1978 Dome Zero Concept

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Year: 1978
Class: Prototype Sports Car
Type: coupe
Host: GT5
Country: Japan
Price: $449,385
Mileage: 153.7
Construction: fiberglass-reinforced plastic body on steel frame
Length: 156.6" // Width: 69.7" // Height: 38.6"
Wheelbase: 94.5"
Overhang: 5 feet, 2 inches
Track: 55.1" [F] 57.1" [R]Ground Clear: 5.1"
Weight: 2,028 pounds
Layout: Mid Engine / Rear-Drive
Tires: 185/60VR-13 [F] 255/55VR-14 [R]
Suspension: dual wishbones, coils, shocks, anti-roll bar
Brakes: vented discs [F] solid discs [R]
Test car was given no maintenance for all specs & testing below.
Engine: 2.8 liter SOHC inline-6
Aspiration: natural
Fuel system: 3 SO carbs
Valves / Cyl: 2
Bore x Stroke: 3.39 x 3.11"
Compression: n/a
Horses: 162 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 166 @ 4,000 rpm
Credits / HP: 3,082.62
Pounds / HP: 12.52
Pnds / torqe: 12.22
HP per Liter: 57.86
Idle: 550 // Redline: 6,500 // RPM Limit: 7,000
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Differential: probably open.
0-60 mph: 7.474 seconds
0-100 mph: 17.133
0-150 mph: 51.116
0-400 M: 15.702 @ 95 mph
0-1 Kilom: 27.686 @ 125 mph
0-1 Mile:  37.899 @ 140 mph
Daytona Lap Time: 58.378
100-zero mph: 5.116 seconds
Top Gear RPM @ 60 mph: 2,500
Top Speed at Redline
1st: 32.3 mph
2nd: 52.0
3rd: 81.7
4th: 118.2
5th: 162.5 mph @ 7,000 rpm (RPM limited)


