During 1997 and 1998, the Nissan R390 GT1 was produced by Nissan as a racing car to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car was designed to comply with the grand tourer style rules that required a homologated road version as well. Nissan produced only two road versions of R390 of which one is kept at Nissan’s Zama facility.
Once Nismo (Nissan MotorSport division) returned to sports car racing, they bagged some good number of victories with Skyline GT-R LMs that had already participated in the GT1 class. Nonetheless, these vehicles were rapidly overtaken by the arrival of the new automakers who were exploiting the loopholes in the GT regulations to manufacture racing vehicles similar to the GT1 class contenders. The resulting vehicles were the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, Porsche 911 GT1 and the McLaren F1 GTR. Hence, Nismo felt the need of replacing their Skyline GT-Rs with something strong and powerful.
Finally, Nismo decided to build the R380 GT1 in collaboration with the Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). As for name, Nismo kept the traditions alive that were began with 1960 Nissan R380. The major concern for both Nismo and TWR was the selection of engine. In Skyline GT-R LMs, Nismo used the much relied RB26DETT inline-6 motor, though its design was outdated for a racing car with an iron block. So, Nismo decided to use the engine from the Nissan R89C, a racing car from Group C era equipped with VRH35Z, 3.5-L V8 engine with an aluminum block. The engine featured a lower center of gravity. The engine was primarily modified and altered for the R390 GT1 and given the name VRH35L with an output of 641 hp (478 kW) at 6800 rpm.
Two experts from Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), i.e. Ian Callum and Tony Southgate, were assigned the duty to lead the team of professionals so as to work on car’s styling as well as mechanical and aerodynamic design. Ian Callum was responsible for styling, while Tony Southgate was responsible for mechanical and aerodynamic design of the car. Southgate was also the designer of the Jaguar XJR-9 performed so well in the Le Mans. The R390 GT1 is in close resemblance with the Jaguar XJR-15, another masterpiece of TWR which was based on Jaguar XJR-9. The R390 GT1 was developed in a very short period of time perhaps because they had to develop the production version as well to comply with production regulations. Only two road-versions of R390 were produced of which one is kept at the Nissan’s Zama, Kanagawa facility, while the second was purchased at an auction by an unknown wealthy enthusiast of Nissan.
In 1998, the R390 received some modifications such as its rear bodywork was extended to offer more luggage space so as to fulfill ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) regulations because already three vehicles failed scrutinizing at the 1997 event due to the short rear bodywork that raised over-heating issues for gearbox. Hence, vehicles with long tail were introduced which offered an enhanced downforce.