1987/8 Nissan R88C
photos on HudsonHistorics.com)
Vehicle History by John Starkey
During the 1980s, the burgeoning Japanese auto industry saw the
wisdom of entering Sports-Prototype racing in Europe, America and
Japan. Whilst Toyota and Mazda went their own way, Nissan commissioned
March, (an acronym of Moseley, Coaker and Herd, the four initial
shareholders), to design and build their cars.
The March design team had produced a prototype BMW six cylinder
3.5 liter-powered car called the M1C and David Hobbs and Marc Surer
raced this in the IMSA series of 1981. Basically underpowered against
the Porsche 935’s, the MIC was re-engined after the Riverside
race with a turbo four cylinder engine and earned two pole positions
and three top six finishes in the rest of the season.
The March 82G followed and has the distinction of being the first
car to be designed by Adrian Newey, the well-known Williams and
McLaren/Mercedes Formula One engineer.
Designed as a ‘customer’ car, the 82G was built with
a honeycomb aluminum monocoque and was a simple, rugged design with
the engine bay being capable of accommodating a wide range of engines
from Chevrolet’s V8 to Porsche’s turbocharged flat-6
‘Boxermotor’. To fulfill IMSA/Group ‘C’
regulations, the fuel was contained in a 120-liter bag tank/Fuel
cell between the driver’s bulkhead and the engine bay. Behind
this bulkhead was, effectively, a space frame of tubing, in which
was mounted the engine and gearbox. The front suspension used upper
and lower wishbones with outboard coil spring and damper units whilst
at the rear, there were top rocker-operated inboard coil spring/damper
units mounted alongside the Hewland gearbox.
The bodywork was designed and developed by Max Sardou who had
designed the Porsche 917/20 “Pig.’ Made of fiberglass
with carbon-fiber reinforcement, it featured front fenders reaching
forward with, between them, an adjustable wing. This ‘lobster-claw’
front end was to become a March GTP trademark in the following years.
The only Group C March 83G was 83G-5, which was sold to Nissan
and fitted with a four-cylinder 2.1 liter turbo engine, prepared
by Tom Hanawa, March’s importer. Appearing as the ‘Nissan
Silvia’, it had a higher rear wing than standard and multiple
engine compartment air intakes. This car raced in only one International
Group C event where Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Akira Hagiwara finished
in seventh place, not bad against the then all-conquering Porsche
All this time, the original 82G design had been developed, first
of all into the 83G and now came the 84G, probably the best GTP
car of its era. The March domination would change, however, with
the coming of the Porsche 956/962.
For 1985, March cleaned up the 84G with new hubs, (derived from
the then-current Indycar), bodywork and a gearbox developed by Alan
Mertens which proved to be bulletproof and was used by Jaguar, Toyota
and Nissan thereafter in their GTP cars. Peter Vennick had led this
refreshment program which also included the slimmer gearbox. Sadly,
the 85G was not good enough to combat the increasingly numerous
Porsche 962’s, particularly the Championship-winning 962 of
In 1985, only a few placings came March’s way, a second and
third at Miami being the best but at this point, March itself changed
direction with their sports-prototypes, selling them only to manufacturers.
They supplied one 85G to BMW North America and three to Nissan.
The BMW’s were all four-cylinder turbos with McLaren-designed
bodywork and side-mounted radiators. David Hobbs put the BMW car
on pole position at Daytona in December. The rear suspension had,
at long last, been re-designed with a much lower roll center that
cured the previous car’s problems in this department.
In Japan, three 85G’s were entered for the Fuji 1000Km and
Kazuyoshi Hoshino put his car on pole position on the first day
of practice. Porsche responded on the second practice day, pushing
the March back on to the second row but race day dawned with a monsoon
howling. All the European-entered cars withdrew and Hoshino led
the Japanese contingent to outright victory, lapping the entire
field despite a mid-race spin, giving March a tremendous fillip.