-------EXTERIOR / HISTORY----------

I am not in the habit of writing about prototypes and concept cars, so consider this review a rare treat. To my immediate knowledge I've only written about one: the Dodge Copperhead which appears in GT and GT2.
The problem usually comes down to specs. If I can't find specs on a car (ya know....  dimensions, engine torque ratings, suspension types, etc.) I'm usually not as interested in driving it, and usually concepts haven't got many specs written up. That is why they are known as conceptions. But there happens to be a lot out there for the Dome Zero, despite the fact that it was never in production. This is because the Zero was a 'working' concept. It had an actual engine, an actual transmission, it could actually move 
For awhile during the 1970s there was a bit of a 'supercar war'. Apparently, higher gas prices affected everybody except those who could afford not to be affected by it, and these sorts of people (rich people) often bought supercars. I remember this period fondly; being a child of 10, 11, and 12, and then a teen, every month I'd look forward to the next batch of magazines coming in the mail. Popular Science ... cool, love all the gadgets and theories of this magazine, but I wasn't quite as enthused with Popular Science as I was with Road & Track. Road & Track was for awhile the best magazine ever, not including any 'adult' mags we'd attempt to sneak, of course.
Anyways, I remember this period fondly, the first true global supercar war. The Aston Martin Bulldog (circa 1979). The Lotus Esprit (1976 and on). The Lamborghini Countach (1974 and on). The Bricklin SV1 (1974-76). The DeLorean (1979-ish). Each month we'd have another chance to fantasize about whatever next great thing would show up, and hoped we'd grow up to be zillionaires so we could have an entire stable of these super-autos.
One car I'd never forget would be the Dome Zero.
It had that sleek wedge shape which became almost mandatory amongst the supercar crowd during this time. It was made in Japan with tasteful designing cues, like the slight neon green accents on its bodywork matched with orange-tinted headlamps, and its side windows curved in an unusual shape, creating a 'dome' effect which is perhaps where the car got its name from. It also had two long strips of glass (extra windows) towards the bottom of its doors, and a glowing dashboard of LED lights, too that was the coolest thing to see in the latest Road & Track. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) were a rather new technology for the masses at the time, and as the world switched from sliderules to calculators, soon LED -lit displays became the latest and greatest in math classes; so the fact that somebody thought to put an LED dashboard in a car blew my mind. But it didn't stop there. The Dome's entire interior and exterior looked futuristic. What (male) kid wouldn't want to dream and drool over this one?
This car was created by Minoru Hayashi, a man who was involved not with everyday car manufacturing, but with racing. His original intent, in fact, was that there would be both production and racing versions of the Dome. Because of this, the Dome Zero Concept is incredibly race-worthy from the start in certain ways. It is only 38.6 inches tall for instance, shorter than the Ford GT40 (which was 40 inches). I have not been able to find any aerodynamic specs for this car, but I'd be shocked if it boasts a drag rating higher than 0.25. In a few minutes when we'll start driving this one, we'll see why its super-slick profile helps it so much, despite a weak powerplant under its midship hood. 
The car is also rather light at 2,028 pounds, had rack & pinion steering, and full disc brakes all around. Its futuristic fiberglass-reinforced plastic body sat over a structurally sound (one would think) steel monocoque frame, and the Zero was made during a period of Japanese car-building when it seems everything being produced turned eventually to gold.
So I looked forward to hearing about the Dome Zero during the 1980s somehow; perhaps I'd soon see some rich grownup driving one to the mall or something. But this was not to be. Eventually I forgot about the Dome Zero (we all did). What exactly happened to it?  
We all know the story of course, and if we don't, it's only an Internet search away. Apparently Hayashi did not have the funds to put the Zero through "homologation", which means he couldn't afford to crash-test these cars, nor could he provide any sort of safety results to prove to the Japanese government that the Dome is roadworthy. Hayashi looked to America and Europe instead, creating the Dome Zero P2, hoping it might be accepted there. The P2 had goofy-looking bumpers and a strengthened frame, but in the end, nobody wanted it. It therefore lived up to its name: the Dome Zero really was a Zero. Like a dirty rag, nobody seemed to want this particular vehicle in production, not without some kind of proof that it should be actually bought and driven. Hayashi did not give up the fight however; and turned to racing. There was even a Dome Zero racing car which appeared in the 1979 Le Mans, but it had some sort of mechanical failure and did not make it to the end. It raced again in 1980, finished the race this time, yet could only make last place. Was made to be a hero, but what a zero.  
Well we don't have to let this car suffer its one-off fate, in fact, I'm about to race the Dome Zero I just bought in Gran Turismo 5. This was not an easy feat, by the way. Not only is the Dome hard to find in this game, it's also quite expensive at just under a half-million credits. Sheesh! 


--------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN--------

...................162 horses. 166 foot-pounds................
Taking a gander at the specs for this one, nobody's going to gasp, and those of us who were drooling a moment ago while we gazed upon the Zero's sleeker-than-a-DeLorean shape are now apt to wipe up all our spit in embarrassment.
................162 horses. 166 foot-pounds..................
Uh, this was Japan's idea for a supercar???
Well, let's look at the bright side. The engine's actual sound is gruff and serious at lower revs, with a subtle rasp once it's getting towards its best horsepower. Also, the 162 hp the car tested at once back in the garage is more than the 142 horses quoted by the 'dealer' who sold us this half-a-million credit slug. But since all that money has been spent, we might as well take the Zero for a drive, right?  Get some of our money's worth, at least.
That's where the second shock happens, as we hope for some flawless accelerative action, yet this one SCREAMS off the line, blowing any chance for a decent launch as the car is track-tested towards 400 meters. With just 166 foot-pounds and a mid-engine/rear-drive layout, how can this be?  All the other MRs with such weak power (MR2s, Elises, MGFs, etc.) merely hunker with full traction as they get down to business off the line. It's only once we look at this car's 'Top Speed at Redline' specs that we get somewhat of a clue.
1st Gear maxes at just 32.5 miles per hour, meaning that it's a rather short gear; somewhere in the high 40s / low 50s might be more appropriate. This is apparently where all that screaming meaming nonsense comes from, but really? 166 foot-pounds can really create all of this? Dayum.
2nd Gear can't take us past 60 mph, giving us a zero to 60 time which even a Renault Avantime can potentially beat. Then, things start to change. Not so much with acceleration, but with overall speed.
.....One hundred sixty-two point two miles per hour....
That was the top speed at Test Track X in GT5. Not bad, eh? Considering the Dome's only got 162 horses on its top-end, 162.2 mph is pretty freekin' impressive.
It's all due to this car's super-dart shape, of course. As the Dome slices through the air (literally) there's not much which can slow it down so far as wind forces are concerned, this car is literally an inverted wing on wheels, which only helps with top-end speed. Once we get to the aftermarket, the 2.8 liter Nissan straight-6 engine under its hood can also accept three power kits, gaining up to 326 hp @ 6,900 rpms with 292 foot-pounds @ 4,900 at best. Because of this, I was able to enter a Dome Zero into GT5's Supercar Nostalgia Cup, and hopefully a few other races here and there A-spec rolls on.
I assumed the engine in this car (being a Nissan L28E) might have been plucked from one of the Skyline GT-Rs of the day, but as it turns out the GT-R never got a 2.8, they were stuck with 2.0 liters at best. Still, the 2.8 does happen to be a Skyline engine, and was also used in the Datsun 280Z, so at least Dome and Hayashi were on the right track with their thinking. The 5-speed gearbox is also a good choice, once you get past the car's weeny 1st gear.    
It's an overall disappointment, though. No turbos can be bought for the Dome (which probably can't handle 'em anyways), so this one's got a career only slightly longer than its glowing appearances in various 1970s magazines, car shows, and imaginations.    


