Bob Sharp was no newcomer to racing when he started thinking about the Datsun ZX Turbo project. He began racing Austin Healey Sprites and Lotus Seven cars around 1964, then working for Paul Bruck, who was a Rambler-Datsun dealer in Greenwich. He and friend Alan Wiley asked him if they could have a spl-310 tp race in SCCA. After being given a second car by Paul Bruck, he went on to win the SCCA Runoffs at Riverside. When his former boss went bankrupt, he decided to fly by himself. He started his career at Gulf Gas Station, but he had been bitten by the racing bug.
He went and saw Nissan USA East Coast head, and asked him to sponsor a racing team. Mr Kawasoe, who was a racing as well, agreed and that started his career. Bob Sharp began to develpp racing parts while racing.
He then opened a full fledged dealership. He raced Roadsters, but later became the first racer to run a 240Z, and even before the car was in production. He would have to wait, and luck would then knock at his doorstep. A promotional car had been damaged and he could come and fetch it, which he did promptly. While racing by himself until 1975, he then turned up the drivers seat to other drivers. Those were very fast and capable ones. Jim Fitzgerald, Sam Posey, Elliot Forbes Robinson, Brad Frisselle and Paul Newman all did great things driving the #33 Datsun Z cars. Paul Newman had become one of Bob Sharp's favorite drivers, and would do great things with his cars. He would later become one of the first drivers to ever run the new 280ZX. Being successful in both IMSA and SCCA C Production, Bob Sharp had other things in mind, and he would make the big move in 1980. The car would be a true AAGT car, and would be fitted with a V8 powerplant, the one you could find on the Nissan President, which was manufactured in Japan. In fact, the car was not even imported in the US, and Bob Sharp had to use his relations with Dick Roberts, who was Datsun's competition manager, to have one engine in his shop by the end of 1977. The engine was then studied by Gene Crowe, the chief mechanic, who was to modify it accordingly to its future purposes. The car would be a unique design by Trevor Harris who would work on the chassis, body and the suspension. Thanks to his past experience, he would apply his skills to the Datsun ZX Turbo, which would then become the first ground-effect production based racing car. The car would completed in seven months.
Rick Mack, who had worked at Rotomaster, would care about the turbocharger, which was supposed to feed the 4,5L engine. This was supposed to give out around 800 hp. Body molds and pieces were built at MEI, as no part could be taken from any existing model. Peter Slater would oversee the project and supervise the paperwork. Power was fed from the engine through a small flywheel and along a 47 in. driveshaft. The clutch was a triple plate Borg and Beck located in front of the transaxle in a 10 in. bellhousing. The car, which was quite impressive, was stuck to the road via 12 in. tires at the front and 18 in. tires at the rear. It was equipped with Ronal wheels. The car was finished at the beginning of 1980. It had yet to be tested thoroughly. The main problem, which appeared from the beginning, was an excessive overweight. As compared to the Porsche 935s, the car was 450lbs heavier. Many parts, which were not available in Japan or in the US, were specially fabricated by third party subcontractors. But the greatest satisfaction would happen when the car was built. No major problem appeared when the car would be tested for the first time. This would happen at the Stewart Air Force Base. It brought a chill of excitement through everyone's spine. Months of hard work would now come into life. Testing this car was Paul Newman, who christened this moment. The fact that the car ran was already a victory. Then the whole team was headed to Lime Rock, for the true racing test. The car would be tested again by Paul Newman, and Sam Posey. The first real problem about the car was about the water temperature, which had a tendancy to rise up somewhat fast.
After thoroughly testing the car and trying various combinations of setups, the car definitely appeared as something well-born. Thoroughly checked out by Gene Crowe, nothing would break during the testing sessions. It was time for the team to test it against some worthy competition. The first race was scheduled at Elkhart Lake, in September 1980.
