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This Missing Link 1990s Nissan Z Prototype Is Cooler Than It Has Any Right To Be

Illustration for article titled This Missing Link 1990s Nissan Z Prototype Is Cooler Than It Has Any Right To Be
Photo: Nissan

The Nissan 350Z was meant to be a back to basics return for the Z, coming after the big, bad 300ZX of the 1990s. But there was a middle step that never made it to production, even simpler than the 350Z that came after it.

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This is the Nissan Middle Sports concept, which I had not seen until YouTuber Sammit posted this tour of Nissan’s Yokohama HQ, 13 and a half minutes into the vid:

Sammit is an S-Chassis guy and recognized even before seeing the interior, hey, this is a Nissan S14.

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Indeed, the Nissan Middle Sports was a contemporary Nissan 240SX, chopped up and rebodied to look more like an older Z car. Well, it looks like a 280ZX front merged with a 300ZX rear. The middle looks like what eventually went into production as the Nissan S15 Silvia, the one we didn’t get here in America.

Pics and info are a little spotty, as it seems like Nissan only put the thing on display this month. People already want to buy an S14 bodykit conversion for it. Also yes there is a Choro-Q style cartoon version of it.

There is one page on it in the Nissan Heritage museum lineup site, though it has no details and just sends to a dead link on another Nissan Heritage page.

There also seems to be some kind of official info booklet, though I can’t google translate it.

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The engine was the same as you got in the 240SX, a 200-horsepower, naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. This is the KA24DE, which American JDM nerds have always loathed as a truck engine and deeply inferior to the turbo 2.0 SR20DET foreign markets enjoyed. I am an FJ20 dork myself but I get it. You can see the full specs in Sammit’s video. I’ll note it weighs about 2,800 pounds, so you could probably expect a 240SX-esque driving experience:

Illustration for article titled This Missing Link 1990s Nissan Z Prototype Is Cooler Than It Has Any Right To Be
Screenshot: Sammit
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Illustration for article titled This Missing Link 1990s Nissan Z Prototype Is Cooler Than It Has Any Right To Be
Screenshot: Sammit

In any case, the market for sports cars was collapsing in the ’90s right along with the Japanese economy, so I’m not surprised it never went into production. But the economy may not have been the only thing keeping it from getting a green light, as How Stuff Works notes:

None of this was lost upon John Yukawa, Chief Product Specialist, Product Planning and Strategy at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan. He recalled, “The 1990-1996 300ZX was priced too high for the brand.” So work began on exploring the possibility of a lower-cost, more-basic sports car.

In 1997, a front mid-ship concept, dubbed MS for “Mid Sport,” was built. (In a front mid-ship design, the engine’s center of gravity is positioned behind the front wheel centerline.)

The low-slung coupe was based on the platform of the Silvia (the former 240SX coupe in North America) and featured a highly tuned 2.4-liter dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder pushed as far back as was feasible to achieve a near-perfect front/rear weight distribution. A prototype was brought to the U.S. for evaluation and driven at Nissan’s Arizona Test Center.

The consensus? The MS was a fun-to-drive sports car that would be less expensive to build than the 300ZX. But was it a Z? The evaluators deemed the 4-cylinder MS to be unsuitable. Z cars had always been powered by 6-cylinder engines.

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Interestingly, Nissan’s own placard above says none other than Mr. K himself “felt a sense of unity with the car and DNA of Z, and liked it.” It’s possible that the four-vs-six cylinder debate is a bit of a distraction from the economic certainty of the time.

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Either way, the car is an interesting sidenote in the Z car story, and I’m glad it’s in good shape now. Some pics of the thing in 2007 make it look more than a little dusty and forgotten. For being such a basic design, just a chopped-up 240SX, I really like it. I’m glad the Middle Sports now in the mix, and I still think there’s room for a nice four-cylinder Nissan sports car to make a return.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

I always dug the 1999 240Z Concept, personally. I remember being a little disappointed, styling-wise, when the final look of the 350Z was unveiled. I was hoping it would look more like the concept.

That reminds me, I’ve got a deck of pre-launch 350Z playing cards around here somewhere. Nissan was pretty cool back in the early 2000's. They also sent me a big packet of Sentra SE-R Spec-V stickers, info, and a CD with a promotional anime on it, Master of the Sixth Speed.