If you grew up in the late 80s or early 90s like myself and had either a self-discovered or family member influenced interest in motorsport from a young age, you’ll need no introduction to the Super Touring era of the BTCC and, in particular, the later generation of cars that competed towards the end of the decade. You’ll more than likely have a favourite car that sticks in your mind from playing TOCA games on Playstation back in the day; perhaps it was the green & gold Nescafe-liveried Renault Lagunas, the silver & blue Volvo S40s or the red and white Vauxhall Vectras. For me though, the Vodafone-liveried Nissan Primera was always my favourite and I don’t really know why.
In all honesty, super high-end motorsport doesn’t really interest me; purpose built cars designed from the ground up such as F1 cars and other open wheelers don’t get me excited. Conversely, common and mundane cars completely transformed to suit their new purpose in life while still remaining recognisable and true to their humble beginnings really get me going. Whether it’s drifting, rallying or touring car racing, race cars that started life as a factory shell and were subsequently chopped, changed and fine tuned to suit their environment are relevant to my interests.
While modern day competition drifting features some of the more extreme modifications being performed to factory cars (tubular front and rear structures, steering angle kits, huge bodykits and overfenders etc.), back in the late 90s it was the BTCC that was leading the way when it came to completely overhauling and reimagining otherwise normal cars for circuit use.
In the beginning, super touring cars were almost basic in comparison to the cars that emerged a few years down the line. 18″ wheels, factory body work with no aerodynamic aids, a relatively normal seating position and power outputs around the 285bhp mark with 2.0 litre engines mounted pretty much in same positions that were originally allocated to them, these cars were almost relatively achievable in comparison to the machines of later years.
Come the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons however and things had completely changed. 19″ wheels were the norm, drivers were seated almost central and as far back as possible, front and rear aerodynamic aids were the norm and over 300bhp was being extracted from the 2.0 litre lumps that bore next to no resemblance to their factory counterparts, in either their construction or mounting location.
At last year’s Gold Cup at Oulton Park I got the chance to bury my head into some of these later era Primeras, starting with the facelifted model that you see here. I can’t remember ever seeing one of these run by the Nissan factory team (only by independant driver Matt Neal in 2000) so I’m not 100% sure of the car’s heritage but, most importantly, it was built in the exact same way as the more commonly known pre-facelift models.
In the engine bay, you can see just how low and far back the SR20 sits. These were reportedly built using a GTI-R block with a transversely mounted SR20DE head. I’m sure there were many performance benefits for this but the most obvious is that cold air hitting the front of the car can instantly enter the throttle bodies, whereas the exhaust manifold simply has to exit the rear of the engine rather than go under/around it like it did on earlier Primera touring cars.
The fabricated tubs to accommodate the 19s are huge, while custom strut tops and a triangulated strut brace have also been incorporated.
Despite the cars of this era weighing just shy of 1000kg, they still ran stock metal bonnets and doors (probably a good thing considering the amount of door bashing and bumper bumping that was commonplace in races). I really liked this simple yet effective bonnet strut solution using spherical bearings at either end.
On the passenger side of the engine bay you can see the dry sump tank mounted to the strut brace.
This is linked to an oil cooler, enclosed in a neat carbon fibre duct that directs air straight to the core. Considering that most of us just mount our oil coolers somewhere safe and forget about them, I found this to be a really cool idea to mount the core somewhere far away from the action and yet still ensure it receives maximum airflow. I’m sure this is commonplace in more serious motorsport but it’s something new to me (who is more familiar with drift cars) anyway.
Due to the engine’s super low and far back positioning, there was no space left for the steering column to follow its original trajectory. Much like other touring cars of this era, the Primera used a 90deg transfer setup to connect the column to the rack.
To me it looks like it shouldn’t really work on a car that takes a lot of stress and impacts through its front wheels but, of course, the engineers at the time definitely new best as it was a proven solution employed by many teams.
In the above photo you can see the lowest point of the engine/gearbox arrangement, along with the flat floor/skidplate, the rearmost part of one of the front tubs and what looks to be the front anti-roll bar.
Viewed from further back, you can see just how much room the 19″ Rays Volk Fortessts require within the arch well, so it’s no wonder that tubbing was required at the front, top and rear of the factory inner arches. in the mid to late 90s the teams seemed to use OEM style front wings that resulted in tucked front rims and supremely limited steering lock (see here) but, in the 1999 and 2000 seasons, competitors appeared to use radiused front wings instead like in the above photo (perhaps to try and gain some additional steering lock?). It didn’t look as cool but was presumably much more practical.
A very posh gazebo tie down weight.
I’d love to know how many doors some of the leading teams got through in a season. Rubbing is racing is the saying I guess and the same effect wouldn’t have been achieved if everyone was running carbon fibre doors that might have splintered on impact.
The fabrication work continued in the boot too, with custom strut tops, triangulated strut brace and tunnel for the tucked exhaust system to run through the spare wheel well.
While I much prefer the look of the pre-facelift car (below) to the facelift model (above), the engineering work on both is simply too interesting to ignore.
If I remember rightly from my research at the time, the above pre-facelift car is Anthony Reid’s 1998 car that secured the most wins during that season in which Nissan took home the Manufacturers and Team trophies.
A short distance away in the pits was this earlier P10 model, running 19″ Dymag wheels. I’m not too sure on the heritage of this car (edit: after some research I’ve found that this car was a development 4WD model that Nissan were testing but was pulled as it didn’t work out, so this is apparently the only Nissan Motorsport Europe race-prepared 4WD example in the world) but P10s only ever competed in the BTCC on 19″ wheels in 1996 when they were run by a semi-works team before the Nissan factory arrived in 1997 with the P11s.
Not many people know that Nissan manufactured a 4WD version of the P10 which featured different suspension geometry. While the lower suspension arms simply bolt to the underside of the shell on a FWD model, the 4WD variants had a rear subframe setup with different geometry. While the design is still nothing like what you’d find on a Nissan S or R-body, this suspension arrangement was supposedly preferential for track use when compared to the more commonly found design.
Nissan moved from the MacPherson strut rear setup on the P10 to using a rear beam on the P11, presumably for cost purposes. However, it was commonly reported that the P11 BTCC cars continued to use this 4WD rear suspension arrangement which presumably resulted in some controversy in the pits at the time.
I’m just in the process of fitting coilovers and 16s to my own P10 Primera but, every time I look at these photos, I know I’ll have to take the plunge and go with 18s or 19s some day. I just wish I had more knowledge as to what work was done to the front and rear suspension design in order to get them to work like this.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I apologise if you only come here for drift-related content. I’ll have some more good stuff for you guys soon, don’t panic…!