Nissan has left the cool kids hanging for years, pushing back its new Z-car until 2023 and ditching many of its racing programs. Why wait three more years to buy another Z? Thanks to the fine folks at Stratas Auctions, you could buy one of the raddest Nissan Z-cars ever made: a race-ready 1989 300ZX IMSA GTO car.
Like the roadgoing Nissan 300ZX, the IMSA GTO-class 300ZX has a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6. Unlike the road car, the IMSA GTO 300ZX pumps out over 700 horsepower. That race-tuned engine mates up to a five-speed manual transmission with a quick-change rear end housing specially designed to make it in and out of the service bay as quickly as possible by Clayton Cunningham Racing. It also kept the iconic red, white and blue Nissan livery from the era that we know and love.
This is an endurance racer, so there are working headlights and taillights. Surprisingly, Stratas Auctions claims that the car has never been crashed.
This particular IMSA GTO 300ZX is race-winning chassis No. 002. Per the auction listing, Nissan started running its then-new Z32-generation 300ZX in IMSA’s GTO class in 1989, and chassis No. 002 was part of that first season.
Clayton Cunningham Racing built seven of these factory-backed 300ZX race cars for enduance racing between 1989 and 1995, and they proved to be extremely successful race cars. These 300ZX race cars won the 1994 24 Hours of Daytona overall, won its class at the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans, and won IMSA Manufacturer’s and Driver’s championships in 1992 and 1994. (Man, remember when Nissan actually did well at Le Mans? Good times, good times.)
Chassis No. 002 was no exception to this streak of domination. Cunningham Racing took No. 002 to seven top-five finishes in its debut year. Nissan’s most successful driver at the time, John Morton, got its best result in 1989: a third place at Mid-Ohio.
That wasn’t good enough, though, as the 300ZX IMSA car suffered from some debut-season struggles with brake cooling and high-speed stability. In 1990, chassis No. 002’s chassis and wheelbase were extended to look more like the 2+2 300ZX, which fixed the stability issue. The team also upgraded to a watercooled brake system that helped prevent brake fade that same year.
Another one of Nissan’s most successful hotshoes, Steve Millen, drove it to its first victory at Mosport in 1990. Steve Millen’s and Johnny O’Connell’s names are still on the car. In total, this car got 16 top-three finishes and four race winds in the 45 races it competed in between 1989 and 1992.
After it was done racing, Cunningham Racing modified chassis No. 002 to accommodate a seat and racing harness on the passenger side for ride-alongs. You could, in theory, bring this to a track day and throw an instructor in the passenger seat, but maybe you should get solo-drive-approved before you take on this beast. (Definitely get some seat time in a less powerful car first.)
The best part is that this is ready to race as-is. The owner who bought it from Cunningham Racing kept its original appearance and components intact and campaigned it in vintage racing. The next owner (and current seller) continued racing it. RM Motorsports did a full mechanical restoration to get it back in optimum racing condition, and Roush Performance rebuilt both the engine in the car as well as its spare engine. The engine currently in the car only has six hours of use on it.
Recently, the car won vintage races at the 2019 Long Beach Grand Prix and 2019 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
The small list of recent upgrades include updated Garrett turbos, modern gasket material to better handle the heat and pressure of those updated turbos, a down-tube by the A-pillar to shore up the strength of the car’s roll cage. Naturally, the safety equipment that expires with time such as the five-point racing harnesses and racing seat have been updated to the present-day spec in order to keep passing technical inspections for race use. There’s now a MoTec digital dash display to compliment the car’s AutoMeter gauges. Otherwise, the car stayed pretty close to its original, as-raced condition.