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Nissan Z Concept Goes 'Back to Basics'

6 January 1999

Nissan Z Concept Goes 'Back to Basics' to Recreate the Quintessential Affordable Sports Car

Nissan Z sports car. (PR NewsFoto) [AS]
DETROIT, Jan. 5 -- The Z Concept, Nissan's latest concept car, was unveiled today at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The reveal included a walkaround by Jerry Hirshberg, president, Nissan Design International, Inc. (NDI) and video images from the three decades of the Z-car's existence.

The Z Is Back

The Z Concept was a difficult challenge for the designers at NDI. "Our goal in designing the Z Concept was not to merely update a 30-year old design," said Hirshberg, "but to take some of the elements that made the original car special and integrate them into a totally new design. Sort of a fresh riff on a great old tune."

A classic 240Z, owned by an NDI designer, was brought into the studios to be used as a reference point.

Nissan Z Sports Car Introduction. (PR NewsFoto) [AS]
A long hood, with sweeping front fenders and characteristic headlight treatment, suggest the lines of the original, but is not copied. "This vehicle is the antithesis of the current 'cab-forward' school of design," said Tom Semple, director of design, NDI. "We want the casual onlooker to know that this is a powerful front-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicle and we think this concept does just that." Unique headlights and a prominent radiator cutout in the front bumper give the Z Concept an aggressive, sporty look.

The front end leads to a two-passenger cabin with wide doors, which are electronically opened. Front and side glass is tinted. The interior is trimmed in cloth and leather, and uses special materials for the backrests.

Around the short-deck rear is a glass hatch with twin gas-struts and wraparound rear taillamps with a unique lens design. The word "Nissan" is recessed the rear bumper cover, a subtle reminder that Nissan is the creator of the last word in performance cars.

The Z Concept is fully operational. It utilizes a balanced and blueprinted 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine rated at 200 horsepower and 180 ft-lbs of torque. Modifications include a racing profile camshaft, lightweight pistons, 10.7:1 compression ratio, reprogrammed electronic controls and custom dual exhaust. The Z Concept also features a 5-speed manual transmission, lightweight flywheel and lowered independent suspension. Stopping power is provided by racing-style brakes from the Japanese-market Skyline GT-R supercar, while 18-inch alloy wheels mounted with 215/40ZR18 front and 225/40ZR18 rear tires makes sure the Z Concept sticks to the road.

The car was taken from the original drawings to a running vehicle in record time -- just under 12 weeks.

The Original 240Z: A Groundbreaking Sports Car

In October of 1969, the 1970 Datsun 240Z was introduced to the U.S. media in a ballroom at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. It featured sleek styling, a 2.4-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that produced 150 horsepower, a comfortable ride, great handling due to its independent front and rear suspension and 0-60 mph times in under 9 seconds.

List price for the 1970 240Z was only $3,526, impressive at the time considering the car's styling and performance was on par with entries from Italy and Germany costing thousands more. The 240Z was an instantaneous hit, with prospective owners having to wait nearly six months to get their hands on a car.

"I knew that to succeed, the Z-car would have to capture the imagination of Americans," said Katayama. And it did. In fact, the demand for the 240Z was so strong, that in 1970, less than a year after the car's debut, Kelley Blue Book rated the value of a used 240Z at $4,000. The Z-car became the fastest selling sports car of all time.

The evolution of the Z-car continued throughout the 1970s with the introduction of the 260Z, the 2+2, 280Z, and ending off the decade with the redesigned 280ZX. Every year, the Z sold in high numbers. Almost immediately after the introduction of the car, 240Zs were developed for racing by legendary drivers and mechanics such as Bob Sharp, John Morton and Peter Brock. Z-cars were raced in off-road rallying and road-racing competitions, winning 10 consecutive SCCA C-Production championships and numerous IMSA GTU races and championships.

The 1980s saw the first 280ZX Turbo, 300ZX and 300ZX Turbo and, towards the end of the '80s, a change in the American marketplace, where overall sports car sales began to decline. Racing, however, was still the Z-car's forte, with drivers such as racer-actor Paul Newman and Scott Sharp setting records and winning races and championships throughout the decade.

1990 was a new beginning for the famed Z-car. The new, dramatically styled 300ZX and 300ZX Turbo were sleek, aggressive and offered supercar-like performance. The new 300ZX remained basically unchanged until 1996, but was on Car and Driver's "Ten Best Cars" list for 6 consecutive years, Automobile's "All-Stars" list for 5 straight years, and was voted Motor Trend's "Import Car of the Year" upon its debut in 1990.

Racing victories included the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours at Sebring and a class win at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Unfortunately the market no longer supported importing the 300ZX into the U.S., and in 1996, the car was retired at a gala at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. At the same time the company was celebrating the Z- car's glorious history, the question that remained top of mind was clearly: What comes after Z?

As with many legendary athletes and performers, this one was never intended as a permanent retirement.

"We are honored to be the design team responsible for the creation of the Z Concept," said Hirshberg. "It's not every day that we get to bring back a legend."