The Car That Put Nismo On The Map

It’s a bit complicated trying to explain what Nismo – AKA Nissan Motorsports International – wants to be. In its 30-plus years of operation its main focus has always been around racing, but the more consumer-oriented component has done a huge amount for the brand.

In theory it works wonderfully; you build race cars out of production cars and get enthusiasts excited over the race weekend, then create hop-up parts for these same guys to spice up their own cars with. Oh yeah, and then there’s the merchandize. But it’s never been quite so straightforward at Nismo, something perhaps due to the turmoil it had to endure during Nissan’s dark period, or more to the point – just down to poor management and a far from coherent marketing strategy.

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The aftermarket parts business is something that Nismo successfully built up around the Skyline GT-R and a few other models, offering impeccably built components that would get you instant kudos out on the street. 1994 was the year Nismo built its first complete car for the masses, the 270R based on the S14 Silvia, and in doing so successfully emulated what the performance arms of German manufacturers were very good at. But with only 30 examples of the Silvia-based car built, the aspirations outweighed actual reality. It took Nismo three more years before it would create another complete car, the BCNR33 Skyline GT-R-based 400R you see here.

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This, however, was a whole other thing. Not wishing to be left behind in the success that the Skyline GT-R was enjoying in the aftermarket, Nismo wanted to show the world how it should be done. Its approach was what separated Nismo from the backyard tuners; this was a factory-backed racing outfit after all.

The 400R boasted a stroked and blueprinted engine, the work to boost the RB26’s performance having been outsourced to Reinik who came up with the RB-X. The 2.8L engine sported a ton of refinements, from lubrication to head work and bigger turbos, and as the name of the car suggests, it developed an extremely conservative 400hp. This set Nismo’s way of doing engines for the foreseeable future: massively over-engineered for the power they would make, but at the same time bulletproof and with that all-important warranty.

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The 400R boasted a bespoke aero treatment which made it instantly recognizable, even to the untrained eye. The race stripes 400R logos helped too.

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The bumper got the N1 venting on each side of the license plate recess as well as a different lip spoiler with, you guessed, more venting. The intercooler was developed especially for the 400R –  then later added to the Nismo catalogue – and sits within a carbon fiber air guide, a part that was curiously available as an option when you purchased the car at the Nissan dealer.

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But the most sought after aero part of the 400R was the carbon fiber hood, which was designed to relieve as much hot air from around the RB-X as possible.

Fender flares gave a little visual boost to the R33’s girth, but they were more of an homologation thing to help keep the offset of the 18×10.5-inch LM-1s contained. The same thing had to be done with the R34-based Z-tune; if you recall it had even smaller strips of plastic to help it pass the antiquated shaken test. The stock Brembo brakes were deemed strong enough to cope with the 120hp boost in power (if you actually think that a stock R33 made 280PS, that is!), however, Nismo brake pads and upgraded braided lines were added for peace of mind.

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All GT-R badging was removed and replaced with 400R emblems.

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Along with the carbon hood, Nismo also created a carbon fiber wing element and yet more branding on the end caps.

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In 1997, people went wild for this special car – it became an instant legend. There were plans to make 100 cars, but the $100,000 sticker price soon put an end to Nismo’s slightly miscalculated demand. Just 44 were built in total.

The cabin received Nismo sport seats and the Nismo steering wheel straight out of the catalogue, but a 400R horn button let people know they were looking at the real deal.

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Besides being the legend that it is, the 400R does make me wonder. First of all, if Nismo really played its cards right it could have begun making its own performance versions of cars off the Nissan production line, like AMG or BMW M. But Autech, the coach-building side of Nissan, was and continues to be the subsidiary that’s tasked with that job. So the underlying confusion emerges.

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So what is Nismo today and where is it going? I think that deserves a whole separate post, but am I certain that it shouldn’t be what it is today. I mean, there’s a Nismo-branded March, Note, Elgrand and Serena – seriously? Nismo should represent more than branding and marketing exercises, it should represent power and performance just like the 400R did for the brand back in 1997. Don’t you agree?

