Inside Nissan’s secret stash
Someone’s made the Citizen Kane of cock ups. They’ve parked their Austin A40 inside Nissan’s top-secret heritage centre on one of the rare days it’s let in a photographer. This is surely most dishonourable to company founder, Yoshisuke Aikawa. The building the A40 is in, a lightly antiqued enormo-shed that looks like the planet’s central air conditioning unit, is situated in Zama, Japan, on the very spot Aikawa founded the manufacturer 80 years ago. Heads will roll.
“No no, this is a Datsun,” insists curator, Ryuji Nakayama, pointing emphatically at the errant car. He’s an ex-Skyline suspension engineer, official museum curator, and probably knows more about Nissan and recently revived Datsun than Carlos Ghosn. He’s also in the middle of telling Top Gear that the Austin we’re merrily scoffing at was built here in the early fifties under licence in 1952. Egg, meet face.
“It is very similar to the British car, and this relationship added great strength to Nissan,” says Nakayama-san. Which the numbers prove. In 1950, Nissan produced 865 cars. Ten years later, and by the time the A50 (successor to A40, surprisingly enough) was discontinued, it was chugging out nearly 66 000 vehicles. “It helped build everything here. Now it is our to job to keep it all working.”
Like the Vauxhall and Ford sheds, pretty much everything in here is a working, driving concern. Even the insane Manga-style silhouette racers and Le Mans prototypes. Several of which are notable by the absence – they’ve been siphoned off to the next weekend’s Nismo festival at Fuji Speedway. And not just for display. “We must make sure there are no accidents, but it is healthy for racing cars to be driven at maximum speed,” says Nakayama-san. We like Nakayama-san. “But. Some of these cars are irreplaceable.”
Like the orange and white front-wheel drive 1972 Minor Touring class Datsun Cherry Coupe, a sole survivor from the Fuji GC Series. Or the flawless, barely driven, never-raced black-and-gold C110 Skyline H/T racer that was used as a display model for the 1972 Tokyo motor show. Or the electric open-top President Sovereign one-off, built to transport sumo champions through victory parades. It does 0-40kph in 9.5 seconds…
Not everything’s a super-rare, though. Or mint condition. The DNA Garage is a bit of a Thomas Barnado for destitute classics, and accepts donations from the public in exchange for the car’s safe future. Like the brilliantly hooned silver R32 Skyline GT-R, which looks like it’s crashed into every one of its last 26 years. It’s peeling, scratched with milky headlights. It looks like it’s just staggered in from the pub with a kebab. “Cars like this have character and stories. Sometimes we don’t know what the stories are, but that’s not important. We will not restore it,” says Nakayama-san. Good lad.
We’d tell you to come here for yourself, but you wouldn’t be allowed. Which is a great shame, because the garage demonstrates a breadth and heritage that you sort of forget Nissan has, even though it occasionally tries to remind you. Thankfully, Nakayama-san and his crew of ex-company volunteers will continue to expand the fleet (incidentally, if you’re getting rid of a Datsun Leopard or Stanza, the garage is after them) and keep the cars running at events like the Nismo Festival. So remember to check the badge carefully the next time you see an Austin A40.
Words: Matthew Jones