Rare Rides: The 1990 Nissan Autech Stelvio Zagato AZ1 You've Never Heard Of
A car styled by the Italians and built by the Japanese — the combination everyone says they want. It’s rear-drive, a coupe, and has luxury trappings in the finest Italian tradition. It was so expensive when it was new that most people couldn’t afford to look at it. All these qualities make this a Rare Ride you are required to like. Required, do you hear me?
It’s the Nissan Autech Stelvio Zagato AZ1, and you’re going to look at it.
It all began with a Nissan Leopard, the very same car which became the US market Infiniti M30 as seen in the latest Picture Time. The Leopard wasn’t quite exciting enough, and Nissan’s tuning subsidiary Autech had some ideas. However, Autech’s focus was (and is) mainly on the mechanical bits of Nissan vehicles, so Autech looked for outside assistance from Italy.
In comes the Zagato part of the name. Autech inked a single-model deal with design firm Zagato in 1987 for a new luxury coupe aimed at the Japanese domestic market.
While Autech modified the engine and chassis components, it left the interior and exterior redesign entirely to Zagato. And the company went nuts.
Gone are the standard wing mirrors, replaced with integrated fender mirrors. Fish gills come to mind. The rest of the exterior was completely redesigned as well, with more rounded corners and a wider stance. There are also unique Zagato dinner plate wheels (a great design).
Zagato applied much stylish Italian suede and regular cows to the interior of the Zagato, giving the cabin a luxury flair not found in the standard Leopard.
Helpings of real wood are also here (presently experiencing some finish issues).
All this modification didn’t come cheap. First unveiled in 1989, the Stelvio arrived at dealers for 1990 with a $200,000 price tag. That’s more than Honda’s superb NSX. But the Stelvio is considerably more rare than the garden variety NSX. The builders made just 104 of these luxury coupes.
I’m conflicted about the Stelvio. It checks all the boxes: rare, JDM, Italian, luxurious, rear-drive, VG30. But it’s also awkward, and has no real reason to exist other than itself. So, that makes it art, and that’s how art goes — this just happens to be art you can drive to work.
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