By on August 3, 2017

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

This special racing edition of Rare Rides was made possible by the Infiniti Q50 First Drive event in Nashville, Tennessee, which also provided the source material for this Q50 review and this Q60 Picture Time. Our Rare Ride today also happens to be my 100th contribution to TTAC. Time flies!

Let’s have a little look at some Japanese racing royalty, starting with some history.

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

The Prince Motor Company was a short-lived Japanese manufacturer, producing cars from 1954 until its merger with Nissan in 1966. The company began life as an airplane manufacturer in World War II: the Takichawa Aircraft Company.

Specializing in luxury cars, Prince founded the Skyline and Gloria lines. Two more lasting nameplates, the Homy van and the Laurel sedan, were Prince designs that went into the Nissan merger unfinished and came out the other side as Nissan vehicles. Filtered down through the years, the Nissan Gloria would arrive in North America as the original Infiniti M (eventually the Q70), and the Skyline as the Infiniti G (eventually Q50/Q60).

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

This R380 was the first (and only) attempt by Prince to create a purpose-built race car. Development started after modified Prince Skyline models were defeated by mid-engine Porsche 904s at the 1964 Japanese Grand Prix.

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

Under the rear hatch lies a 2.0-liter inline-six engine. The engine used here was the same as in Skyline production models, but reworked to produce a whopping 200 horsepower for race duty. The modified Skyline engine mated to a British Hewland five-speed manual transmission. Hewland is still in business, making transmissions for race series today.

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

Production of the R380 would take place between 1965 and 1968. Unfortunately for Prince, the first year of production netted only disappointment — the Japanese Grand Prix was cancelled for 1965. Instead of racing, Prince used the R380’s downtime to test high-speed aerodynamics and break some speed records.

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

The Japanese Grand Prix returned in 1966, and Prince was ready with four R380 examples. Those cars captured first and second place, besting even the newly designed trio of Porsche 906 models.

Image: 1966 Prince R380, image © Corey Lewis

Nissan took over Prince that same year, and for 1967 reworked the car into the R380-II. But these revisions were not enough to overcome advances made by Porsche that year, and Nissan placed second, third, fourth, and sixth place. Porsche won by a margin of two full minutes.

Nissan continued on to make several racing successors through 1980, all traced back to this original Prince R380. Some Prince structure and influence remained in place at Nissan for several years, as well. In the Japanese market, Nissan maintained a dealership line called the Nissan Prince Store. The line was eventually consolidated into Nissan Blue Stage, though not until 1999.

So long, Prince.

[Images © Corey Lewis/The Truth About Cars]

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