The Nissan Z Proto wasn’t even a thing until three years ago

The Nissan Z Proto is finally here, and that’s a good thing. For one, it means Nissan plans to bring a seventh-generation Z to market. Let’s not forget that the sixth-gen 370Z was introduced in 2008, or two Spider-Man reboots ago. For a long time, the fate of the Z35 — and the Z lineage at large — was uncertain. We recently found out just how uncertain it was.

On a recent over video call with Hiroshi Tamura, chief engineer of Nissan Z and GT-R, and Senior VP for Global Design Alfonso Albaisa, they told a story of the two of them concocted a Z revival three years ago. Tamura, a true gearhead who owns a 600-horse R32 GT-R and who is not one to hide his passions, recalled when Albaisa was promoted to his post three years ago. “I immediately went to his office, without an appointment or anything, and asked for a sketch.”

Nissan is a huge company, and Tamura described how at the time there were apparently still many disagreements about the Z in middle management. This aligns with the Z development timeline we’ve been able to discern from talking with Nissan insiders.

Back in December 2014, these chats made us pretty certain that Z35 development hadn’t yet begun. That was concerning. But then, we predicted in 2017 that it was likely in the early stages (Tamura later said that they began the talks in March 2017). Then Albaisa in 2018 said he was excited to be working on the next Z.

So, despite having, at the time, nearly 10 years to develop the new Z, nothing concrete had manifested. This may be why the Z Proto looks to be almost certainly riding on the Nissan FMR platform that has underpinned Zs and Infiniti G-series cars since 2002. And, why a production Z35 is likely at least two years away.

It’s somehow both shocking and completely unsurprising that Nissan had been dragging their feet that long. Profits had been slipping in recent years, and that was before the CEO was arrested and became an international fugitive for alleged financial misdeeds, the coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting slump in global car sales.

Tamura and Albaisa say, though, that the Z was never truly dead. “A sports car was one of the biggest things [Nissan] has done,” Albaisa stated. “In the halls of Nissan, the existence of the Z is a natural topic.”

There are many that will no doubt be disappointed by the continued use of the FMR platform, but it may not be all that terrible. For one, it may have given the manual transmission a reprieve. One can easily imagine a clean-sheet design doing away with it altogether. It would have almost certainly electrified the steering, but the 370Z still uses an old school hydraulic system. We don’t know if the Z35 will, but there’s at least the possibility that we won’t be forced to wield a vague, arcade game steering wheel.

It also means we can guess some of its key specs. When it launched the 370Z was criticized for being heavy, but 12 years on its curb weight is average for its class. A base 370Z weighs 3,333 pounds. That’s over 200 pounds lighter than a Mustang EcoBoost (3,542 lbs).

We know the Z35 will run a twin-turbo V6, probably the same VR30DDTT as the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport. If we extrapolate from the weight difference between a Infiniti Q50 Sensory (3,785 lbs) and the 400 Red Sport (3,855 lbs), we can estimate the mass of the turbos and associated hardware will be 70 pounds. That means the Z35 could weigh in at around 3,400, the weight of the new Supra, a car that few people call overly heavy.

Of course, there are still many variables up in the air. How much will it cost? Hopefully, using the 370Z platform will reduce expenses. Will Nissan be able to tune the suspension to give it the “dance partner” driving feel that Tamura wants? Here, we have to put some faith in Tamura, but this is a man who owned an 800 horsepower R32 GT-R, which he then detuned to 600 because he wanted a more balanced driver.

Tamura explained that Nissan DNA dictates that they must do it for the customers and fans, even if sports cars are not the most profitable thing right now.

“Our DNA is that of a phoenix.” Tamura emphasized. “People say Nissan was dying,” he continued before reaffirming the Z’s importance with an emphatic “We don’t die. ”

Images courtesy of Nissan.

 

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16 Responses to The Nissan Z Proto wasn’t even a thing until three years ago

  1. BlitzPig said:

    The Z is, and will be, grossly over weight. Comparing it to a Mustang and saying it’s lighter is merely trying to cover up the issue. Anyone considering a Z isn’t even looking at the Mustang. Here is some food for thought, the 370Z is heavier than my 2013 Accord Coupe V6 manual. Let that sink in.

    If Nissan was truly serious about the new Z it would have been a car closer in size and weight to the GT86, while still packing a 3 litre V6, and not just a continuation of an outdated platform that hasn’t been front and center in the eyes of the enthusiast market in decades.

    • Ben Hsu said:

      I’m not so sure. People are constantly comparing to BRZ twins to the Mustang. They’re constantly comparing the Supra to the Mustang. People have been comparing X Japanese sports car to the Mustang for decades, except the Mustang can handle now. If my prediction is right, the Z will weigh about the same as the Supra, a car that’s been praised quite well for its drivability, but have slightly more power. Let’s see if it has a lower price.