--------CHASSIS / HANDLING---------

Great-looking car, made of lightweight materials which were considered space-age in its day....but it's sluggish with acceleration. Bummer. Well hey, maybe this won't be a prob. Maybe the Dome Zero will tear up those tracks like a low-powered Japanese Lotus. Right?
I in fact did race this car before I drove it, which seems rather backwards. The car which is won from the Supercar Nostalgia Cup happens to be a Dome Zero, and this is the car which I drove while stock after racing a highly-modified Zero for the SNC itself. As an Ai vehicle, the Zero happens to kick a LOT of butt as it brings its threatening wedge shape to the Japanese Classics. Its power is stock during these races, and its chassis and drivetrain are also stock. Other than occasional slip-up out of tighter areas, the Dome usually 'zeros' in on our First Place goal, and often can best the best. 
To be upfront, driving this car while stock is somewhat the same as driving it with lots of power (and tuned), since the stock version (the prize I won with 0.0 miles on its odometer) has soft-grade radial tires. Stock or tuned, it's hard to get the hang of this one, as it's often begging to surprise the driver, and usually in a bad way. The main difference from stock to tuned is the speed at which everything happens. A sudden bump or movement which might twitch the car instantaneously while it's got 300 horsepower might only be felt as a vague, slow-paced rear-end slide while power is halved.
Understeer is felt here and there, but it's not usually as much of a concern compared to this car's rear, which swings about lazily like a hypnotist's watch. This lazy swing becomes a much more violent motion once the car's got some power, of course.  
During the Supercar Nostalgia Cup, I wasn't sure if this one would (1) have the power to compete, (2) have the handling to compete, and (3) would amount to a near-500,000 waste of credits. Yes it has some problems, but can also win the three SNC races, assuming the driver's got some skill.
Lack of ABS brakes obviously hurts, and so this is the first item up for bid on that auction block. Once we're playing with this much power (somewhere over 300 horses) boy does the Dome Zero need a lot of babying to corner successfully. Every turn has this car doing a side-step dance from the rear (despite its rather wide 255-width rear tires), every time the brakes get mashed and the steering gets turned a little bit, it's almost a guaranteed ride in a high-speed merry-go-round.
Is the Dome race-worthy?  Um .. NO. It is not. Not while cornering, especially. Perhaps it's a good idea Japan essentially banned this car before it managed any sort of stronghold upon society and its roads.    
On the other hand, its lightweight body and pointy shape keep speed gathering up with hardly any wind resistance, which is something that'll (in theory) keep any driver interested and eager for more. The Dome actually has the power to compete, it just needs some help. Well, it needs LOTS of help. 
And the first edition of this help came in a rather large cardboard box ordered from GT Auto's parts shop (which specializes in parts for hard-to-modify automobiles like the Dome, apparently). which was delivered rather unceremoniously to the Dome's pit crew. Inside this box was a gleaming device of steel and chrome, one which might just assist in a positive way. Yes, it's a posi-traction limited-slip device, folks. Bolt that sucker in between the Zero's rear axles, and things do change a bit for the better.
I wound up with a rather strong set of settings: 38-55-60. This keeps the car somewhat stable while braking, and we can also force more throttle out of certain turns (especially if they're not off-camber), but overall this one still needs lots of babying, and we can't just force ALL the braking, ALL the steering, and ALL the throttle we'd like 100% of the time. Good luck with getting such action just 50% of the time! Every hairpin could spell a tumultuous rumble as we try some gas, as if the Dome's rear tires have suddenly hit a patch of ice. Every kink or S-curve is a virtual death sentence: basically the next Dome Disaster always lies ahead. This one's constantly on the verge of losing its poise,  and (let's face it) is not at all a race car, despite its racy looks, despite the fact that all the tuning options possible have been employed.  
On the other hand, to some extent once the driver is aware of all the dangers this one poses, he or she can think accordingly, and then start to use some of these dangers to advantage. While preparing for Suzuka for instance, I began using this car's habit of twitching on-entry to get it to change direction rather quickly while approaching some of this track's more daring turns (aren't they all a bit daring though?). The Dome twitches, its tires shriek like angry nuns who have just witnessed Satan in their bedrooms, but (if done right) the car does also change direction much faster than when simple steering is used.
Still, this is a very dangerous machine. If you're stubborn like me, and don't want to kill the Dome's personality altogether with a full-custom suspension, the next thing to try are Chassis Reinforcements. With these parts installed, the Dome Zero feels a bit more solid (especially mid-turn) but it's unfortunately not quite as solid as I was hoping for. A smidge of understeer shows up sometimes too. Ugh. I actually am thinking the Zero handled a bit more to my liking before this service was employed. Yes it was twitchier, and yes it often felt as though it might just trip over its own shoelaces, but the good thing was that the car also often could snap out of its wayward cornering arcs if the driver wanted this to happen. With the body & chassis reinforced, there's a bit more of a 'live with it' sort of feeling if the car enters a line that's not entirely safe.
Overall, the motto here is "if you want something done right, do it yourself." It's like having a boss who gives an employee a task, but the boss himself winds up having to finish it. No matter what happens tuning-wise, there'll always be a good bit of driving left up to the actual driver, if he wants to accomplish anything of merit in this one.
On the other hand, I just roasted gangs of V12-powered Ferraris and Lambos with a 2.8 liter straight-6 sleeper during the Supercar Nostalgia Cup. That counts for something, does it not?        


