Nissan may not be the first car brand that springs to mind when it comes to sports cars but they’ve produced some of the finest under the brand’s umbrella, including Datsun and Infiniti. From the more recent R35 Nissan GT-R to the older Datsun 240Z and the Fairlady SR311, here is a list of the top Nissan performance cars starting with Datsun.
The Datsun 240Z debuted in America in 1969 and is regarded as the car that put Nissan sports cars on the map. This particular Datsun was specially designed for racing featuring a sporty rear-wheel-drive drivetrain, an impressive 151 horsepower, 2.4-litre inline-six engine with a four-speed manual gearbox. The design was nimble and lightweight which was particularly useful on a rally circuit as the Datsun 240Z won the East African Safari Rally in Kenya at the WRC circuit in 1973.
Datsun Fairlady SR311
When sports cars first became popular, Italian and British car makers were at the top with companies like Nissan not likely rivals until they built the Datsun Fairlady SR311. This car preceded the legendary Z Series lineup and remained the cheapest sports car in its category. It had a 150 hp, 2.0-litre inline-four engine with an aluminium head coupled to a five-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive.
Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge (Concept Car)
One of the subsidiaries under the Nissan umbrella is Infiniti and a standout is the Q50 Eau Rouge (Concept). It was the dream child of Johan de Nysschen when he was still at Infiniti with the idea of competing with the BMW M3.
The Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge is a four-door GT-R sedan which they named after the popular left-hander at Spa Francorchamps. Powered by a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 engine coupled to the four-wheel-drive system and a 7-speed automatic gearbox, the Q50 Eau Rouge pushes out a remarkable 560 horsepower.
Unfortunately, the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge (Concept) was scrapped when Johan de Nysschen moved to Cadillac. If someone were to reimagine this car with a sharper gearbox, it could have some interesting results competing against the likes of BMW M cars and Mercedes AMG models.
The KPGC10 Nissan Skyline GT-R (Hakosuka)
The term “Hakosuka” loosely translates to “Boxy Skyline” which is what the first-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R looked like. One of the earlier models, the KPGC10 Skyline GT-R, made its debut in 1969 as a sedan but Nissan also launched a coupe version.
However, Prince Motor Company actually launched the Skyline in 1957 followed by the 1964 Prince Skyline GT (S54-generation) which was the start of something special before they merged with Nissan in 1966.
The KPGC10 Skyline GT-R was also rear-wheel-drive and powered by a 2.0-litre inline-six engine with dual overhead camshafts. The engine was paired with a responsive five-speed manual transmission pushing out 160 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque. This car was also discontinued but having only made and sold 1,945 units, the KPGC10 Skyline GT-R (Hakosuka) is still one of the rarest Nissans ever made.
Nissan IDx Nismo Concept
Moving onto one of the most interesting Nissan performance cars, we look at the IDx Nismo Concept. It was built by Nissan’s performance division and made its debut in 2013 at the Tokyo Motor Show. The 1.6-litre turbo engine coupled to a sporty CVT gearbox with 6-speed manual shift mode and synchronized rev control delivers 200 horsepower.
The Nissan IDx NISMO is an ultra-sporty concept car that looks like it came straight from a game or driving simulator with stunning design and advanced aerodynamics. While the interior is minimalistic, it’s far from boring with function taking preference over traditional styling. As impressive as this might be, Nissan hasn’t confirmed whether the IDx Nismo Concept will go into production or not.
The Ever-Popular Nissan 370Z
The Nissan Z models include some of the best and most iconic sports car line-ups in the world today with most being well-known for their exceptional performance and sturdiness. As it stands now, the Nissan 370Z, which debuted in 2009, is the last in the Z Series featuring shorter overhangs and wheelbase which adds to the car’s nimble and agile nature.
It has an impressive engine in the shape of a 3.7-litre V6 pushing out 350 horsepower and 363 Nm of torque. While some might say it feels a little dated compared to other sporty cars today, it’s one of the best in the 20th-century and deserves its spot on the list of top Nissan performance cars. Could there be another Z series on the cards?
The Le Mans Nissan R390 GT1
To take part in a 24-hour Le Mans, car companies could only use race cars based on a road-legal version which resulted in some fascinating designs. One such car was the Nissan R390 GT1 which was powered by a 3.5-litre V9 engine coupled to a six-speed Xtrarc sequential manual gearbox.
The max power output from this immensely powerful engine was 641 horsepower on the race car and 550 hp on the road-going version which is similar to some of the more modern supercars. The Nissan R390 GT1 clinched several class victories in the 1997 and 1998 24-hour Le Mans.
R32 Skyline GT-R (Godzilla)
As discussed earlier, the Skyline made its debut in the late 1960s and has made a big name for itself on the track. But, when Nissan unveiled the R32 Skyline GT-R in 1989, their true power in building top performance cars came to light.
It was powered by a 2.6-litre RB26DETT twin-turbo inline-six engine generating 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque to an all-wheel-drive system. From 1989 to 1993 the R32 Skyline GT-R participated in Group A racing and won every race. It’s no surprise then that the R32 Skyline GT-R is the car that started the Godzilla line.
R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R Z-Tune
Another concept car built by Nismo was the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R Z-Tune. While it was based on the Skyline GT-R, it had some serious upgrades with the 2.8-litre RB26DETT engine featuring an upgraded block, crankshaft and turbochargers. This results in 500 horsepower and a staggering 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds. As with the KPGC10 Nissan Skyline GT-R (Hakosuka), the R34 Skyline GT-R Z-Tune is also very rare as they only produced 19 cars.
The R35 Nissan GT-R
When it comes to the very best Nissan performance cars ever made, we cannot have a list without the R35 Nissan GT-R. Nobody could have asked for a better send-off for the Skyline GT-R series than this remarkable supercar. At the time of production, and even today, it’s considered a bargain as it had the power of a supercar costing the same as a reasonable sports car.
The R35 Nissan GT-R had a transaxle gearbox coupled to a powerful 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 engine which seamlessly distributes power to its all-wheel-drive system. Believe it or not, but the total power output is a whopping 710 horsepower and 467 lb-ft of torque which rivals many top contenders with names like Porsche and Ferrari.
Want to get a closer look at the 2021 Nissan GT-R 50th Anniversary Edition? Visit our online GT-R showroom to find out more.
What’s Ahead For Nissan Performance Cars
If these are anything to go by, what kind of Nissan performance cars will be next on their to-do list? In terms of classic car styling, a crowd favourite must be the Datsun 240Z while the IDx Nismo Concept and the R35 Nissan GT-R are serious contenders even compared to other bigger and more expensive brands.