If Nissan Wants A Brand Revival, This Is The Car To Do It
The Japanese carmaker introduced the beloved “Fairlady Z” in 1969, and the sleek, sporty first generation of the car hit the U.S. market as the 1970 Datsun 240Z. Ever since then, the Z has undergone an evolution that has captured the imaginations of Japanese car enthusiasts, and earned it a place among the all-time greats of legacy sports cars.
Because of that legacy, the announcement of the new 2023 Nissan Z this week had some fans wondering whether the car would measure up to the standard set by previous generations. The skepticism here is even more justified given the 2018 arrest of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, which dragged the brand’s reputation to a new low. But if this crisis of confidence has forced Nissan to look to the past for inspiration, they’re all the better for it. The positive reaction to the 2023 Z-car is undoubtedly rooted in its faithfulness to the O.G. Z’s spirit, and a heritage that now spans five decades.
When the Fairlady Z was conceived in the late ‘60s, the strengths associated with each of the world’s auto manufacturing hubs were pretty much the same as they are today: American power, European style, and Japanese practicality. The Z challenged those assumptions, boldly and successfully.
It was hailed as an affordable and highly capable grand tourer, equally well-suited to both motorsports and personal use. Like many Japanese cars that followed, the Z charmed its audience by putting the driver first, and building an immensely enjoyable experience behind the wheel. The name “Fairlady,” which seems to evoke the pleasure of that experience, was actually first used by Nissan a decade earlier – it comes from the musical “My Fair Lady,” a Broadway hit that attracted the attention of Nissan’s president.
But the Z’s early success didn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t hit some speed bumps. The Z-cars of the ‘80s were notoriously bad by comparison, with bloated styling that weighed the car down both literally and figuratively. But this disappointment gave fans all the more reason to rejoice at the Nissan 350Z, the fifth-generation Fairlady that debuted in the U.S. in 2002. The famous curves of that car can be seen on the new model as well, but ironically, Nissan has had to dive even further into the nostalgia pool to make the 2023 Z feel truly current. Its longer proportions are more derivative of the original 1969 version than any Z-car in the last 30 years, while its twin-turbocharged V-6 ensures that the retro design won’t compromise performance. If Nissan is looking to reinvent itself, this car has the potential to do it, and fans of the Fairlady Z might finally get another car worthy of their devotion.
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