Planning the 350Z Concept Cars
Planning the 350Z was far more complicated than just building a production version of the 1999 concept car. In fact, all three Nissan design studios -- Nissan Design Center in Atsugi, Japan; Nissan Design America in La Jolla, California; and Nissan Design Europe in Geretsried, Bayern, Germany -- were asked for new proposals.
Nissan was sold on the Z "idea." The how and when had to be worked out.
Tom Semple, president of Nissan Design America at the time, remembered, "When the Nissan-Renault alliance was inked, one of the first projects approved for design was the new Z, I think largely because Chief Operating Officer Carlos Ghosn always loved the Z. He owned one when he ran the U.S. operations of Michelin Tire in the early 1990s. Ghosn once remarked that his only good memory of Nissan was the 300ZX, and 'this is what we must revive.'"
Semple continued, "In the summer of '99, he just bought into the idea and gave us the go to start the project again. At NDA, that was handled once again in Red Studio under the direction of Diane Allen."
Patrick Pelata, then the executive vice president, recalled the thinking at Nissan Motor Company: "The first concept car was kind of a draft that said we need the Z. After that, we went through a true, normal, product-planning process: What are the links to the present generation? What are our customer's wants? Their dreams? What is important to them?
"Simultaneously," Pelata continued, "we were doing our brand-identity work where, to be bold, you don't do just small changes from car to car. From time to time, you need to make a clear cut. You need to get the best of the brand-DNA and make a totally advanced design.
"We look to the future; we're not hung up on the past. Our target customers may be influenced by the past, they have their souvenirs and their youth and they are proud of that. But at the same time, they call on the future. They want to progress, to improve their lives and have new pleasures. And that's why we worked so hard to have both Z-ness and modernity at the same time."
So each studio re-evaluated the direction it intended to pursue. Semple explained the thinking at NDA. "For so long the sports car had been passé, Then there was a resurgence with the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes SLK, BMW Z3 and Honda S2000. We decided this needed to be a pure sports car, not necessarily a GT car.
"There was a lot of back and forth with product planning in Nissan North America as to what constituted a GT car versus a sports car. We put up pictures of all the aspiration cars: the mid-1960s Ferraris, Maseratis and all the cars we thought were benchmarks we should shoot for.
"We opted to have it be as close to a real sports car as we could, which means somewhat smaller, spare, two-passenger only. The interior needed to be comfortable enough once you were in the car, but you should be willing to get on your hands and knees to get in and out if you have to. It's a sports car and a mindset car. It needed to have a big engine in front, rear drive, a long hood, a spare cabin and have the wheels right out on the ends. It required almost a square footprint."
Semple continued, "As things progressed, we had several clay one-quarter-scale models going. Diane Allen did the original design scale model chosen to go full-size. It was a fuselage theme with connected wheel openings not unlike the final production Z. But it had this high arch in the beltline and body side. That program got delayed and we had to start over some months later on a completely different version of the Z."
As with the exterior, all three studios cooperated in the initial concepting of the Z's interior and it was determined the NDC design would move from the Advanced Phase to the Production Phase.