Nissan Juke recreated as a dreamy tribute to the firm’s rally winning 240Z
Half a century ago, writes Iain Robertson, Datsun entered the world’s most gruelling off-road rally in a specially modified version of its two-seat coupe 240Z that Nissan is celebrating with a one-off version of the popular British-built Juke SUV model.
Based in the African nation of Kenya, The East African Safari Rally was renowned for raising red dust, for taking high-speed motorsport to the colourful but outlying settlements and for some of the most spectacular displays of competitor car wrecking. Known originally in 1953 as the Coronation Rally, to celebrate the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II, it has been an on-going event for many years, although, now known as the Safari Rally, it has been absent from the World Rally Championship for the past 18 years. It would have been reinstated last year, had the pandemic not taken a hold. It has only recently been held as a round of the world series for a new breed of rally cars.
While it is all-change for Datsun, now better known as Nissan, the spirit of adventure remains strong within the Japanese brand, even though it is still a notional partner in the strategic alliance with Renault, a company possessing its own long history in motorsports at multiple levels. Several top drivers, including the irrepressible Shekha Mehta, usually accompanied by his navigating wife, Yvonne, ground their teeth on Datsun rally cars over the years. In fact, Shekhar won the Safari more frequently than any other competitor. British fans got to see and hear the gloriously gruff, Weberised straight-six on UK-based international events, a factor that made a huge impression in period.
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Nissan’s victory in the East African Rally in the 240Z, Nissan has released some sketches to show what a contemporary Nissan rally car, based on the Juke model, could look like. The company released the evocative shots under the handle of Juke Rally Tribute Concept to coincide with the first day of a new dawn in East Africa and its return after 19 years to the WRC calendar.
The juxtaposition of a mildly modified Juke against the low-line sporting coupe that was 240Z is clear but, then, Nissan has been playing around with Juke in various off-roading roles, as well as allowing Ray Mallock Racing (the company’s former BTCC winning team) to develop an exceptionally rapid and road-going version powered by a full-house GTR-35, bi-turbo V6 engine. The hiked-up, robust and bolstered stance, complete with short frontal and rear overhangs, which endow it naturally with nervous agility and off-road performance potential, lend themselves ideally to a rally tribute, as developed by both BMW Mini and Citroen C3 in the actual WRC.
The enlarged wheelarches accommodate the tailor-made off-road tyres, to make the Juke even more imposing, while the additional, high-intensity lamps mounted on the bonnet and roof edge underscore the Juke’s credentials as a potential competitive off-roader. However, it is all wheels within wheels at Nissan and, while the evocative red and black paint job and the judicious placement of decals on the car’s flanks pay that visual homage to the 1971 240Z that contested the East African Rally, it is worth highlighting that similar styling cues also served as inspiration for the Gripz concept car, which Nissan presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2015. Nissan states that these styling tweaks influenced in turn the redesign of the Mark Two production version, which was introduced in 2019.
Naturally, as part of Nissan’s commitment to the electrification of its range, the Juke Rally Tribute Concept’s powertrain would have to be an electric hybrid type. Had it been a runner, the idea of allowing it greater efficiency, as well as offering additional instant torque to enhance its performance in prevailing conditions would have suited its character admirably.
According to Coralie Musy, vice president, Brand and Customer Experience, Nissan Automotive Europe: “The Rally Tribute Concept celebrates an important moment in Nissan’s heritage, with the participation and victory of the legendary 240Z in the East African Safari Rally of 1971. As well as celebrating that victory, the Juke reflects Nissan’s pioneering history in crossovers, stand-out design ethics and electrified powertrains. We are delighted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the victory of that remarkable achievement with these striking images.
“As it happens,” she continues, “Nissan is currently writing an exciting chapter of its history, as we are in the middle of renewing our range of crossovers in Europe. The replacement of the first generation of the pioneering and unusual Juke occurred in late 2019 and is continuing to prove extremely popular with our customer base. We have also launched recently the third generation of the benchmark and newly electrified Qashqai in Europe, while the rugged X-Trail Crossover will follow in 2022.”
For the record books, the legendary 240Z that took the hard-won victory in early-1970s’ Kenya was driven by the German pairing of Edgar Herrmann, with his navigator Hans Schüller. In fact, the rally was a resounding success for Datsun, as it was, with 240Zs also coming home in second and seventh positions overall. Yet, it was not the first time for the brand, as the victory represented Datsun’s second consecutive win in the hands of the German pairing in the event. In the previous year, they got the win in a Datsun 1600SSS saloon.
The low-slung 240Z, often referred to as a Japanese sporting car inspired by the British Austin-Healey 3000, complete with its tendency to hang out its tail on wet bends, was powered by a 2.4 litre straight six-cylinder engine, which produced a modest 207bhp driving the rear wheels through a 5-speed gearbox. The actual rally-winning car was restored to good order in 2013 and represents an important element of Nissan’s heritage collection, which is housed in Zama, close to Nissan’s global headquarters, in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan. While Nissan used to be more active in motorsport activities, its most recent successes have been in Formula E, where it can demonstrate BEV potency alongside several other car manufacturer entries.