Japan’s first proper ‘Supercar’, born 1978…
It was a prototype sportscar from DOME Co. Ltd that was exhibited at the 48th Geneva International Auto Show. The ‘Dome Project’, started by Minoru Hayashi in 1975, had the goal of producing small volume sports cars using knowledge gained from his racing exploits. The Dome Zero was the first of such low volume sportscars, and after failed attempts at getting Japanese domestic homologation due to ‘bureaucratic barriers’, their efforts were concentrated on overseas homologation. The project would never be completed…
The story of the Zero is one of bad timing, and although the Zero was the dream car of Mr Hayashi from the very beginning, an equal love of competitive racing would see to it that the Zero road car was put on the back burner indefinitely. The initial design of the Zero started in 1976 with most of the work done on the prototype done by the end of the following year. It was at this time that Hayashi first had the idea to compete at Le Mans, a prospect that had full support from his employees. Getting funds to be able to compete at Le Mans became a top priority, and being able to sell some low volume sportscars would help as well. The Dome Zero prototype was completed in time for the 48th Geneva Auto Show in ’78 where it was the hit of the show and had received a lot of attention from various investors and interested buyers. But this is where things got difficult. As mentioned earlier, Japanese homologation was discouraged. This led to more energy being committed to a second prototype road car and the Le Mans endeavour, which began the following year from 1979 until 1986.
It’s not entirely clear exactly why the Dome Zero (structurally) couldn’t get Japanese homologation for such a successful concept car, but what is clear is that homologation rules were very strict at that time in Japan, and Dome hadn’t the funds to go through with the costly homologation procedure – which Japans mainstream auto makers with their giant budgets had no trouble doing. This led to the development of the Dome Zero P2, a car made specifically for the international market.
The Dome Zero P2
The P2 had unsightly large front and rear bumpers added (for the US market) and various other structural strengthening. Even so, the car was shown in Chicago and Los Angeles in 1979 and received rave reviews from the US ‘Road and Track’ magazine. It was at this point, Hayashi realized a high profile could be achieved by making a Dome Zero racing car dubbed the ‘RL’. The RL was raced at Le Mans in ’79 but did not finish, and only managed a last place finish in 1980. It was at this time that Dome dropped the Zero road and race car projects altogether and continued contesting Le Mans with other cars until 1986.
The Dome Zero RL
The Dome Zero wasn’t really a supercar by todays standards, but for Japanese privateer car makers at the time, it was an incredible step forward. It was by no means powerful with it’s 2.8L L28 SOHC inline six cylinder engine producing 145ps (105kw), but it only had to propel a 920kg chassis. The exterior and interior styling was sensational for 1978, the wedge styling looking like a cross between a Lancia Stratos and a futuristic Lamborghini Countach… if you can imagine that.
The Dome Zero P2 was to sell for around 4,000,000 yen (A$45,631)
Name: Dome Zero
Chassis: – (mid engine rear wheel drive)
Power: 145ps (105kw)
Drive: Rear wheels
Brakes: Ventilated disks/solid disks
Suspension: Double wishbone/coils
Tire: 185/60/VR13 Front, 255/55/VR14 Rear
Text: Justin Karow
Photos: J’s Tipo, Koji Kuwamoto, Nostalgic Hero