Nissan understands what enthusiasts expect of a new-generation Z car. The press release that accompanied last weeks reveal of the Z Proto began with a randomly disjointed statement, sitting immediately below the heading and above any mention about design heritage and market positioning. “Yes, it has a manual transmission.”
And with that, the new-generation Z, the sixth in a lineage that dates back just over 50 years, announced itself. The Z Proto isn’t the final word on the design of the new Z car (though Nissan design chief, Alfonso Albaisa, hinted that it is very close to what will be delivered), but it does mark Nissan’s intention to build a replacement for the Z34 370Z that arrived back in 2009.
In a later video roundtable with Hiroshi Tamura, the Chief Product Specialist for GT-R and Z explained that 35 percent of 370Z sales are manual (a huge proportion of which is in the United States).
The new car will also feature a V6 engine layout (with the tacho hinting at a 7000rpm redline), as used by the last four generations of Z car – only the original S30 generation was powered by a straight six. However, twin-turbochargers make a return as these haven’t been seen since the Z32 300ZX.
According to Tamura-san, having a front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels is “the fundamental attitude of a sports car. You are the commander and the car is an extension.
“We have to continue this type of heritage. It allows you to dance with your partner,” explained Tamura-san while mimicking oversteer with his hands.
According to Nissan, the Z Proto looks to the future but is inspired by the past. This combination of futurism and retro inspiration was a significant challenge to Nissan’s design team in Japan. Led by the brand’s head of design, Alfonso Albaisa, the team paid homage to the Z’s glorious history that started in 1969 with the S30 model that was known in Japan as the Fairlady Z and as the 240Z in most global markets.
“The first Z I saw,” explained Albaisa, who has spent his entire career with Nissan, “was in Miami in 1970 or 1971. It is one of the reasons I became a designer. In many ways a Z car is more than the list of elements. The essence of a sportscar is liberating as it takes you to the limit of your skills [as a designer].
“Our designers made countless studies and sketches as we researched each generation and what made them a success,” Albaisa said. “Ultimately, we decided the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future. It is an emotional project. It tends to be a more involving project and you feel a responsibility [to the heritage].
“The LED headlights have two half-circles that hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG of the 1970s,” Albaisa explained. “The ZG has clear dome lenses over the headlight buckets, which under light give off two circular reflections over each headlight. We liked that unique characteristic and discovered that it naturally fit with the Z’s identity.”
Z car fans will recognise the pale yellow of the Z Proto as it nods to both the original S30 model and to the Z32 300ZX. The Z32 also inspired the rear styling, though there are also hints of Ford Mustang (along with Z, one of the few rear-drive sports coupes on the market).
Beyond the drivetrain snippets, very few technical details have been released at this early stage, but the new Z Proto measures 4382mm in length, 127mm longer than the current Z34 370Z. At 1850mm in width, the Z Proto is just 6mm wider than 370Z and is 6mm lower with its 1310mm height.
Expect more details to drip feed over the coming weeks and months but we’re very excited by the prospect of a new, rear-drive manual sports coupe.