The car world is full of wonder and mystery! Even when you’re steeped in it every waking hour of your day like I am, it’s still wide and weird enough that you can learn about new things all the time. Case in point: Nissan’s Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1. It’s like 1980s Japan, 1980s Italy, and all of my dreams got together and had a forgotten magical orphan baby, and I want to adopt it forever.
I had no clue this car even existed until reader Jacob sent me an eBay UK listing for a 1990 example of one, and now I’m obsessed. Enthralled. I must have it!
Despite its bizarro looks and Nissan underpinnings—we’ll get to that in a second—the Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1 has managed to stay pretty obscure, even though a cursory search revealed it’s gotten coverage on some blog in 2008 written by some hack named Matt Hardigree that also expressed enthusiasm for it. Good to know I’m not alone in this obsession.
The Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1 comes to us from the Bubble Era of Japan, a period of the mid-1980s through the early 1990s when that country’s real estate values were overinflated and Japanese automakers were riding an unprecedented wave of cash and (presumably) coke-fueled confidence that led to executives making actual business cases for inexplicably fantastic products like a Ferrari-killing supercar from Honda, a three-rotor luxury supercoupe and a gull-winged mid-engined kei car, just to name a few.
It is, in my opinion, the greatest time and place for car production, ever.
The Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1, as its name implies, was built by Nissan subsidiary Autech, and at a very high price tag in limited numbers. And it was designed by famed Italian coachbuilder Zagato, which explains its aggressive angles, massive NACA ducts and very late-’80s-Italian looks.
But underneath it’s a familiar animal. It’s based on the Nissan Leopard, aka the wonderful Infiniti M30, itself one of the most under-appreciated Japanese luxury cars ever. And it packs the well-known and well-regarded VG30DET 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 related to the one from the Z at the time and used in several luxury cars, here tuned by Autech. As the listing notes it’s “officially” rated at 280 horsepower, but this is 1990s Japan, baby. That’s a rating with a wink and a grin and a gentle elbow to your chest. You and I both know it cranks out more than 300 HP, probably. Or at least it did new.
Do you know what Nissan makes today? CVTs. And the Rogue. My god, we’ve fallen so far. Sad!
The downside: a four-speed automatic. But will you care when you’re rolling in such rare and unmatched styling? I do not think so.
Also, from the listing:
The interior boasts specially selected leathers and wood, with about every electrical gadget available in 1989. In fact, Autech originally wanted to incorporate a small hatch on the drivers side just behind the front door so that a briefcase could easily be stowed behind the front seat (not big enough for a passenger), but was left out as costs for the car spiraled upwards. The interior is finished in true Italian style, and is a statement of luxury, in contrast to the almost ‘cool because it isn’t’ 1980′s hard-edged chic styling of the exterior.
I would wager that it is actually cool because it is cool, friend!
Buy this thing on eBay before I do.