AutoArt 1:18 1997 Nissan R390 #23- Calsonic Xanavi- Le Mans
This model sold out at most places nearly as fast as the real car negotiated the Mulsanne straight. Easy to see why.
Review by Rusty Hurley
Rules, rules, rules. Racers and their fans generally decry them. They limit innovation and stifle creativity. It can result in dull spec racing that has all the drama of a box of Nilla wafers.
Except when rules do the opposite. When necessity is the mother of invention and a loophole creates a new paradigm. Such rule changes in racing history resulted in the creation of legendary cars such as the Ferrari F2 or innovations such as the F-duct and Diffuser controversies of modern F1 racing.
In the mid-1990ís such a loophole existed in the ACO GT1 class rules and for a few short years some of the more memorable cars of recent Le Mans history were born: the Mercedes CLK GTR-1 of ďbye-bye Ludwig" infamy, the dominant Porsche 911 GT1 and the Mclaren F1. Nissanís Nismo performance division joined the fray with the Nissan R390 GT1. These cars had more to do with a prototype approach then true homologation; only two road-going Nissan R390 GT1ís were made. One belongs to Nissan, the other to some undisclosed collector. So you can put your checkbook away.
The R390 GT1ís development story has a strong English accent to it: Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), architect of thee Aston Martin DB7 and Jaguar XJR-9 and XJR-15 (which the Nissan R390 GT1 closely resembles) designed the car with the engine coming from the legendary R89C prototype and re-designated the VRH35L (rolls right off the tongue - doesnít it?). Call it what you want, it developed 640 bhp.
Entered in the 1997 24 hours of Le Mans, the R390 GT1 cadre had severe gearbox issues due to last minute modifications to the rear of the car to account for the luggage compartment requirement. Out of four starters only one survived: the #23 modeled here by AUTO art - and it needed three complete gearbox changes. In 1998 it did much better, placing four finishers in the top ten including a third place podium finish.
For our friends at AUTO art this model represents a recent, continuing flight to quality; whereas a few years ago AUTO art seemed to be down-marketing product through their sealed model line, they now seem just as motivated to up-market through their Signature line, increasing the details and aspiring to an Exoto/CMC level and charging accordingly. In terms of race cars, they really hit that level just once before, that being their amazing rendition of the Mazda 787B which represented one of the great models of the hobby in the 2000ís.
Is this Nissan as good as that model or even better? Can it compete in the rarified air of the hyper-modelers?
In the packaging department, AUTO art Signature line models come in a heavy plastic sleeve surrounding a dark grey art board box with silver embossed lettering. The box opens to a styrofoam coffin with the front and rear bonnet packaged individually and a separate, numbered certificate of authenticity. Undo the set screws and the model comes out in spectacular fashion - I say this because since the bonnets are separate component pieces, you open the box and are presented immediately by this incredibly articulated engine.
The model has 638 parts and at first glance you would think they are all in this masterpiece of a power plant The metal content is astounding from piping, small clamps even the tiny purple metal ties. Other materials are of similar replica quality and feel; witness the radiators with their photo-etched surfaces and black metal harnesses. The color coded wiring is vivid. There are even foil wrapped tubes. Where there is a need to use plastics, it well crafted whether it be the faux carbon fiber valve covers to anodized pipe fittings. Flash and visible seams on plastics are minimized.
The doors open and shut with a solid ďthunkĒ and interior detail is decorated at the level you would expect, keeping in mind that the inside of any real racer is little more than an exercise in safety and weight reduction. Given that itís primarily black doesnít make it any easier to appreciate the visible details. The steering is functional, though balky. Better engineered is the suspension, replicated with precision both front and back; it not only moves but does so independently. Wheels, tires and brakes are replicated at the typical AUTO art level but we were hoping for more at this price point like removable wheels and branded tires.
AUTO artís finishes are always top notch and the execution here is at the expected high level; the black/red paint fade is elegant while the markings are flawless tampos. As with most Le Mans models, the chassis is one big plate with a rear diffuser. The front and rear bonnetís attach with spring-loaded locks for a nice tight fit. There are at least 80 rivets modeled here, among the most amazing the constellation of them around the 300Z inspired headlights.
So, bottom line: Itís not quite at a CMC/Exoto level: it lacks some of the accoutrements (letís start with a cleaning cloth and/or a thumbnail tool) and the wheels/tires and brakes need to graduate to another level.
Yet, overall, the model is a knockout.
There is enough richness in detail that it will keep any collector happy. There is a lot of usable articulation and the model never feels fragile. For me, it took a few days before I even put on the bonnets, so va-va-va-voom is the big beefy engine. I canít stop looking at it...and I bet you wonít either.
Be sure to also check out the Nissan R390 GT1 1997 Le Mans Test Car.