LOS ANGELES - Nissan's revived Z car, expected to debut in mid-2002, will not be a monument to retro culture or a paean to the original 240Z, its U.S. designers vow.
'My feeling was that retro styling would become truly antiquated - as opposed to hip - once we pass the millennial marker. Because, then, it's last century and doesn't have the same charge,' said Jerry Hirshberg, president of Nissan Design International, the automaker's U.S. design studio in La Jolla, Calif.
Early full-scale treatments of the new car made it look like a modern edition of the early 1970s sports car, but the clay models working their way through the studio are different.
Nissan Design International has built 12 quarter-scale and four full-scale model Zs and is still working on the final version. That rendition will be sent to Japan in five weeks to compete against the design of the corporate studio.
Leading the Nissan Design International project is Diane Allen, whose previous work was the rugged 2001 face-lift of the Frontier pickup. She, too, says the next Z won't look like a redone 240Z or 300ZX.
'It will be a lot more wheel-oriented, with more testosterone and strength,' she said.
'With those (previous) cars, the body and wheels were flush and subtle. We're trying to be more bold. We need to look forward, embodying our heritage without borrowing the aesthetic.'
Allen said the first concept Z was a litmus test to see where management stood on building a sports car.
It went from sketch pad to finished full-scale clay model in four weeks. The second design also was discarded because it was too much of a grand touring coupe.
Allen said the design looks 'trim and athletic but aggressive and beautiful.' Contrary to rumors, she said the next Z will have a six-cylinder.
Of course, there is no guarantee Nissan Design International's design will win. But Hirshberg, who will retire June 30, the day the Z's final design is slated to be chosen, says he is confident the American studio's concept will be selected.
'We know it will be controversial,' he said. 'But I'd rather take risks and do a car we believe in. This will not be a polite car.'
Hirshberg also promised outrageous performance for the car.
'If its performance reaches 75 percent of what the engineers say, then it will be the best performing sports car in the world, regardless of price,' he said. 'And ours will come in under $30,000.'