The team was ready to race the car, but certainly not ready to win, but Bob Sharp wanted to feel the adrenaline. He also knew that running agaonst worthy competitors would accelerate the development process. The car, which was still under development, would prove unstable on the smooth track. This problem would have to be solved urgently, and Trevor Harris devised a new rear spoiler which would installed prior to the race. The car wiuld qualify in eleventh position, a mere nine seconds off the pace. Not so bad. Sam Posey would take the wheel of the car and start the race. It had rained prior to the race, so the track was wet. While running carefully, Sam Posey discovered that the car was handling badly. But the good news was that it did not occur unless he reached 160mph. The track began to dry and Sam Posey pitted for fresh slick tires and fuel. The car seemed to improve as the race went on, and Sam Posey accelerated the pace. Then things began to turn bad. Fumes began to appear and laps became unconsistent. It was obvious that things were going wrong, then the engine failed on lap thirty eight. Paul Newman did not even take the wheel of the car. The team was not so disappointed, as it was the first time the car had run such a distance. A very small part of the engine had broken, so it could be easily fixed for the next race, which was scheduled for Road Atlanta. It was a very short race, a 100 Miler, and Paul Newman would drive the car solo. The car had been modified aerodynamically, with a new rear deck lid incorporating the rear spoiler. A new exhaust system had been fitted to the car, as well as new rocker arms and revised ducting to the radiators, which should solve the cooling problems. Paul Newman, who had tested the car regularly, was feeling at home at Road Atlanta, and he was getting fast. But obviously not enough, as he would start from the sixteenth position, 2s3 off the pace. The race began obviously in a bad motion, as a roller tappet failed. Paul Newman had to run very smoothly, which he did, but the car developed a water leak, and the race was over after fourteen laps. Great things had to wait once again. The next round for the team was Daytona, Gene Crowe and the whole team knew that the car could really do great things on this particular track. It was the Daytona Finale, and Masahiro Hasemi, the Datsun's factory driver, had been invited by Bob Sharp to share the driving. After doing 208mph on the banking, a figure that bettered the Porsche 935s top speed, the engine dropped a valve. Sam Posey waited for a new, fresh identical engine to be installed, then settled to a qualifying lap. Then it was over. Sam Posey was entering the banking when a tire went flat, and he could manage to save the car. However, the wheel was the problem and things would be fixed later by Ronal, the wheel maker. Checking the engine, Gene Crowe discovered that the valves had suffered during that short run. He calculated that the car would not last very long in the race so the car was withdrawn.
Copyright Jeffrey Payne
The season was over. This first season had allowed the team to gather a huge amount of information in order to improve the car for the next season. The car's main problem was its weight, and no valid solution was in view. Sam Posey would no longer drive the car and Paul Newman would remain the main driver, co-driven by Masahiro Hasemi on some occasions. The car was heavily revised when it entered the 1981 season. A new tail section, new radiators were the major revisions designed to cure the car's main defaults, which were handling and overheating. At Road Atlanta, however, the car would unfortunately be struck by overheating problems. Two engines would blow up in practice. The car would run, but Paul Newman would be running for victory in the race. He ended up tenth overall. At Riverside, Paul Newman was partnered by Masahiro Hasemi. He qualified tenth on the grid. The race again was disappointing, and a pinion gear failed, they lasted twenty three laps. Laguna Seca was another disappointing race for the team with Paul Newman started from the back of the pack, and struggling with his brakes, only to finish sixteenth overall. The remainder of the season could be watched as the car's swansong.
Copyright Van Zannis
Paul Newman wound up an eighth at Sears Point and a sixth place at Portland, his best result ever with the car. The car would reappear later in the season, and then disappeared for real after the Daytona Finale, where it was not entered. An exciting story would just end up by the end of November 1981. The car would never show up anymore. Bob Sharp would concentrate on another project for the next year. It was a turbo version of the GTU Datsun 280ZX. A less radical car, yet very powerful and efficient. It would be entered in the Trans Am and would prove very efficient. Paul Newman would even win his first overall Trans Am race at Brainerd. Just in case, it proved that Bob Sharp and Paul Newman had talent, no one ever contested the fact. The Nissan ZX T could have been a good car. It was perhaps too radical, and came in too late. The factory did not bring any support to the team, so this ambitious project came to an abrupt end. This fantastic car remains some kind of masterpiece, thanks to Bob Sharp. He did great things, and remains one the most renowned team owner ever. Thank you Bob!