Now that we’ve had some time to digest the Z Proto, let’s take a look at what Nissan has given us. In the company’s own words, the Z Proto is mostly a design statement. So, we can’t really speculate any more on the chassis or power, but there’s still a lot to unpack.
When we first laid our eyes upon the new Z, the JNC staff’s opinions were mixed. Our editor-in-chief Ben thought it was a mishmash of different styles, but I think I’ve been able to persuade him that it’s a good design based on what you’re about to read. Our resident Datsun vintage racer Glenn thought it was surprisingly pretty, and that’s a big compliment coming from someone who lives and breathes 240Zs. That is particularly important, since the designers obviously wanted to evoke the original and revolutionary Fairlady Z in much of the styling.
The link to the original Z is most striking when viewing the Z Proto from the side. The roofline flows from the nose to the squared-off rear to create a distinctive first- generation Z profile. Notably, Nissan’s Senior VP for Global Design Alfonso Albaisa is most proud of the fact that the rear edge of the deck is slightly lower than the front fender height, a signature trait that gave the S30 Z its timeless elegance.
The front’s throwbacks to the S30 Z are a bit more, um, on the nose. The headlights have clearly been inspired by Yoshihiko Matsuo‘s sugar scoops bezels, but they’re not a direct copy. “We loved the scoop headlights,” Albaisa said, “But does that look modern and aerodynamic?”
Then, on a trip to Nissan’s Zama warehouse, a moment of inspiration struck when designers gazed upon the 240ZG and its elongated G-nose and its factory headlight covers. When the clear lenses caught the light at certain angles, they gave off two circular reflections. “We liked that unique characteristic and discovered that it naturally fit with the Z’s identity,” Albaisa explained.
The headlights flank a long hood with a chevron-tipped power bulge reminiscent of the S30. There’s a large rectangular grille, also reminiscent of the S30’s, and two vertical indents on either side that recall the 350Z’s side markers.
The most controversial part of the design has been the front grille, but if you take a look at the S30’s, it’s just as big proportionally. The only difference is that on the original, it hid behind a chrome bumper. The Z Proto’s grille has a black pattern that isn’t easily spotted from afar, and its looks might be improved if it was made a bit more visible.
This is a case where a direct callback isn’t such a good thing, and if the grille was toned down it would improve the front significantly. In any case, the aftermarket will almost certainly step in with a plethora of front fascia options. Executive Design Director Satoru Tai has hinted that the grille exists for aftermarket support, implying that he expects massive power upgrades that will make use of the airflow.
The roofline appears identical to the 370Z’s, probably because the Z35 will ride on the same Nissan FMR platform as its last two predecessors. The top has a modern “double bubble” found on many sixties sports cars. In a departure from past Zs, the roof is black, likely to hide some of its visual mass.
A silver blade follows the roofline to the C-pillar and was, according to Albaisa and chief engineer Hiroshi Tamura, inspired by a samurai’s katana to drive home its “Made in Japan” origins.
Speaking of the C-pillar, it features one of the most overtly retro touches, a round “Z” badge like that of the S30’s. It even repeats the classic “Z” font found on Datsuns of yore, a detail repeated on the steering wheel and door sills.
The door handle is still vertical, like on the Z33 and Z34, but now it blends into the body nicely. The retro touches continue was we arrive at the back. On the hatch, a “Fairlady Z” badge mimics the S30’s in its script and diagonal orientation. A blacked out vertical panel is spans the rear, an homage to the S30, but the radiused rectangle taillights hidden within are solidly Z32. Albaisa is a fan of the Z32 and has said that he wanted to evoke Z-cars from two pivotal generations of the nameplate.
Of course, any car paying homage to those two generations of the Z simply had to be yellow. The color of the Z Proto evokes both the 112 Yellow of the Datsun 240Z and the Yellow Pearlglow of the Z32. According to Albaisa, Nissan designers had to desaturate the yellow on the Z32 because paint technology wasn’t there yet, implying that this is a truer vision for the 300ZX.
Delving into the interior, there is some clear inspiration from the S30 Z, from the deep cone 3-spoke steering wheel to the center stack. The signature triple pod cluster remains, but the addtition of a twin-turbo V6 mean that there’s boost and turbo speed meters in there. One of the annoying things about the 370Z was always that one of these round pods housed an incongruous rectangular clock.
In addition, as one of our astute readers, Amar, pointed out, shape of the section housing the infotainment screen is quite similar to that
Furthermore, the tops of the pods, while not molded with the rest of the dash, do come down a lot further than those of the 370Z, which had always reminded us of slices of nigiri placed over gauges. Maybe if we wish really hard, one day these pods will connect to the dash again like god intended.
The instruments are just a big screen now, as is the trend these days. The big center tach with redline marker oriented at top dead center lends credecnce to the sporty character and highlights the manual transmission, which is a good thing. Presumably there will be some customization available as well.
So those are the details, but perhaps the most striking aspect of the Z Proto is seen when taking a step back to look at the big picture: it is a remarkably clean design. It’s not fussy like most modern designs, nor does it have any stupid fake vents, huge wings, or other gimmicks to convey a vague sense of sportiness. The shape and details are naturally pleasing and sleek, rather than grotesque and overly aggressive.
However, that might not have always been the case. As these alternates from Nissan’s Atsugi design studio show, the Z Proto could have turned out very different. An early variant feature very few S30 design cues, a strangely shaped roof spoiler, and blocky, angular styling with a forced V-motion grille. Those RS-Watanabe-looking wheels are pretty cool, though.
Is the Z Proto perfect? No. It looks like the 370Z with different sheetmetal. But, they did do a great job slimming it down visually. In addition to the black roof, the rocker panels have a small kink right behind the doors. That pinch and a down-sweeping character line help reduce the slab-sidedness seen on the 370Z.
From the rear, the black section from the bumper to exhaust pipes also hides some of the bulk. Imagine how big the butt would look if it was body colored. But, one thing that has always been bothersome about the Z33 and Z34 was their rounded, down-sloping rear. Not only does it look bad, but it’s also bad for aerodynamics and the Z Proto has gotten rid of that completely.
In principle, the Z Proto is more or less exactly like how we hoped the next Z would look — pretty, with a few homages to the iconic original. Given the chassis constraints, we think the designers did a great job. Imagine if this was what the 370Z had looked like. It’s a much better mascot for Nissan than the 350Z, and at the end of the day that’s the job of the Z.
Tamura and Albaisa have stated that the Z Proto is just the kick-off for the engineering project. The more I look at it, the more like like it. It’s actually making me fall back in love with Nissan again. I cannot wait to buy a Tamiya model kit of this car if I can’t have the real thing. That’s saying a lot, because there hasn’t been a Nissan that did that for me in years.
Some images courtesy of Nissan.