In this exclusive series, we meet some of the world's greatest skunkworks cars – the backroom projects that you'll never see in a showroom nor likely be able to drive. Here we bring you the stories of how they were created, starting with the fearsome Nissan Micra 350SR...
Think of a vehicle to use as the base for a mid-engined supercar and it's fair to say the Nissan Micra wouldn't usually spring to mind.
It's been around for 30 years now and with its nondescript looks, dependable mechanicals and comfortable seats, the Micra has been the darling of more, how shall we put this, mature types.
But that wasn't the case in 2005. Nissan GB wanted to show its oh-so-sensible supermini could have a wild side and drew up plans to create the Micra 160SR.
That car was a mildly made-over Micra, sporting a 106bhp engine designed to rub shoulders with Fiat's Panda 100HP, but it had a secret up its sleeve. To get the public geed up, Nissan called upon longtime racing partner RML to create a very special one-off Micra – the 350SR.
"We took a Micra shell and ripped everything out," says Michael Mallock, business development manager at RML Group.
Nissan's performance arm, Nismo, helped to tune it and used some high lift cams, a modified ECU and a straight-through exhaust. A six-speed manual gearbox drives the rear wheels – the same wheels and tyres as the 350Z – and the car manages to crack 60mph from rest in under five seconds with a 150mph maximum speed.
"For the suspension, we raided the Nissan parts bin, modifying Almera components to fit and finished it off with racing-spec Brembo brakes," says Mallock.
The project took around five months to complete.
"We're used to working fast at RML and we've done plenty of projects for Nissan. Most of that time was spent refining the design digitally. Actually building the car was the relatively quick bit.
"It's always fun taking delivery of a cooking supermini and then turning it into a racing car for the road. Just going into the workshop every day and seeing the transformation take place was great in itself. The best bit was the day we shoehorned in the monstrous V6 engine - right where the back seats should have been," he added.
"It was great fun to build, but the best bit was developing it. With all that power, not much weight and a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout, it could have been a real handful to drive. I think we managed to make it useable enough for a road car, but still thrilling enough for more capable drivers."
But the 350SR wasn't the only mad Micra Nissan GB built. A couple of years before, Nissan asked RML to build a similar car. But instead of using the tried and tested mechanicals from a 350Z sports car, it raided the parts bin of the touring car contingent.
"The Micra-R was the predecessor to the 350SR which we built in 2003," Mallock recalls.
"It had a detuned 2.0-litre engine sourced from the Nissan Primera British Touring Car which we ran for Nissan in the late-1990s, and a six-speed sequential gearbox.
"While it was certainly manic, it wasn't especially reliable, which is why we went back to the drawing board and fitted the 3.5-litre V6 from the 350Z for the 350SR."
The Micra 350SR project wasn't the last time Nissan and RML would work together. Like many motor industry relationships, the two companies seem to have an eye for great one-offs and know how to make them work properly – both mechanically and as a promotional tool.
"Nissan and RML work very closely on projects," adds Mallock. This relationship goes all the way back to the works Primera BTCC team.
"The Micra 350SR project led directly to the Juke R project, itself an endeavour designed to get buyers used to the idea of a hotter, faster Juke, which became the Juke Nismo.
"More recently, we've split a Leaf in half too! Currently, we're working on the ZEOD RC – Nissan's electric Le Mans racer for 2014 – so you can see our relationship with Nissan encompasses almost everything", he added.
Model: Nissan Micra 350SR
Price: £200,000 (estimated)
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Power: 310bhp, 363 NM
Max speed: 150mph
0-60mph: Sub 5-seconds