In 1986, ten 86G’s were built, BMW buying six, (two being
destroyed in turbo fires!) and Nissan four. The 86G was an all-new
car, designed by Gordon Coppuck and called the 86S (Sport). For
this car, Indycar type suspension was used, the tub being made out
of aluminum honeycomb with magnesium bulkheads. It was narrower
and lighter, (by 100 kg) than the previous cars with side-mounted
radiators. David Hobbs called it: “unbelievably competitive”
and thought that it would still have been competitive in 1989 had
BMW North America put their full weight behind it.
1987/8 Nissan R88C chassis 87G-3:
Nissan MotorSports (NISMO) Le Mans program began shortly after
the 1985 race was over and the R 86 V was entered for the 1986 24
Hours of Le Mans. For this car, NISMO commissioned Electramotive,
of El Segundo, California, to supply the V6 engines that they had
developed for their Nissan GTP racing effort in America. For qualifying,
these engines could produce in excess of 1,100 horsepower. In its
debut race at Le Mans, the new R 86 V retired with a transmission
failure in the fifth hour.
The sister car to the R86V at Le Mans was a 1985 R 85 V. James
Weaver, Masahiro Hasemi and Takeo Wada drove the “Mada”
sponsored car to 16th overall.
For 1987, Nissan redoubled their efforts with two all new Paul
Bentley-designed R 87 E model sports racers featuring the new VEJ30
3 liter V-8. This twin-overhead camshaft per bank engine, with twin
IHI turbochargers fitted, developed nearly 800 horsepower at 8,000
rpm at comparatively low boost settings, (0.8 bar). Both cars however
were out at the 16-hour mark, one with an engine failure and another
with gearbox troubles. A third privately entered V-6 powered Nissan
R 86 V was entered by Italya Sports but was damaged in an accident
in the eighth hour when Patrick Gounon was driving.
For the 1988 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nissan fielded
a two car team. An 'all new' March chassis was utilized but there
were no significant mechanical changes. The new R 88 C utilized
a slightly revised quad-cam, twin-turbo, V8 of 3.0 liters now dubbed
the VRH30. The R88 also featured an extended wheelbase created by
adding a spacer to the 87G chassis.
Despite being heavily restricted, both cars qualified well with
car #23 gridded 15th and car #32 gridded 23rd out of the 69 Group
C and IMSA prototypes entered. An older V6 engined R88S was entered
by the Italya/Cabin Team, to be driven by Danny “On the Gas”
Ongais, Michel Trolle and Toshio Suzuki. Their engine failed in
the sixth hour.
In the race, both NISMO-entered cars ran well, giving most of the
Porsche’s and the new Jaguar XJR-9's a good run for their
money. In the end, a well earned 14th overall was achieved with
car number 32, driven by Allan Grice, Mike Wilds and Win Percy while
car number 23 was out at the 21-hour mark with engine trouble.
This particular car, chassis 87G, chassis number 3, was the 15th
place qualifier that did not finish due to engine trouble very late
in the race. The car was driven by Kazayoshi Hoshino, Takao Wada,
and Aguri Suzuki.
87G-3 next raced at the 1,000 Kms of Fuji where Nissan engineers
reverted back to the original wheelbase while keeping the VRH30
engine. Drivers Hoshino, Grice and Takahashi finished ninth overall.
The car’s final race was the 1989 running of the 1,000 Kms
of Suzuka where the engine was updated to the latest 3.5 liter unit.
Clearly benefitting from the increased horsepower, drivers Hoshino
and Suzuki finished fourth overall. Following this event, the car
spent the next few years on display or at assorted Nissan promotional
events and spent the subsequent years in storage.
Group C Race Results:
24 Hours of LeMans, #23, Hoshino/Wada/Suzuki, DNF, Qualified 15th
1,000 Kms of Fuji, Hishino, Grice, & Takahashi, 9th OA
1,000 Kms of Suzuka, Hoshino & Suzuka, 4th OA
--- SOLD ---
photos on HudsonHistorics.com)