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: speedhunters_dino
dino@speedhunters.com

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51 comments

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1

Since you're already comparing to AMG and BMW M, check out the BMW 116d: a 1.6L diesel engine ( i think they also had a 1.4L engine) with an option of M package. The new trend is that you can have a sporty car in model but an engine that will save you from taxes. It's nice to have a good looking car, specially when it's parked, but we all know that the performance is the real thing.

Talking about Nismo history, I though the Godzilla was the icon that put Nismo on the map.

2

the gtr came out in like 2007...

Author3
Dino Dalle Carbonare

John I think he means the 1989 R32 Skyline GT-R that was successful in Gr.A and Bathurst

4
Chad Thundercock

But there is a difference between the M-Package and a true M-Car.

Author5
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yes but the is my point exactly. BMW gives you an M-car. Nismo doesn't. AMG gives you AMG models with turbo V8s and V12s. Nismo doesn't. It's a brand with no substance. Make fast versions of production cars first, then sell out on the packages. Performanace needs to exist before offering performance packages!! Hope that makes sense!

6

That's what i'm saying. You can have a M-bumper for example and fit it on any BMW of the same series same as a Nismo-Bumper for Nissan. You will get a nice car but not like the real stuff even if some upgrades are performance oriented.

7

I drive a Nismo Juke RS for when the Silvia is down. The juke may not be a Fiesta ST but they did go great strides to make the Juke competitive in it's class.Large brake upgrades and over 40 hp over a stock juke. Chassis bracing and advanced torque vectoring on a small cross over is very much overkill.Which is something Nismo is known for. Going further than most manufactures do at a reasonable price for the average enthusiast.

8

Nice to see some support for the Juke Nismo RS. Driven one on several occasions and always enjoy it. Definitely some thorough engineering beneath it too, so it's far from being a badge job.

9

Nice to see a name from Evo here :) long-time subscriber. Keep up the good work.

10

its sad to see whats happen to nismo , i remember the 400r coming out and the name did used to remind me of proper tuned cars but now it just reminds me of a ugly soft roader

Author11
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Lack of proper management

12
giorgos Athens

He,He, I just converted my own 100 nx Nissan to nismo version.... I painted it's side mirrors red!!

Author13
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Nismo will ship you an emblem straight away! haha

14

I see Nismo the same way I see other Japanese manufacturer approved aftermarket parts, like TRD for Toyota, Mugen/Spoon for Honda, Mazdaspeed for Mazda, Ralliart for Mitusbishi. The 400R is just a limited edition "special" in my eyes much like the Cosworth CS400 Impreza, or the MR FQ 360 Evo. That's what Nismo has become Automotive accessories, rather than Performance enhancements.

15

Edit I meant that Nismo are just interested in selling different parts like spoilers, wing mirrors, interior pieces etc whereras the cars I mentioned before were built specifically to go faster.

Author16
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Sadly true. Mind you it's not Nissan is giving them a lot to play with. Their core business - racing aside - is rebuilding 15-25 year old Skyline GT-Rs lol

17

Just 44 were built in total? I have one in GranTurismo2 game;)

Author18
Dino Dalle Carbonare

ok ok 45 then lol

19
Jonathan Anderson

Didn't one get destroyed in the warehouse fire recently?

20

Great feauture as always Dino. What a car indeed!

Author21
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Thanks man!

22

People may have drive with this car virtually, but only a few can witness its details.

23

I agree with what you are talking about Dino, but we can't blame nismo entirely. I feel it would be hard for anyone to make amazing aftermarket parts for bland cars. Don't get me wrong the z34 and r35 are amazing cars but they do not sell in masses like the Altima, Juke or Rouge. It's the same with TRD or Mazda sport. It's hard to be committed to one car company if the car company make cars for people who do not care about cars as much as we do.

