One-of-one road-going Nissan R390 set to appear at Amelia Island

By: Alex Affat, Unique Cars magazine

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Nissan R390 road blue front quarter Nissan R390 road blue front quarter
Nissan R390 road blue rear Nissan R390 road blue rear
Nissan R390 road red Nissan R390 road red
Nissan R390 race 1997 Nissan R390 race 1997
Nissan R390 race 1998 Nissan R390 race 1998
Nissan R390 road blue front pit Nissan R390 road blue front pit
Nissan R390 road blue front quarter period Nissan R390 road blue front quarter period

The single road-car GT1 homologation special is rarely seen outside of Nissan’s doors

Regulations for the GT1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans required Nissan to build just one road-going version of its R390 race car. Despite rumours at the time stipulating that the halo car would enter production, it never did –rendering the one-of-one homolgation car, a near unicorn rarely seen outside of Nissan’s own vault.

March 9 and 10 will see the 1998 Nissan R390 GT1 road car make a rare and special appearance at the MotoXpo display at the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

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Nissan campaigned the 1990 Le Mans 24h with their R90CP prototype which ultimately finished an admirable 5th place. Japan’s weak economy in the early 90s forced the marque to put their international prototype racing efforts on hiatus.

In 1995, they returned with the infamous production-based Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R LM but was outgunned by a field that would include the McLaren F1 GTR, Porsche 911 GT1 and the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. To be competitive, Nissan needed to turn it up a notch.

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Nissan turned to Tom Walkinshaw Racing with intent of developing a GT1 contender of its own.

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Then design director Ian Callum (now Head of Design at Jaguar) sketched the swoopy silhouette that would evolve into the R390 GT1, inspired by Nissan’s mainstream production range at the time. Tony Southgate from TWR, along with Yutaka Hagiwara from Nissan’s performance arm NISMO, refined the aerodynamics and mechanicals; starting with the road car (initially painted red) and then the race car.

READ NEXT: 1994 Nissan Skyline GT-R - Our Shed

Beneath the rear clam sits a longitudinal twin-turbo 3.5lt V8 lifted from Nissan’s R89C prototype racer, which sent power to the wheels by way of a sequential six-speed gearbox. In road-going guise, this package was good for around 410kW, and a sub-four second sprint to 100km/h with Vmax nudging some 354km/h.

With the road car constructed, along with three racing cars, Nissan successfully entered the 1997 Le Mans 24h.

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The three racing cars failed to pass scrutineering, with Nissan making semi-extensive modifications with no time for testing. Subsequently, all three cars experienced mechanical issues during the race, with just one car completing all 24 hours of racing (at 12th place no less).

During the off-season, Nissan added downforce, reduced drag, and improved cooling. All cars – road car included – were repainted from red to blue, and now sported ‘long-tail’ bodywork. Prior to the following 1998 Le Mans 24h, four more racing cars were produced; bringing the total production pool to eight.

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Nissan’s off-seasons adjustments proved fruitful, with all four cars entered passing scrutineering and all four finishing in the top 10; third, fifth, sixth and 10th respectively.

Rule changes rendered the R390 GT1 superseded and ineligible after 1998, with the road car never going into production.

Rumours over time stated that Nissan was willing to build a road-going R390 for anyone willing to stump up the $1 million price tag, but no one ever did.

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The sole road-going car resides inside Nissan’s private Heritage Collection in Zama Japan, and is rarely seen outside its doors.

It’s been displayed at the Petersen Museum and at Pebble Beach’s Concours d’Elegance in the past, with its latest outing to the Amelia Island Concours providing punters an incredibly rare chance to see the car in person.

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