The factory-backed Nissan team run by Fred Gibson entered the Australian Touring Car Championship for the first time in 1982. Ten years later, with a different car and under a different set of technical regulations, Nissan ruled the roost in 1992.
We look back at the rise of Nissan and the years of struggle and development with various cars through different technical regulations in SupercarXtra Magazine issue #125.
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Gibson’s relationship with Nissan came about from his long-standing connection with his old boss from his factory Ford days, Howard Marsden.
“Howard went to Nissan after Ford pulled the plug, and he basically went to Nissan to look after their rallying program,” says Gibson.
“But then it turned into a situation where they were going to manufacture Bluebirds in Australia, at Clayton, and all of sudden they decided, ‘Why don’t we go into motorsport with the Bluebird program?’ That’s how it all started.
“Then he rang me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to join the team? George Fury is going to drive. We’ll get him out of rallies and onto bitumen; it’ll be a two-car Bluebird program.’
“It was based on the European/Japanese-spec car Bluebird with the turbo engine and everything in it; it was a lot different to the car that was manufactured in Australia. We started the program there.”
The Bluebird program started on the back foot. At its Bathurst debut in 1981 the fastest of the two team cars, piloted by Japanese drivers Masahiro Hasemi and Kazuyoshi Hoshino, qualified 31st. Fury and Gibson in the other Bluebird started 43rd. Neither car finished.
But relentless development would drag it towards the front of the field during the final seasons of Group C, starting with its maiden championship assault in 1982.
At Bathurst in 1982 the Hasemi car qualified third before finishing eighth. In 1983 Fury clocked a series of strong championship results to finish second in the title chase, plus an impressive second on the grid at Bathurst. Meanwhile, Gibson registered the first Australian touring car win for a turbo in an AMSCAR race at Amaroo Park.
In 1984 Fury finally broke Nissan’s victory duck at Lakeside, and then at Bathurst unleashed a record-breaking pole lap.
Mingled with the Bluebird’s speed, however, was persistent unreliability. Gibson reckons they got it all wrong from the start with that car.
“They exceeded what we thought they were going to do, yes, but they were unreliable because we wanted to stretch things,” he says.
“The car would have been very competitive in the three-litre class, and all of a sudden we thought if we just modify it a bit and do some more homologation it might become an outright contender in some ways.
“But, you know, in our wisdom now you think back and say we should have left it, we shouldn’t have done that because the car became unreliable with all we were doing to it. We made quite a few modifications and the car became unreliable because we were trying to stretch the little thing too far.”
The RS DR30 and HR31 GTS-R Skylines followed under the Group A regulations, before the arrival of the all-conquering Skyline R32 GT-R.
CLICK HERE for the Skyline R32 GT-R poster in issue #125.
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