A Devil Z for Gen Z - the Nissan Z Proto is the affordable sports car of 2021

CY Foong · Sep 17, 2020 12:00 AM

Fresh from the hype of the newest-generation of Nissan’s Z car, the Nissan Z Proto, some of us in the media were invited for a virtual roundtable discussion with Nissan’s Chief Designer, Alfonso Albaisa.

In the discussion, the Cuban-American designer talked about what inspired the Z Proto, and from the overall looks, the most obvious inspiration was the first-generation 240Z (S30).

Techno beats play in the background

Those of you who spent some time and money at the arcade would recognise the 240Z as the infamous "Devil Z" in the Wangan Midnight franchise. You know, the ultimate Wangan cruiser in blue driven by Akio Asakura before you decide to face the real devils of the game - players who challenge you and bang you against the wall in their riced-out Evos and GT-Rs.

Growing up in Miami, a young Alfonso first laid eyes on the 240Z in the early 1970s and fell in love with it almost immediately. On the Z Proto, this homage (or memory as Alfonso called it in the discussion) is seen not only in the silhouette with the long bonnet and squared-off rear.

It’s the minor details like the position of the Z-emblem on the rear C-pillar as well as the Fairlady Z badge on the boot. Then, there’s the front which gives a very clear indication of the 240Z with the rectangular-shaped grille and the headlamps.

The rectangular grille looks ginormous and sadly is also the one being criticized the most online. But so is the one on the 240Z when you remove the front bumpers. Anyway, I stand by this design. Alfonso explained that the design acts as the space formed between the long hood, the fenders, and the slim chin.

For the headlamps, the design team went through numerous drafts which included a modern sleek design and fully rounded ones. Eventually, the team visited the Zama (Nissan’s heritage collection) and saw the long-nosed 240ZG. The closed clear headlamp design shows either the top half or bottom half the headlamps as you walk around and the team decided that was the design to go.

But the 240Z wasn’t the only Z car that inspired the Z Proto. In 1988, Alfonso began working as a designer for Nissan. While in Tokyo after winning a project for the Terrano, he stumbled across a clay model of the then yet-to-be-released Z32 300ZX.

To Alfonso, this was yet another inspiration for the Z Proto and one that was finally given the recognition in a later Z car. The Z32 represented a revolution of the Z car as it was unlike the Z cars of the past, looking very minimalistic.

The memory towards the Z32 is clearly seen in the rear with the taillight design mimicking the nineties icon. This time it is fitted with LED lights to give a more modern and timeless take.

Inside, you are reminded that while this is a modern car with amenities like a digital instrument cluster, there are still a few vintage aesthetics like the deep-dish steering wheel. It is also a pure performance car at heart as Alfonso noted the position of the horizontal instrument panel and the uncluttered space surrounding the 6-speed manual gearbox.

The Z Proto looks like it gets a lot of inspiration from the past but it isn’t an evolution of a Z car but it does represent something else, Nissan’s DNA. Nissan has quite a history and many of their older models especially, are considered legends.

Even Alfonso has said throughout the discussion that the Z Proto represents a revolution of the Z car which first started with the Z32 and continued on with the modern Z cars, the 350Z and 370Z. More importantly, the Z car was first conceived as an affordable sports car for the masses.

Whether the latest iteration of the Z car will keep the affordable tag might be a tad bit unlikely especially here in Malaysia. Throughout the discussion, Alfonso didn’t divulge any powertrain information but added that what you see on the Z Proto is almost what you would see on the production (400?)Z.

Oh, the hood opens backward, with the hinges at the back, unlike the original 240Z.