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  • Nate Kuhn

Fixing the Z Proto

After what seems like well over a decade (because it HAS been) Nissan unveiled their next Z-car - “Proto” is what they called it. They’re quick to explain that means it’s not claiming to be the final production car but apparently it is far closer to production than a pure concept. Ok, I'll bite.

As a nearly lifetime lover of the Z (see my previous article here: this is a big deal for me as well as for everyone who appreciates an affordable sports car on the market. Over the years, each Z has sort of had it’s own vibe, style and goal(s) - and they often are not the same from generation to generation. So when a new ones comes out, we car enthusiasts don’t really know what we’re going to get.

The original 240Z was a small, simple, and affordable (the current marketing tends to use the term APPROACHABLE as to not make it mean ‘cheap’) alternative to European sports cars. There was some evolution on that idea, but by the 90’s it became a fairly expensive, high tech, and heavy GT car (that was absolutely beautiful fwiw). That model died because it got too expensive for its own good, and the revival in 2003 in the 350Z brought a simpler, cheaper and more hardcore sports car to the masses - overall a terrific car and exactly what enthusiasts of reasonable means love. It was a huge success and spawned the refined 370Z that we have today. A car that is quite good, but is laughably outdated and has barely sold a thousand units annually for the past few years.

There’s ton of speculation, but what we do know is that it’s going to have a twin-turbo v6 from the Infiniti Lineup, rear wheel drive and a manual gearbox. Phew, so at least the little amount of technical news sounds pretty good. That engine is fantastic and the mention of a manual transmission definitely gives it a nice reception in the era of 2-Pedal domination. The last bit was a wonderful bit of information after so many are disappointed in the recent Supra not offering one.

An unveiling happened this week, and while we DID see a lot, we didn’t HEAR that much in terms of where the car will actually live in the market. We’ll have to wait a while to hear what I think are two very important details - Price and Curb Weight. Those two are the main factors on whether or not I will personally be interested in owning one.

For now, most of what we get to discuss/debate/argue is over the styling. Largely, I like it. It’s clearly an homage to the original 240Z design but unlike the 2005 Mustang or Current Dodge Challenger, this doesn’t try too hard to fool you into thinking it’s the original. The new Z eschews maximum throwback accuracy for a clean and simple (familiar) shape finished with modern adornments.

However, there are a few areas where most people think they should address before the final one comes out. I couldn’t help but try to imagine what it is that bugs me personally, and then I needed to see if my changes “fixed it” at least to my taste. It definitely seems that the front bumper/grille is the main event in terms of internet argument and I mostly agree - but i’m going to start with the back.

Why make a coupe look like a rag-top?

To my eyes, there’s just an odd collision of ideas back there. Looking back through the Z family tree, I see where many of the inspiration comes from but something doesn't all mesh well. It’s really fussy and looks like three different designs all got approved and slammed together. In looking a bit closer I realized that there’s something weird going on. They painted the roof black (which is pretty cool and common enough) but they sort of arbitrarily traced around the rear window in black, making a very odd shape when viewed from an angle. It cuts down the depth of the deck lid drastically and makes the “tail” look very stubby. From a ¾ angle the car looks like it’s wearing a black toupee (badly) and from the dead rear, it almost looks like a convertible with the top up - something nobody will admit is the best way to see a roadster.

So after staring at it for a bit, I wondered what the rear end would look like if JUST the roof was painted black, and the rest was body colored. And to my eyes, it’s immediately fixed. It not only looks more like the old 240’s rear, the proportions are better but the rear is now elegant, simple and beautiful. I can’t go back to looking at the real one now. To my eyes, it’s infinitely better looking like this, and “fixed” the issue without actually changing a single body panel.

Even if you didn't dislike the original (left) It's kind of hard to go back after seeing mine (right).

So then we move to the profile. To me and most people I've talked to, this is the view that is most universally liked. I am in agreement, it didn’t NEED to change. But, if we do paint the full roof-line body-colored to fix the rear, it has to be done here as well...

I could live with the as-is from this angle, but if we change the back it still has to change here. Result is even better.

And would you look at that? The smooth silhouette of the old car is back and better than ever. This familiar profile when unbroken by the black a-pillar and roof is still absolutely beautiful and goes from an edgy modern design to a modern classic shape with a few sprays of paint. Again, “fixed” or improved without changing the sheet metal.

Then we get to the front. That huge box cutout that is so lacking the elegance of any z-car previously. When I looked at the older cars, I do see where they got this element from. The 240 and 280z had a hard edge rectangle grille and this echoes those. But in the modern age of crash standards and minimum heights for the noses of cars, we can’t pinch that front end so dramatically as before. Also, the older cars had a chrome or black plastic bumper to break up that space.

Rectangle grill of yesteryear - A LOVELY example - Pic courtesy of Bring A Trailer

So without doing something totally off the radar of nostalgia, I just wanted to see what it would look like with a tad more shape. Pulling the front edge of the nose out and down just a bit makes the blunt edged front of the Proto car look a bit more angular. It also makes that rectangle grille fall away at a steeper angle that makes it quite a bit more aggressive and purposeful looking without reinventing the wheel or going away from the older Z inspiration.

NOT perfect, but without changing TOO much it's a lot nicer and more integrated.

I also took a cue from the 280Z and implemented a thin blade to break up the space a bit (where the 280 had a plastic bumper) and I feel it cleaned up the front enough to where I don’t dislike it, but I didn’t do something totally off-book that wouldn't have met the Nissan design brief. Nissan claimed that they’re not officially “done” with it, and I'm sure they’re looking closely at the public’s reception to make final tweaks to the design.

I am not assuming that everybody will agree with my gripes on the Z Proto design, so I’m definitely not assuming that everybody will agree with my “fixes” to the design either. It doesn’t matter, this is all part of the fun of a new unveiling. Also, that with some VERY minor tweaks, something I initially turned my nose up at is starting to look REALLY good.

The bigger takeaway is that there’s another exciting car coming into the enthusiast sports car realm and I couldn’t be happier about it. In the coming weeks/months/year(s) we will learn more about this new Z. That trickle of information will determine its place in the market, whether it’s within reach of us individually and how the final version will look.

For now, my wish list is that it is 6-cyl Supra-levels of performance for a 4-cyl Supra price at a lower curb weight than either. If so, I’m buying one - even if it still looks exactly like the Z Proto. What do you all think? Leave comments below, i'd love to hear if you like my ideas, hate them or have something better in mind!

I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report on our YouTube channel - - The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.


1 Comment

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1click autoauction
Jun 07, 2022

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