Author24
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Thomas... totally, they can only work on what Nissan makes. And right now the lineup includes a 11 year old Z and a 10 year old GTR and the rest is pure blandness without 1 single gram of character. They unveiled a pink March this month in Japan. That tells me all I need to know. They don't even sell the new Q60S with the 3L twin turbo in Japan now, it's as if they want to shoot themselves in the feet

25

The 2017 Nismo GTR is $65,000 more than the standard version. Seams like a big price increase for 35 hp, some body kit, and suspension tuning. With after market parts, you should be able to do that for under $20.000

26

That $65,000 is paying for a lot more than just parts. The R&D and warranty would be the bulk of it.

It's one thing to make a GTR faster. It's another thing to have someone do all the work, prep, and warranty it for you.

-Alex

27

This is that whole idea of OEM+ that works so well for me, personally. While I am the first guy to advocate for personalizing your car with tasteful upgrades and modifications, it is very cool when you can buy a version off the showroom floor that has most of the juicy bits already done, with a warranty to boot.

Reading this made me want to find an R32 and do my own version of a '400R' package. Just the right touches to genuinely improve the driving characteristics, but with enough subtlety to create a cohesive, factory type look and feel. Love that RBX stroker, did not know much about Reinik until researching just now. Thanks for the good read Dino!

28

You sure those wheels aren't 18x10+20? :D
Also, rumour has it that the RB-X can rev to 10,000 rpm

Author29
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yes and then it can fire out valves, valve springs and piston fragments in every direction haha

30
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

A lot of GT-R fans hate on the R33, but when it comes to the 400R, the same group of haters will go nuts over it.

My love for the R33 started with the 400, from watching those old Best Motoring VHS tapes back when I was a 4-year old kid. I've always loved the "boat" compared to the R32 and R34. The design looks just right for me!

Author31
Dino Dalle Carbonare

True. I don't go crazy over an R33. But a 400R I will need tissues

32

I agree! To me the R33 is the best looking GTR.

-Alex

33

I don't know what's so bad about it to put a Nismo badge to some of the new cars. I think it's now that bad, it's a concept that works and the germans play the role model for it. You can have almost every model with a AMG or M or S-Line package. And you guys know that this concept works..!

Author34
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yes but an A45 AMG has a proper turbo motor with AWD and a farty twin clutch gearbox. A C63/S AMG has a 4L twin turbo V8 with big hairy testicles, an E63 AMG is the epitome of the performance sedan - and there's a wagon - aaaaaand it has "drift mode." Shall I go on? Ok....there's the S63, S63 coupe, G63, GLC GLE and GLS 63s not to count the 65 models. AMG has SUBSTANCE. It makes these crazy cars and then creates AMG performance packages for those that don't want to spend the word on blown V8 cars. Nismo on the other hand only does the latter, "performance packages," come on how can we take it seriously? If it was to swap a VR38 and the R35 driveline into the Fuga and Skyline Sedan I'd forgive the little shiny Nismo badges on a Micra and Juke but as it stands, it's nothing but marketing. They add enough upgrades as to not get ridiculed by journalists.

35

I respect Nissan for that what they have done for us enthusiasts. I drive one by myself, and you do it too Dino, vero? Alright.. So... Second point you live in Japan so you should know the mentality of the Nihon-Jin. I don't think they are the "big inventors" of something or bring new inventions to the market. I have to admit, that in this point the european auto makers just do it better. Even so with the philosophy of bringing new models! The point in where i want to get is, i have the impression that the Japanese always want to start with a little input ( in this case, juke rs, micra rs, and so on.. ) and then observate the reacton of the market. If it has positive resonance i think they will go more into detail and then bring stronger cars (when the market is READY for such Nismo cars), or something in the direction like AMG or M does it. They add enough upgrades as to not get ridiculed by journalists maybe like you! because you drive a R34 GTR and live in Japan. You are used to other things! But for normal people like me in the rest of the world we apreciate the fact that Nissan has heard the voice of the enthusiast and even allow for example a Micra driver to feel a little bit more special, thanks to the Nismo badge. So.. you get what i mean? First time i saw a 370Z Nismo it was very special, even if i know that it's just estetically. Third point do you honestly think that it would make a diffrence if you would swap engines or boost a Micra up to 300hp it would sell good here? I talk for Europe because i live here, and it wouldn't make sense because a Nismo branded car isn't cheap after all. It would go into the price sector where people buy something german ( in the end it leads often to that and you know it.... ). You can sell a GT-R Nismo here, okey even a 370Z Nismo because it is worldwide known for its racing history! But forget a FUGA, MICRA, JUKE, etc etc etc... I know you're not confortable with the strategy of Nismo, but keep in mind it's a young company that is still growing.

