The forgotten million-dollar Nissan supercar.
Name: Nissan R390 GT1 (Road Car)
Specs: twin-turbo 3.5-litre V8 engine with 550 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, six-speed sequential gearbox, 1,100 kilogram weight, 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, 200+ mph top speed
Why We Remember It Now
How many times have you heard the words “Nissan” and “supercar” used in the same sentence?
Some 20 years ago, Nissan described the street-legal R390 GT1 as being a “diamond in the rough” while its race car counterpart was labelled as the “finished, polished product.” That’s because the road-going model was actually the first to come out, unlike other machines entered in the GT class that were first and foremost track-only vehicles with road car counterparts needed to obtain type-approval.
According to a Road & Track article from October 1998, the car’s official price tag was a cool $1 million, but in the end, it was never marketed. Only one was ever made and it’s usually exhibited at Nissan’s global headquarters in Japan, but it'll be at Pebble Beach later this week. Wait, isn’t the adjacent photo gallery showing two cars in different colours? Well, no. It’s actually the very same car repainted from red to blue and re-VIN’d. We’re not making this up – check the video above with Eiichi Shimizu, the curator of Nissan's DNA Garage in Zama, Japan.
The road-legal car was virtually the same as its racing counterpart, featuring a large body measuring 4.7 metres long and 2 metres wide, housing the mid-mounted 3.5-litre V8. Speaking of which, Nissan engineered the R390 GT1 by collaborating with Tom Walkinshaw Racing for the VRH35L aluminium engine featuring a pair of turbochargers.
To some extent, the engine still exists today as McLaren acquired the rights from TWR to use it while developing the MP4-12C, which came out back in 2011. Together with engine builder Ricardo, the V8 was overhauled and renamed M838T, and a variation of the 3.8-litre unit can be found in the 570S as well as the 540C currently on sale.
Getting back to Nissan’s performance two-seater, the R390 GT1 road car weighed only 1,100 kg and ran to 60 mph in under four seconds. It needed 11.9 seconds to complete the quarter mile and topped out at more than 200 mph, with some saying it was actually capable of reaching 220 mph. If you want more performance numbers, it hit 30 mph from a standstill in 1.2 seconds and completed the 0-80 mph task in 6 seconds.
The 550-horsepower punch was channelled to the rear wheels with help from an Xtrac six-speed sequential transmission that came with a short-throw gear lever. Nissan equipped the R390 GT1 road car with 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels shod in 245/40 ZR18 and 295/35 ZR19 tyres, respectively.
The car’s design represented the work of Ian Callum from TWR, currently head of design at Jaguar. He decided to use Nissan’s existing parts bin by borrowing the 300ZX’s headlights, while within the low-slung coupe body was a carbon fibre chassis to keep the weight low. Massive 14-inch front and rear vented disc brakes with six-piston callipers provided the necessary stopping power for the rear-wheel-drive machine.
From a business point of view, Nissan was probably wise not to market the $1-million supercar since it would’ve been a tough sell, yet we can’t help but wonder what could’ve been…