The Z-car is turning 50.
First sold in Japan in 1969 as the Fairlady Z, the sportscar pet-project of Yutaka Katayama made its way to the American market in 1970 where it was rebranded as the 240Z. In the U.S., the Z-car took the American sports-car market by storm, overwhelming nearly every Datsun dealership across the United States with extreme demand. In all, the 240Z sold close to 200,000 units in the American market. While the Z-car steadily declined in popularity over the next few generations, from the 280Z to the 280ZX, to the 300ZX and eventually today’s 350Z and 370Z variants, the modern Z-car has not quite lived up to the icon that was the 240Z.
It seemed all but confirmed that Nissan would eventually discontinue the Z-car with the particularly lackluster performance of the 370Z, but reports in late 2017 and early 2018 seemed to indicate that Nissan had plans for a revival. At the Detroit Auto Show in early 2018, Nissan’s chief planning coordinator, Philippe Klein told Autoweek that there is actively a new Z-car project in the works. “…we still believe there is a place for the Z, and we want to keep it alive, and that’s what we’re working on.” Klein elaborated on some of the more difficult aspects of this project: “If we do a completely new vehicle, what should it be to keep the passion alive? And we’re working very seriously on this — how we can keep the Z alive and refreshing and what would be the next generation?”
With all that said, there has been an enormous amount of speculation on this new Z-car — the kind of power and performance the vehicle will offer, the design, even some rumors that the new Z will actually be a crossover. At ZCarGuide, we are dedicated to reporting everything we know this far from as credible sources as we can find, and we will be updating this page all the way up to Nissan’s true unveiling of the car. So go ahead and bookmark this page and be sure to come back regularly as new information becomes available.
A Powerful New Z-Car
Many initial reports in early 2018 seemed to cautiously suggest the possibility that this new Z would be powered by a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder engine courtesy of a partnership with Mercedes. Others seemed confident in reporting that Nissan would be partnering with Infiniti to power the new Z with a turbocharged 3.0L V6, seen in Infiniti’s Q60. Recently though, it appears that while there was some talk of a collaboration between Mercedes and Nissan, this may not have even been related to the new Z car. Regardless, the plan has been scrapped. From information made available thus far, it does appear that Infiniti’s V6 will power the new Z, giving the standard model 399 horsepower, and 350 lb.-ft. of torque.
According to a report from Autocar, Nissan plans to offer a Nismo version of this new Z which will feature a higher performance version of this Q60 engine. This seems speculative, but early reports indicate that the Nismo version will offer an enticing 476 horsepower and 451 lb.-ft. or torque.
One interesting note is that the 240Z was built and marketed around an almost obsessive focus on the number 24 — with its 2.4L inline-6, almost 2400 lbs. in curb-weight. Nissan has generally stuck to that idea. Even the most recent 350Z and 370Z had 3.5L and 3.7L engines. If these reports do remain true with the 3.0L Infiniti engine, the reported name of 400Z may break that trend and is unlikely. For the time being, we’re going to stick with 400Z until we know anything more.
The 400Z… but when?
The question on every Z enthusiast’s mind is undoubtedly, when we can see this car? When will we know more? Like most new car releases, everything is speculative at this early stage. While Nissan has reportedly green-lit the project according to that aforementioned Autocar article, the Japanese automaker has been pretty quiet so far.
The current information available seems to suggest that the Tokyo Motor Show will give us our first glimpse of the 400Z, with several different reports claiming that the October 2018 show will feature a concept of the 400Z. This seems dubious, as the Tokyo Motor Show is a biennial event (occurring every 2 years) and the most recent event was last October in 2017. Some have speculated that perhaps the originator of this information was referring to the Tokyo Auto Salon scheduled for January 2019.
It does seem more likely that the Tokyo Motor Show would be the most appropriate event for Nissan to show this new 400Z, as it is a common event for new Japanese concept cars. Other reports seem to mention that another possibility is the Los Angeles Auto Show, which typically starts in late November and goes on until early December. This event would also be an appropriate event for Nissan to show their new Z, given the Z’s importance in LA automotive history. If this is the case, the next question becomes whether we may catch a glimpse of the 400Z this upcoming November of 2018/2019, or whether we will have to wait another year for the 2019 version of the show.
What the New Z-Car Needs
The 400Z will undoubtedly gain the automotive world’s attention once Nissan releases it, or even shows it to us! The important question is whether or not Z enthusiasts will like it. There’s no debate — Nissan’s recent Z cars have not captured the market like they used to… The 240Z gave the Porsche 911 a real run for its money in the United States, and most importantly, redefined what America thought about Japanese automobiles. The 370Z, by comparison, is not very sought-after and simply does not inspire the same kind of excitement that the original Z car once did.
While many will have their own opinions on exactly what this new Z car should be, here are some key factors that we at ZCarGuide feel are extremely important for this new 400Z.
A nod to the original design
The new Z car absolutely needs to take its cue from the 240Z. Not only will this make commercial sense if done well, taking notes from the original Z car as it turns 50 would be a nice touch. The 400Z should feature a retro-modern redesign of the 240Z. Nissan should take inspiration from Dodge, who delivered a perfectly modern recreation of the original Dodge Challenger
While Nissan has attempted to redesign the Z-car in a modern fashion with the 350Z and 370Z, the newer Z cars simply don’t do enough to recreate the revolutionary design of the 240Z. We don’t claim to be professional car designers — recreating older designs is difficult in today’s world of efficiency and more stringent regulation. Nissan has a chance to come up with an extremely hot-selling vehicle if they can just come up with a tasteful retro design.
A spirited drive
The 240Z captivated the interest of automotive enthusiasts young and old with it’s design, but the car holds a soft spot in the hearts of many because of how it drove. The original Z car delivered just the right amount of power and handled as well as any sportscar out there. With early reports showing the 3.0L V6 from Infiniti powering the 400Z, there is a good chance Nissan is able to replicate this same power and drivability profile. Much of the 240Z’s unique feeling came from the fact that it weighed a measly 2400 lbs., but with the kind of performance offered by the Q60 engine, it is possible that Nissan is able to get close to that same power-to-weight ratio and general handling.
Rather than continue to wax poetic on how the 240Z drove and felt, I’ll leave you with a word from Mr. K, the father of the Z car:
“How can we transpose the relationship between man and horse into the one between man and car? Even after I was sent to Los Angeles in 1960 to establish Nissan Motors in the U.S., this question never really left me. Eventually I came up with the concept of the Z-car. It was a sports car with a sleek body with a long nose and a short deck, designed so that it could be built utilizing some of the parts and components that were already used in our other production cars, and it was a car that anybody could drive easily and that would give the driver that incredible feeling of jubilation that comes when car and driver are as one.” – Yutaka Katayama