Five letters taken from the words NISsan MOtorsports. It’s an acronym that’s been well known around the world, especially in the racing fraternity, for nearly 50 years and in recent time, even electronic race gamers know the name.
The NISMO story can be said to have its beginning in 1964 when the Prince Motor Company – a Japanese car manufacturer that would be taken over by Nissan two years later – realized it was possible to boost sales through competitive motorsports.
Engineers took the 2.0-litre 6-cylinder block from the Datsun Gloria, a large luxury sedan, and installed it in the much smaller Skyline by extending the wheelbase. The result was the Prince Skyline 2000GT with an impressive power-to-weight ratio that made it very competitive.
100 examples were produced for customers to meet the strict competition rules. It was a race against time, which they won with only hours to spare. The car was officially launched on May 1, 1964, and competed in its first race just two days later. The performance was bittersweet; while victory went to a Porsche 904, the Skyline took every position from 2nd to 6th. They didn’t realize it at the time, but those maverick engineers had given birth to what would in time become an iconic performance car brand.
Prince became part of Nissan in 1966 as the Japanese government tried to consolidate the auto industry and encouraged the smaller carmakers to merge with the larger ones. Of course, at that time, NISMO did not exist yet but the Skyline that became part of the Nissan (then branded as Datsun) model line would be significant in the years leading to the establishment of NISMO.
Nissan’s motorsport activities had been split into two divisions, one for factory teams and the other for private teams. In September 1984, the company decided to merge the divisions to combine resources for more active participation in motorsports. The new unit was called “Nissan Motorsports International Co. Ltd.” but very quickly, it came to be known simply as NISMO. Though it was established as a separate company, it was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nissan.
NISMO’s goal then and now is to perfectly embody the Nissan brand: making innovation, technology and excitement for everyone. Over the years, this has been demonstrated through successful racing cars like the Skyline. One example was the R32 version: showcasing 4-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-steering, the Skyline R32 made a stunning circuit debut and R32s wearing the GT-R badge won 29 straight victories in 29 starts in domestic racing, winning the Japanese GT Championship Group A four years in a row.
The Skyline R32 is perhaps best known for its total domination of the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1990-93 and the nickname it received. A local journalist christened it “Godzilla,” alluding to the fearsome Japanese movie monster. The name was apt and it stuck. Today, the R32 racer is known to fans around the world simply as “the Godzilla car“.
Nissan’s motorsport prowess was growing in stature and more success followed throughout the 1990s. Awareness of NISMO grew in the USA and Europe when a Skyline GT-R took the overall win in the Spa 24 hours in 1991 and a NISMO GT-R LM (R33) finished 10th at Le Mans in 1995. Three years later, another NISMO-supported car, the R390 GT1, finished 3rd at Le Mans.
At the same time the GT-R was dominating on the track, it was winning over a new generation of car enthusiasts and gamers on virtual race tracks. Harnessing the potential of the digital age, NISMO cars became global superstars in Sony’s Gran Turismo series. No longer were thrilling cars the preserve of the wealthy minority. In the U.S., where the GT-R was not yet offered for sale, its legend – and NISMO’s – grew exponentially year after year (helped by the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies as well).
In 2013, Nissan’s commitment to global motorsport remains as strong as ever with the mighty GT-R GT3 racecar competing in series all over the globe. However, there can be no better illustration of the pioneering NISMO spirit than the DeltaWing project, which features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a traditional Le Mans car. As a result, it uses half the fuel and tyres of a conventional racer. At the cutting edge of research into how racing can be more environmentally aware, the DeltaWing is as ambitious a project as the Prince Skyline was almost 50 years ago.
Many may also be surprised to know that NISMO is involved in electric vehicles (EVs). True, the ones that are presently on sale to the public do not possess high performance that will thrill motorsports enthusiasts. But NISMO is helping to show that in time, EVs will also be able to offer sportscar performance and its first example is the Nissan LEAF NISMO RC, a unique track-ready carbonfibre prototype (shown in the picture above).
With a 100% zero-emission lithium-ion powertrain, this car serves as a rolling laboratory for the accelerated development of EV and aerodynamic systems, as well as a platform for the development of new green motorsports series. The car can hit 100 km/h mph in 6.8 seconds and has a top speed of 150 km/h.
Related story: NISMO accelerates into higher gear
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