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Nissan 370Z to Spa on a fan's pilgrimage

Tue, 04 Aug 2009

By Giles Meyrick (aka nissansportz)

Motoring Issues

04 August 2009 15:10

NB The photos are high-res and will take some time to render

What is a design icon? What gives a car company its soul? Questions that obviously Carlos Ghosn thought long and hard about when he took over the helm at Nissan at the end of the last millennium.

One of the first things that he did was to sanction the resurrection of a design icon, a key player in Nissan’s product line up – the Z car.  Marketed as the Fairlady Z in Japan, but known as the Z elsewhere in the world, the car had evolved since its 1969 debut as the 240Z, through numerous incarnations each involving an increase in engine displacement.  So the car that most of you will be familiar with is the 3.5-litre variant Nissan 350Z, developed with the sanction of the new CEO back in 2000 to bring the soul back to Nissan and create a buzz in the automotive market.

The Z car had built a strong following in the US, bringing affordable sports cars to the masses in the 1970s and offering dependability, style and fun motoring at the right cost.  Even Paul Newman and Jay Leno were part of the Z faithful, with the late Newman taking the cars to triumphant finishes in the SCCA and IMSA races in the US as a factory driver.  So Ghosn saw the return of the Z as critical to giving Nissan back its soul and tapping into the hearts and wallets of the US market.

All hail the new 370Z

Well now the 350Z is being replaced with even more displacement, upping the engine to a 3.7 litre VQ engine with fancy variable valve throttle control to keep the environmentalists happy and the car performing at its best.

I personally owned a 350Z, a car with a body designed by Leicester-born Ajay Panchal, and it was the shape that first wowed me away from Porsche.  There are hints of Porsche 911 and Audi TT, but also a purposeful, brutish look that hangs together from pretty much every angle.  They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but from my eyes Panchal had succeeded in creating a thing of beauty.

But now it is all change and the new Nissan 370Z, with its extra horsepower has a new body as well. But this is not the work of one man, as with the 350Z, where Panchal guarded his clay model and had a sole vision of the car he wanted to see on the road.  No, this is the result of an internal Nissan competition, where any member of Nissan Design could pitch his or her conceptual idea irrespective of their standing within the hierarchy of the global corporation.

So what do we know about the new design?  The concept was to make a car more nimble, more powerful, lighter and more responsive.  The reality though is that every car is getting heavier, due to increased safety measures and our demands for greater sophistication and comfort.  Sports car customers want the performance of a stripped out racer, but also low cabin noise so that they can make that all important phone call, a great stereo with every nuance of treble maintained and a thumping bass line to boot, air-conditioning, or even better, dual zone climate control, plus somewhere to stash the weekly groceries as well, not forgetting the obligatory cup holders.  So even before we consider the legal requirements and Euro NCAP ratings calling for pyrotechnic bonnet hinges, seat belt pretensioners, more supportive head restraints and a plethora of airbags we have a scale tilting mass of components waiting to be housed in our monocoque chassis.

Hmmm, no easy task; luxuries and safety versus weight and performance...

Well, the Nissan 370Z is shorter than its predecessor, it has borrowed from its new bigger brother, the GT-R, by using Carbon Composite technology to form a sub-frame to house the radiator and cooling assembly giving the car more rigidity for less weight.  To keep the grocery shoppers happy the rear strut brace of the 350Z has been removed giving one continuous load space, although the load area is smaller than on the 350Z due to the 370Z’s shorter length and the bracing now runs nearer the centre bulkhead.   Looking through the previous lists it appears that all the customer and safety requirements has been ticked off one by one, even the cup holders.

But is it any good?

By Giles Meyrick (aka nissansportz)