It goes without saying, the safari-style sports car is so hot right now. While independent builders have been lifting Porsche 911s for ages, we’ve recently seen dirt-slinging coupes from the likes of Porsche and Lamborghini, and everyone’s taken notice. After all, sports car agility with crazy high-performance all-terrain tires and raised ride heights capable of shrugging off decaying North American infrastructure open more doors to enjoyment. While the Nissan Safari Rally Z Tribute isn’t a car you can buy, it lays a great blueprint for those craving a Safari 911 on a more reasonable budget.
Yes, the Nissan Safari Rally Z Tribute is a show car, specifically one meat for exhibition at the annual SEMA show of aftermarket wizardry. To build this centerpiece for Nissan’s stand, the Japanese automaker contracted Tommy Pike Customs, the same North Carolinian company that put a Leaf powertrain in a Nissan Sunny pickup truck for last year’s SEMA show. However, while that truck got low, this Z goes high and pays tribute to a rallying legend in the process.
In the beginning, there was the 1971 Datsun 240Z rally car, which won the 1971 East African Safari Rally in the hands of Edgar Hermann and Hans Schuller. This little rally-prepped coupe leaped past Ford Escorts, Porsches, and even a Pontiac GTO to claim victory over 3,100 miles of grueling terrain. Even crazier? A similarly-prepped 240Z driven by Shekar Mehta and Mike Doughty placed second overall, securing glory for Nissan’s sports car. These days, the winning car enjoys semi-retirement in Nissan’s collection, and with the new Z borrowing a few styling cues from the original, it feels like the perfect time to recreate that rally look.
This show-ready Z gets a two-inch lift in ground clearance partially thanks to one-off KW coilovers and some NISMO suspension arms to correct for geometry changes. Remember, the Z uses double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup out back, both of which gain camber under compression and lose camber under extension. Raising the ride height may cause positive camber, so the NISMO arms fix that.
The Z can already accommodate a ton of tire in stock form, and a little extra ride height allows this Safari Rally Z Tribute concept to run 225/65R17 Yokohama Geolandar M/T G003 tires some 1.8 inches larger in diameter than the factory spec. While these new meats certainly seem narrow, the original Infiniti G35 sedan, which ran on the same platform as the current Z, came with 215/55R17 tires, and these Geolandars certainly have the load rating to keep Nissan’s retro coupe stable. Of course, these new tires won’t fit the factory wheels, so NISMO made a set of special throwback wheels exclusively for this project. In addition, the Akebono calipers found on the Performance trim Z aren’t known for clearing 17-inch wheels, so this Safari car rocks a custom brake setup.
Aside from the radical suspension setup, modifications for this Safari-style Nissan Z are remarkably light. In the power department, it gets an AMS tune, a NISMO cold air intake kit, a NISMO cat-back exhaust, and an upgraded heat exchanger. Sure, there’s also a twin-disc clutch on deck, but aside from that, we’re talking basic powertrain bolt-ons.
A wicked set of Recaro Pole Position seats amp up the retro vibes, although the four-point harnesses looped through the seats are a bit sketchy from a safety standpoint, due to the possibility of submarining under the harness and ending up with abdominal injuries. I’m just saying, the Sports Car Club of America time trial safety rules state that “All drivers shall utilize either a 5-, 6- or 7-point restraint harness” for a reason. I’m also not onboard with having a harness bar without a proper roll bar, but this is a SEMA car, not a competition vehicle.
Remember, the Nissan Safari Rally Z Tribute is all about retro good looks, and it has those in spades. From the satin black hood to the bevy of round LED driving lights, this thing looks the business. You just can’t help but want to rip it around a dry lake bed, or fire it down the nearest unmaintained forest road.
There’s every chance the safari treatment just makes the Nissan Z better, so let’s hope that aftermarket companies take notice. Safari cars have understandably limited to extremely high-margin, low-volume cars like the Porsche 911 Dakar and Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato. The Safari Rally Z Tribute asks: Does it have to be that way?
The answer should be “no.”
(Photo credits: Nissan)
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