Classic Car Capital
1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO

Winning 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO Set For Auction

1989 was a great year for Nissan. It was the year that they won at the 12 hours of Sebring, two class championships in IMSA, and a Japanese Touring Car Championship. It was the year that Nissan was making its name in the international racing circuit. This 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO being offered by Stratas Auctions also shared in the success. Under Clayton Cunningham Racing, the 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo went on to have an unbelievable seven top-five finishes in 1989, which included a third-place win at Mid-Ohio with John Morton behind the wheel. 

Sports Car International

From 1989 to 1995, Clayton Cunningham racing had seven factory-supported Nissan 300ZX race cars built to compete in the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) racing series. Of the seven that were created, the 300ZX proved itself to a success as it won the Manufacturer’s and Driver’s Championships in 1992. In 1994, it did not only repeat the Manufacturer’s and Driver’s Championship, but it also won the Daytona 24 Hours, and also a first in Class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  

The Cunningham Racing team poses before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1994.
The Cunningham Racing team poses before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1994. Source: Nissan
1994 Daytona 24 Hours Winner
1994 Daytona 24 Hours Winner, Nissan 300ZX Turbo – Driven by Americans Paul Gentilozzi, Scott Pruett, Butch Leitzinger and New Zealander Steve Millen, the No. 76 Nissan 300ZX-Turbo was steady throughout the 1994 race covering 707 laps and averaging 104.80 mph (168.66 km/h). Entered as a partnership between Gentilozzi and Clayton Cunningham, the Nissan 300ZX-Turbo scored the first overall win in the Rolex 24 for a GT car since 1983, and the first win for a front-engine car since 1976.

Upgrades to the 330ZX

In 1989, with the popular Nissan driver John Morton behind the wheel, Clayton Cunningham campaigned chassis #002. Unfortunately, the first model of the 300ZX Turbo GTO cars had some early development issues such as stability at high speeds and insufficient cooling capabilities of the braking system. At the conclusion of the 1989 season, the highlight was securing third-place at Mid-Ohio. 

Front of 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO
1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO

For 1990, several upgrades were performed on chassis #002, one of which included a chassis and wheelbase extension, running an updated 2+2 configuration. A custom fabricated water-cooled brake system that helped prevent the brakes from fading throughout the race was also added.? 

With a longer wheelbase, refined chassis, and updated braking system, Cunningham Racing had created a fierce competitor. The newly updated 300ZX lead to the car’s first victory at Mosport with Steve Millen behind the wheel. During the period of 1990-92, Chassis 002 would go on to have further success, logging a total of four race wins that included Mosport and Road America driven by Steve Millen, and Mid-Ohio and Mosport driven by Jeremy Dale, as well as 16 top-three finishes over its 45-start career. 

After its competitive career was completed in 1992, the car was fitted with a passenger seat to provide an on-track experience to customers, remaining under the ownership of Cunningham Racing. Chassis 002 is the only car of the series to have chassis modifications to accommodate a passenger seat and safety harness, making the car immediately recognizable amongst the cars. 

From Clayton Cunningham, this 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO was sold to the late Toby Bean. When acquired by Bean, the car was acquired in as-raced condition, maintaining its original appearance and componentry. Under the care of Bean, the car would be regularly exhibited at vintage racing events and maintained in race-ready condition. Owned until his passing in 2017, the 300ZX was purchased from the Bean estate by today’s owner.

RM Motorsports in Wixom, Michigan, has restored the racer to full mechanical operation for competitive use. Roush Performance have rebuilt the engine and spare powerplant as part of the preparation for track use. In 2019, Chassis #002 went on to win the Long Beach Grand Prix and Rolex Motorsports Reunion

Victory at 2019 Long Beach Grand Prix
Victory at 2019 Long Beach Grand Prix. Source: Super Street Online

While many configurations of the 300ZX engines and chassis were used from 1989 through 1992, this particular example sports an all-aluminum, twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC V6 engine paired with a Cunningham Racing five-speed gearbox with Hewland VGC internals and a Cunningham Racing quick change rear end housing with Hewland VGC internals. The early cars were equipped with a 5-speed transmission while the later chassis were fitted with transaxles. 

side profile of Winning 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO

Still sporting its red, white and blue Nissan livery, this vintage racer cuts an impressive figure. It has never been crashed and never fully restored. The mechanicals have been changed, and the original “fire gaskets” have been replaced with updated versions that can withstand the temperature and pressure of the turbochargers.

The Garrett turbochargers were replaced with modern examples; however, the originals will be included in the sale as spares. Additionally, a down tube has also been added to the frame near the A-pillar to increase strength and safety for modern use.

With these minor updates, this 300ZX race car remains very close in originality and specification to how it was raced in period. In addition to the sale of this extraordinary piece of motorsport history, the seller has agreed to join the car on-track with the engine tuner to assist the new owner with starting, racing, and maintenance. 

As Jeremy Dale summed up the racer back during the 1992 IMSA race at Mosport:

“A twin-turbo V6, horsepower upwards of 700, brakes bigger than a serving plate and tires sticky enough to peel paint off a wall. This is not your average Nissan.” 

Exterior of the 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO

Having been recently been repainted in 2018, the body of this Nissan 300ZX Turbo shows very well with only minor signs of track use on the nose of the car, in line with its recent vintage racing use.? 

alloy covers
rear of Nissan
Window of Nissan
Tyre of 1989 Nissan 300ZX

The nose has been fitted with small headlights for nighttime use, currently protected by alloy covers. The original 17-inch BBS wheels have been replaced with an 18-inch version in order to keep up with current racing tire availability. With the sale also comes a spare set of wheels 

Interior 

A quick look inside and you will see that this car is setup for nothing other than racing. The inside sports a race seat and a five-point Sabelt harness surrounded by a full racing cage. Of the group, chassis #002 is the only car with an updated frame to accommodate a passenger seat and safety harness. 

Cockpit
Drivers position
passenger side of Nissan

The cockpit is in good shape. It has never had any restoration done to the dash, but it has always been maintained in full driving condition. The dash has Auto Meter gauges to help the driver monitor the whole car during a race. A MoTec digital dash display was also mounted to the steering column.  

There are a few minor scuffs on the carbon fiber floor and transmission tunnel, but this is a 30 year old race car that has seen it fair share of track time. Please note, as with any race car, you will need to replace the five-point harnesses and other safety equipment on a regular basis in order to pass a race track technical inspection.? 

Engine and Drivetrain 

The 3 Liter twin turbo V6 currently fitted in the car has just 6 hours on the clock since a fresh rebuild by Roush Performance. Included in the sale is a freshly built spare engine, also completed by Roush, only having dyno tuning and break in time.? 

Engine of 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO
Side profile of engine

The early 300ZX GTO cars were fitted with a 5-speed manual transmission, which differed from late cars which were fitted with a transaxle. The transmission and quick-change reared housings are Cunningham Racing designs while the internals were by Hewland VGC. 

Viewing? the 1989 Nissan 300ZX Turbo IMSA GTO

This 300ZX Turbo is currently available for viewing at The Motoring Club in Marina Del Rey, California. Interested parties can arrange a viewing appointment through the “Schedule a Viewing” prompt on the listing at Stratas Auctions. The auction is currently running and will end on the 16th October.

[Source: Stratas Auctions]