There’s something gloriously unpretentious about using a cold, unglamorous warehouse to display more than 400 vehicles from a car company’s impressive 78-year history.
The lock-up at Zama in Japan that’s home to Nissan’s greatest hits is essentially just a large indoor car park, but one that’s home to some absolute gems and real forgotten stars that define what Nissan is today.
This isn’t the glitzy hands-on experience of BMW Welt in Munich or Porsche’s museum in Zuffenhausen. The warehouse is about an hour’s drive from Tokyo and buried deep within an industrial estate. There’s not even a door, just a red metal shutter that’s only clue as to what may be behind it are the words ‘Nissan DNA Garage’.
When the shutter is pulled up, any enthusiast’s jaw that doesn’t hit the floor needs their head examining. To the left are some of the earliest Datsuns from the 1930s and to the right are the firm’s GT1 racing efforts. Straight ahead are racers from Japanese Super GT Skylines to BTCC-spec Primeras. In the distance is everything else, from K-car concepts to presidential saloons, rally cars to prototype racers and more Skylines than a Fast and Furious film.
Every car has a story, but of course there are a few models that really stand out. The gorgeous original 1961 Fairlady Z is one (the curator’s favourite, no less).
The equally gorgeous 1966 Silvia is another. Only about 500 of these were ever made (and never exported) and carried an eye-watering price when new of about £10,000. But the level of detail in its hand-crafted bodywork makes it look worth every penny.
Nissan’s modern-day GT-R has already become legendary. Its roots are inside the warehouse with the 1989 Skyline GT-R, now so rare that it’s estimated the example in the warehouse is worth £125,000.
Some of the models in the warehouse are notable because of the people and places they’re associated with. Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn keeps his 350Z – chassis number 000001 – in the lock-up and drives it when he’s in Tokyo.
The current emperor’s old ride, the 1954 Prince Sedan, looks to have its roots in the Austin A90 Somerset saloon (an Austin-Nissan co-project) it sits next to.
A device in the back of a Cedric Special looks to be an instrument of torture from a James Bond film, but a sticker on the side gives a clue to the car’s identity. The Cedric was the torch carrier for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The only real nod to the present is the Leaf prototype that’s located next to the entrance. But it’s completely overshadowed by the frankly ridiculous four-seat open-top 1991 Cedric, a 5.22 metre-long behemoth that has its own all-electric powertrain. It’s good for a 62-mile range and a 0-25mph time of 9.5sec, figures no doubt hampered by its mighty 1960kg kerb weight.
Visiting the warehouse is far more rewarding than any trip to a car museum I’ve ever been to. Every single model there had its own story and reason for being there, and it’s good to see the cars presented so simply without the need for any artificial dressing-up.
It was notable there were no models from Nissan’s current range there, the GT-R being the most conspicuous by its absence. It will be interesting look beyond the red shutter again in a few years and see exactly which models the firm currently produces are considered worthy of display among the rest of the company jewels.