1). We get to drive what could have been one of the first Japanese supercars, and one which never saw light of day, production-wise.
2). Such a looker, too.
3). Light as can be. Production versions would have weighed more no doubt, but as a concept this one sports the sort of weight a race car from its day might also carry.
4). 162.2 mph from a 162 horsepower engine?  There are cars out there with twice (three times ... four times) this power that can't go as fast.
5). 5-speed transmission.
6). The engine in this one may be rather tepid, but it's (at least) got a solidly useful torque range.
7). Some decent power to be had, despite a lack of turbos in GT5. GT4 may have a different selection here, of course.
8). The engine and exhaust sounds serious, too.
9). Quite a thrill to drive. Getting bored with Skyline after Audi, NSX after Veyron? Try a Dome Zero Concept, dude. 
10). Also quite fun to watch during replays, even if the driving itself was ... not quite so fun.      
1). Expensive? Do ya think?
2). About as stable and confident with cornering as a stock-trader's blood pressure. 
3). Rare and difficult to find, for those who have already sold this car after winning it from the Supercar Nostalgia races.
4). Can't be painted. 
5). Lots of suspension and limited-slip tuning will be necessary, despite the winning efforts seen by robot versions of the Zero during the Japanese Classic races. 
6). No turbos. Not sure about GT4, but this car winds up being too powerful to enter into some A-spec races, but hasn't got the turbos to enhance its career past a handful of GT5 events.
7). No mirrors, either! None!!! A rather shocking lack of visibility as well, considering all the glass that's used for the car's cabin.
8). A nearly-useless 1st gear. The car sometimes loses traction in 2nd and 3rd (or even 4th) as power gets raised, and a wee bit of steering input is needed while accelerating.
9). Such a shame there aren't more places we can race this one in GT5. Chances are the Dome Zero might see more action in 4.    
Published: December 31, 2013

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