Commentary: The New Z

Nissan is not going to cast off their iconic sports coupe. And, we should be celebrating this!

The unveiling of the Z Proto was proof that Nissan was committed to the continuation of a legacy. A legacy that cemented the intentions of the Yokohama-based company to be a different kind of automaker. Different, as in showing a sporty side and making it their focus at a time when vehicles from Japan were attracting global customers in increasing numbers. 

I want to go back to the beginning. The fall of 1969 was a perfect time for a five-year-old car lover to be exposed such a car. This five-year-old was stunned by the original 240Z. In a world where Chrysler introduced two ponycars, with General Motors in the wings with their second-generation F-cars, the 240Z stood out as part-original thinking, part-nod to the great sports coupes of the prior decade. 

If imitation was a form of flattery, the folks at Jaguar (at that time, British Leyland) should have been happy that Nissan crafted their Fairlady Z as a paean to the iconic E-Type. The long hood, sloping roofline, the in-line six-cylinder engine – all sold at a price that was accessible to the average enthusiast. In a sense, the Z democratized the sports coupe. 

The way it drove was remarkable. I had a chance to drive a friend’s 1971 240Z in the 1980s. It had that sensation that threw you back into the seat when you hit the throttle. The feedback and drivability were sensational. I am still swirling with memories of how light it was. 

The original Z was amazingly practical. Even if you got the 2+2 version, the hatchback made weekend drives memorable. You could also take it to the track and it will deliver the thrills like those more expensive coupes. 

I mentioned in my V&R Stories about the Jeep Wagoneer that my dad a 280ZX. I do not recall whether it was the two-seater or a 2+2, but that two-tone silver and blue paint scheme was somewhat tasteful. Too bad he crashed it somewhere into a piece of the Coastal Ranges along California Highway 128 between Guerneville and the Pacific Ocean. I’m not blaming the 280ZX in this case. 

It is also no surprise that a several of my colleagues and friends have Zs across several generations. Some have been modified slightly for track work. Others took a deeper dive into the imagination. A great example of my friend Joe and his 350Z, which became the third LS-swapped Z of its kind. Joe’s example looked absolutely amazing. The gold wrapping inside of the engine bay to handle the extra heat from GM’s Small Block V8 and the final fit of the engine itself underneath the hood. 

There many other Zs to remember. However, we must look forward. 

Because of these memorable Zs, Nissan needs to deliver this Proto into production. It cannot make any missteps from this prototype. From what we’ve seen so far…this is exactly the perfect bridge over 50-plus years of memories. 

We know it will be different in terms of performance and technology. What the enthusiasts are applauding is the fact that a manual transmission will be available on the new Z for global consumption. That is, if Nissan North America can deliver on the manual transmission promise while providing an “automatic” option to those who cannot depress the third pedal. 

This is one of the caveats that Nissan has to uphold for the markets the Z is to be sold. There’s a lot more – staying true to the design, benchmarking performance levels from the twin-turbocharged V6, and delivering on a set of driving dynamics that befit the new Z for today’s enthusiasts. 

In other words, this should not be a Z that is only competent on the street. Then again, the last two generations of Z did have some track cred. That should be benchmarked even further than current levels. 

Maybe I’m asking a lot out of a prototype. If it seems that way, understand why this next Z is important to Nissan. Think about what the company has gone through in the past few years. Understand how much this next Z means to Nissan to regain the confidence of the consumer and enthusiast base. That takes a lot of moving parts to achieve. 

For one, the enthusiast must be welcomed at a dealership that is ready to sell the new Z. If they are not, then Nissan will have to rethink how they should link each new Z to its intended customer in a manner that befits the car’s heritage, intention, and possible price range. In other words, if you’re going to sell a Z, you need to make it a special experience in doing so. It’s time for the Nissan dealer network to step up to the challenge. 

There is a lot riding on this new Z. When it comes into production, I expect the same fervor that was exhibited upon its reveal to still be there – if not, more amplified. 

Think about how the hype train for the Toyota GR Supra remained for years through its reveal and arrival at dealerships. Nissan needs to take the same kind of hype train and milk this new Z for the promises it will make when it arrives at their respective showrooms sometime, hopefully, soon. 

All photos courtesy of Nissan North America

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