Photos by Randy Sweetman courtesy Nissan North America
Last year, to support Peter Brock’s appearance at the Carlisle Import & Kit Nationals, Nissan North America took the Brock Racing Enterprises-liveried Datsun 510 that’s part of the automaker’s historic collection and hauled it from the basement of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville to the Carlisle fairgrounds in Pennsylvania.
This month — May 16-18 to be specific — the automaker is going back to Carlisle, and this time with six other vehicles from the Nissan Heritage Collection.
“We have about 57 vehicles at the moment,” Dave Bishop said of the heritage cars. Bishop’s day job is senior manager of product development for Nissan North America’s Parts & Service Division, but the long-time classic car enthusiast also is the curator of the company’s collection of historic vehicles.
“We’ve always held onto some vehicles,” Bishop explained. “We had cars in California from the very early days, and then probably in the late ’70s or early ’80s we started adding a few historical vehicles. We got up to about 60 cars.”
But when Nissan moved its American headquarters from the West Coast to the Midwest, where the company has assembly plants, about half of the collection was “dispersed” — some to museums, some to long-time Nissan dealers and a few to employees, “because we didn’t have a place to put them when we came to Nashville,” Bishop said.
But after learning that the Lane museum also was located in Nashville, a deal was struck to store the Nissan Heritage Collection cars in the Lane basement.
“We had a lot of racecar heritage (such as the BRE cars) and (Datsun 240, 260 and 280) Z heritage,” Bishop said of the collection. “But we couldn’t not have remained profitable selling only the 240Z and 260Z and 280Z.”
“It was cars such as the B210 that kept us going and I’m trying to fill in the collection with those sort of bread-and-butter vehicles (in fact, he’s searching for a mid-’70s 720-series pickup truck that’s still in its original configuration). They’re not glamorous, but are very important to our history.”
But they also are turning out to be very hard to find, at least in the original stock configuration that Bishop needs for the Heritage group. So many, he said, have been modified and hot-rodded.
“It’s important to preserve our heritage.”
— Dave Bishop
[/pullquote]“I’ve been adding vehicles whenever I could find something that was in one of our design studios or tech centers that I thought potentially was useful or interesting for the collection,” Bishop said. In addition to vehicles that had been squirreled away by designers or engineers, he’s arranged for the purchase of other vehicles that have historic significance for Nissan.
“It’s important to preserve our heritage,” he said.
And to share it.
Like an iceberg, the bulk of the Nissan Heritage Collection is hidden from public view at the museum, with only between 3 and 5 of the cars rotating through the facility’s public exhibition area. But Bishop is working with the Lanes staff to find a way to put many more if not all the Nissan cars on display.
But for Bishop, it’s not enough for those cars to be on display. They also must be driven.
“My goal is keep them all street worthy so they are a living asset and not a static display,” he said.
Nissan North America sent more than half a dozen of its heritage cars to the Nissan 360 international press event last year in California. When the new Nissan Versa Note was introduced (in Nashville), it was joined by a B-210 for the unveiling because, as Bishop explained it, that car was “the market segment equivalent of 35 years ago.”
And now, six cars from the collection are going to Carlisle:
- A 1961 Fairlady roadster
- A 1969 1600 roadster
- A 1972 240Z
- A 1972 510
- A 1977 B210 GX
- A 1995 300ZX SMZ
Though it’s not making the trip to Carlisle, the oldest car in the Nissan Heritage Collection is a 1937 Datsun Konut roadster.
“In the 1930s, Datsun products were essentially knockdown kits of the Austin Seven built under license,” Bishop said, adding that Nissan North America’s Konut roadster is undergoing restoration. “It’s running and driving and going to paint and trim fairly soon.”
Oh, and it’s not just Nissan North America that is working to preserve and to celebrate the company’s heritage and history. Nissan Motor Corp. itself is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and has set up a website that celebrates not only its cars but the people who made them.
It was Masujiro Hashimoto, an American-educated engineer, who established a company to build Japan’s first cars. Funding came from three Japanese investors whose respective last names began with D, A and T. Thus the cars — production began in 1914 — were branded as DATs.
When a new two-seat roadster was launched for 1918, it was called the “Datson,” or son of DAT. Soon, Datson became Datsun.