MID4: Nissan's Forgotten Attempt to Create A Spectacular 4WD Mid-Engine Sportscar

During the '80s, Nissan was close to introducing a mid-engine 4WD two-seater that would've joined its Z and GT-R-badged siblings on the list of most iconic Japanese sports cars.
Nissan MID4 Type II 12 photos
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
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With the introduction of the S30 Fairlady Z, also marketed as Datsun 240Z outside of Japan, Nissan made a huge leap forward in terms of popularity.

Adequately powered, nimble, well-built, and, most importantly, affordable, the sports car propelled the Japanese manufacturer to new heights.

By the early 1980s, the improved S130 version of the Z was roaming the streets, building on the success of its predecessor by selling like hotcakes.

Still, Nissan didn't rest on its laurels and started developing a modern, completely redesigned version, which debuted in 1984.

During that period, the carmaker considered expanding its sports car lineup by including a two-seat, mid-engine model.

An ambitious project

Nissan MID4 Concept \(Type I\)
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
The idea was to create a more affordable alternative for similar European sports cars like the Lotus Esprit, Lamborghini Jalpa, or the upcoming Ferrari 328 GTB but equip it with state-of-the-art tech.

Therefore, in the early months of 1984, a team of designers and engineers led by Shinichiro Sakurai (the man behind the first seven generations of the Skyline) started work on what was dubbed Japan's most spectacular sports car.

Though it slightly resembled the Z31, particularly when viewed from the front, the resulting two-seater was an impressive showcase of Nissan's technological know-how.

High-tech bonanza

Nissan MID4 Concept \(Type I\)
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
Built around a steel chassis with a fully independent suspension system, the concept car, dubbed MID4, boasted features that made other mid-engine sports cars of the era seem out-of-date.

As the name implies, it used a novel 4WD system that eventually morphed into the famous ATTESSA (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain) of the R32 Skyline GT-R.

In its initial configuration, the system delivered 33% of the torque to the front axle and 67% to the rear, making the MID4 one of the first mid-engine sports cars to utilize 4WD.

Even more impressive, the car used Nissan's state-of-the-art HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering) four-wheel steering system.

This advanced tech allowed the rear wheels to turn up to 0.5 degrees in either the same or opposite direction as the front wheels (depending on the speed), dramatically improving stability and handling.

In addition, the MID4 was also equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with ventilated discs behind all four 15-inch alloy wheels.

A potent six-cylinder mounted in the middle

Nissan MID4 Concept \(Type I\)
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
Apart from the cutting-edge technologies, the MID4's highlighting feature was, of course, its mid-mounted engine.

Placed transversely behind the passenger compartment, the unit in question was the latest iteration of Nissan's V6 engine family, codenamed VG.

Displacing 3.0 liters and mated to a five-speed manual, the naturally aspirated VG30DE was built around a sturdy cast iron block paired with two advanced DOHC aluminum cylinder heads.

It boasted mechanically timed electronic ignition, electronic multi-point fuel injection, and variable timing for the intake camshafts.

Adequate power combined with unparalleled handling

Nissan MID4 Concept \(Type I\)
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
In terms of power, the engine was rated at a healthy 242 hp. That figure didn't turn the MID4 into a supercar but was on par with what the V8s of the Lamborghini Jalpa or Ferrari 328 GTB could offer.

With a curb weight of 2,712 pounds (1,230 kg), the mid-engine sports car could sprint to 60 mph (97 kph) in 5.5 seconds and reach an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph (249 kph).

Moreover, thanks to the suspension setup, as well as the 4WD and four-wheel steering systems, the MID4 reportedly handled impeccably.

Add to that a near-flawless weight distribution obtained from mounting the engine in the middle, and you got one of the most exciting sports cars of the 1980s.

Morphing into an even better concept

Nissan MID4 Concept \(Type II\)
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
The original design spawned several prototypes, two of which were production-ready versions unveiled at the Frankfurt and Tokyo motor shows in 1985.

Though the MID4 was met with a warm reaction from the public and automotive press, Nissan postponed a production run, citing that, by the time it would be ready for mass production, the model would be deemed outdated.

Still, the company didn't give up on the project and redesigned the entire car in time for the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show.

The stunning new version (Type II), boasted a completely new, more modern bodywork. It also received a new twin-turbocharged V6 rated at 325 hp.

The 4WD, suspension, and steering systems were also improved, resulting in a mid-engine sports car that looked more modern than its predecessor and performed significantly better.

It's innovative tech helped make the modern GT-R an icon

Nissan MID4 Concept \(Type II\)
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
Sadly, when Nissan was ready to produce its mid-engine sports car, bookkeepers realized that the production costs would translate into a high sticker price.

By then, the market for expensive sports cars was beginning to dwindle, so, as making it affordable was impossible, Nissan decided to cancel the MID4 project.

Had either iteration of the MID4 made it into production, it would have become Japan's first mass-produced, mid-engine sports car, one of the most impressive sports cars of the 20th century.

Instead, those titles went to rivals Honda, who introduced the legendary NSX in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show.

Nevertheless, the 4WD and four-wheel steering systems pioneered by the two series of MID4 concepts found their way into the revived Skyline GT-R and helped the model become an automotive icon.

For a virtual walkaround of these two amazing concepts, we recommend the YouTube video below by Cars and...

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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