Combining decades of wildly differing Z design into one car isn’t easy, explains Nissan’s head designer.

“I’m just waiting for it wink at me when I walk past,” says one of our readers about the new Z Proto. Indeed, cars have always encompassed anthropomorphic attributes, and research tells us it’s all about the eyes, or headlights.

And so it is not without rumination that Nissan penned the design of the new Z Proto – the upcoming ‘400Z’. The front is perhaps the most talked about, with praise and skepticism alike of what impression it will give in the metal.

We too couldn’t help but wonder, before the new Z was officially revealed, if it might have a more traditional headlight arrangement, the famous sports car look of the original S30 240 and 260Z. Well, Nissan told us it already tried, and it didn’t look good.

Notwithstanding, we’ve rendering our own Z homage, using the new elliptical headlights in the traditional scalloped headlight cove above. But according to the head of design for the Japanese brand, Alfonso Albaisa, “It didn’t feel right”. It must be hard designing a car when imposed with styling cues that span five decades yet have to compete against fresh new sports car metal.

“It’s an emotional project for an emotional company, so that’s not a restriction as much as we are completely aware of the meaning of Z to 1.8 million people who have owned them globally,” says Albaisa.

“So we do feel the respect and because of social media, we feel and hear the love and opinions. It tends to be more complicated a project because of those things, it doesn’t mean it’s restricting, but you feel more responsibility,” he says of the pressure to get it right – appeasing both old and new fans of the Z.

Using the might of Nissan design teams across the globe – London, China, California, and Japan – there is surely an international folio treasure chest of draft designs that would be more intriguing than the new car itself, but we’d be more than lucky to see them. What we do know from talking to Albaisa, is that they did design the car with a traditional front – a front from the first Z ever, the classic.

“About the headlamps, this was one of the areas we really wanted to be in full transparency going back and forth,” says Albaisa of the teams working together to design the Z Proto.

“We had a really modern headlamp at one point and it didn’t feel right, then we had a round one, a pure round one, it didn’t feel right.”

So how did Nissan end up where it is? As we speculated in our teaser briefing, it looks like the new headlamp is the same shape and area of the original 240, however, it fills the entire space rather than insetting the headlamp.

“So then we went to the Zama (Nissan’s heritage museum),” says Albaisa. “We received the model from the museum that was one of the special versions (1972 Fairlady 240ZG/ G-Nose HS30) with the closed-off headlamps, the glass cover, and it was a kind of a eureka moment because when you walk around that car, when it had the clear lens, sometimes you only saw the top and bottom of the round lens inside. So the LEDs now represent the top and bottom of the ZG special version.”

It sounds like there is more to come from the new Z Proto, with the model giving more when you see it and walk around it in the metal. The headlamps won’t look as two dimensional of course, and perhaps the grille not so rectangular, though Albaisa explains that the new model’s gaping door grille is holding true to the original anti-grille ethos, and that the twin-turbo engine simply needs more air.

“The front of the car is probably more a literal homage to the 240 the 260Z, depending on the specs because there were special versions and things, but what I find interesting about it is we usually talk about a grille as an object on its own on the front of the car, but on the 240 if you look quite carefully, the grille is created by the hood, the fender coming around and the chin. And the grille is really the space between those things, those lines.

“The grill is much bigger than the 240 because, end of the day, the 2.4-litre straight-six in the sixties needed to breathe a little less.”

Of course, the overall essence of the car isn’t tied to the ‘60s. The new Z is designed to incorporate decades of Z goodness, such as the obvious 300ZX-inspired rear-end. In fact, it seems to us that it was the 300ZX (Z32) which was the flag bearer for how the car’s new panels and elements would blend seamlessly together.

“The hesitation is that in some aspects when we brought the side [profile] we wanted to move them around, tone them with the different Zs because at the end of the day I’m trying to recapture that sense of when I went to the studio and saw the 300Z.

“I really fell in love with this minimalism, this almost polished river stone the 300Z had; remember there is no character line, no crease, just the graphic below the waistline. So this started to get into the car, even this proposal which is a constant rebalancing, so there were the round lights which became double-arch lights.”

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Alex Rae

Alex Rae brings almost two decades’ experience, previously working at publications including Wheels, WhichCar, Drive/Fairfax,, AMC, Just Cars, and more.

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