    • matt said:

      What a joke comment. Every hater of the Z always complains abouts the weight, the weight of the past few generations of the Z has been under its competition. Once again, nissan will have a good rwd manual car available and the same folks complaining about the availability of rwd manual cars, that probably don’t even own one will be talking poorly about it again.

      A 2018 v6 mistang weighs in at 3542, the GT is over 3700, and the 370z is around 3200.

    • Lee L said:

      As nice as that would be, it would require a whole new platform, which Nissan probably can’t afford to do right now.

      The USDM Z32 TT 2+0 was around 3400 lbs if I believe and I would think this will be lighter by at least 100-200 lbs (at least I hope).

      I think it would be very difficult to build a 2900 lb rear wheel drive car with a turbo V6 today and still meet all of the regulatory requirements, especially in the US.

  2. LB1 said:

    I think it’ll get released next year. It’s already 98% ready for production, and the way Nissan is hurting for cash right now, they’ll want to release it fast.

  3. Mark F Newton-John said:

    Dudes, this isn’t 1977 anymore. The days of 2500 lb sports cars are GONE. Crash standards, NVH, modern engines, hell, back then most didn’t even get air conditioning because it was an expensive option.
    Starting to sound old farts talking about “the good old days”.

    • j_c said:

      MX-5 is under 2500. Mazda can invest in the platform because it’s a known seller with a retained customer base.

      Still though, Nissan has a performance image in the Z and GT-R, why can’t they invest in a lighter chassis? They can make an expensive version with the Infiniti brand.

  4. Mark F Newton-John said:

    Nissan should just call it the Z. Engine displacement as model numbers don’t make sense anymore, look at Infiniti. Used to be a Q45 had a 4.5 liter motor. Now the Q50 does NOT have 5 liter anything. Q70 with a 7 liter? Ha ha ha…

    • dissolute_dog said:

      Nissan should finally consolidate the branding as Fairlady Z, as it always should have been known everywhere in the first place (even though I know it probably won’t happen).

      The line has built up 50 years of respect by now, and — with the rumors that this may be the last fully gasoline-powered generation of Z ever made, anyway — it’s way past due for Nissan to muster up the courage in the US market to finally address this lady by her proper name, instead of shying away from it.

      Also, the designers even talked about making the Z a more “sensual-looking” car again, and how it should feel like a “dance partner”. This prototype even carries the Fairlady logo at the rear. Nissan should embrace the name and go with it into production.

    • dissolute dog said:

      Nissan should finally consolidate the branding as Fairlady Z, as it always should have been known everywhere in the first place (even though I know it probably won’t happen).

      The line has built up 50 years of respect by now, and — with the rumors that this may be the last fully gasoline-powered generation of Z ever made, anyway — it’s way past due for Nissan to muster up the courage in the US market to finally address this lady by her proper name, instead of shying away from it.

      Also, the designers even talked about making the Z a more “sensual-looking” car again, and how it should feel like a “dance partner”. This prototype even carries the Fairlady logo at the rear. Nissan should embrace the name and go with it into production.

  5. Ken said:

    Partner Renault makes a fine 1100kg sportscar: the Alpine A110. It can be done.

  6. JDMmoe2 said:

    I guess the bottom line is that the original Z was not designed to be like a British roadster whereas the MX-5 was and still carries on the philosophy.

    Comparing a car like Alpine A110 to a Z is like comparing apples and oranges.
    The A110 has a small engine and uses aluminum quite extensively to get the weight down.
    But even after all the weight reduction it only wights in about the same as a late 80s Japanese sedans.

    The Z was priced at a range that an average bloke can afford it.
    A110 is in a different class – price and prestige wise.

    If you think that A110 is a fine example for a Z then if Nissan ever come up with a new Z like an A110 please don’t complain that it looks too small to be taken seriously or that it is too expensive.

  7. RayZ said:

    I am disappointed in the design, like I’ve seen it before (350Z, 370z). I was looking for something more low sleek and Pantera looking.

  8. Ellis said:

    A Ferrari 360 still fetches around $100k for a car that’s 20 years old. Or I can get the new Z (which will be faster, more reliable and cheaper to maintain and insure) and have enough money left over for servicing costs, gas and tires for the rest of my life… It’s a no brainer. The Z is a performance car bargain. And a manual box too… Haters can hate all they want but in 10-20 years time when everyone else is being driven around by their electric cars I’ll be the one laughing

  9. JDMmoe2 said:

    I guess the bottom line is that the original Z was not designed to be like a British roadster whereas the MX-5 was and still carries on the philosophy.

    Comparing a car like Alpine A110 to a Z is like comparing apples and oranges.
    The A110 has a small engine and uses aluminum quite extensively to get the weight down.
    But even after all the weight reduction it only wights in about the same as a late 80s Japanese econo sedans.

    The Z was priced at a range that an average bloke can afford it.
    A110 is in a different class – price and prestige wise.

    If A110 is a fine example for a Z then if Nissan ever come up with a new Z like an A110 please don’t complain that it looks too small to be taken seriously or that it is too expensive.

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