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June 16th, 2017

The engine that powered the ultra rare Nissan R390 GT1 in 1997 is the granddad of every McLaren Twin-Turbo V8 since 2011, talk about special genes!

The world automotive industry is full of surprises that never seize to amaze. Almost like a thriller novel, there is always something intriguing going on under the layers. Speaking of which, next time when you meet a bloke at a bar (or a café, I am not a judgmental kind) bragging about his McLaren and how it effectively thrashes the competition by its performance, you should congratulate him by saying, “Well mate, your Nissan sounds impressive”… Why you would say something like that, you’d ask. Well, to start off, it’s the truth, that’s why, almost. The thing is, I came across a rather interesting fact about the origins of the brilliant McLaren engines that power their range of cars. In this story, Japanese maker Nissan happens to be the godfather of every visceral sensation that we know a McLaren for. To be precise, the granddad was known as Nissan VRH35L.

McLaren MP4-12C Engine

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Around 20 years ago, when yours truly used to ogle at a Ducati 916 poster, (also, Kate Winslet), the blokes at Nissan were doing more relevant stuff by finishing the final iteration of the twin-turbo 3.5-litre aluminium V8 engine. This was destined to power the outright bonkers GT1 category endurance Nissan race car for Le Mans, the R390 GT1. The 1997 R390 GT1 was a super special and sadly now buried in past Nissan race car that is said to be only one of its kind ever built (in street legal trim). The engine, VRH35L was a result of collaboration between the might of Nissan with none other than the amazing TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing), the very same guys who aided Jaguar’s Return to victory at the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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Build to last the excruciating pressures of an endurance race while performing at insane performance levels, the engine weighed just 170kg including auxiliary components such as those massive twin-turbos. Back in the day, this monster unleashed 640 fairly mad horses and upwards of 520 lb-ft (705Nm) of torque meant sheer insanity. If that seems a little too much to you, then in the street trim Nissan killed just enough horses to adhere to the homologation rules (550 bhp). That said, Nissan could never won at the Le Mans through 1997, 1998 and 1999. Eventually, the project saw a dead end and the R390 GT1 was sent to the shadows.

Nissan R390 GT1

Nissan R390 GT1 Road Car

Gladly though, the VRH35L survived to see a reincarnation when McLaren took the rights from TWR. Along with their collaboration with Ricardo, McLaren transformed it into what we know as the M838T. This engine was to power the 2011 MP4-12C and since then it has been a regular unit of choice in the likes of the 720S and even the mighty P1 (upgraded and worked upon). In its present form, this engine that basically started its life way back in 1989, makes a staggering 710 bhp (M840T). Bravo Nissan, Bravo.

Nissan R390 GT1 Le Mans Prototype

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