary of Nissan, the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge concept still counts. Back when Johan de Nysschen was head of Infiniti and not Cadillac, he wanted to build a super sedan to take on the BMW M3. The Q50 Eau Rouge – named after the famous left hander at Spa Franchorchamps – was effectively a four-door GT-R, packing a 560 hp version of the GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 matched to all wheel drive. Sadly, de Nysschen left, and the Q50 Eau Rouge never did see production.
Another concept, and this time it’s one that Nissan refuses to rule out for production. The IDx Nismo concept debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2013, sporting retro design cues reminiscent of the Datsun 510 and a racy livery. It was a compact rear-drive coupe that was expected to house a 1.6-liter turbo motor in production guise with around 200 hp. Should it reach production (Nissan, please!) it would target the Toyota 86 primarily. But, Nissan has sadly not made any move to produce the IDx Nismo concept yet.
Each and every one of the ten hot Nissans we’ve chosen are special in their own way. Many have become cult classics, with some of them destined for future classic status. After nearly 60 years in the USA, we can but hope Nissan continues the pursuit of performance excellence as it has for all these years.