Years ago, thumbing through a magazine, I saw pictures of dozens of Nissan race cars in a Japanese warehouse. No address and it wasn't open to the public. But, after a friend's invitation to Japan, I set about finding it.
Dave Coleman of Miatabusa fame was writing from Japan for Sport Compact Car and told a tale of the Holy Grail of Nissan fetishism: a secret museum packed to the gills with unrestored, fresh off the track race machinery from the entire history of the company. In the few photos he'd sneaked there was everything from Group N Skylines, R32 300ZX models from numerous race series, Group C prototypes, a Safari 510 with dirt still caked in the fenders... Everything. I was dumbfounded.
Unfortunately, the only information he gave was that it was somewhere in Japan. Internet searches proved fruitless, and every car guy I met had no idea what I was talking about. But I knew the Nissan complexes and factories were roughly centered in Kanagawa prefecture, one of the wharf districts in the city, so I convinced my friend to start with me there.
The first day we wandered around, circling outward from the train station I'd roughly guessed was in the middle of their corporate neighborhood. We asked every AM/PM worker we found where we could find a museum and got arm points in different directions every time. We weren't even sure if we were asking the right questions, and after most of a day it was clear we were just wandering through abandoned warehouses. We gave up.
The next time we managed to get out there I found a convenience store staff that seemed to know what I was talking about. They drew us a little map, and we set off in the opposite direction from before. Industrial neighborhoods gave way to Nissan's corporate campus, and I was sure we were going to find it. Asking some cab drivers the way, we were directed to a big, artsy building that looked like the perfect home for acres of battle-scarred metal. I was drooling uncontrollably as we walked in through the big sliding doors and directly into the emergency room of a Nissan hospital. No one knew what we were talking about. We gave up again.
It was awhile until we were able to make another day trip out into the middle of nowhere. When we did, I knew it was probably the last time I'd be able to convince my buddy to follow me around on some wild goose chase for some dirty old cars. This time we went directly towards the factories, and ended up in the middle of the various engine plants. Questioning every security guard we found, one guy finally pointed us towards a parking lot full of GT-Rs in various states of tune. A small, clean building sat to one end of one of the open, working plants. Called the Guest Hall, it was obviously a museum.
We (well, I) rushed in to be greeted by a cute attendant who handed us some 1:43 models, helped us get some Z car drawing courtesy of a robotic welder relegated to felt marker duty, and then gave us the arm wave that meant we were free to do what we wanted.
It turned out to be Nissan's engine museum, with the first floor dedicated to examples of every road and race engine series in the Datsun/Nissan catalog shown with little placard in Japanese and English. The place was completely empty (I doubt it gets more than a couple thousand visitors a year) and we got to poke at and play around with everything without anyone bothering us. It wasn't exactly what I'd been looking at, but it was impossible to be disappointed considering the quality of the exhibits. Check out some highlights in the gallery below, and please, if you know about the real hidden Nissan museum, share it in the comments.
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