I hate to use the term “at long last” when describing the launch of an eagerly anticipated model. What’s the rush? You’d think that it’s better to let creators take their time perfecting the end product? However, the unveiling of the Nissan Z Proto concept car certainly deserves that descriptor, even though it has been four months since it was first teased.
Nissan’s long-awaited sports car rebirth
If you aren’t aware, the fate of the 370Z’s successor has been swinging around more wildly than the leadership of a destabilised South American country. At first, it was to be an SUV, then it was to be all-electric. Rumours then said it may end up being both, or Nissan might just cancel the whole thing. Who was correct? Depends on which lieutenant of the regime you talked to, or maybe nobody was.
After the disastrous coup of Carlos Ghosn, which also implicated some of his detractors, Nissan is primed to move forward. Already there have been signs of life being injected into Nissan’s product line. Back in July, Nissan unveiled its new 290kW all-electric SUV, the Ariya. And with that out of the way, they started getting down to business on the next Z car.
Straying from the evolutionary path
Similar to my hopes for the company, the Z Proto serves as a hard reset to the Z car lineage. Unlike its Japanese performance contemporaries, Nissan’s Z car has always had a messy evolution.
The original Z, the 240Z of 1970, was a pretty-looking thing. Elegant, sporty, and classically proportioned. On looks alone, the 240Z had plenty going for it already. Coupled that with an attractive price tag for its class and the all-important “Japanese build quality”, and Nissan had an instant classic on its dealer courts.
Sadly, the 240Z’s success was its curse as Nissan dared not touch the styling despite needing to update it. Over the next nine years, 240Z was updated with bigger engines and bumpers, steadily watering down the original’s design purity.
The fall and return of the ‘Z cars’
From 1978. the Z moniker was replaced with the “ZX” designation with subsequent models adopting a 2+2 seater layout. Despite this change, its models were still recognised as being part of the Z car lineage.
After the discontinuation of the door-wedge shaped Z32 300ZX, Nissan hit the reset button to create the 350Z. Not only was the Z nameplate and two-seater configuration back, but many also hailed the 350Z’s shape as a return to the 240Z’s form.
That being all said, the bulk and bloat that plagued Nissan’s Z cars since the 1970s hadn’t entirely gone away. Though the 350Z was beefy, its 370Z successor went a little off the rails with wild lines and exaggerated hips.
It wasn’t long before people realised the 370Z had become the very thing the 350Z had sought to correct. The Z car was clearly in need of another reset. All this brings us to the current day with the Z Proto.
A fitting tribute to the original Z
From the outset, the Z Proto’s roofline, bonnet shape, and curves beneath the headlights harken back to the 240Z. It isn’t just “240Z and screw the rest” with its design ethos either. There are other design elements lifted from other Z cars as well, which was carefully integrated into the Z Proto.
The rear pillar takes its inspiration from the 370Z’s, the taillights pay homage to the Z32 300ZX, and its stance from the three-quarter front angle has a whiff of the 350Z about it. All in all, the Z Proto is a “greatest hits” tribute to best of the best Z cars.
While there is little to complain about its execution, the Z Proto isn’t quite as proportionately elegant the 240Z. However, that isn’t a critique of its designers but the engineering beneath.
It is said that the production Z Proto will adopt Infiniti’s 3-litre twin-turbo V6, which will be inherently shorter than the lengthy straight-six engine layout the original 240Z had. Nevertheless, picking on the bonnet length is in nit-picking territory. The Z Proto is certainly the most faithful adaptation of the original than the rest of the Z car lineage.
A promising preview of things to come
According to Nissan’s CEO, the Z Proto isn’t a concept car for corporate heads to ruminate over, but a “close to final” production model. Though a launch date for the production version is yet to be confirmed, other reports believe it will be destined for a 2022 launch.
At long last, after half a century Nissan might get around to recreating the 240Z for the 21st century. And at long last, I’ve been able to use that term for a car that truly deserves it.