The cars we loved.
The age of the modern supercar has been with us for at least 30 years now. Many of the innovations from these cars have filtered down to pedestrian forms of transportation like the Accord, Focus and Elantra. This trickle-down effect has become the norm in an industry that has looked to racing and sometimes science fiction for inspiration for it’s technical advances. In the 80’s, the still new supercar movement came directly from racing with cars like the Porsche’s 959 and Ferrari’s F40 capturing the public’s imagination.
While Europe was rolling out high dollar concepts with striking designs, Japan was readying it’s own standard bearers. In taking cues from the electronics industry, car companies presented a long list of technical acronyms that seemed more Gundam inspired than by the racetracks of the Japanese or European circuit. Nissan, long known for it’s modest sporty cars, would change the face of Japanese performance car engineering with a high-tech rolling laboratory called the MID4 (Mid-Engine Four Wheel Drive). The MID4 contained many of the evolving technologies of the 80’s. They were all neatly showcased in one concept/prototype that would find their way into future Nissans.
Although the MID4 appeared to most as a concept car, it was influential working and evolving test bed for Nissan. The first car, shown at the 1985 Frankfort Motor Show combined styling cues from the Ferrari Testarossa and the Lotus Esprit with Nissan’s own. In pearl white, the look was not as attractive or aggressive as its influences and managed to look almost reserved, in much the same way the Honda NSX of a few years later. Another prototype was built-in red, looking more like a direct competitor to Ferrari.
The MID4 was an all-out sports car, but used a DOHC version of the single camed V6 engine found in the Fairlady/300ZX. The 3.0 litre engine placed just behind the passenger compartment produced 245 hp. An all-wheel drive system, developed by a European company, had a 33/67 rear wheel bias, giving the MID4 all the benefits of rear wheel performance plus the added traction and control that comes with all wheels spinning. In addition to all wheels getting power, they also steered thanks to HICAS, the first use of four-wheel steering in a Nissan. The suspension was ride adjustable, fully independent double wishbone up front with a four link strut system in back. The disc breaks at each wheel was augmented by ABS.
A second prototype was developed and shown in 1988 at the Tokyo Motor Show. The new car called MID4 II had more streamlined styling that looked production ready next to the previous concept. The new car was seen testing in the US, leading to speculation that it could be produced and exported. Styling was reminiscent of the 240SX in the rear with buttress style “C” pillars looking very Ferrari like. The refined looked could have easily slipped in at the top of the Nissan lineup or as a future Infiniti flagship. The revised look again was neither aggressive nor overtly conservative, but lacked the visual oomph of a Ferrari. Honda managed a similar trick with the NSX by making an exotic supercar seem as user-friendly as an everyday appliance. Call it Japanese modesty, but the MID4 II was more capable than it looked. Only 3 were produced, all with a five speed manual transmission and left hand drive.
Although most modest appliances can’t reach 155 mph, the MID4 II was developed in the hope of making its many advance technologies appliance-like in their dependability and performance. The real news with the MID4 II was under the hood. Twin turbocharging had boosted the V6 to 300 hp. Nissan looked to have a real Porsche killer on its hands.
Despite having nearly every gadget on board, the MID4 II weighed just 2,700 lb. That was considerably less that the Porsche 959, a car it was compared to often. It’s top speed of 155 mph and 0 to 60 times were no match for the 220 mph Porsche. Given Porsche’s 80’s era track record for dependability vs. Nissan’s, the MID4 would have been more dependable and less fussy had it made it into production. The MID4 also would have cost less than the Porsche, but Nissan still considered it too costly to produce. Even as plans were made to retire the MID4 II from the show car circuit, Nissan was said to be considering it’s next supercar, using an Infiniti sourced V8.
Like the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause, the MID4 project delivered a host of goodies to other Nissans. The four-wheel steering went to the Skyline, Bluebird and Cefiro while some of its looks rubbed off on the redesigned 1986 300ZX. More importantly, the performance potential of the all-wheel drive system was demonstrated in the R32 Skyline, making it Nissan’s effective supercar overnight. The MID4 proved that Nissan could mix it up with the best of them and that its future products would benefit from technology that would be as reliable as it was effective.