Nissan Saurus

Nissan Saurus Cup, Autocar

Nissan Saurus Cup, Autocar

Inspired by yesterday's Jalopnik community's story, "These Ten Sets Of Cars Really Need To Be Sold As Pairs," I thought to myself, "Wait: Nissan was actually considering selling cars in pairs."

The Saurus was Nissan's idea for what a stripped-down track day sports car could be. The Saurus was first shown at the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show alongside the Jiwa MPV, the car's weekday counterpart: compact, practical, and powerful enough to tow a race car.

Let's consider what that means. Nissan could have sold them only as a pair, or individually at a discount, or with the race car as an optional extra. It's this last scenario that makes most sense to me, and with the Micra Cup in Quebec, Canada, Nissan should package the car with a trailer and a stripped but stickered version of the NV van, complete with basic necessities that racers need.

Sell both together at a reasonable price, complete with financing, and who wouldn't eat ramen noodles for months to be able to afford to go racing every weekend? (Ford could also offer such a package, complete with a wider range of race cars…)

While the Jura remained a concept, Nismo's first assignment within Nissan was to turn the Saurus into a real race car. The sports arm took a mould of the car, retained most of the concept's styling cues, and in 1991 introduced the cutely named Saurus Jr. Offered in different states of tune, from mild (used in Nissan's Racing School) to wild (used in the Saurus Cup held at Tsukuba Circuit), the car was every bit the equal of our modern Ariel Atoms, Caterham Sevens, and Radicals.

The Saurus Jr. is a simple race car: tube frame chassis, mid-mounted four-cylinder engine, and fibreglass bodywork that's easy to repair: the front and rear sections lift off completely as single pieces. Little performance data was available on the car except for a quoted top speed of 220 km/h (137 mph)—but was this on the wide open Fuji Speedway or the tight and twisty Tsukuba Circuit? Sadly, when I visited Tsukuba in the fall for a day of vintage racing, I didn't get to see a Saurus Jr.

Autocar magazine had the opportunity to drive both versions in period, and were quite taken by its performance, using phrases like: 

"Out of the pits, the razor-like response of the Nissan engine hits you immediately…"

"Handling is something else, supported by sensational steering that requires just the barest of hand movements to make the Saurus turn in right now," and,

"Give the twin-cam its head along one of the straights and as the rev needle creeps up the Saurus really starts to shift; the exhaust note hard but crisp, blaring loudly in tandem. Stirring stuff."

Whether or not that was written during a manufacturer-induced sake hangover, I can't say. The most interesting part of this car, at least to me, is its transmission: a Subaru Leone five-speed front-drive unit flipped around to function as a rear-drive transaxle. In the caption of the dyno video below, I'll note why Nismo's setup was particularly convenient for racers: the transmission had an adapter plate with holes for any Nissan SR engine—front or rear drive.

The Saurus Jr. below? The tuning shop says its SR20DET-powered version has a power-to-weight ratio 2x better than that of a new Nissan GT-R. It's neat to see a concept car evolve into a track day special, isn't it?

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