Autech Stelvio: Handbuilt JDM Excess by Zagato


For those of you who don’t know, Autech is Nissan Japan’s own in-house tuning and customisation arm. By law, JDM car manufacturers have to offer a customisation service to cater for disabled drivers, and so this service forms a big part of what Autech does. But over the years, Autech has also turned its attention to performance cars from time to time, the most notable ones being hand-built R32 and R33 Skyline 4dr sedans with GT-R running gear (and the Stagea RS260 station wagon with the same), and performance versions of the Silvia. Obviously there is the dangerous possibility of Autech overlapping with the good work that Nismo does, and so Autech has over the years mainly restricted itself to the high end stuff.

And high end certainly does describe Nissan’s big extravagance of the 1980s: the Autech Zagato Stelvio.

89zagato_autech_stelvio_2There is a undeniable romance about the old Italian coachbuilding houses that has always had a certain glamour with the Japanese (and the rest of us!). Up until the late 60s, it was still possible to take a bare chassis, and take it to Pininfarina, Ghia or Bertone and have it rebodied in something totally unique. Obviously this service never came cheap, but in the 1980s, these unique or limited-run 50s and 60s creations fetched crazy prices in the classic car boom.


This didn’t escape Nissan’s attention and so it took the plunge and commissioned its own coachbuilt sports cars. By the 1980s, the bigger Italian houses like Pininfarina and Bertone had moved onto bigger and better things, even large-scale things, like contract manufacturing for Fiat (Bertone manufactured the X19 and Pininfarina the 2000 Roadster for many years). But one old school design house that was still willing to do whatever you wanted was Zagato.


Zagato was always one of the smaller coachbuilders, but over the decades had made a splash with some very daring designs. Some might argue that for every pretty car Zagato made, they would also make three really ugly ones (and we’ll get to that in a second…) but it was an old school name with plenty of cachet back in Japan.


So the plan was hatched, for Y31 Leopard coupe (our US friends would know it as the Infiniti M30) chassis to be shipped to Italy. There, a handbuilt body would be draped onto the JDM frame, and inside the cabin would be found a typical over the top handstitched Italian interior.


Power would be from the Leopard’s 3.0L DOHC turbo V6, tweaked to 320ps and driving through an auto transmission.


The result was….interesting to say the least. Historically, Zagato designs tend to either hit or miss and it’s fair to say that the Stelvio is not a very happy car stylistically. Some of the details are really very odd, like those big pods in the front fenders. They are actually fender mirrors, but faired-in to the bonnet line, and as a result, stick out a mile and ruin the line.


Then there are those odd looking single-vent wheels, and that weird stepped flare over the rear arches.


A fender mirror….but not as we know it

But to cap it all off, the Stevio retailed for a sticker of 18million yen. Now, to give you some perspective on that, when the R32 GT-R debuted a year or two later, it was a 5million yen car. Even cars with baller price tags like the 9million yen NSX-R are dirt cheap in comparison to an Autech Stelvio.


However the worst thing was that Zagato was also simultaneously contracted to Aston Martin to develop a limited-run car too, and when that car was unveiled as the Aston Martin V8 Zagato (the blue car below), there were some rather startling similarities to the Stelvio, but minus the ugly bits. I can’t imagine Nissan being too pleased about that….


Today, the Stelvio is a very rare sight on the streets, but there were 200 made and so they are definitely out there. Back in the day, driving a Stelvio would have given you immediate baller status in Japan, but if you wanted one today, they occasionally come up for sale at about 4million yen.


Those fender mirrors again....

In the final analysis, no matter what we may think of the styling, in the late 80s, it was a very unique mix of high-end craftsmanship and JDM turbo power. You certainly don’t get a hand-stitched, leather and wood interior like that in any other JDM car.

But did they really have to make it so…..ugly?

This post is filed under: nissan.

9 Responses to Autech Stelvio: Handbuilt JDM Excess by Zagato

  1. Organic Zero says:

    Zagato… just hearing that name give chills to my spine… I think i still need to be introduced to a car they made that i can honestly say that i like it in full… seems that every single one of them has a little spot that ruins the moder to e…

  2. Kev says:

    One Zagato car I like is the Alfa SZ (but you can see that it only just skirts the boundaries of being too ugly)

    Maybe the only conventionally pretty Zagato car is the Aston DB4 GT of the early 60s:

    But more recently, Zagato did a run of DB7 GTs to somewhat less elegant results:

  3. 31GUN says:

    The Alfa SZ is about as chunky as they come, I love it!

  4. Organic Zero says:

    Yeah, i’m familiar with those 3, the SZ is brute… nothing that you would originally expect from alfa romeo, something at it’s rear doesn’t make my particularly happy about it, but I’ve seen photoshoped pics of it which are actually nice

    The DB4 GT is looks almost like something original from Aston’s assembly line… son it’s no really impressive or anything, for that I’ll admit that it wouldn’t hurt to have one if given a chance.

    THE DB7 is a pass to me… i take the stock over it… somehow the grill makes it look less menacing and more weird… and the rear is something not worth to be mentioned…

    Now i wonder… why does zagato designers really think when they are doing their designs… that would be something worth a research πŸ˜›

  5. RatDat says:

    Interesting article guys. I never knew the Stelvio was so expensive when new! To be honest, I think without the humps for the faired in mirrors it would have been a decent looking car. I’m sure I have seen a version with slightly different styling once too. I’m digging through the zillions of pics on my PC now to see if i can find it. I’ll post it up if I do.

  6. DiscoQuinn says:

    Thank you for the article. A year or so ago I had saved some photos I had found of one, but had no information on the car. I had thought it was a one off build, but then came across more photos without information again. To know it’s built on a common RWD Nissan platform is exciting since I’m one of the few people the styling appeals to. πŸ™‚

  7. Kev says:

    Oh me too. I don’t think it’s pretty but I would have one in my hypothetical/unlimited-budget car collection. Its got to be one of the top 5 most unique JDM cars ever.

  8. Monsai says:

    Bit late, but there’s one on auction here, starting at around 1.2 million yen ($10,000US),
    with a buy me now price of 2.2 million yen (

  9. Sarcasmo says:

    Yea, that’s where I associate Zagato.. with Alfa Romeo. That’s one automobile company that has it’s share of stinkers. LOL The Stelvio is cool because it’s unique and rare… other than that, it’s proportioned kinda awkward. A lil squarish here, a lil edgy there.. kinda angular in the wrong places, like Bizarro Superman’s face. HAHAA πŸ˜›
    It’s kinda weird how it’s curvy and bulky towards the front of the car, then slab sided, boring and flat going towards the rear.. it looks like a bodybuilder, whose all big up top, but has skinny chicken legs. Man, and some of us thought AMC, owned the rights to the name oddball car designer award.. Zagato may just be taking that title. lol πŸ™‚

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