The Nissan Z Proto is a perfect mixture of past Z cars (or as Chief Designer at Nissan, Alfonso Albaisa called it, memories) and the future of Nissan. Some people might say it is merely an evolution of the 370Z but clearly, there is more to that.
In fact, it is probably a better reworking of what Nissan had done a little over 20 years ago with a Z concept also known as the 240Z Concept.
Things weren’t doing so well financially for Nissan in the late nineties. Sure, the Skyline GT-R was about to reach what many fans felt was peak GT-R with the R34. In reality though, things were looking very bleak for the Japanese carmaker.
While things haven’t really gone as bad today for Nissan, it’s safe to say that it wasn’t 1999 bad. Nissan was in so much debt at the time, they were making losses with every car sold. In America, sales were dwindling to the point that it was reported that Nissan were giving away $1,000 for every Nissan model sold.
Speaking of America, the Z32 300ZX while initially receiving praises from motoring journalists, eventually saw sales slipping year after year. This was due to a few factors, mainly the rise of SUVs and a strong Japanese Yen which saw prices rise.
Nissan eventually pulled the 300ZX out of its line-up in 1996, a mere 6 years after its American launch and went on a hiatus despite having more than a million Z-car sales that began with the 240Z.
To keep the interests of the Z-car alive, Nissan America did a restoration program in 1998 by buying old 240Zs, restoring them, and reselling them at dealerships for around US$ 24,000.
At the 1999 North American International Auto Show, Nissan unveiled the 240Z Concept. For one, Nissan hopped on the whole retro-modern bandwagon that was kickstarted by the Volkswagen Concept 1 and Plymouth Pronto Cruiser which became the Volkswagen New Beetle and the Chrysler PT Cruiser respectively.
The 240Z Concept was a modern interpretation of the 240Z, retaining the overall looks of the 240Z but with a rounder shape that gave off a nineties aesthetic. It didn’t age well, suffice to say.
Even worse was the powertrain. Unlike previous Z cars, the 240Z Concept was powered by a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder KA24DE engine taken from a 240SX which produced 200 PS and 244 Nm. It was an insult as the Z-cars had always been historically using six-cylinder engines.
Granted it took the team 12 weeks to make this concept come to life. Thankfully, this never made it to production. Nissan eventually merged with Renault and Carlos Ghosn became Nissan’s CEO.
Before he made his great escape nearly a decade later, Ghosn proclaimed that the Z “will be built and it will be profitable”. A brand-new Z Concept was shown to the world at the 2001 North American International Auto Show which eventually became the production Z33 350Z.
While the 240Z Concept might get some mixed to negative reactions from the media, it did garner some interests for the Z car to be brought over back into the States. The Z33 350Z did become a minor success for Nissan in America as an affordable sports car.