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Nissan 350Z Concept Cars

1997 Nissan Mid Sport Concept Car
The Nissan Mid Sport concept car was fun to drive, but it was powered by an un-Z-like four-cylinder engine.
The Nissan Mid Sport concept car was fun to drive, but it was powered by an un-Z-like four-cylinder engine.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

In the 1990s sports-car revival, the one that gave rise to the 1997 Nissan Mid Sport concept car, the emphasis was on emotional style, refined-but-attainable engineering and reasonable price.

The Japanese Bubble Economy mindset of the 1980s that had sired the high-tech, high-price Nissan 300ZX, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7 and Mitsubishi 3000GT had gone bust, and in North America, the volume market for sports and GT cars went along with it.

None of this was lost upon John Yukawa, Chief Product Specialist, Product Planning and Strategy at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan. He recalled, "The 1990-1996 300ZX was priced too high for the brand." So work began on exploring the possibility of a lower-cost, more-basic sports car.

In 1997, a front mid-ship concept, dubbed MS for "Mid Sport," was built. (In a front mid-ship design, the engine's center of gravity is positioned behind the front wheel centerline.)

The low-slung coupe was based on the platform of the Silvia (the former 240SX coupe in North America) and featured a highly tuned 2.4-liter dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder pushed as far back as was feasible to achieve a near-perfect front/rear weight distribution. A prototype was brought to the U.S. for evaluation and driven at Nissan's Arizona Test Center.

The consensus? The MS was a fun-to-drive sports car that would be less expensive to build than the 300ZX. But was it a Z? The evaluators deemed the 4-cylinder MS to be unsuitable. Z cars had always been powered by 6-cylinder engines.

Yukawa and a small band of devotees, both in Japan and the U.S., continued to think about ways a new Z might one day enter Nissan's lineup. But in the mid- to late 1990s, economic conditions were not ripe to expend a significant amount of time, energy or funds working on a small-volume car, no matter how symbolic.

Nevertheless, the dream that a new Z might someday return as a symbol of Nissan's spirit remained very much alive.

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