36

I was at the factory last month while traveling! The entire showroom is incredible and i couldn't keep my eyes off this 400r!! The workshop had some mental cars in there also.
Well worth the visit for any Nismo enthusiast!
Great feature mate

Author37
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Intersting stuff is always in the workshop :)

38

Hands down my favourite Nissan ever made

Author39
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Even in yellow?

40

I agree, of course. I imported a Nismo type 380RS two years ago and it grates to think of the Nismo Juke being given an RS badge. Some things Nissan / Nismo get right they REALLY get right, such as the Juke-R, Micra 350SR etc are fine examples of what can be achieved over and above base models. As it stands, I believe brand snobbery has led to the dilution of what should be special vehicle's with the most cursory of cosmetic upgrades. TRD 86 anyone? I really hope manufacturers find themselves again and produce some truly awe inspiring versions of cars again.

Author41
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Well said. Nissan should really be hearing from enthusiasts for direction on its brands.

42

I don't think they know what they're doing at Nissan. The future of the brand is more convertible SUVs. Forget the idx concept, naaaah the big bucks are in convertible SUVs......
I hate to verbalize this, but the age of affordable performance is far from golden. It's not fiscally responsible anymore for companies to make performance variants of their regular lineup. Obviously it still happens, and it's successful (Golf R, Focus ST/RS, BMW M), but since like 2007 it seems like econoboxes, SUVs, and EV/hybrids are what's selling. Car enthusiasts make up a smaller niche as time goes by. Correct me if I'm wrong though.

Author43
Dino Dalle Carbonare

I'm with you on this. Nissan and subsequently Nismo are confused and in turn confuse customers. There's no coherent line up with coherent packages - it's just a mishmash of stuff per car, which obviously tells you the way in which they work to develop each model. It's like Nissan is a conglomeration of teams each building different cars then when you put them all together you go like WTF? What does it all mean? But now they are introducing a "family grille" so that will fix everything haha

44

I take it, you weren't allowed to pop the hood. Oh well.

Btw: the expression is "peace of mind." Instead of "piece of mind," which is a really great Iron Maiden album.

Author45
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Nope. Not into metal, but spell check hint taken ;)

46
MPistol HVBullets

oh the 400R - spend many a hour racing you in Gran Turismo

47

Hey Dino, is it true they only made 1 yellow 400r?? Did I see a picture of a red 400r in nismo collection at some point? I wonder are these 2 cars included in the 44 figure thats normally given, so there are only 42 in public domain?

48

Actually, I think I remember a picture of a red one that was wrecked at an event in Australia or new zealand, targa maybe??

49
Kate from Partsavatar.ca

Amazing looks...if this 400R wasn't bright yellow, it might look like a sleeper car. Wow, and just a 2.8l engine pumping out 400hp...that's amazing. I guess newer tech has trickled in, over the last decade, with hybrid tech, and what not. Sadly, innovation and commercial success (or failure) in new performance cars don't always go hand in hand...

50

This is the most beautiful car in the world. I would like to see the other colors as well.

51

Dino, how did they sell the 400R under the 'Gentlemens Agreement'?

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