INFINITI Motor Company will show the iconic Prince R380 race car on Sunday, March 12 at this year's Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance in the Japanese Prototype class. It will be the first public appearance of this historically significant vehicle in the Americas.
After breaking several land speed records in 1965, four R380s beat a trio of Porsche 906s to win the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix. The R380 that will be shown at "The Amelia" is the actual Japanese Grand Prix winning car, and is believed to be the only surviving R380 in existence.
"The Prince R380 is a very important race car, and we are eager to share it with automotive fans from all over the world attending the Amelia Island Concours," said Alfonso Albaisa, executive design director for INFINITI. "Prince Motor Company, during its short time, definitely made history, and its engineering and design legacy continues to live on."
Prince Motor Company narrowly lost the inaugural 1964 Japanese Grand Prix – coming in second to a Porsche 904 – with a specially modified Prince Skyline GT powered by an inline, six-cylinder engine from the larger and more powerful Prince Gloria luxury sedan.
Fueled by their success and a passion to be number one, the team set out to develop one of Japan's first purpose-built race cars, resulting in the Prince R380.
Built upon a Brabham BT8 mid-engine chassis, the R380 used unique mechanics and aerodynamic bodywork. Shinichiro Sakurai, head of Prince Motors engineering, developed a new engine loosely based on the Skyline GT engine originally developed for the Gloria sedan. Known as the GR-8, the 1996 cubic centimeter, inline six-cylinder engine produced 200-horsepower and was mated to a 5-speed racing gearbox.
Because there was no Japanese Grand Prix in 1965, Prince did not have a chance to campaign the four R380s they built. The company did use them for aerodynamic testing and as a result, the R380 set several global land speed records.
The second Japanese Grand Prix was held in 1966 at Fuji Speedway, and Prince was finally able to enter its R380. Against the performance of a trio of Porsche 906s, Prince took the victory with the R380 driven by Yoshikazu Sunako in first, just ahead of Hideo Oishi's second place R380.
As a result, the Prince R380, in its first official competition, earned its place in history as a very significant race car.
Prince Motor Company was born out of the Tachikawa Aircraft Company, which was founded in Japan in the early 1920s and manufactured armed forces and civilian transport planes for several decades. Tachikawa eventually used its engineering expertise to establish an electric car division, which over time began to build internal combustion-powered luxury and performance automobiles, becoming Prince Motor Company in 1952.
The first Prince-badged vehicle, simply called Sedan, was a modest executive car. The Sedan's successor, however, was the one that set the company on a new path.
Introduced in 1957, the Prince Skyline was available as a four-door premium sedan and five-door wagon. Prince engineers used their aeronautic background to make the Skyline lightweight, allowing it to reach higher top speeds – even with its 60-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine – and also built it with a sophisticated de Dion rear suspension.
A luxury sedan version of the Skyline, called Prince Gloria, joined the line in 1959. Eventually the Prince Skyline nameplate also evolved into a series of performance coupes, including the 1962 Skyline Sport, which featured hand-built bodies by famed Italian sports car designer Giovanni Michelotti. Prince then introduced the first Japanese single overhead cam (SOHC) six-cylinder engine in 1963, available in the Gloria luxury sedan.
In 1964, when Prince Motor's management decided that a racing pedigree would help further establish its performance image, their engineers took a Skyline, extended the car a few inches from the front cowl, and installed the new, 127-horsepower, six-cylinder engine from the Gloria.
The result was called Skyline GT, which was entered into the first Japanese Grand Prix, and narrowly lost the overall race, coming in second to the Porsche 904. Several hundred Skyline GT performance sedans were built to homologate the cars for Prince's racing aspirations.
Propelled by their success in the 1964 race, Prince engineers developed the R380, considered one of the first purpose-built Japanese race cars. The R380 campaigned in the second Japanese Grand Prix in 1966, taking the first two positions against the Porsche 906.
That year also marked the merger between Prince Motor Company and Nissan Motor Company and the former Prince-branded models were integrated into Nissan's line. The Skyline and Gloria then had a second chapter of successes and have created legacies of their own.
In the mid-1980's Nissan Motor Company began to formulate plans for an all-new premium automotive company. The mission of this endeavor was a simple one: to create automobiles that one would want to take on an endless drive.
The name of this automotive marque therefore became INFINITI Motor Company and the logo affixed to each of the brand's vehicles represents a road without end.
The first INFINITI, the Q45 luxury performance sedan, went on sale in 1989. Over the years, its line of premium automobiles has expanded into a series of coupes, sports and luxury sedans, crossovers, and sport utility vehicles.
The heritage of many INFINITI vehicles can be directly traced to Prince Motor Company. The INFINITI G-line of coupes, sedans and convertibles from 2002 through 2014 are descendants of the Prince Skyline, as are today's Q50 sports sedan and Q60 coupe.
The Prince Gloria evolved over many years until it became the original INFINITI M45, which two generations later is represented by today's Q70 luxury performance sedan.
The Prince R380's appearance at the 2017 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance will be the race car's first appearance in the Americas.
"The Prince R380 was one of the first Japanese competition cars ever developed," said Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. "The R380 told where the future was going for Japanese automotive companies, as Prince understood that racing was an important ingredient for establishing a brand. To have the Prince, which was one of the earliest successful race cars, here for the first time in the Americas and at 'The Amelia,' truly is a thrill for me."
Prince R380 Specifications
Overall length / width / height: 3,930/1,580/1,035mm
Tread (front/rear): 1,280/1,260mm
Curb weight: 660kg
Engine: GR8 (6-cyl. in line, DOHC), 1,996cc
Engine Max. power: Over 147kW (200PS)/8,000rpm
Engine Carburetors: Weber 42 DCOE (x3)
Transmission: Hewland 5-speed
Brakes: 4-wheel outboard disc
Tires (front, rear): 5.00L-15, 6.50L-15 (Dunlop F5)
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