Looking to the future, but inspired by the past.
I count myself among the fortunate people who have had the opportunity to have owned, modified, restored and driven several examples of nearly every generation of Z car. I was present for the ‘aborted’ New Z concept campaign of 1999, and again was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the drivers of the preproduction 370Z on the Z promo tour across America.
Z cars represent 1.35 million total sales over the model’s 50-year history. But that’s all been years past, and in a fast-changing automotive landscape, it feels like an eternity. As the 370Z (largely unchanged since its inception as the 350Z in late 2002) grows long in the tooth, enthusiasts and journalists have begun to wonder if the embattled Nissan could possibly field a worthy successor to the iconic Z car.
“The Z represents the joy of driving in its purest form and has helped shape Nissan’s DNA as a passionate, innovative challenger,” said Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida. “Ever since the first generation, it has captured the hearts of car enthusiasts all over the world. That’s why we’re so excited today to be able to say to them: Yes, the next one is coming!”
Mr. Albaisa explained that, as we all know, Nissan has endured some significant challenges in the past few years, and the company is going through a unique phase of introspection. “The Z is part of our greater purpose. Democratizing TRUE sports cars is something Nissan pioneered, and is very proud of.”
Prior to the 1970 240Z, sports car ownership was reserved for the well-heeled enthusiast, and Nissan changed that. “As you know, in today’s market context, the [sports car] segment is where car companies struggle to make money, so you can imagine there was some contention – but the Z is in our soul.”
Tamura-san expanded upon this sentiment: “The Proto Z is a starting point for engineering, but the design studio’s work is completed for the most part.” In other words, we are seeing the car in what is very, very close to its final form. Albaisa spoke of the Proto Z’s evocation of a design in which the rear edge of the decklid was slightly lower than the front fender height, giving the Z its unique posture – a “cat about to pounce.”
He added that the “long nose, low deck” creates a powerful, long silhouette and that the hood and quarter glass / C-pillar treatment represent an evolution of the styling cues that evoke such fond memories for those who recall the S30 cars.
Hiroshi-san added that the “crouching attitude” was very important to the design team and he believes it not only evokes memories of the early styling cues, but also incorporates later Z design touches – the taillights are reminiscent of the Z32 – but most importantly, it encourages a look to the future for the iconic car.
According to Nissan, the interior design team sought advice from professional motorsports legends to give the Z Proto an ideal sports car cabin, both for road and track. This can be seen in the Z’s instrumentation. All vital information is found in the 12.3-inch digital display and is arranged to help the driver grasp it at a glance, such as the redline shift point at the twelve o-clock position. The deep dish steering wheel offers the driver quick access to controls without losing its vintage aesthetic. A question was presented about the 19″ wheels, when so many other automakers are going to larger and larger diameters. Tamura-san was very clear with his response, which was this: “Balance, incorporation of a desired tire size, and handling dynamics were all important factors,” so ultimately, the decision was made to go with “what really works.” Tamura-san spoke further about the philosophical forces that guided the design team. He stated, “The presence of a manual transmission was a sticking point for a long time,” because we had to remember, “we were not building a [0-60] time-chaser” and that although the Z will be sufficiently powerful, balance was much more important. He reiterated that it is important for the the Z and GTR to maintain “distinct sports car identities.” He described another guiding principle of this design: “Z is more than just powerful and agile. It is designed to create a connection with the driver, a ‘dance partner’ with which to approach the drive.” The car you see here represents the prototype, but Albaisa made sure to be very clear: This is not a concept car, explaining that the progression is as follows: Concept – Prototype – Production.
Z Proto specifications are as follows:
Drivetrain: Twin turbo V6 with a 6-speed manual (or available automatic)
Length: 172.5 inches
Width: 72.8 inches
Height: 51.6 inches
Wheel and tire sizes: 255/40R19 and 285/35R19
The following videos chronicle the development and initial drives of the Proto Z – We hope you’ll enjoy them!
Nissan Proto Z Development
Nissan Proto Z Driving
What do you think? Share your impressions here in the Proto Z Discussion Forum!